Posts by Jen Calleja

Variations on a Theme: Carolina Schutti & Joanna Walsh on Poetic Prose

"Poets have long been questioning the usefulness/uselessness of the label 'prose poem.'"

When I was invited to create a miniseries of semi-regular author events as translator in residence at the Austrian Cultural Forum London, I wanted to make sure that the Austrian author would always be in dialogue with a British counterpart about something they have in common in their writing. My motivation is to juggle the foreignness and uniqueness of German-language literature with where it meets and overlaps with literature written in English in order to show that writing comes from a specific linguistic, cultural and literary context, but one that connects and communicates with others. As journalist Judith Vonberg summed it up in her review of the event for Literaturhaus Europa: “it’s a simple but unconventional idea. Instead of highlighting the differences between British literature and literature made on the continent, the starting point is similarity, which opens up far more interesting discussions.”

The first of these events brought Austrian writer and musician Carolina Schutti and author and illustrator Joanna Walsh together to discuss poetic prose and how poetry permeates their writing in terms of language, effect and form with me in the ACF London’s Salon back in February. As a writer of both poetry and short fiction, I’m interested in why sometimes one form does and then other times won’t do at all, and why it sometimes happens that I can read the poetry and prose of others interchangeably as if in the other form. What are the markers and where is the boundary? READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Chairs and Sentences” by Anna Weidenholzer

"Ferdinand only likes the thin straws, and he likes it when a straw bobs back up after being submerged in a beer bottle."

A brown leather sofa, on it a man, below it a Lurch. A Lurch is a bundle of dirt made of dust, fluff and hair. A Lurch is what I call a Wollmaus. Because the chairs are never cleared away I have a lot to do, the man says. Because the chairs are never cleared away I get angry. But because the chairs are never cleared away I have a job to do. It’s better to have a job than not having a job. Because what would I do if I didn’t have a job. I would just sit at home, sitting at home is nothing, what do you do when you don’t have a job. It’s better to work even if I get the same money I would get if I didn’t work.

The man takes his left hand from his stomach, lays it behind his head, moves his thumb back and forth. Ferdinand watches the man move his left thumb back and forth. Ferdinand watches TV. It’s after ten pm, Ferdinand prefers serious programmes, he appreciates their seriousness and while watching he frequently looks past the television. Is there a hole in the air? A student asked him once; no, a lake, Ferdinand had answered.


Translation as Firework: A Prismatic Rendition of Anna Weidenholzer

"The original is dead. Long live the original."

For my latest event as the Austrian Cultural Forum London’s guest literary curator, I commissioned and curated work for an exhibition presenting multiple translations of a short story by Austrian author Anna Weidenholzer in forms including sound, ceramics, textiles, video, sculpture, photography, text, and even tattoo designs and recipes. A reading and performance event in the ACF’s Salon celebrated and closed the exhibition this week and let the audience all be translators for an evening.

The incredibly affecting short story “Sessel und Sätze” (“Chairs and Sentences”) from Anna Weidenholzer’s collection Der Platz des Hundes (Where the Dog Sits) follows aging school caretaker Ferdinand Felser’s preoccupations with his passive position in the world. Having been mocked as a schoolboy by pupils and teachers for his dialect—and by his parents for trying to change it—Ferdinand is now secretly learning nine languages in his office and is troubled by the climate of xenophobia surrounding him at work, in the news, and among close friends. You can read the story tomorrow on the Asymptote blog.

Posing as a metaphor for the multiplicity of possible translations of any story, the exhibition on display in the ACF’s gallery encouraged the visitor to see how each “translation” altered and added to their reading of the story (which they also read in translation) or how the exhibition could be one multifaceted translation. It considered a translation as a personal reading, extension, destruction or an attempt at honing into an essence of the original text by a “translator,” and also explored the fallibility/adaptability of linguistic translation by further experimenting with alternative translations. READ MORE…

Hands Across the Water: A Dispatch

Jen Calleja dispatches from "Don't Mind the Gap: An Evening of British/German Literature at King's Place" in London

‘Don’t Mind the Gap: An Evening of German and British Literature’ at King’s Place, though clocking in at two hours, had an energetic, celebratory and comfortable atmosphere from start to finish. Though the venue was larger than the ICA’s cinema where I’d attended ‘Found in Translation’ the previous evening, it also felt like the more intimate of the two events.

Reading one after the other for ten-to-fifteen minutes apiece were some of the finest English- and German-speaking poets and writers working today: Durs Grünbein, Terézia Mora, Simon Armitage, A L Kennedy, Imtiaz Dharker, Marcel Beyer, Don Paterson and Alfred Brendel. All the authors’ texts were projected onto an updating screen, in English for the British writers to help German-speakers (which made a couple of the writers a little nervous, and even confused when they saw English behind them but half-expected to see themselves in German), and in English translation for the German writers. READ MORE…

Poem as Firework, Poem as Bone China: A Dispatch

A dispatch from the "Found in Translation" event at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London

We run through groups of snail-paced tourists from Trafalgar Square to arrive just in time for the start of “Found in Translation” at the ICA, almost walking directly into Michael Hofmann on entering the filling cinema. We take our seats just as he walks down to join fellow poet and literary translator Jamie McKendrick and German poet Jan Wagner on stage. While everyone settles down to an ominous soundtrack straight out of Star Wars, I take in the two rows of bulbs, like the lights that surround the mirror in a theatre dressing room, running the length of the ceiling. Some of them are out, which fits an event that glows but never quite reaches its full brightness.

In the introduction, Jan Wagner is sprightly and upright with a schoolboy haircut, Jamie McKendrick cradles his leather satchel before sliding it onto the floor, Michael Hofmann plays with his hands, lets them hang down either side of his chair, then finally folds them in his lap. Microphones are reluctantly taken up. McKendrick hugs his to the side of his head, Hofmann whispers to his like a little friend. READ MORE…