For our last August event, the SWC hosted AC Clarke, Maggie Rabatski and Sheila Templeton as they read and discussed their pamphlet Owersettin: a Three-way Conversation. In the project, each poet chose two poems by the others and translated (sometimes closely, sometimes loosely) or responded to the initial text to produce an original creation infused with their own unique perspective. What began as a literary experiment for the three poets – Londoner Clarke, native Gaelic speaker Rabatski and Doric Scots speaking Templeton – gradually became a reciprocal conversation between the languages of contemporary Scotland.
While working on Owersettin, the three poets did not set out to choose poems with a common theme. Nevertheless, from the readings, the universal experiences of love, loss and heartbreak spoke out from their texts. First to read on the evening was Rabatski with her poem ‘Letter to my Daughter’ performed in English and then in her lilting native Gaelic, which was followed by Templeton’s Scots translation. To round off the first set of poems, Clarke opted to construct a response that drew from her own personal experiences, rather than a translation, with her poignant reading of ‘Letter to my Brother’.
Through the course of creating the poems within the pamphlet, the poets stressed that key gifts they gained was ‘a kind of attentiveness’ to the medium of language and performative aspects to poetry. Neither Clarke nor Templeton have a grasp of Rabatski’s native Gaelic, however, the dissociation from the language compelled them to observe the feeling and rhythm of the poetry in their responses. Furthermore, the translation process also made the poets reach beyond the usual subject matter they tend towards naturally. While Rabatski and Templeton tend to draw from their personal lives, Clarke noted that the project had forced her to address her personal life and create poetry she ‘clearly needed to write’.
The project also allowed the rare experience of seeing their poems through a different voice and perspective. Clarke stated that her work had become ‘reinvigorated’ and that ‘[the poem] wasn’t any more my poem: it was an equal poem’. Owersettin became not a selection of derivate translations and responses, but poems infused with their own power. Through reinterpretation, the texts become parallel poems; poems in transit, moving between linguistic borders to open up a dialogue on common human experiences.
At the end of the evening, the poets turned their three-way conversation out to the audience and asked: ‘Was there anyone able to understand all of the poems?’. Only one person raised their hand. In this admission, the poets arrived at the core of their project: through translation, each poet was able to open up their writing to a wider audience and transcend the limits of language. Owersettin is not just a three-way conversation between Clarke, Rabatski and Templeton, but also a four-way dialogue between the writers and the audience.
Purchase Owersettin here.
Words by Abigayle Brown