Poems to translate the Covid-19 crisis
23 Nov 2020
Modern Poetry in Translation (MPT) is a literary magazine of international poetry based in the United Kingdom with tri-annual print edition and a rich and unique online archive.
It was founded by Ted Hughes and Daniel Weissbort in 1965 as an act of European cultural solidarity with writers from behind the Iron Curtain, whose work they wanted to bring to a wider readership, and in the hope of challenging the narrowness of British poetry.
MPT publishes three issues of a print magazine annually, with a programme of digital content and activity accompanying each issue. Each issue of the magazine contains a special focus section dedicated to a particular language, culture or current socio-political issues and responses to the current age of environmental and cultural extinctions.
MPT aims to bring together the best new poetry, essays and reviews from around the world, with a different ‘focus’ each issue. “We aim to give voice to the silenced, exiled and excluded, and create a diverse and creative community of translators, poets and readers. The act of translation is in itself an act of solidarity and sharing because it gives the possibility to everyone to enjoy different content.”, Clare Pollard, the editor of MPT, tells us during our interview.
The Covid19 pandemic has led to communities across Europe turning inwards. Geographical borders have been closed, and the sense of openness and curiosity that exists amongst the many different cultures across the continent is now under threat. MPT’s ongoing mission is to enable and foster cross cultural understanding and solidarity. This is where MPT saw a connection with our Couture of Solidarity Fund and decided to apply to a grant.
MPT will dedicate their spring 2021 printed issue to a focus on poetry produced across Europe during and in response to the Covid19 crisis. Through both direct commissioning of new translations, and via an open call to translators across the continent, they will gather together poems produced across Europe and publish a unique collection of voices, capturing in poetry this unprecedented period of our modern shared history.
The project will generate acts of linguistic exchange and artistic solidarity, reviving and maintaining cross-cultural conversations, and enabling acts of empathy and sharing amongst audiences across Europe. Poetry is often characterized as the artform of solitude, but it is also concerned with the expression of our shared humanity, and this twin identity of both public and private means that it is uniquely placed to capture and respond to the condition of public lockdown and increased individual isolation that we have all been experiencing during the Covid19 crisis. Many readers consider poetry as one of the best ways to process traumatic times. Clare tells us that readers are hungry for poems that try to make sense of the moment, and make them feel less isolated.
“Whilst we are unable to gather physically, language remains a shared public space in which we are all able to participate, but it is only via the act of translation that we are able to gain access to the many different cultures that make up Europe’s collective identity and increase our sense of cross cultural understanding and solidarity.”, explains Clare. Their proposal is a grand act of multiple collaborations and the imaginative sharing of many of these different cultures and languages.
The magazine will contain many individual acts of translation, creating new collaborative relationships between translators and original poets, genuine pan-European connections that will last and unfold in the future in further productive ways. The use of English as the language of publication enables readers from around the world to gain access to the ideas and suggestions of writers from across Europe.
The philosophical character of poetry means that they anticipate their writers not just describing the current crisis, but envisioning life through and beyond it, offering visions of the future which offer hope, or simply starting a reflection on the challenges ahead that everyone faces, no matter what country of residence or origin.
“The emergence of a lot more pan-European digital events online fascinate me– we can suddenly and easily be on the same ‘stage’ whether in Prague, Madrid or Manchester.”, Clare says excitedly.
Modern Poetry in Translation is a pan-European magazine – recent issues include a focus on Czech poetry and Hungarian poetry, for example – and they have strong connections with organisations and institutes across Europe such as, the British Council, PEN, the Polish Cultural Institute or Letterenfonds Foundation. They will further work with their partners and contacts to commission new poems and translations from other European countries. The hope is for writers and translators to create a connection that goes beyond the current crisis, and will help imagining a brighter future, offering hope and consolation, and clarity on how to face the challenges to come.
MPT’s mission is to use poetry in translation as a way of bearing witness and creating empathy between cultures across the world. In the wake of this pandemic, culture has an important role to play in keeping Europe open and engaged in dialogue. Acts of translation are needed to keep countries open to each-other even as physical borders close. Through the many strands of this project, from the free online workshop and digital launch to the issue itself, Modern Poetry in Translation – with this Pandemic focus – aims to be a forum for European writers to exchange their stories and ideas, reminding us of our shared European identity.
Grant awarded: €11230