PROMOTING IRISH LITERATURE ABROAD BY SINÉAD MAC AODHA
(Poetry Ireland News, March/ April 2008)
As many readers of Poetry Ireland News know, Ireland Literature Exchange/Idirmhalartán Litríocht Éireann is the organisation in Ireland which promotes Irish literature abroad.
We do this by awarding translation grants to international publishers, by hosting literary translators in Ireland and by organising the participation of Irish authors at international
book fairs and festivals. In our fourteen-year history we have supported over 1000 titles
in 43 languages in 34 countries. None of this activity would be possible without the invaluable grant aid we receive annually from the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon, Culture Ireland,
the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Bord na Leabhar Gaeilge.
This year started with a flurry of activity: working in close co-operation with the Irish Embassy
in India, we helped co-ordinate the first festival of Irish literature in New Delhi which took
place throughout the month of January. The festival included a concert by the singer
Judith Mok, Molly Bloom says No!, a multi-media presentation by photographer John
Minihan and a number of literature events with Irish writers from a range of genres.
Three poets, Derek Mahon, Anthony Cronin and Anne Haverty, all read from their
work to audiences who were both engaged and enchanted by their poems.
Derek Mahon enthralled his listeners by reading some new poems which had been inspired by his recent visit to Goa and read from the works of other Irish poets, such as Louis
MacNeice, Harry Clifton and John Montague. It is hoped that further invitations for Irish
writers to India will follow in the wake of this success.
On returning to Dublin, my first task was to take care of ILE’s visiting Chinese translator,
Cao Bo, who was in Ireland to put the finishing touches on his translation of Thomas
Kinsella’s Táin. The translation forms part of a most unusual Beijing-based project,
‘The Garden of the Táin’. Irish artist Fion Gunn, in co-operation with landscape artist John Ketch and sculptor Guan Donghai, has created a number of sculptures inspired by
Kinsella’s Táin for this specially landscaped garden at Tsinghua University. An excerpt
from Cao Bo’s translation of The Táin will be displayed on the garden wall. The complete translation will be published by Yingpan Publishing to coincide with the inauguration of the garden in May 2008. The garden will become a permanent amenity for the staff and
students of Tsinghua University.
During his residency, Cao Bo travelled to Belfast to meet with Ciaran Carson, whose own version of The Táin was published last year. Back in Dublin, Cao Bo had the opportunity
to meet with a number of other writers and academics who also gave generously of their time. Cao Bo’s next project, a translation into Chinese of Samuel Beckett’s Watt, is equally ambitious and we anticipate it with great excitement.
ILE is currently preparing for the arrival of the Mexican poet and translator Pedro Serrano,
who will be in Dublin as a guest of the Franco-Irish Literary Festival and the Mexican
Embassy. Pedro has worked with ILE on a number of projects in the past and we hope that
his visit to Dublin will prove a fruitful one.The festival will take place from 18–20 April, with
a reading by Pedro on Friday, 18 April at 6.00pm
Our core activity is the awarding of translation grants to international publishers. Recent
poetry projects which have received support from ILE include translations of works
by Bernard O’Donoghue, Gerald Dawe and John Montague into German, Seamus Heaney into Spanish, Bill Tinley into Hungarian, WB Yeats into French and Justin Quinn into Czech. Literary translators such as Jorge Fondebrider, Thomas Kabdebo, Gabriel Rosenstock and Jean-Yves Masson work tirelessly to promote poets and poetry in translation. We should celebrate their great creativity and dedication more frequently.
One of the greatest joys of working at Ireland Literature Exchange is the unexpected
treasure which arrives in the post when one is least expecting it. Once an ILE translation
grant contract is signed, the publisher has a period of up to twenty-four months in which to complete the project. Imagine the surprise and delight in our small office when a box of
books arrives anything up to two years later, with a brand new work of Irish literature in translation in, for example, Armenian or Hindi! We hope to continue and extend our activities and look forward to the next one thousand titles…