May 15, 2012





A recent article by Larry Rohter in the "Arts Beat" column of the New York Times caught my eye. It was entitled "Translators Get a Slam of Their Own at PEN Festival", and described the translation slam that was held as part of this year's Pen American Center World Voices Festival of International Literature, an annual event held in New York in April.

This was not the first “translam” to be held by PEN, which had originally borrowed the idea from Metropolis Bleu/Blue Metropolis. Met Bleu, as it is popularly known, is an international literary festival held every year in Montreal, usually in April. Its main focus is current Francophone and Anglophone literature, with the works of writers writing in several other languages also included (Arabic, Italian and Spanish this year). I have had the opportunity to attend Met Bleu for the last six years (disclaimer here – I was also on the program in 2011) and, for me, the translation slam is an absolute "must" event.

For those of you who have never attended one (there have been a few organized at ATA annual meetings) or who may not know how it works, the basic idea is as follows: a text is given to one or more translators – it can be poetry or prose – usually a few days prior to the event. Each prepares his/her translation and presents it to an audience that includes the author of the text. The author gives feedback, and then the floor is open for input from audience members (many of them translators). This year's Met Bleu version, held on April 22nd, had three authors who were also translators, writing in English, French and Spanish. Each of the three submitted a text – in this case a poem – written in his own language, which was then translated by the other two as follows: the author of the French poem had to translate the English and Spanish poems into French, the author of the Spanish poem had to translate the French and English poems into Spanish, and the author of the English poem had to translate the French and Spanish poems into English. Each poem was first read aloud by the author, then both translators read their versions. All of the texts and translations were projected on a large screen so everyone could follow. The author then gave his feedback, which was followed by a discussion, with audience participation, on some of the finer points of the translation(s). This year, the poems were also made available in advance for those interested in trying their hand at a translation. At the actual event, those wishing to present their version to the audience were invited to come up to the podium and do so - and four people did!

This year's PEN translation slam was slightly different from the Met Bleu version – for those of you who are interested please check out the article in the New York Times at While searching for additional information on the PEN American center website,, I discovered that there had once been an attempt to organize an on-line slam. As blog editor, it was an "Aha!” moment for me: why not do an FLD blog translation slam? I am sure there must be some of you whose artistry with words extends beyond translation to writing your own poems or short stories. What I propose is this:

1) Authors – please submit a short poem or prose text to be translated, either from French into English or English into French. These should be sent to me directly at I will choose one French text and one English text for the slam and post them on this blog.

2) Translators – once the texts have been posted you will have up to two weeks in which to do the translation(s). Once completed, please submit them by e-mailing them to me directly at I will then post them on this blog.

3) Authors – you will then be asked to give feedback on the translations of your work, using the comment section at the bottom of the blog.

4) Reader Comments – readers will be able to enter their own comments on the translations in the comments section at the bottom of the blog.

In order for this to work, we must first have the two texts to be translated. If you would like submit a text, please e-mail it to me at by June 1, 2012. The two texts selected will be posted by June 8, 2012. Once posted, the deadline for submission of translations will be Monday, June 24, 2012.

I see no reason why this should not be as much fun on-line as it is at a real live slam. Don't be shy - the more participants, the merrier, so please consider taking part.

Ellen Sowchek
Editor, A Propos blog

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