An emergent sense of the literary: Doing children’s poetry translation in the literature classroom


This article brings together findings from translation theory, the poetics of children’s poetry, and the pedagogy of translation, in an attempt to theorise the practice of poetry-translation in the literary classroom. I argue that translating children’s poetry in the context of translation workshops mobilises skills, and encourages ways of thinking about poetry, that espouse particularly well one of the complex challenges of literary education: namely, triggering in learners an emergent sense of the literary. Poetry-translation, I contend, allows for profoundly experiential engagement with some of the most sophisticated, and least easily articulated, aspects of the aesthetics of literature – prominently, the resistance of the literary text to paraphrase, the lack of a clear content-form dichotomy, and the embodied aspects of the literary encounter. Because translating is never just writing, but always already writing one’s reading, the translation of poetry in the literary classroom requires pupils to capture, experience, and take ownership of their encounters with literature, in order to re-express them. I first explain the practice of literary translation in the classroom; I then talk about contemporary poetry translation theory and its deeply phenomenological approach to text. I next show why the particular poetics of children’s poetry situate that kind of text ideally for a pre-semantic, intuitive approach to poetry translation. Finally, I look at the writing process as a way of turning the pupil into what Roland Barthes calls a poéticien, a person whose poetry-writing does theoretical work.

Key words: children’s poetry, translation, literary education, aesthetics

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