Cheryl Moskowitz: Translation as Transportation, Liberation and Connection

IMAGE: Hayley Madden

Translation as transportation, liberation and connection

Writing poetry, no matter what language it is written in, always involves a sort of translation. In the first instance, that is the translation of feeling and experience into words. To translate a poem written in one language into another requires further transportation but the reward is that we gain access to feelings and experiences that might be very different from, or sometimes surprisingly similar to our own.

The verb ‘translate comes from the old French translater meaning to carry over or transport. I like the idea of translating as a kind of transportation. Like moving house, going on an adventure, or being magically beamed from one world to another.

Much of the work I do in schools as a poet involves me in some way as a creative translator. Some translators speak other languages, however creative translation does not require you to be a linguist. In her recent publication ‘Letters on Liberty’ for the Academy of Ideas, translator and academic Vanessa Pupavac says ‘translation is for all’ and suggests that ‘most of us should take up the liberty of translating or retranslating against our habitual language limits and enhance our liberty of expression.’

Freedom of creative expression has been very much in the news recently in the wake of the recent shocking attack on author Salman Rushdie at a NY event where he was about to speak on that very subject. This comes at a time when, one year into Taliban rule, girls and young women in Afghanistan are still barred from attending secondary school.

Everyone has the human right to express themselves, and Article 13 of the UNCRC makes it clear that this includes children and young people. People should be able to express themselves regardless of their religion, culture or beliefs and they may express themselves in all kinds of different ways as long as they do not do so in a way that causes injury or harm to another. What constitutes injury is of course not always clear but artistic freedom depends on that fact that we do not have to agree with, or even like what is being said by another. Indeed, there can be a great deal of value arising from debate and criticism that comes from engagement with ideas and thoughts that might be profoundly different from our own.

Currently I am in the early stages of developing an exciting creative translation project with the Stephen Spender Trust focussing on Ukraine – over the coming academic year I will be running workshops in schools around the UK working with students to produce their own English translations of poetry written by Ukrainian authors for children. I am working together with a Ukrainian translator in Lviv to source texts and put together materials in preparation for the workshops.

It is a delight to be introduced to the range of poetry being read by children at the moment in Ukraine and in particular the poems that the translator and her children are drawn to in the midst of the Russia-Ukraine war. I can’t wait to see the creative translations produced in response by children in the UK.

Creative translation in poetry doesn’t just involve creating new versions of existing poems but can also involve dialoguing with poets and bringing your own perspective to bear on their work as I have done here with the brilliant young Afghan poet Aryan Ashory.

Creative translation can also be a way for multi-lingual families and communities to create a new shared language of poetry together. You can see some lovely examples here in response to my ‘Poems from Home’ initiative for the Stephen Spender Trust.

As well as raising the profile of multilingualism, enriching the teaching of modern foreign languages at school and boosting literacy, Creative translation in the classroom (CTiC) promotes collaborative learning, develops intercultural interest and awareness and raises creative aspiration. In a world where conflict between nations is rife and cultural differences continue to spark horrible violence and hate between peoples, creative translation through poetry can work to connect us.

Cheryl Moskowitz

Cheryl Moskowitz is a poet. educator and creative translator. She writes for adults and children, runs workshops regularly in schools and is passionate about getting teachers and pupils to write their own poems. She runs writing projects in a wide variety of community settings often working with the most disadvantaged and vulnerable.