A reading and conversation with the author Matthias Göritz about his recently published poetry collection "Colonies of Paradise", translated by Mary Jo Bang.
The meeting will be held on Zoom at 11 AM CST / 18.00 CET.
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Mary Jo Bang and Matthias Göritz worked for years to create a “perfect” poetic translation of Göritz’s early works. Bang and Göritz share a history of collaboration. In 2014, Göritz published a number of Bang’s poems from her 2007 book Elegy in the German literary magazine Sprache im technischen Zeitalter, along with a short essay about the work. That same year, Bang, who was studying German in preparation for a fellowship at the American Academy of Berlin, began to work on translating a few of Göritz’s poems into English with her tutor, Ervin Malakaj. Göritz went on to publish a translation of Elegy that he did with Uda Sträling (Elegie, Wallstein Verlag, 2018). When Göritz accepted a teaching position in the Comparative Literature program at Washington University in 2016, Bang began to translate the poems in Göritz’s first book of poems, Loops (2001).
Though Göritz speaks English, he wanted someone who could capture the humor and idiomatic language of his German poems in English. The caveat was that Bang does not speak German fluently.
Bang is a practiced hand at translating poems written in languages that she does not speak. For the past 16 years, she has been working on a translation of Dante, so far publishing Inferno (2013) and Purgatorio (2021). Bang begins by feeding a line from the original poem into a computer translator. She then uses crowd-sourced, dual-language dictionaries to comb through the original next to the decidedly un-poetic computer-generated copy. Then, she references earlier published translations.
With Göritz’s poetry, Bang faced a new challenge as well as an opportunity. Two accomplished and well-established German translators, Susan Bernofsky and Michael Hoffman, had previously translated a few of Göritz's poems, but no one had yet translated the entirety of his first book. She could, however, speak to the author, a luxury unavailable when translating the work of Dante, a 14th-century Tuscan poet. If translation is all about recreating that relationship between a poem’s voice and the mind of the author, Bang had a decided advantage in being able to access that mind whenever she had a question.
For six years, Bang and Göritz passed translations of his poems between each other. Bang would ask if she got the poem right, and when Göritz called it great, she would ask, “but is it perfect?” Then, Göritz would explain some minor secondary meaning of a phrase in German, and Bang would open the poem again to find space for more of the original ambiguity.
In Colonies of Paradise, Göritz reflects on his childhood and the experience of living in the United States for the first time as an adult. He writes about the uncanny experience of walking through the grid layout of Chicago after having grown up in Germany, where the streets often follow older medieval designs.
The project is part of the subthemes Opportunity, Future prospects and Connect not divide.
Mary Jo Bang
Mary Jo Bang is the author of eight books of poetry — including Elegy: Poems, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award — and the translator of Dante’s Inferno, illustrated by Henrik Drescher, and Purgatorio. She has received a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Berlin Prize Fellowship. She teaches creative writing at WashU.
Matthias Göritz is a poet, translator, and novelist. He has written four poetry collections: Loops, Pools, Tools, and Spools; four novels, including Der kurze Traum des Jakob Voss (The Brief Dream of Jakob Voss) and Parker; and three novellas. He has received the Hamburg Literature Prize, the Mara Cassens Prize, the Robert Gernhardt Prize, and the William Gass Award. He teaches at WashU.
The International Writers Track in Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis
This PhD track in comparative literature aimed at international writers proceeds from the conviction that advanced study and credentials in literary studies support and enhance the intellectual and creative work of writers by complementing and informing their endeavors with comparative historical, cultural, linguistic, and theoretical frameworks. It offers highly qualified international students the opportunity to advance their careers with academic training in comparative literary studies in the United States.
“Writer” in our sense comprises fiction writers, poets, essayists, journalists, translators, screenwriters, filmmakers, and public intellectuals. As an internationally-renowned center of literary study in multiple languages and home to one of the best creative writing programs in the country, WashU offers a rich intellectual and cultural foundation for writers from all backgrounds. We recruit candidates who would benefit from pursuing such studies in a context where they can simultaneously work on their writing, make literary contacts, pursue comparative literary and theoretical studies and complete translations of their work (collaborating with fellow graduate students when appropriate). Students completing the program are not necessarily expected to pursue university teaching positions in the United States or elsewhere worldwide, although they may choose to do so; the degree is offered with the expectation that it will help them enter the world of writing and publishing beyond the academy and in their respective home countries.