Steve Bradbury report on ALTA

On the 17th I posted a link & video about the American Literary Translators Association’s annual convention in Kansas City. I got a letter from my friend Steve Bradbury, translator of Shang Qin 商琴 and Hsia Yu 夏宇 and editor of Full Tilt, about what I missed:

Hey Lucas

Sorry you couldn’t make the ALTA conference this year. It was a good one. I’d never been to Kansas City before and was pleased to find that it’s quite the tourist-friendly town; the accommodations were affordable and just a short walk from both the Nelson Atkins Museum and more bars and restaurants than you can shake a stick at. Silvia Kofler was the conference organizer this year. Paul Vangelisti and Douglas Hofstadter were the plenary speakers. Lisa Rose Bradford, who flew in from Mar del Plata, was this year’s NTA winner, for her stellar version of Between Words: Juan Gelman’s Public Letter.  Lisa also gave readings with sound poet Glenn North at the Jazz Museum and with me at the Writer’s Place, where I read some of my Shang Qin and Hsia Yu translations. The panel she put together on “Re/Creations and ‘Afterpoems,’” with Christian Hawkey, who talked about his Ventrakl volume, and Paul Legault, who gave us a trailer to his forthcoming collected After-Emily Dickenson “translations,” was the most interesting panel I’ve attended in years.

Chinese-language translators were a little thin on the ground this year, but the two besides me who made it did their mothers’ proud.  Your old friend and ALTA first-timer Jonathan Stalling, who drove up from Oklahoma U with his family, gave a marvelous recitation of some personal favorites in his recent collection, Winter Sun: The Poetry of Shi Zhi.  Charles Egan, who was also a first-timer, flew in from San Fran to accept the Lucien Stryk Prize for his Clouds Thick, Whereabouts Unknown: Poems by Zen Monks of China. Although Charles read his acceptance speech instead of speaking off the cuff per ALTA practice, he won the crowd from pretty much the get-go with the disarming admission that the prize was “a wonderful vindication for all the years I struggled in obscurity—I believe I saw many of you there…”

We talked for hours over martinis at the hotel bar. It was such a pleasure to run into a Chinese translator at ALTA who knows his books down to the ground and works by-and-large in fixed rhyme and meter; most of the ALTA regulars who translate Chinese classical verse are free-verse poets who can barely read a word of the language.  That was the subject of my talk on Erica Mena’s “Translating Blind: Working from a Language You Don’t Read” panel. I spoke on Amy Lowell’s and Florence Ayscough’s now largely forgotten 1921 anthology Fir-Flower Tablets, but it was Becka McKay who took the palm, for a fascinating presentation on teaching translation to monolingual students as a way of inspiring interest in literature.  Some of the student projects she showed us, which included a video game based on the Inferno and graphic adaptations of Don Quixote and The Tale of Genji, were amazing.  If Florida Atlantic U, where she teaches, wasn’t 12,000 miles away, I would sign up for her class.

Good news for those who live in or have ties to the Northeast and Great Lakes region: next year’s ALTA conference will be held in early October in Rochester, New York, “John Ashbery country.”  I’m hoping Open Letter editor Chad Post, who will be organizing the conference on behalf of the Translation Studies Program at the University of Rochester and Three Percent, will pursue my suggestion to invite Ashbery to give the keynote address. The poet’s getting on in years, but they say he still has his wits about him and gives a good talk. And he’s certainly got something to talk about: his new version of Rimbaud’s Illuminations is one of those must-read translations that make you want to throw in the towel.

                                                                                                —Steve Bradbury, Taipei