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An update from our fourteenth Writing Workshop with Conner Bassett

A summary of the workshop held on Saturday September 25, plus some of the output published below

For this workshop on translation, we decided to switch things up a bit. Rather than teach the class towards one prompt and thus one finished piece of writing, the workshop was geared towards teaching three separate mini prompts, leaving the students with three finished works. To begin, we looked at two paintings depicting translation by way of angels moving from one place to another: The Translation of the Holy House of Loreto by Saturnino Gatti and The Miraculous Translation of the Body of Saint Catherine Alexandria to Sinai by Karl von Blaas. Next, we read four different translations—Clive James, Robert Pinsky, Mary Jo Bang, & John Ciardi—of the first nine lines from Dante's Inferno in order to show how stylistically different translations can be, especially noting that of Mary Jo Bang. We then looked at two different translations—Jane Hirshfield & Robert Haas—of Basho's haiku "Kyoto," noting how the word "even" in Haas' translation dramatizes the situation of the poem. Lastly, we looked at an english to english translation of Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy and compared it to the original, noting how the original was definitively more beautiful. All of these examples were intended to formulate an answer to the question, "What matters most in translation?" Before writing, we considered that what is most important may be transferring literally one word into another language, conveying emotional accuracy, or capturing the tone, mood, or psychology of a piece.

The Participants: Emma, Clara, Sinan, Lina, Ellie, Josh, Simran, Alice, Svitra, Ethan, Shilla, Olivia, Nova

The Challenge: A challenge in three parts:

  1. Homolinguistic translation: In 10-12 minutes translate the poem "Ships" by Tomaz Salamun "english to english" by substituting word for word, phrase for phrase, line for line, or as a "free" translation as response to each phrase or sentence. Or translate the poem into another literary style or a different diction.
  2. Homophonic translation: In 10-12 minutes, take a poem that you can pronounce but not necessarily understand—in this case "70" by Catullus, written in Latin—and translate the sounds of the poem into english.
  3. Nonlinguistic translation: In 10-12 minutes, listen to several sounds (click below) and translate them into words.


Svitra Rajkumar, 13
(Fremont, CA)

Bubbling Brook

Svitra Rajkumar, 13

The warbling brook bubbled loud and clear
In rhythm with the other whimsical sounds
Alluring noises attract squirrels
Dancing through the air
Inaudible voices swirl
Whispering into your ears and clouding your brain
Manipulating your mind
Until nothing lies but the intoxicating calls
Of the bubbling brook

Two Poems: Freeway & Frog Land

Ethan Zhang, 9


Cars jostled by,
Creating and messing with wind,
Creating and messing with sounds.
A crescendo,
A diminuendo.
My hair wavers in the wind,
As if lemongrass dancing to a rhythm.

Frog Land

Frogs jump about,
Enlarging their mouths,
And croaking.
A strange language,
In a strange land,
Of frogs,
Of nature,
Of sounds.

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