In which I show my age
Last week in my undergraduate creative writing class, my friend David Bartone and I co-taught a “translation day” (in preparation for reading Kassandra and the Wolf this week…). It went like this: we selected two poems from the Center for the Art of Translation‘s Two Lines anthology “Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed,” in this case Andrej Glusgold’s “I Love Berlin” and “Elementary Particles,” translated by Donna Stonecipher. First we distributed only the original German text. We translated most of the first poem together as a class, using “gut” translations—no dictionaries, just everyone’s own ideas of what was meant, or should be meant, by such words as “Schlaf” and “Herpes,” etc. (success rate with the second was high). Then we divided the class into small groups, half of which had dictionaries, half of which didn’t. The half with dictionaries were to translate the second poem creatively, to make the best and most creative poem; the half without dictionaries were to translate it for accuracy. At the end everyone could vote on each other’s, just to add a little competition. All in all, it was an excellent day and really I should be able to offer here some of the great lines people came up with.
But also… One student showed me that on his iPhone he could take a picture of the German poem, and Google could read the text out of the image and translate it for him instantly. I was agog. And annoyed. And (in the cliched mode of fiction writers?) was thinking that what I think of as my best ideas may no longer be a match for the world…