Friday, June 30, 2006

Text messages on cell phones

Chris at Diacritique, a bilingual French/English blog, has an interesting post about interpreting a cryptic message from his landlady:
Pocket go big bag on kitchen floor can be pulled off stems and 10 mins soak go cold water will revive it

It's a cool example of translating with context (and likely mistakes) in mind!

I see text-message Spanish all over the net, usually featuring "k" for que, and similiar substitutions that are easy to type on a cell phone.

Friday, June 16, 2006

ALTA member spotlight #1: Inara Cedrins

block print by Inara Cedrins
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

I'd like to interview or spotlight new ALTA members each week, if I can, on the blog. This might build up some nice excitement for the upcoming ALTA literary translation conference this fall!

This week I'm happy to introduce Inara Cedrins, an American artist, writer and translator from the Latvian. She was a member of ALTA when it first started, but left writing and translation for years to become an artist for the next twelve years. (Welcome back to ALTA, Inara!) She did publicity for galleries, studied for her M.A. in Arts Administration, and has now returned to writing.

There's an excerpt from her upcoming anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry, here online at And right now her exhibit of linoleum block prints, "Riga Facades", is open right now in Riga. They'll be used to illustrate another of Inara's forthcoming books, Fugitive Connections, published by the Virtual Artists Collaborative in Chicago.

It's inspiring to me to see the range and depth of the work of many translators. Inara has tons of projects and clearly does a lot of work for her communities! As I added links and googled Inara's work, I came across this lovely poem: Fresh Snow and Lace, which is not a translation but which I think poetry translators might especially enjoy. I read it and saw the (unspoken) lacy-bitter inside of the pomegranate.

Rather than do an online interview, Inara wrote up a description of her projects, so I'll just give you that, and will add some links and markup. She answers most of the questions I would have asked in the interview about her projects and plans.

I repatriated to Latvia a year ago and have started a literary agency in Riga called The Baltic Edge to represent writers in the Baltic countries, Sweden, Finland, Poland and Siberia. I am personally working on an anthology of Baltic poetry (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia); I edited an issue of the online magazine Omega featuring Latvian poets (accessible at ), and am developing it from that. I will edit a future issue of the online journal The Drunken Boat featuring Estonian poets.

I plan to edit and translate in the next year a collection of Latvian prose poetry, including twenty poets with five poems by each; I'm in contact with poets in Lithuania and Estonia, and with translators who could do a parallel book for each country. These books could be a boxed set; since the Baltic poetry anthology has some 200 poems in each section, perhaps it could also be three books in a boxed set.

I spent the past seven years in China and Nepal, and have an anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry very near completion; it has sections for mainland Chinese poets, minority poets in China, poets in Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore and Taiwan, each to be introduced by an essay. An issue of selections from this, plus chapbooks featuring individual poets/projects, will form the spring issue of The Drunken Boat, online in about three weeks. The Atlanta Review has asked me to be contributing editor for their 2008 Chinese issue.

I went to China in 1998 to learn to paint on silk, and remained for five years to teach writing and lecture on art at universities including Tsinghua University and Peking University in Beijing, as well as to the People's Liberation Army and students at the Central Academy of Fine Art. I had two chapbooks of poetry published bilingually in Chinese and English by the Chinese Literature Press in Beijing, about China and Egypt: I had planned to follow these with one focusing on India (Honey Water in the Harsh Palace, completed and translated into Hindi) and one on Nepal (Sky Womb, in progress, I would like it translated into Nepali). I would like the chapbook about Egypt, titled Afterlife, to be translated into Arabic, and would like it republished, along with Snake Alley with the Chinese translation in the traditional characters still used in Taiwan and Hong Kong (I have this conversion). In 2003 I relocated to Nepal where I studied the technique of thangka painting, wrote a book on Symbols and Gods of Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism in Nepal for Pilgrims Press and coordinated the illustrations by a Tibetan thangka painter and a Newari artist. Upon the king's coup d'etat fourteen months ago, I left with my Nepali husband, and came to Latvia.

I have a manuscript of my own poetry written while in China, called Buried Wine, have completed a manuscript of short stories written during and about my time in China, and am working on a trilogy of novels based there, in Beijing and Guangzhou, and encompassing journeys through China, Tibet, Nepal and India; the first, titled The Hotel Sunshine, has been accepted for publication by Petergailis in Riga and will be translated into Latvian. I also have a manuscript of poetry titled Fugitive Connections; the first section, relating to Latvia, has been translated into Latvian. I am beginning a collection of poetry set in Europe. My writing has been referred to as "the saga of a female Odysseus"; each of my collections of poetry brings the reader a complete absorption in a culture.

My first anthology, Contemporary Latvian Poetry, was published by the University of Iowa Press in 1981; my chapbook of translations of the poetry of Astrid Ivask, At the Fallow's Edge, was a Small Press Book of the Month Club selection and went into a second edition. My poems, stories and translations from the Latvian have appeared in The North American Review, Chelsea, Prairie Schooner, The Portland Int'l. Review, The Ledge, The Minnesota Review, Translation/ Columbia University, the Massachusetts Review, Kansas Quarterly, The Atlanta Review, New Letters and The Chariton Review, among others; online poetry journals include Writing Macao,, Omega 3, 4, 5, Howling Dog Press, and the Atlanta Review.

I am now a member of the Latvian Writers Union. I teach Creative Writing at the University of Latvia, and have been asked to teach a course in translation, and one in American, British and World Literature and Drama, in the future - I have written a textbook for the latter which they plan to publish.

I am having a great deal of trouble finding publishers for poetry, and would appreciate it if your profile would draw attention from a publisher. Also, I am looking for translators of my poetry chapbooks into Arabic and Nepali; possibly the description of my work would attract someone?

I'd like, too, to include the announcement of her June 2006 art show in Riga:

Maksliniece Inara Cedrina un
Ipasu uzdevumu ministra sabiedribas integracijas lietas sekretariats
Ieludz Jus uz izstades
RIGAS FASADES (grafika) un zida gleznojumi (sena Kinas tehnika)
atklasanas pasakumu 2006.gada 8.junija, plkst. 16.00
Blaumana iela 5a, 5.stava, Riga
Izstade bus apskatama lidz 2006.gada 23.junijam no plkst.9.00 lidz 16.00

Inara Cedrins and the Secretariat of the Special Assignments Minister for Social Integration invite you to an exhibit of
linoleum block prints
and Chinese ink on silk paintings
Opening June 8th 4 p.m.
BlaumaĆ²a iela 5a, 5th Floor, Riga
Until June 23rd
Weekdays 9-4

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Over at "Conversational Reading": A Post on Archipelago Books

One of my favorite litblogs (translation: check it out!) is Scott Esposito's Conversational Reading. Today he's posted a little something on Archipelago Books, publisher of literary works in translation.

Monday, June 05, 2006

literary blogging

This is a year-old USA Today article, but it's got some interesting points about literary blogging in the English-speaking world, and especially on how it's helping to expose interest in books in translation:

What many blogs do better than the conventional print media is offer a sense of the global literary culture by providing links to foreign book coverage., run by Laila Lalami of Portland, Ore., focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on fiction from the Arab world and South Asia. Another site,, dedicates a specific blog to literature in translation.

Are we moving closer to a global literary culture? I think blogs have the potential to help lessen US-centrism, at least.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Science fiction, translations, cultural appropriation

At Wiscon 30, Madison's feminist science fiction convention, I came across the issue of language and translation many times.

Here's my rough transcript of the panel "Laádan vs. tlhIngan Hol: Differential Diffusion of Created Languages", in which the woman's language invented by the author of Native Tongue was contrasted with Klingon. It was a spirited discussion. One audience member talked about her own feeling that she did not need other languages than English to express any possible thought. Suzette Haden Elgin, with a mild bite to her reply, answered, "Millions of people agree with you." The general consensus of the room was that cross-language fertilization keeps everyone's ideas fresh.

At another panel on "So-Called 'Third World' SF", audience members talked about how much they want to read science fiction from non-English speaking cultures. Apparently the sf magazine with the highest circulation is in China. "Why doesn't anyone translate that stuff? We want to read it!" was the general consensus. It was a room full of hundreds of people, so I didn't pop up and talk about copyright problems.

Another panel, "Cultural Appropriation and Writing Fantasy Outside Western Tradition," looked at the ways that many invented mythologies use European myth as their source. What about when they don't - when someone writes about techno-Aztec gods, or Chinese dragons and nine-tailed foxes? What are some things to think about in regards to cultural appropriation, "authenticity", and exploitation? An extremely lively and intelligent discussion is happening this week, and here is a roundup of some entry points into the debates about race, culture, ethnicity, and (if not direct translation of languages) translation of cultural elements.

In this discussion, oyceter says: one is ever going to tell you that cultural appropriation is ok or that there is a way for a dominant culture to write about a minority culture without these problems rising up. If they do say that, I'm sorry, they're lying or they're from the far future, in which there is no race disparity, no racism, and all nations are on equal economic, political and cultural standing.

This does not mean you shouldn't write about it.

These same issues are important in the world of literary translation. It always comes up for me when it comes down to getting the rights to publish in translation. If someone in Uruguay wants $200 per poem (as they did for some of Juana de Ibarbourou's) and I bargain them down on the grounds that my work was a labor of love, I don't have any money, and I'll never make a penny off my putting these few poems into an obscure literary journal that's probably also losing money like crazy. At the same time, I'm aware that I can be said to be "making cultural capital" out of my translations over time, and so it would be exploitative for me to expect to get the rights to the poems for free or cheap. As oyceter says, there's no easy answer.

Meanwhile, I was on a panel with Ursula K. Le Guin, but didn't have the nerve to go up to her later and talk with her about her translation work with Diana Bellessi! I had a shy moment there - plus, she was always surrounded by starry-eyed fans.