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Smuggling verses of poetry in Kėdainiai

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“We’re smuggling words here, and it’s incredibly fun!” said overjoyed poet Agnė Žagrakalytė after participating in the VERSschmuggel (literally translated from German –  “verse smuggling”) poetry workshop in Kėdainiai together with her Lithuanian and German colleagues.

From 2-5 October, six pairs of Lithuanian and German poets, together with translators, analysed translations of each others’ poems. They were looking for literary “smuggling routes” – places in which certain meanings were transferred from one language and poetic context to another. The results of these dialogues will be collected in a bilingual publication that will be published at next year’s international book fair in Leipzig, where Lithuania will be presented as a guest of honour.

The recurring VERSchmuggel creative workshop is being organised in Lithuania by the Lithuanian Culture Institute and the Lithuanian Writers Union together with Lithuania’s Goethe-Institut and the Haus for Poesie Berlin-based literary organisation. The project is being supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania and the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Lithuanian Culture Institute representative Vakarė Smaleckaitė, the project’s coordinator in Lithuania, emphasised that the processes taking place at the writers’ creative workshops were truly extraordinary: “Translators see poems as tools for expressing their knowledge and techniques. At poets’ creative workshops, everything works differently: it’s important that the poets don’t know each others’ languages and that they can only communicate through an intermediary – the translator. The translator translates any questions or doubts that may arise and the writers themselves – like Sigitas Parulskis, for example – must analyse the text and suggest translations. In our case, the Lithuanian poet chooses which German translation of the poem poetically and meaningfully best matches the understanding they developed during their discussion through the translator. For this project, it isn’t the result that’s most important, it’s the translation process. That’s when you have the transfer of meanings, the dialogue, and the review of your ideas and understanding.”

According to Aurelie Maurin, who has been organising the poetry translation creative workshop for the past 12 years, the point of VERSschmuggel is to achieve a certain sort of symbiosis and cooperation. “I am always impressed by the freedom poets have when translating other poets’ work. Many authors understand the art of translation as a continuation of their own creative poetic work,” the Haus fur Poesie representative noted.

“We wiped off our make-up, burned our fathers’ shoes, howled like sirens with wolves, searched for the ground under our feet and found all of it here in this village,” said poet Christoph Wenzel, describing his creative workshop with Sigitas Parulskis (translator Rūta Jonynaitė assisted the poets).

Poet Norbert Hummelt was no less inspired by his creative dialogue with Antanas A. Jonynas. “Every morning by Nevėžis, once – with black clouds drifting by and pigeons cooing on the bridge supports. Where did the pigeons fly off to?… working with Antanas A. Jonynas was like an easy swim,” the German poet said. Translator Vilija Gerulaitienė “swam” along with them.

Poet Giedrė Kazlauskaitė worked with Orsolya Kalasz and translator Nida Matiukaite, Gytis Norvilas worked with Mathias Traxler and translator Edita Šulcaite. Aivaras Veiknys and Christian Phillips translated each other’s work with the help of translator Laima Lekevičiūtė. Agnė Žagrakalytė participated in the workshop together with Berlin-based poet Sabine Scho and translator Jurgita Mikutyte.