Watching Poets Work: Crear

August 10, 2010

Robyn is in Crear this week for her annual translation workshop, so it seemed an ideal time to revisit her piece in our Poetry Reader, issue 6.

Once a year, in partnership with Literature Across Frontiers, I facilitate a translation workshop in Scotland.

We began in 2002 at Moniack Mhor, went to Shetland in 2005 and to Crear in Argyll in 2006, to which we’ve been returning. It’s a beautiful, isolated place where the intensity of the workshop process is countered by the surrounding space, and the ever-changing view across the Sound of Jura to the Inner Hebrides. You know the islands are there, although sometimes the land is indistinguishable from the clouds. Such a blurring of boundaries, and sudden illumination, is an apt metaphor for the work.

Literature Across Frontiers (LAF) encourages literary translations between lesser-known languages, in these workshops using English as the bridge (elsewhere it might be French or German). This year we brought together poets from Poland, Romania and Germany, and added Donny O’Rourke to the mix. Over several days, I have the privilege of watching the poets work – occasionally acting as sheepdog at their heels. Translation is the closest form of reading, and it is not an entirely comfortable process to have your poems minutely scrutinised by your peers. Sometimes this involves physical demonstration – ‘How do you mean, hold hands in the air?’ – sometimes a back-story (‘Well, I’m using two Indian folk-tales here’); often a cultural reference: ‘In Poland we say “Love does not rust”.’ (This saying inspired a lovely new poem.) We learnt that there was no Romanian equivalent of ‘nightcap’, that Scots gave a good edge to German memories of childhood in the shadow of the Wall – ‘we played “people’s polis” an defektur cheils’.

The process requires hard work, intense concentration, immense generosity, and a good seasoning of humour. Working, eating and reading together is a rare opportunity for these writers. Although they give a performance at the end, they don’t simply parachute into a festival and then go their own ways; some lasting associations are formed. They try on other voices, learn new ways of working, have their own poems carried into different cultures over the bridge of mutual trust.

‘I find it hard to make the transition back to a world of buildings and commerce, talking to people who aren’t concerned how the crow flies into another language as the raven.’

Once I see the relationships being established, the exchanges starting, then I am both part of and apart from that community of endeavour. It’s an inspiring experience, and like the poets, I find it hard to make the transition back to a world of buildings and commerce, talking to people who aren’t concerned about the difference between ‘golden dust’ and ‘gold dust’, or how the crow flies into another language as the raven.

When I see the SPL’s name in a Czech literary weekly, or in a collection of Icelandic translations, I’m proud that the Library has this international presence, and that the encounters between Scottish and European poets are memorable, sustained and sustaining.

3 Responses to “Watching Poets Work: Crear”


  1. […] word express August 16, 2010 by lauracrear One of my all time favorite weeks of the year is when Crear is filled with poetry in every European language you can think off! The residency is in collaboration with Literature Across Frontiers and the Scottish Poetry Library. This year we had Gokçenur Ç and Efe Duyan from Turkey, Katerina Iliopoulou from Greece, Marko Pogacar from Croatia, Ryan van Winkle from Scotland and sadly Raman Mundair couldn’t make it. Will be writing more about what happened but in the meantime read Robyn Marsack’s account of last year! We liked it so much we have nicked it so just to stay that it first appeared on the Scottish Poetry Library website at: https://scottishpoetrylibrary.wordpress.com/2010/08/10/watching-poets-work-crear/ […]


  2. […] from Iceland and Lithuania who make up ‘the berserkers’, a group formed from the impetus of the multilingual music/translation workshop at Crear in 2008. They’ll play in Vilnius and Riga to celebrate the launch of their CD, Under the evening […]


  3. […] from Iceland and Lithuania who make up ‘the berserkers’, a group formed from the impetus of the multilingual music/translation workshop at Crear in 2008. They’ll play in Vilnius and Riga to celebrate the launch of their CD, Under the evening […]


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