by Sara Stahl
Even with the intensity and stress of finals looming in less than a week, almost 30 students and professors gathered in the Cheever Room of Finn House on April 27 to hear award-winning translator and poet Tal Nitzán read her poetry in Hebrew and English. Nitzán is an Israeli author who began her career as a translator of writers she called “the real giants of Hispanic poetry.” Nitzán said that for a few years, her work as a translator got in the way of her own creativity as a writer. “It was just too easy as a beginning poet at a very young age to let them silence me,” she said. “In their shadow, everything I would write would seem almost meaningless.” Reflecting on this time in her life, Nitzán came to the realization that “this measuring of your writing to another’s is the worst thing that any writer, or artist for that matter, could do. My duty for my own poetry was to make room for it in the world. … Even if my poetry is small and may be unimportant, the way I write, nobody writes. Everybody has their own special voice.”
Katherine Hedeen is the National Endowment for the Humanities distinguished teaching associate professor of Spanish at Kenyon; she has a background in translating Spanish literature and helped bring this poetry reading and tomorrow’s translation talk to fruition. Hedeen’s work in translating Spanish literature is just beginning, but she finds the challenge fulfilling as she hopes to continue “getting those voices out” so that language barriers will no longer limit the ability to read incredible literature.
Eduardo Vargas ’18, who attended the reading, said he is interested in bilingualism and is hoping to double major in neuroscience and Spanish area studies. He said he is “interested in how translating can give a new insight into poetry.” Translating literature into multiple languages can indeed allow for a more widespread audience and with that, a broader understanding.
“Poetry translation has existed since poetry has existed, and without it, the whole experience of poetry would be much more limited,” Nitzán said. She noted how she was the first to translate some Spanish poetry into Hebrew, and that some of these originally Spanish poems have become influential in contemporary Hebrew poetry. As she introduced herself, Nitzán said her visit to Kenyon, which she described as “a place where humanities, literature and poetry matters,” had been a refreshing experience. Nitzán and Hedeen emphasized the significance of marshalling poetry and literature across language barriers. Nitzán hopes to continue experimenting with prose writing in the wake of the novel she had published this year, Each and Every Child. Some of her poetry may be found at the Kenyon Bookstore, which sells a collection of poetry by Nitzán and other poets, titled With an Iron Pen.