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Web Gallery Adds 3 New Languages to Global Conversation on Whitman

This week, the International Writing Program (IWP) adds Arabic, Polish, and the first-ever Malay translation of Walt Whitman’s famous poem “Song of Myself” to the 9-language WhitmanWeb multimedia gallery. The gallery, which presents one section of the 52-section poem each week, along with an audio recording, foreword, afterword, and discussion question, already includes Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian, as well as the first-ever translation into Persian.

“I am large, I contain multitudes,” Whitman wrote; by adding Arabic, Polish, and Malay (bringing the total language count to 12), WhitmanWeb encourages a multitude of new readers to discover the poem and join the conversation. The gallery, currently in its 26th week, will publish the three new translations beginning from section 1 of the poem, with the 52 weekly installments to run from now through May 2014.

A WEALTH OF RESOURCES

WhitmanWeb combines the scholarly resources and expertise of the Walt Whitman Archive with IWP’s international network of poets and translators. University of Iowa professor Ed Folsom, one of the world’s premier Whitman scholars and co-director of the Archive, collaborates with WhitmanWeb translators working to produce first-ever translations (like the Persian). Folsom also writes the weekly forewords to each new section of the poem, replete with analysis, commentary, and even trivia. There’s a cliff in Canada called “Old Walt” where the final three lines of section 20 of “Song of Myself” are carved in stone in three-foot-high letters—who knew?

2 RADICALLY DIFFERENT ARABIC TRANSLATIONS FROM IRAQ AND SYRIA

The Arabic page of WhitmanWeb actually includes two translations: a 1976 version by Iraqi poet Saadi Yusef tracked down by IWP alumnus Soheil Najm (who offers his opinion on it, including some of Yusef’s questionable changes and omissions in a short essay in the “Resources” section of WhitmanWeb) and a 2005 translation by Abed Ismael, a professor of Modern American Poetry at the University of Damascus, in Syria. The IWP is digitizing the Yusef translation for the first time—no easy task, since the Arabic text has to be transcribed before it can be uploaded to the gallery. Presenting the two Arabic versions side-by-side allows Arabic-speaking readers and scholars to compare and contrast the decisions made by the translators, as Nadia Fayidh, a professor of English and American poetry at the University of Mustaserya in Baghdad (Iraq) does in her short essay in the WhitmanWeb “Resources” section.  Prof. Fayidh also translates the weekly comments into Arabic (made possible by funding from the Cultural Affairs Office at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad), and is the voice of the audio recordings of the Yussef translation.

FIRST-EVER MALAY TRANSLATION

IWP alumnus Eddin Khoo is translating a new section of the poem into Malay each week, the first time anyone has attempted to make “Song on Myself” available to Malay readers. (Malay is spoken by more than 200 million people in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, and Borneo).

DIGITIZING THE POLISH, LINE BY LINE

While visiting the University of Iowa from Poland, Dr. Marta Skwara, an Americanist at the University of Sczecin, mentioned a Polish translation of “Song of Myself” to WhitmanWeb collaborator Ed Folsom. When she returned home, she tracked it down and has worked to digitize it, retyping all 52 sections so that they can be uploaded to the gallery, proving that, for scholars and admirers of Whitman, WhitmanWeb is a labor of love.

“Translators have been approaching us since we launched WhitmanWeb last October,” says IWP editor Nataša Ďurovičová, who oversees the design and coordination of the gallery. “They let us know about other existing translations of the poem and propose new projects.”

IWP hopes to also translate the forewords, afterwards, and discussion questions for each section, but, with limited funding, only the Persian, Russian, and Arabic tabs include translations of these rich  materials. “We would love to have these commentaries in the other languages as well,” says Ďurovičová. “Especially Chinese. That’s the language in which the conceptual distance is the greatest, so having these resources translated could really help the conversation.”

Individuals interested in contributing to the project should contact Nataša Ďurovičová, natasa-durovicova[at]uiowa.edu.

WhitmanWeb will also serve as the virtual “textbook” for the IWP’s inaugural free online lecture series, which will invite anyone with an internet connection to engage in discussion led by Whitman scholar Ed Folsom and IWP Director Christopher Merrill.  “Like” WhitmanWeb on Facebook to stay up to date on this and other news.

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