Tri-Village News

In translation, students make poems their own

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Sometimes, something can be gained in translation.

That was one of the lessons for Grandview Heights High School students who participated in a poetry translation workshop March 15.

The sessions were led by Otterbein University English professor Terry Hermsen and Sydney Tammarine, a Spanish language and literature teacher at Horizon Science Academy.

The pair recently published their translation of The Most Beautiful Cemetery in Chile, a book of poems by Chilean poet Christian Formoso.

"I'm really excited about translation and the nature of bilingualism," Hermsen said. "I want students to see that their own literacy can be enhanced by learning and working with (a foreign language)."

During the workshops, students helped to translate short poems from their original French or Spanish into English.

The students were recruited from the high school's English classes and also had to be taking a foreign-language class, although they didn't have to be fluent in the second language, said English teacher Joe Hecker, who worked with Hermsen to put together the workshop. Students from all four grade levels participated.

"We thought it would be interesting for the kids to have an idea of what translating poetry is all about," Hecker said. "It's a complex and creative process. It's not just a simple, direct, word-for-word translation. There's a lot of nuance in deciding how to translate the original language into English without losing the overall meaning."

The choices made in translating the poet's original language make the work almost like writing a poem from scratch, Hermsen said.

"You have to transform it into your own way of thinking," he said.

In one of the workshops, students debated and decided to use the word child in their translation of a Spanish-language poem, Hecker said.

"It was a choice they made, because the original Spanish could have been translated to mean little boy or little girl, son or daughter," he said. "It's a little ambiguous in Spanish."

As an English teacher, Hecker said, one of his goals for the workshop was to help students realize the importance of the word choices they make in their own writing, whether it be prose or poetry.

Translating poems "has impacted my own writing," Hermsen said. "It's helped me understand even more how words affect people."

Junior Jules Zimmerman said she was surprised to learn that translation is an individualized process.

"It was really interesting to see how people can have different ideas about how to translate a word or phrase into English," she said. "There can be a lot of different interpretations. Your own creative sensibility impacts the decisions you make."

Zimmerman, who takes AP literature and composition and Spanish 4, said she believes the workshop will impact her own writing.

"I think I'll be thinking a lot more about the words I'm choosing to use and how to make my writing more appealing to my audience," she said.

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