Poetry co-translation and an attentive cosmopolitanism: internationalising contemporary Japanese poetry

Paul Hetherington, Cassandra Atherton, Rina Kikuchi

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The majority of Japanese poetry currently reaches a limited readership outside of Japan. As a result, many contemporary Japanese poets are searching for ways to have their poems translated into English and published in English-language journals. Achieving satisfactory translation results, however, is considerably more complicated than switching words from one language into another and scholarship on the subject of translating Japanese poetry is often vexed. This scholarship frequently traverses much of the same ground as the debate about Japanese prose translation where, depending on their approach, translators may be labelled ‘literalists’ or ‘libertines’. This paper argues that co-translating Japanese poetry may be as much about sharing ideas and ideologies as about lineation, cadence or word choice. Co-translating Japanese poetry has the power to build cross-cultural understandings and to explore and promote ways of understanding Japanese identity. We argue that while translation is often undertaken by the translators in their country of residence, the experience of genius loci and undertaking co-translation in situ may best accommodate such a cross-cultural synergy.
This paper draws on our collective experiences in a series of translation workshops at Meiji University. These were organised by Rina Kikuchi, a literary scholar and translator from Japan. Among other Australian poets and scholars, Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton were paired with Japanese poets for co-translation purposes. They co-translated Japanese poetry into English and had their own poems translated into Japanese with the assistance of Kikuchi who acted as the lynchpin for the workshops. The experience was celebrated in a series of poetry readings in Tokyo and Nara. Significantly, although neither Hetherington nor Atherton is fluent in Japanese, they found the process of co-translation to include what one may call an attentive cosmopolitanism, incorporating respect and understanding for different cultural assumptions and poetic ideas.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)4-22
Number of pages19
Issue number30
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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