Meet the ’17 Mentees: Madeleine Campbell

The ALTA Emerging Translator Mentorship Program is designed to facilitate and establish a close working relationship between an experienced translator and an emerging translator on a project selected by the emerging translator. The mentorship duration is approximately one year. The emerging translator is expected to choose a project that can be completed in a year’s time, and they will only be advised on that particular project. Congratulations to this year’s non-language-specific poetry mentee, Madeleine Campbell:

Madeleine Campbell is a writer, researcher and translator based in Scotland. Born in Canada to American/Slovenian parents, she moved to France at a very young age and wasn’t schooled in English until she relocated from Paris to Toronto as an adolescent. Of significant solace during an alienating first year back in Canada was French poetry, mostly Arthur Rimbaud, whom she read, copied out and recited to herself like a mantra. Of perhaps more lasting benefit was being encouraged by her progressive high school to follow the Québec curriculum in Francophone literature and continue her Latin studies with a university tutor, which helped lay the foundation for what became a lifelong engagement with languages and all things comparative.

When came to study Developmental Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, she gained an insight into the language acquisition process and investigated sociocultural aspects of early bilingualism. The experience gave her a better understanding, in cognitive and neurological terms, of the nature of the bilingual mind and redefined her relationship with her own fragmented linguistic heritage. By then she functioned primarily in English, yet whenever she was engaged in the creative writing process she felt that someone was missing—her other-language persona. This phenomenon could be partly explained by neurological evidence that the multilingual brain actively suppresses the language that is not in use—which suggests, at some level, a continuous tension between competing sounds, words, affect and expression.

She sensed a parallel dichotomy in Francophone Algerian author Mohammed Dib, whose first language was Arabic, when she chanced upon a slender collection of short stories, Le Talisman, in a guesthouse in Morocco. This encounter with an author who, like her, wrote in his second language, is what drew her to literary translation. The polyvalence of his expression and the challenge of rendering this in English is what led her to start this journey by translating fragments of Dib’s prose and poetry for her PhD. In the course of researching her thesis she was also able to explore the complex and layered influences inherent to Francophone Maghrebi literature, from its Arabic substrate to its interdependence with other Mediterranean cultures, including that of medieval troubadour poetry.

She recently met Occitan poet Aurélia Lassaque at the Stanza Poetry Festival and they began to correspond about a possible translation project. Endangered today, Occitan is still spoken in Southern France, in Val d’Aran (Spain) and a few valleys in the Piedmont region of Italy. Occitan and Catalan are closely related but began to diverge in medieval times and are now separate Romance languages with rich and distinct oral and literary traditions.

Madeleine was attracted by multiple facets of Aurélia’s latest bilingual collection En quête d’un visage: in addition to echoes, reminiscent of Anne Carson’s Antigone, of the ancient classical form, Aurélia’s French and Occitan poems are not exact versions of each other as they are each composed ab initio. This allows the translator, whom Aurélia regards as “the author of the translation,” to draw on both sources, affording more freedoms to work in creative partnership with the original poet. They are both therefore delighted to have their nascent collaboration fostered by the 2017 ALTA Emerging Translator Poetry Mentorship Program.

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