Columbia, UDP Literary Students Shine in Word for Word Poetry Reading

April 27, 2021

Graduate students from Columbia’s School of the Arts and literary students from Chile’s Universidad Diego Portales (UDP) met in April in a virtual format to read each other’s translated poetry.

Under the Word for Word literary translation workshop, which in the US is coordinated by Susan Bernofsky, a leading translator of the German language at Columbia’s Master of Fine Arts Writing Program, US students are paired with writers from different countries for their works to be mutually translated. In Chile, the program is led by professor Rodrigo Rojas, a Chilean poet, journalist and translator at the UDP’s School of Creative Literature.

“It’s been such a pleasure to collaborate for the last four years with the wonderful writers in the UDP program, and to see the writers at Columbia University in the Word for Word program able to exchange their work with amazing colleagues and to make discoveries about literature in the English language and the Spanish language, finding connections,” Bernosfsky said at the beginning of the session. “I have been so amazed and delighted by the work that UDP writers and members of the workshops have been producing. I am so proud of the work that students in the Columbia University writing program have been doing as part of this collaboration.”

The idea behind the program is to provide emerging writers with literary growth, a valuable career experience and a global network, and to encourage the authors to engage with their own language in a new way – literally, “word for word.” In this workshop, the participants were (UDP student with the Columbia student with whom they worked, mutually translated and read):

Matthias Molina – Stephanie Dinsae

Catalina Vergara – Tiffany Troy

Ana Mora – Kai-Lilly Kane Karpman

Valeria Araya – E.R. Pulgar

“I think it was a really refreshing experience to participate in the bilingual reading. I had never taken part in something like that before and I'm really glad I got a chance to hear all the wonderful poems in Spanish and English. It felt so balanced,” remarked Stephanie Dinsae. “Hearing my words in Spanish reminded me of the distinct choices I make in my writing and allowed me to just sit back and take it all in from somebody outside myself.”

“I loved the reading, both the poems in translation in English that are workshopped in class, as well as poems by my classmates that I have never heard or read. Catalina Vergara and I are similar in that our poetry is fire, though we carry the fire in different ways,” noted Tiffany Troy. “I tend to focus on the earth, while Catalina turns her gaze up to not even heaven - outer space. Listening to Catalina give form to my poems in Spanish, with its unique cadences and rhythm, and its heritage in Chilean democracy after CADA [local activist group of artists, Colectivo de Acciones de Arte] is a magical experience.”

“This was my first time ever doing a translation and I was deeply moved and fascinated by the experience. I now see translation as a puzzle that works to unlock the heart of the poem,” Kai-Lilly Kane Karpman said. “I hope that I was able to reveal the heart and spirit of Ana’s poetry.”

“This reading was special. To begin with, it occurred on the eve of the anniversary of Shakespeare and Cervantes - literary giants in both languages that come together, just as the Word for Word poets have done, on the same date,” noted UDP’s Rojas. “Here it is possible to see the work of poetry translation, the most difficult of all translations, approached with tremendous artistic maturity. [The participants were] aware of each author’s literary proposal, more importantly, aware of each poetic text’s performative proposal. This experience will nurture the development of each of these poets. It is a great opportunity for them, as well as for us as their audience.”

This global course was launched in 2011 and is currently conducted between Columbia students and their counterparts at five universities in Europe and Latin America: Deutsches Literaturinstitut Leipzig in Germany, Scuola Holden in Italy, Instituto Vera Cruz in Brazil, the Université Paris 8 in France, and UDP. The latter has participated in the program since 2018.