Featuring readings from two experimental translators and a poet, the most recent iteration of Tulsa Artist Fellowship’s Writer’s Salon took a different direction.
The theme of last Wednesday’s Writer’s Salon, hosted by the Tulsa Artist Fellowship and featuring Literary Arts Fellows from the program, was “Translation.” As such, two of the performing Fellows were translators, though all three can be said to deal with language with interesting ways. The Writer’s Salon was hosted in the Tulsa Central Library, with TU professor Dr. Grant Jenkins speaking between each reading.
Eric Ekstrand opened the event with more than a few unique works of poetry, but the ones that I most remember include a poem “A Letter to a Friend” — which compared their friendship to the reconstruction of the Parthenon in Nashville — a poem in praise of an Octopus who escapes its tank, and a lovingly detailed and somehow romantic piece describing the conditions of Antonin Scalia’s body when he was discovered to be deceased (on Valentine’s Day, no less). Ekstrand spoke often of the inspiration behind his stories, as most of his poems seemed to creative nonfiction. The most startling case of this for me was a work about a church’s annual tradition of handing out chicks dyed different colors for Easter. The dye doubled as a poison, to ensure the families who simply want the chick for a couple of days do not have to take care of it forever, so the chicks died on a holiday meant to celebrate rebirth.
M. L. Martin next read from work of her own, an experimental translation of Old English. This is the blurriest section of the night for me, but it was intended to be so, I think. She performed her own translation of an ancient piece titled, “Autobiography of Wolf,” and was accompanied by a man who’d place her hand over her mouth during the censured or redacted bits of her poem. These moments made me as uncomfortable as the rest of the piece made me curious; one or two times his hand covered her mouth longer than I’d expected, and even seeing her feigned struggle put me at unease. No doubt this was an intended effect of the performance. Also worth noting was the way Martin made her work bilingual. It was not totally translated to English, but her smooth pronunciation of foreign language made the piece flow as if it were written in one tongue.
Finally, Rhett McNeil presented his translation of the work of Goncalo M. Tavares, a Portuguese writer. McNeil described himself as being “in conversation” with Tavares, translating his works and responding to them with his own writings. From Taveres’s work, I remember most a piece comparing the person with an unshaped and untested morality to a girl afraid to join a dancing crowd at a party. McNeil had an abundance of Tavares’s work translated and read much of it. He later noted that Tavares’s work hardly builds to anything climactic; it is instead as if each piece exists singularly, without the ones that precede it. His literary response to Tavares was a short piece of fiction, a story of two lovers in a car that focused on the minutiae and memories of their lives rather than the current moment in time.
At the end of the event, the three artists addressed questions from the audience. Most questions had to do with the process of translation, and these yielded plenty of interesting answers.
Responding to the question of “do you take artistic liberties when you are translating from another language?” McNeil answered, “Hell yes.” A bit more revelatory of a comment came later when one of the artists said, “two different translations could be done of the same work, have different meanings, and still be simultaneously correct.”