Meet the ’17 Mentees: Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello

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 Korean poetry mentee (along with EJ Koh), Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello:

June 24, 2017. Kundiman Retreat 2017. Fordham University, Bronx, NY. Photography by Margarita Corporan

Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello was born in South Korea and adopted at an early age to a family in rural upstate New York. In order to give her some cultural background, her parents enrolled her in Korean language classes at a local church. Between high school and college, she took a gap year to live in Seoul, where she tutored ESL students and volunteered at an orphanage. Upon returning to the US to earn a dual BA in English and Creative Writing at Carnegie Mellon University, she began writing poems about Korea as a way to stay connected to the culture and history to which she had previously had little access.

Cancio-Bello earned her MFA in creative writing from Florida International University in 2014, becoming the first Asian American poet to graduate from the program. During this time, one of her professors taught a course on poetry in translation, whose texts included Stephen Mitchell’s Rilke texts and Robert Hass’s translations of Japanese haiku masters such as Basho, Buson, and Issa. Both of these translators strongly influenced her own poetry and opened the door for her to further explore poetry in translation.

In order to combat feelings of isolation from her identity as an Asian American woman, she specifically sought out Korean translations, but found only a handful of texts. When she discovered Don Mee Choi’s anthology, Anxiety of Words, she understood how little contemporary Korean poetry is available in translation, particularly by female authors.

At the same time, she attended a Kundiman Poetry Retreat, where she met EJ Koh, who was publishing translations of Korean female poets along with her own work. Since then, she and Koh have been collaborating to establish conversations and communities to support female Korean writers, and to introduce translations of the Korean poet Yi Won into English.

She looks forward to not only engaging with female poets from her native culture, but also engaging in critical and creative examinations of the translation process. She hopes that her background in the craft of poetry will provide a unique perspective into translating the nuanced lyricism of the original Korean texts into English. She is grateful to ALTA for the opportunity to partner with EJ Koh in the mentorship program with one of her literary heroes, Don Mee Choi.

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