27 years of translation: Brother Anthony’s poetry talks in London

by Philip Gowman on 6 April, 2018 updated 11 April, 2018

in Event reports and reviews | Poetry

Brother Anthony’s brief pre-Easter trip to the UK included four talks – in St Andrews, London and Oxford – on themes of poetry translation.

Brother Anthony talking at the KCC

Brother Anthony talking at the KCC on 15 March 2018

Of the two London appearances, one was a detailed hands-on workshop wrestling with a poem by Kim Seung-hee; and the other a wide-ranging talk encompassing the history of the translation of Korean poetry, a personal history of Anthony’s own experiences with translating Korean poetry, and a discussion of some of the challenges of poetry translation. For the latter talk, Anthony was reading from a script, which makes one hope that the paper will be published in due course.

From the workshop, the main lesson learned is that while translating by committee has some advantages in terms of generating ideas and insights, translating against the clock is definitely not to be encouraged. The chosen text was a poem by Kim Seung-hee – Hope is Lonely (희망이 외롭다), and the result of the two-hour-long session can be found here: definitely not the best possible outcome, as many good ideas were lost in the rush to get to the last line before 8:30pm. As the moderator, Clare Pollard, noted:

The lack of a clearly defined subject in much Korean poetry caused us all sorts of problems as the clock ticked down– who is taking off their shoes? Who is beating their breasts? Is it the sun who wants to quit? The I? The you? But we kept as much ambiguity as we could – in these times perhaps we are all ‘fearfully lonely’.

The talk at the KCC was more leisurely, and particularly interesting (to me at least) was the early history of Korean poetry translation – starting with James Scarth Gale’s efforts which were published in Korea Magazine (in 1917-19) or in his History. These were re-worked by Joan S Grigsby in The Orchid Door (1935), the first dedicated collection of Korean poetry in English translation, which was embellished with illustrations by Lilian May Miller. More information on The Orchid Door, with comparisons of Grigsby’s versions against Gale’s, can be found on Anthony’s website. We also learned that Kim Seung-hee is the only female poet that Anthony has translated, though how the poets and poems come to him as translator is more a matter of luck than anything else such as conscious selection. The impressive array of translations to his name can be found here.

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