Thursday 25 June 2009

German Poetry Feature in Lit 15/16

Having said that, I just have to point out that the upcoming issue of LIT magazine features the following:

Bars Across Sky Across Feeling: A Selection of German Poetry in Translation
, curated by Liesel Tarquini, with work by Susan Bernofsky, E.H. Bottenberg, Marica Bodrozic, Katy Derbyshire, Catherine Hales, Victoria Hill, Wendy Ann Kopisch, Friederike Mayröcker, Alistair Noon, Veronika Reichl, Monika Rinck, Silke Scheuermann, Lutz Seiler, Tzveta Sofronieva, Donna Stonecipher, Matthias Traxler and Chantal Wright…

If you happen to be in NY you could pick up a copy at their launch party on Saturday.

This Service Is Interrupted

I'm taking a blog break for dull personal reasons; normal service should be resumed by August at the latest.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Klagenfurt Kicks Off

The good people of Klagenfurt chose to wait until tomorrow to start the interesting part of the Festival of German-Language Literature - the Bachmann Prize readings. This year, not only can you read translations of the entries in seven languages, you can also watch all sorts of no doubt fascinating video files.

Here's what they say about themselves: "Without a doubt, the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, alongside the Joseph Breitbach Prize and the Georg Büchner Prize, is the most important literary award in the German-speaking world." The 14 competitors are chosen by the jury and compete on the grounds of a single submission, and are a whole lot less established than the winner of the Büchner Prize. But what with German-speaking readers' increasing interest in awards, a win is good good good for books sales.

I like the fact that although Klagenfurt claims to be "the capital of literature" it's really only the Austrian book capital - a quick look at the list of competition entrants reveals that six out of the seven Germans in the running live where? In Berlin.

Translation Idol - The Results

Last night saw the glittering gala that was The Return of Translation Idol, at the rather marvelous Saint George's Bookshop. The response was slightly overwhelming, with a whopping twenty-seven entrants vying for the title. We somehow managed to keep people awake while all present rendered their renderings of Selim Özdogan's story "Schwule Ziegen auf Lesbos", and the entries from further afield - Switzerland! Austria! Scotland! Frankfurt! USA! - were read too.

The Poet's Prize went to Lesley Dean for her "Gay Goats on Lesbos". And the audience vote was split between a good few translators: in third place Isabel Cole and Noah Hussin; in second place Donal McLaughlin and Steph Morris; and the joint winners were Lesley Dean again and Paul Druce for his "ZORBA'S COOKBOOK Recipe No. 47 – A Feast for the Enlightened".

It all went to show that there are literally hundreds of different permutations on even a short text - and that Berlin harbours a heck of a lot of translatorly talent. Thanks again to all those who helped make it a great evening. All entries will be published on the no man's land website in due course (when we've recovered).

Friday 19 June 2009


People of Berlin! Monday is your chance to see Mister Selim Özdogan live! In Berlin! At the brand spanking new Heimathafen venue! Reading from his work! And I can really recommend coming along, as Mister Selim Özdogan is not just an excellent writer but also an outstanding entertainer.

And then on Tuesday the man himself will take a back seat to the translators of the world, reading and judging at Translation Idol at Saint George's Bookshop.

I've got a babysitter for both nights. How cool - I mean really - how cool is that?

Thursday 18 June 2009

Donal McLaughlin on Staging The Reader

You may recall David Hare's article on adapting Bernhard Schlink's The Reader for the recent film, which I for one found slightly less revealing than it could have been.
Back in the year 2000, the Scottish Germanist, writer and translator Donal McLaughlin was closely involved in the first adaptation of The Reader - for the stage. Now he's finally had a heart and posted some of the real nitty-gritty stuff Hare didn't share, on his website. It's a fascinating read, as Donal explores all the many difficulties of transporting the novel from the pages of a German book to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Part of his job as advisor to the production was to provide the background information to the novel that your average English-language readers just don't have, specifically the German student movement, which plays an unspoken role all of its own. You can also find out how the press reacted, what other challenges the novel posed for stage adaptation - and how there should have been more nudity. Pubic wig, anyone?

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Szenesprachen Dictionary

Duden make good solid dictionaries. But they've also got a great project going on for "scene languages", in the form of a wiki - not unlike the English-language Urban Dictionary (which can be a very useful resource for translating, and is always entertaining). The Szenesprachenwiki is beautifully presented and chock-full of exciting German neologisms in various categories - the worlds of work, technology and computer games being the most linguistically productive.

Let's take a closer look, shall we? The latest entry at this very moment is "paniert" - defined as the mental state after smoking a joint and presumably derived from the adjective literally meaning "coated in breadcrumbs" and the term "panne" meaning "broken down" as applied to crashed-out bodies. Or we have a useful anglicism, "Drailing", meaning the sending of drunken emails. Or how about "Fernverkehr" for telephone sex - reminiscent of that delightful term "Münzfernsprechgerät" or payphone.

On the whole it's a great site and a good response to fast-moving language development. I find it better than printed slang dictionaries, which tend to be cringe-makingly outdated before they even hit the shops. Aside from a few strictly German phenomena such as "Bionadebourgeoisie", many of the terms seem to be fairly straight loans from English: graduaten, benchen, Chartstürmer, Styler, etc. etc. But they do tend to be used with a pinch of salt.

There will apparently be a printed version of the dictionary out in the autumn, crediting all the contributors. Wie opfer.

Monday 15 June 2009

Clemens Meyer Lures The Guardian to the Racetrack

Have you noticed, by any chance, that it's been twenty years since the Iron Curtain fell? The Guardian is celebrating in its own very sensible way - with a short series of short stories from behind the Wall. Look out for pieces from Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and the Czech Republic all this week.

But to start you off you can enjoy my favourite Clemens Meyer story, "Of Dogs and Horses". Translated by me. Hooray.

Sunday 14 June 2009

Bell Wins Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize

After a good half-hour of searching, I can finally reveal that this year's Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize was awarded to Anthea Bell for her rendering of Sasa Stanisic's How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone. I don't know the translation but I'm sure the book itself deserves all the honours it can get - and its language in the German presents plenty of exciting challenges for a translator.

Guest judge Hermione Lee said, "The translation feels free-flowing, natural and colloquial, and never flags in energy and vigour."


Only Seven Days to Go

...until the deadline for Translation Idol.

Without Us There Would Be No World Literature

The German literary translators' association, the Verband deutschsprachiger Übersetzer (VdÜ), has been campaigning for fairer pay for most of its existence. Literary translators here earn around €1000 a month before taxes, they say, and don't get a sufficient share of royalties for their highly creative work.

In 2001 the government made an attempt at reforming copyright law to give the creative artists a better deal, explicitly mentioning the appalling situation of literary translators. Publishers, newspapers etc. were charged with negotiating "appropriate pay" with translators (and authors, journalists, photographers, etc.). Unfortunately, they weren't all that keen to do so - and didn't have the legal structures to enter into full-blown German-style collective wage negotiations. All attempts so far have failed, with the atmosphere becoming increasingly fraught.

This coming week, the high court is scheduled to rule on five cases brought by translators against Random House. The results are likely to be groundbreaking - will the judges order that higher royalties should be offset against page rates for doing the work in the first place - which would cancel out most of the benefits for translators in the mid-sales range of 5000 to 30,000 copies (yes, Anglo-American translation publishers, read it and weep)? Or will they award the translators decent royalties on top of their basic fee, thus giving them a share of the reward for creating a successful and profitable translation?

Certainly we can only hope that the issue will be resolved in the near future, as the eight-year arguments have driven a wedge between translators and publishers that is far from conducive to good literature. For a much deeper insight, see the VdÜ's excellent background dossier (in German).

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Grass Is Rife

In Chicago this very minute? Then you may well be attending the Helen and Kurt Wolff Symposium for literary translators from German to English. I'm just copying out the list of illustrious speakers to make your jaw drop like mine did:

Peter Constantine, Breon Mitchell, Rainer Schulte, Krishna Winston, Michael Anania, Chad Post, John Hargraves, Renate Latimer, Nick Hoff, Ross Benjamin, David Dollenmeyer, Annemarie S. Kidder, Mary C. Crichton, Pierre Joris, Michael Henry Heim and Helmut Frielinghaus.

I had the great pleasure of meeting the latter in good old Wolfenbüttel on Saturday, where he gently herded us through the trials of creative writing like an extremely well-read Gus Dermody. Frielinghaus is a translator, writer and editor, including of the book Der Butt spricht viele Sprachen, a collection of pieces by Günter Grass' various translators. Oh, and I believe he also happens to be Grass' editor. I know he'll be a great asset to this symposium, especially with its focus on - you guessed it - translating Grass.

Chad Post whet my appetite for the event he's moderating on the subject, but if you're not going to be there you could always try and make it to Berlin's LCB on 2 July. It doesn't seem to be online yet, but you can catch Günter Grass, Breon Mitchell, Oili Suominen, Per Oehrgaard and Helmut Frielinghaus with the equally wonderful Denis Scheck, all talking about the new translations of The Tin Drum marking the book's 50th anniversary. I know I'll be moving heaven and earth to be there.

Update: you can read Pad Chost's impressions of the symposium at Three Percent.

Monday 8 June 2009

Wolfenbüttel: 9 Hours' Sleep Is Not Enough

I'm back at my desk after a heady weekend of translatorly frolics. The Wolfenbütteler Gespräch is the German literary translators' association's annual get-together, where the members meet and greet, give and receive readings, workshops and honours, and generally work up a sweat on and off the dancefloor. It's a pretty unique gathering that changes the face of the small town of Wolfenbüttel for three days of every year.

What struck me this year was the absolutely warm and supportive atmosphere. Although a couple of events are open to the public and the odd editor and student does attend, we were pretty much all in the same boat. But this year there seemed no trace of creative or political rivalry - possibly because there were fewer people in attendance than in the last couple of years. Instead, all the criticism in the workshops was wonderfully constructive, there were professions of support and appreciation all over the shop, and I generally felt embraced in a warm hug the whole time I was there.

The weekend kicked off with an evening of readings - four simultaneous ones, to be precise. I went to "My Favourite Book", which was an excellent idea and expertly moderated by Isabel Bogdan - a shout-out to Isa right here and thanks for all the Kleidpropaganda! Imagine the riches when four outstanding translators read from the books they've most enjoyed translating. Five hours' sleep later it was off to the workshops. I attended an all-day creative writing session, which convinced me that literary translators have all the skills they need to write their own material - and are their own best critics.

That evening Susanne Lange handed on the VdÜ's Hieronymusring award to Ulrich Blumenbach, from Cervantes to David Foster Wallace in one infinite leap. And then of course there was the party, where DJs Lang & Scheidt had them translators shakin' their bacon all night long. There were requests for a request form next year (in dreifacher Ausfertigung?), but I'm tempted to remain a dictatorial DJ. It was at least an honour to be told by a prizewinning translator that we had played "mainly good music".

A short four hours in the land of nod were followed by one of my highlights - Ingo Schulze in conversation with his English and Hungarian translators, John E. Woods and Lídia Nádori. The subject was translating Neue Leben - which presented a few problems, as readers outside of the former East Germany (including in the West) aren't generally familiar with a lot of the material. So the translators added a few footnotes of their own, in addition to the know-it-all notes by the "editor", a certain I.S. Ingo Schulze, we were told, is one of the friendliest and most helpful authors around - rather like being called the most intelligent rock singer, he laughed.

They also mentioned the May workshop in Straelen with the author and 17 of his translators, all of whom are working on Adam und Evelyn. You can listen to pieces (in German) on the workshop via Deutsche Welle and Deutschlandradio. And I now have a signed and tattered copy of Neue Leben to go with John Woods' translation New Lives on my To Be Read pile.

All in all, I suspect most of us returned home tired but happy. Oh, and can I just add that the overall female:male ratio was about 15:1, but the ratio of female to male record requesters was 1:7. What does this tell us?

Thursday 4 June 2009

Things to Come

I won't really be blogging this week, as I'm so darned busy. But this is good busy.

Tomorrow I'm off to Wolfenbüttel for the German literary translators' annual get-together, where a colleague and I will be entertaining the masses with our record collections. Our DJ team now even has a name: DJs Lang & Scheidt. Steph Morris is Lang, I'm Scheidt (think about that one). I'm looking forward to seeing John E. Woods in conversation with Ingo Schulze; more after the fact.

And seeing as this is a me, me, me post, I might as well come clean. I'm co-editing the Berlin volume of the really rather excellent City-Lit series from Oxygen Books. That means I'm wading through piles and piles of great books to find extracts about Berlin. Not drowning but waving though, at this point. I've already read stacks of stuff and I hope I'll find time to post at least brief pieces about some of the newer titles here. You'll be able to buy the book in the autumn.