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V. Creative Writing and Translation

Creative translation and translucinación in practice-based research and pedagogy



Translucinación est un terme inventé par le poète chilien Andrés Ajens pour « décrire comment la traduction est une forme de lecture et d’écriture qui crée de nouvelles œuvres, de nouvelles conversations » (Osman et Spahr iii). Dans cet article, je raconte comment j’ai adapté et élargi ce terme pour expérimenter des pratiques de traduction qui s’écartent des normes de la traduction telles que la fidélité, l’exactitude et l’équivalence. S’écarter de la norme, c’est l’ouvrir, montrer ses mécanismes, ses lacunes et ses fissures, ses angles morts et ses points d’aporie. C’est ainsi que la translucinación, telle que je l’utilise, peut servir d’outil de recherche-création pour faire face à la rupture sans précédent qui se produit dans le domaine de la traduction, et donc dans la traductologie et dans l’étude des langues et des textes dans leurs différences culturelles. L’objectif de cette recherche est également de reconnecter la recherche avec la pédagogie sous la forme de méthodes créatives, qui se focalisent sur le processus, dans lesquelles les enseignant.e.s et les étudiant.e.s en langue, en écriture et en traduction pourraient trouver des moyens de se libérer des limites oppressives d’un système stupéfié par la maîtrise, dans les deux sens du terme.

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Texte intégral

1. A certain imprecision leading to uncertain precision

1There was a certain imprecision – or an uncertain precision – in the pidgin-down grey that hung around the Villa Gillet that November Friday in Lyon. Once a manor belonging to a family of dyers, the Villa Gillet is now a cultural centre devoted to contemporary writing. And that day, I made my way to it following a curving path up to the manor nested within a cloud on a hill. I was scheduled to lead a workshop of feminist translation as part of the Mode d’Emploi festival, a festival of ideas. But between the cloud particles softening my perception, the manor became a setting for a fiction, a letter wandering out of place from a sound poem, in the space opened for expectancy and potential in that certain imprecision, that uncertain precision of mist, that is also the space that you open when you invite people to do creative writing with you.

2I was joined in an elegant salon by ten participants. We began the workshop by marking a break with the activities that had preceded our time together. I invited them to stand around the table, close their eyes and take stock of their bodies, to remember that they had bodies. Often, I said, we forget about our bodies, passing through our lives like floating heads. So take a minute to anchor your awareness back into your tissues, bones, blood, organs, passing attention through the different parts of your flesh and architecture. Move. Feel for the limits of what is comfortable for your body in this context. Roll your shoulders, your neck, shake your legs, swing your arms, circle your hips. And breathe. Breathe steadily, to counter the effects of the shortened, staccato, panic-stricken breaths we breathe throughout the day as we are catapulted with urgency from one task, looming with a self-importance much greater than it probably deserves set into the larger context of our intersubjective world, to another. Count each breath. Four counts in, four counts out. Five counts in, five counts out.

3And notice, too, that at the top of each breath, there is a slight pause. A breach, a moment, an opening, before the breath descends again. And there at the bottom too, a breach, an opening. This is not the opposite of breath, not not-breathing–this is the space between breaths, and it is part of the totality of what we call breath. Stretch this space. Take a moment at the top and the bottom of each breath, and linger, a bit longer than you would normally. The space between mist particles, of a certain imprecision inviting to uncertain precision. This is the space we will try to inhabit today, I said, a space that is neither thin nor empty, but thick and full: the space between. Between your breaths, between mist particles, but also between us. Feel for the presence of the person next to you, and feel for what lives in that space between you. And in front of you, is the space between all of us. In that centre between, imagine a fluctuating ball of particles, like a planet, of mist and dirt and fibres and fire, full of light, full of the particles, the energeia or each of us, meeting and growing through this encounter. And lastly, the space between languages. Finally, I invited them to open their eyes and say their names and the names of the language or languages they speak. That’s where we’ll work today, I said, between our names and our languages. While there were many languages present in the room, the one we all shared was French.

4After we had gotten a glimpse of each other, I invited participants to once again close their eyes, and I played a recording of Vanessa Place reading her list of synonyms for the word “pussy” from her novel La Medusa. We listened to it once through, and then sat and talked about it. After that I played it once again, but this time asking participants to experiment with a practice of translucinación. I describe translucinación as a translation that hallucinates, mediates upon and pushes at the limits of what is meant by the word “translation”. We were translucinating from a text in English, a language to which members of the workshop had varying levels of access. Added to that was the fact that Place’s text read aloud is quite difficult to apprehend all at once. Her work reads quickly and fluidly, and meaning becomes material. Even a native English speaker hops from word to word, grasping only parts. But the idea again was not to produce a faithful translation of an original source text, but rather to take hold of what sprouts from the text, and move it through one’s ears, mouth, hands, paper.

  • 1 For an excellent and comprehensive study on homophonic translation see Broqua, Vincent and Weissman (...)

5Translucinación can mean many things. It can mean to translate only the sound, as in a homophonic translation of “one two three four” with “Oh Anne, tu cries fort!”1 It can mean to translate by an association, personal, etymological or metonymical, that you might have with a word, or other division of language. It could mean to translate at the limits of a word’s meaning, with a calque or a false friend, a bilingual homophone (“love” in English by “love” in French for example, which means “coils”). It could mean to translate with a summary or an explanation, translating many words by one word or one word by many words. It can mean to translate by the opposite. Or to translate with neologism, inventing glossaries or even grammars, or abandoning glossaries and grammars altogether, playing with grapheme and phoneme. A translucinación can happen from one language into many, or many into one, or many into many. It is one entry into what Sara Greaves and Marie-Laure Shultze have talked about as “dissociating form and meaning in creative translation workshops” as a way of “moving between languages… to take language by surprise, to try to creep up on it, to catch it redhanded in the process of betraying or enslaving by presenting as perfectly natural what are in fact conventions” (Greaves and Schultz 3).

6After I played the recording over again, and participants worked on their translucinacións, I invited them to engage in a freestyle reading to share their translations, a style of reading I adapted from a 2014 Red Rover event in Chicago organized by Jennifer Karmin and Laura Goldstein called the “Rumble”. In our Rumble, participants were invited to share one word or phrase at a time from their translucinacíon, but without a pre-determined order, without raising their hands, simply in an anarchic rhythm that emerged from each of us sharing the space of speech and reading in a shy and kind, progressively opening space, between languages and between us. Participants were also invited to repeat words, either their own, or others’, once or many times over, searching for rhythms, melody, prosody. Participants were invited to speak their words or yell them, sing them, or whisper them, or even to mouth them silently or say them in their heads.

7The word “translucinación” is not of my own invention, although I have adapted its original meaning to suit my own ends. I first came across the term in an article published by Vincent Broqua in 2019, “La traduction de poésie expérimentale comme Translucinación”; He traces it back to a 2003 volume of the Californian experimental poetry journal Chain entitled, Translucinación. The editors, Jena Osman and Juliana Spahr give credit for the term to Cecilia Vicuña, who got it from Andrés Ajens, who uses it to “describe how translation is a form of reading and writing that creates new work, new conversations.” (Osman and Spahr iii). In other words, translucinación opens a space of a certain imprecision, and of uncertain precision, that is the work of creation between languages.

8As we can see, the term, by the time it got to me, had already gone through a number of dispatches, following a Chain. It is in fact a term I adopted out of pedagogical convenience, to initiate students or workshop participants to a practice of translation that invites creation by hijacking and deviating from a source text and language. In my use of the term, a translucinación is a translation at the limits of the meaning of the word translation, that asks the question “what is translation?”, responding through a practice-based research or pedagogy of translation that does everything except what translations are supposed to do. Other poets and academics have theorized on how to define and delineate a practice of translation that does the opposite of what it is supposed to do and thereby resists, interrogates but also copes with, responds to and seeks to understand translational norms. It has been known as creative translation (Santiago Artozqui), poetic translation (Tim Atkins), potential translation (Pablo Martín Ruiz, Irène Gayraud), transcreation (Haroldo de Campos), transelation (Erin Mouré), perverse translation (Sherry Simon), queer translation (Allison Grimaldi-Donahue, Amanda Murphy), and Avant-Garde or experimental translation by yours truly. One of the most exciting places this practice-based research is happening is in the Outranspo2, an Oulipo derived group of experimental translators from all over the globe.

9At this point I can imagine readers sitting at home thinking: this is all very well and good for a creative writing workshop carried out at a feminist translation workshop at the festival Mode d’emploi at the Villa Gillet on a misty November Lyon day. But what about the University? What is the significance, the destiny and import of such a practice once it collides with the positivist tradition of a perhaps largely normative French academic reflection? And what use can it be, what is the fallout for the classroom when what you are teaching students is precisely the opposite of what they are told to do in their usual classrooms where translation is used, namely, to translate accurately, faithfully, and without changing the meaning of the original text?

2. As research

10Without changing the meaning of the original text. Soili Petäjäniemi-Brown and Karen Emmerich have commented upon this impossible injunction laid upon translators: to do the same while doing something different. It is an impossible task, and yet one that is regularly stipulated on translator contracts, both in the classroom and beyond. Karen Emmerich quotes from the translation contract she signed for her translation of Vassilis Vassilikos’s Glafkos Thrassakis, which states that the translator shall “neither omit anything from the original text nor add anything to it” whereas, as Emmerich comments, in a translation “all the words are added, all the words are different” (Emmerich 3). Petäjäniemi-Brown describes the translator contract in the case of a translation for a manual for a life support machine as “gathering together the demands for infinite responsibility commanded by translation being a matter of life and death, infinite knowledge required to fulfil that obligation, and machine-like (technological) performance that eradicates human error and works at infinite speed. This scenario is coloured by no small degree of powerlessness” (Petäjäniemi-Brown 7).

11In carrying out a counter practice of translation in translucinación, we are, on a profound level, questioning the translational norms described above, which opens a window into how translation really happens. The first of these norms is the presupposition and requirement of sense-driven fidelity. The second is accuracy, which enforces the norms of fidelity in an unrealistic, paradoxical sense onto the translator who seeks to carry it out. This relates to the third, equivalence, and with it, the weight of ideologies that structure this equivalence in terms of power relations that exist and are reproduced within relationships of domination, where the original exists as a sacred, fixed entity contoured by laws of ownership, and the translation (and translator) is figured as secondary or subservient.

  • 3 A theory of translation that focuses on the aim or function of a translation. See Reiß, Katharina a (...)

12On many levels, these norms are undone in the everyday practice of translation. Emmerich describes the way in which text-tailoring intervenes in much literary translation to create fictions of originals, when editorial practices that carry creative agencies are more often at stake. Poetry is famously untranslatable, and frequently requires adaptation to account for form, rhythm, sound and homophonies. Beyond literary translation, in business or marketing, translation practices of localization often join in with the task of the translator. In medical or legal translations, translators must translate in accordance with policies and practices of the systems into which they are translating, and over-faithful translations that don’t adapt to the context could have serious (“life and death”) consequences. Technical translations must contend with technological (and cultural) differences from country to country. Newspaper articles are more often than not a hodgepodge of literal translation cut and pasted together with original writing or other news sources in order to produce articles of interest to the receiving public (some readers might be thinking of skopos3 here). It is true that some of this translational work bleeds over into intercultural mediation, and that translation and intercultural mediation are not always performed by the same actors. However, as many have been sounding the death knell of literal translation performed by humans due to improvements in machine translation and other translation technologies, I would second David Katan’s claim that it is time for a “transcreational turn” in the translation profession. Academic research may also be lost if it does not likewise contend with this same transformation.

13Translucinación and other practices of creative, transcreational and experimental translation practices thus have significant import for a practice-based research approach to taking stock of the realities of translation practice and theorizing them. In our contemporary moment, new layers might be added to the traditional translational norms that are being interrogated with this methodology, norms such as the “navigable, the productive and the predictive” (Slater 3). Ideologies of transparency in translation such as those theorized by Lawrence Venuti join together in our contemporary era with ideologies of omniscient access and “ultimate translatability” (Cronin 105), the idea that anything can be translated into code. Likewise, translation is supposed to be as efficient as possible, with automatic translation tools churning out translations—which readers are getting more and more used to reading in their imperfect form (“gist translation”), in the few moments that it takes for DeepL to convert one language into code to run through its algorithms and then decode out into the new language. The machine, it must never be forgotten, is programmed by humans, and humans for the most part, are norm followers (or in any case, norms are established by people following them), and train the machine to follow the rules they themselves have determined to be the norm, and to predict them according to habits of frequency. In this case, that norm is faithful, literal translation, which is increasingly taken care of by computers when it comes to dominant languages like French and English. A radical rupture is happening in the field of translation–one not unlike the shift photography prompted in the arts at the start of the Avant-Garde.

14Practices of translucinación are uniquely situated to interrogate, question, cope, understand and respond to these changing and unchanging norms, both outside and inside the University machine. The first instance of the workshop I describe above took place at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, also in Lyon. These workshops took place in Lyon because they were both organized by a team of French researchers working on feminist translation practices within the academy, with a project entitled FélicitésFéminismes en ligne: circulations, traductions, éditions. I recognize that this workshop had an unusual format for a University seminar. Part of this has to do with Félicités itself, which has partnerships with educational and research organizations seeking to do and transmit research in other ways, breaking down the confines of the University, both to spread and share knowledge, but also to decentre the ways in which we create knowledge, and deconstruct the “phallusy” that knowledge can only be produced by actors performing a mastery of a certain set of codes belonging to power structures within hierarchal organizations. The time has come to acknowledge the extent to which the codes for knowledge production are subjected to politics and presuppositions of class, race, gender etc. To get out of that, it could be argued that we must set foot outside the University, to look for other sets of knowledge and practices, and methodologies that can help to renew knowledge production and reduce the blind spots of privilege.

15This workshop represents one occasion among many where I have sought to test out a form of doing and sharing research simultaneously that exists somewhere between an academic conference, a writing workshop, an art happening and a spiritual ritual. Some readers might have recognized the influence of pranayama and ecofeminist rituals in the introduction to this article. Indeed, the guided meditation above was influenced by my yoga and meditation practice, and also by the writing of Starhawk, as well as by Nia Davies’s writing on poetry as ritual. This hybrid format was also inspired by an event I organized with Claire Musiol in 2018 and 2019 (when Marie Bourjea also joined the team), called Écrire en mouvement4, a festival meant to bridge gaps between the University and the world “outside” through the organization of itinerant creative writing and translation workshops that would start in one spot (in the University or elsewhere, in cultural sites across the city of Montpellier, where I am based) and finish in another, where a literary happening would be staged. The idea of this festival was to create in that space between, of uncertain precision a certain imprecision. It was also to try to close the gap between literary producers and receivers, and to function with a kind of local distribution channel (circuit court in French) model of creative writing. Such a model might also work towards deconstructing the binary between writer and reader in order to democratize the role of textual creation and transmission in society.

3. As creative writing pedagogy

16Once again, readers might be thinking, this is all well and good for a festival of creative writing workshops, or even as part of a feminist research seminar, pourquoi pas? But what about the classroom? How could one possibly hope to break down power relations and the constraints of hierarchy in knowledge practice and production in a setting where it might sometimes seem that students have been trained to sit, listen and obey for the first fifteen years of their schooling, to be receivers and not transmitters, to be receptacles in what Paolo Freire would call the “banking system” of education? And even if one could find a way to slowly, gently, pedagogically free them from these habits of obedience and seduce them into the free-flowing joys of the inverted classroom, isn’t this simply an illusion if at the end of the day the teacher still maintains ultimate dominance in the form of the requirement to submit grades to the administration that will then determine the future of those very students with whom one hopes to create a relationship of equality and mutual respect?

17Probably. And this is why I am going to come out very clearly and firmly against grading systems such as we practice them in contemporary Universities across the globe. I have never believed it is possible to truly teach and truly learn, or at least to do so with honesty, desire and genuine interest in a context where one actor in the relationship has such control over another. In the Pluriversidad, a fictional University I write about in an unpublished novel, there is no selection, there are no levels and no disciplines. The Pluriversidad is totally open to any student wishing to participate in any course to whatever extent suits them in that precise moment in their path. If, at the end of that course, the student wishes to receive an evaluation from their teacher, they have only to write an evaluation of their own on the class and submit it to the teacher who must respond to this with an evaluation of their own reflecting on the student’s work throughout the class. And in no way should this evaluation be submitted to the reductive violence of the attribution of a single number or letter to sum up the complexities of a student-teacher relationship. This system of evaluations can continue indefinitely. If, however, a student wishes to leave the Pluriversidad with a diploma, they collect all of their evaluations together, along with a portfolio of work they have created over the course of their time at University and submit it to a leaving council that they have assembled in collaboration with their colleagues, including students, teachers and other University personnel, and which is composed of internal and external members. Together, the council decides whether the student is ready to receive a diploma and writes a description of the program the student has created for themselves over the course of their study.

  • 5 For more about creative feedback on Alison Bouhmid’s tremendously rich blog devoted to creativity a (...)

18That is fiction of course, and as much as I believe fiction intervenes in reality, both by reflecting it and sometimes even by effecting real world change, this is not the world we currently live in - and I do have to submit grades at the end of the semester. In the creative writing classroom, my colleague Alison Bouhmid and I have developed a strategy for grading whereby students are never graded on their original creative writing, but only on their reflection, feedback and revision of an initial production. Students are invited to sign up to submit an original piece of writing corresponding to one of the themes and the work we did in class in a given week. They submit that piece of writing by posting it to Moodle. In the week that follows, students are asked to pick one of their classmates’ pieces of writing from that week to post feedback on. Feedback should be 100 words minimum and contain a summary, reflection and personal reaction to their classmate’s writing, including things they particularly enjoyed and constructive criticism designed to help the writer to revise their piece at the end of the semester. Students are also invited to submit creative feedback in the form of personal writing, fan fiction, or a poem inspired by their classmate’s writing5. Each act of feedback is worth one point (although a half point might be taken off for aggressively mediocre feedback) towards a total of ten potential points by the end of the semester. The other part of the grade goes to a revision of their original piece and a 1,000-word essay on how the feedback received from fellow students inspired the rewriting, along with a reflection on personal process and on the class in general.

19It is my hope that this grading system can participate in lending greater agency to the students in creative writing, and also in freeing them from the terror that a few mistakes might cost them their grade–and thus their future–a truly terrifying thought in today’s atmosphere of crisis and precarity. The aim is also to encourage them to focus fully on developing tools and strategies of creative writing and peer feedback, the reading and revision of that writing, and on working through the contours and flow of their own voice and poetics, and thus of their English (since this is still a foreign language learning classroom). As Bouhmid writes:

One of the aims of creative writing is to enable students to reconceptualise the gap between what they would like to express and can in fact express in the foreign language, in terms of creativity rather than in terms of lack, facilitating the emergence of stories and texts that are too often stillborn due to learner’s ingrained anxiety concerning error and lack of language mastery. (Bouhmid 7)

20In my experience, this fear inspired by the domination inherent in the requirement of mastery is one of the greatest obstacles to improvement. Greaves and Schultz have also written on the common foreign language teacher frustration of seeing the same errors return over and over again: “If the same errors are made time and time again, it may be, among other reasons, because the same cognitive paths are being taken, the same thoughts are being thought, which means that the foreignness/strangeness/otherness of the other language and culture, but also of language per se, has not been sufficiently brought home.” (Greaves and Schultz 4). However, they go a step beyond proposing creative writing as a way to improve the writing of foreign language learners. They show the extent to which error is based on monolingual and imperialist linguistic norms that promote a fallacy of linguistic purity and standardization. This fallacy is as violent outside the classroom as it is inside of it, as it creates an anxiety of fluency in the learner that impedes them accessing a language that is all their own, and no more or less valid than any speaker’s version of it:

What happens then, if we drop our monolingual mindset and take the traces of a first language in second language utterances not simply as errors, not as deviant forms whose deviancy we ignore so as to automatically reassert the ‘right’ meaning, but as valid variations, as signifying signifiers, as evidence of an ongoing—if precarious—love story with language? (Greaves and Schultz 8)

21The desire to welcome this kind of valid variation is at the heart of free-writing exercises proposed by Bouhmid and myself at the beginning of each creative writing class. In the first weeks, this takes the form of an activity where they are given a theme (a favourite word, a person who is troubling them, themselves seen through the eyes of that same person, their childhood bedroom, etc.) and told to write without stopping for 7 minutes. The only rule is to write without stopping. If they do not know what to write, they are invited to repeat a word or idea in writing until they get bored and think of something else. They almost always think of something else. After that we share and discuss. This usually takes up about the first 20-30 minutes of class time.

  • 6 This kind of exercise is not new, and is practiced by fellow Outranspians, and similar practices ar (...)

22This can also take shape in the dissociating of form and meaning that opens up when working in the certain imprecision, the uncertain precision, of the space between languages. In week ten of the creative writing course, we talk about the limits of language and the materiality of writing. For their free-write in this week I play a recording in Occitan, a language most of them don’t speak at all (although there are exceptions, and this is interesting as well), but that they have some limited access to, being French speakers. Of course if they are Spanish or Catalan speakers this provides another kind of access, and this linguistic diversity of the classroom is one of the most interesting points addressed by this exercise. They listen to the recording and are invited to translucinate, according to the same parameters I listed above.6

  • 7 I do not have space here for an exegesis on M. NourbeSe Philip’s extraordinary work, but I entreat (...)

23Another exercise, which I also experimented with in the feminist translation workshop, is one I call recouperation. It is inspired by M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, which I describe and do an extract from in class7, although it also draws its inspiration from other sources of experimental and conceptual writing such as Tom Philip’s A Humament or Jen Bervin’s Nets. As a source text, I use an extract from Hamideh Mozaffari’s “An Analytical Rubric for Assessing Creativity in Creative Writing” translated into the 26 languages of DeepL. The stack of DeepL translations (printed one-sided) are passed around the room and students are invited to pick one language from the stack from which to carry out their recouperation. The principle involves hunting through the mass of foreign letters looking for familiar morphemes or words that can be isolated and then strung together to make a poem. It is a form of cut-up or collage. Here are two examples from this year’s workshop:


25all that

26 important ă dis dice plina plin

27plees disthrs this spleen scnerj scary

28 merge deport process

29numerous ous

30 ous

31 us include us

32detaliii iiii televizor

33tell us vizor literal instrument

34Morrison myson

35 similitudinii iiiii

36filozof voce voce where

37auditive ofer

38 ă

39Recouperated from the Romanian by Zey


41Burroway s central discipline

42T o Imagin e


44A visual process

45huma ne

46in huma ne



49ma de

50On a plate

51Sara arrive s

52Jean command s

53personification concept


55Recouperated from the French by Thomas Powderly

56In the final week of class, we work from Mónica de la Torre’s Repetition 19, which is one of the most remarkable examples of experimental translation in print today. In the book, de la Torre translates the same bilingual poem 25 times using different constraints. Students in the class are invited to choose one of her constraints to rewrite (homolinguistically this time) a collaged Flarf8 poem they wrote during their free-write using a Google search for their name, or the name of a friend + an evocative verb such as needs, loves, wants, deserves etc. They then “translate” this Flarf poem using one of Mónica de la Torre’s constraints (see examples in Appendix I). Students in creative writing are also invited to join Masters students in Applied Language Translation (a professional translator training program) for a workshop translating Mónica de la Torre’s experimental translations in Repetition 19 into French.

4. As Translator Training

57This practice of translucinación can also be applied in the translator training program, but of course the preoccupations and aims are quite different. Certainly, the wish to disinhibit students and help them gain access to a certain fluidity in the language, to be able to make it their own, is still present. However, the main teaching objective here is not language acquisition, but rather flexibility, confidence and ethical judgment in the practice of translation.

  • 9 Examples can be found in the appendix as well as on my experimental translation blog: https://www.t (...)

58For this reason, I do not frame this deviation from the norms of translation as classroom strategy as “translucinación” in my translation Masters courses, but rather as “creative translation” which I compare to “transcreation” and “localization”, common terms in the professional sphere. In class, we discuss a literal translation of a given text, while the following weeks students present a creative translation in response to a prompt given in the course pack. Students are invited to sign up to present their translation using the prompt for that week9. Some of the options include:

59- A tourist text on Montpellier, changing the place.

60- A research report on linguistic barriers in health care, changing the receiving context.

61- A text on an animal, changing the animal.

62- A CV, changing the text type.

63- An official letter from the tax office, changing the register.

64- Plays on words in comics by Fabcaro, keeping them funny.

65- A time travelling translation of a text on climate change.

66- An installation manual for a remote control, changing the object.

67- A song, keeping rhyme, rhythm and melody.

68- A militant text that focusses on the meaning of the word “précarité”, changing the word.

69There are a variety of motivations associated with the choice to do creative translation in the course and also with the different texts and prompts, which are actually designed to cover common themes in traditional translation pedagogy such as the translation of cultural untranslatables, text type, receiving context, form, tone, rhetoric, style, lexical fields, register, verb harmonization etc. But on a larger level, this choice is also connected to my own experience of translation, and the fact that I truly believe that a certain fluidity and flexibility in moving between languages is crucial to finding the best translation solutions. Most students come to translation with the idea, inherited from translation language learning classrooms, but also from dominant notions about translation circulating in the mainstream, that you must stick as close as possible to the original. I do not wish to argue against source-oriented translation––unless it is to say that source and target exist on a continuum where they end up meeting in a unity of opposites. Indeed, literal translation pushed to its extreme in the form of creative calques (Trainor 2014) are part of the translucinación skill set. What I am arguing for here is more along the lines of a pedagogical observation that says that promoting a certain freedom for creative divergence can help students to undo the strict, blind adherence to literal translation, which limits range and flexibility in professional translation practice, as well as in their use of language. I also believe that it can free students up to find more interesting, and even more faithful solutions, and to be better at literal translation, if that is what is called for, as well as recognizing when it is called for, or not. Admittedly, however I have not conducted any sociological studies that would prove or disprove definitively (although I would be very curious to read some!). What I am presenting here stems from my own personal experience as a teacher, and is intended to provide possibilities for other teachers to explore, rather than definitive evidence of success or failure.

  • 10 Found in T. Poibeau, Babel 2.0 p. 169.
  • 11 I am referring here to Theo Lutz’s “Stochastische Texte” published in the magazine Augenblick in 19 (...)

70Part of this comes from the newness of all the radical changes happening in translation today. In the specific case of a professional translator training program moving between English and French, one cannot succumb to wilful ignorance regarding the remarkable advancements in machine translation output. At the point we are at today, literal translation into English from dominant languages is almost entirely the purview of the machine. When a literal translation is what is requested by a client, it is very likely that a translator will be asked to do post-edition than translation. What I call “artisanal” translations are more and more rare, and are becoming somewhat of a luxury item for all actors involved in the translation process, from author to translator to publisher to editor. In response to this, some readers might argue for a literary exceptionalism: doesn’t literature escape the homogenizing of the machine? Isn’t literature too human for the machine? Even Warren Weaver, the “father” (although I hate that expression) of machine translation in the West quipped that “Pushkin need not shudder”10, by which he meant that literary translation is in no danger of becoming assimilated by the machine. Resistance is not futile. To this I have two responses. Firstly, wasn’t the translation of “high literary” texts already a luxury, even before machine translation? And finally, a bit more provocatively: machines have been writing poetry since the 1950’s11–so why can’t they translate it?

71The role of the translator is changing along with the meaning of the word “translation”. As we know, the word “translation” did not always exist, and came into common use around the time of the printing press (Berman 1998), which means that the very notion of a translation is dependent on the creation of a stable fixed point for the original, represented in the body of the text, in the idea that it could belong to someone, an author, a publisher, a nation-state and its language. Notions of authorship are changing along with writing, reading and textual circulation practices in the internet age. As I hope to have shown from the beginning of this article, this idea that we translate a fixed original is at least a complicated one that deserves to be problematized, and at most, a fallacy. But beyond that, on a purely practical level that relates directly to the precise pedagogical context of translator training, these practices of editing, collage, text-tailoring and adaptation are something that the machine has not been programmed to do (I will not comment on whether a machine is capable of doing these things). Nonetheless, these are certainly part of a larger sense of what we might call the contemporary “task of the translator”, what David Katan has referred to as the “transcreational turn”. I consider it part of my duty as a teacher to try to prepare my students and help them develop the tools and skills to carry out this kind of work, in addition to practices of literal, “faithful” translation.

Conclusion: the potential for new themes and versions

  • 12 Nicole van Harskamp’s Englishes series is a wonderful example of a pedagogical approach that fully (...)

72Some readers might be saying to themselves, this is all fine and well for students in creative writing and translation. But in the context of a French University, at least a part, if not the entire goal of almost every English classroom is after all, language learning. And what role does translation play in that? As we have discussed, whether it is a teacher’s aim to reduce errors in student production, or to do away with the entire notion of error altogether to focus on student freedom and linguistic diversity12, the traditional methods of reviewing grammar rules and taxing points from students who have not mastered them, is not always successful. I believe this is related to a disconnect between the way we are researching translation and the way we are teaching it. It is common for professors in the French University system (and elsewhere) to complain of a disconnect between their research and teaching practices. It is perhaps then not by chance that our teaching practices are not always as effective as we might wish. In other words, if research and teaching are not communicating, it is perhaps time to seriously rethink the aims and ways of both.

73It is this reconnection, not just in English language creative writing and translator training classrooms, but in translation as language learning classrooms that I am now eager to test out with students. What can practices of translucinación bring to the classic exercises of thème and version, whose goals are the acquisition of vocabulary and the mastery of English grammar and Jean Vinay and Jean-Paul Darbelnet’s translation procedures? Could the temptation of calque be taught by writing bilingual poems composed of false friends? Could modulation be taught by using the Outranspian constraint of “antotranslation” which translates a source text by its opposite meaning? Could the Outranspian constraints of endotranslation (translating through summary) or ekphrasotranslation (translating by a definition) be used to teach forms of modulation that translate between hyponym and hyperonym? Could the switch between passive and active voice be taught through the translation of a text about a crime where a known criminal becomes unknown or an unknown criminal becomes known? Could the rules of articles be taught through a translation that makes a specific object or person general or a general object specific, or that changes the geographical context? Could verb tenses be taught through time-travelling translation? Or pronouns through self-translations of autobiographies that change the gender of the author, or by de-gendering a text written in the masculine “neutral” form? Could parts of speech be taught through the translation of MadLibs? The possibilities are precisely uncertain and certainly imprecise, but definitely endless.

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Artozqui, Santiago. “L’Outranspo et la traduction creative.” En Attendant Nadeau, 2017,

Berman, Antoine. “De la translation à la traduction.” TTR: traduction, terminologie, redaction, vol. 1, no. 1, 1998, pp. 23-40.

Bervin, Jen. Nets. New York: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2004.

Bouhmid, Alison, “Diversity in Creative Writing Workshops: the Case of Undergraduates studying English as a Foreign Language.” Recherches et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité, Cahiers de l’Apliut, vol. 38. no. 1, 2019.

– “Creative Feedback”, on creativity and writing (and teaching English as a foreign language), blog of Alison Bouhmid, January 24, 2019,

Broqua, Vincent and Weissman, Dirk (eds). Sound/Writing : traduire-écrire entre le son et le sens – Homophonic Translation – Traducson – Oberflächenübersetzung. Paris : Editions des archives contemporaines, 2019.

Broqua, Vincent. “La traduction de poésie expérimentale comme Translucinación.” Traduire la poésie, Traduire au fil des lieux, La main de Thôt, 5, 2018,

Cronin, Michael. Translation in the Digital Age. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Davies, Nia. Threshold moves: a ritual poetry practice, PhD thesis, University of Salford, 2021.

De Campos, Haroldo. Novas: Selected Writings, (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2007);

De la Torre, Mónica. Repetition Nineteen. New York: Nightboat Books, 2020.

Emmerich, Karen. The Making of Originals. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

Freire, Paolo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin Random House UK, 2017[1970].

Gayraud, Irène. “Pour une traduction comme risque et désir : potentialisations de l’original.” Itinéraires 3, 2019, URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/itineraires.4846.

Greaves, Sara and Schultz, Marie-Laure. “Dissociating Form and Meaning in Bilingual Creative Writing and Creative Translation Workshops”, E-rea, vol. 9, no. 2, 2012,

Grimaldi-Donahue, Allison. “Welcome to the 2nd Queer Translation Issue”, 2018,

Katan, David, “Translation at the cross-roads: Time for a transcreational turn?” Perspectives, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 365-381.

Martín Ruiz, Pablo. “Ways to start looking at potential translation.” MLN vol. 131 no. 4, Translating Constrained Literature/Traduire la literature à contrainte, Camille Bloomfield et al. (eds.), 2016, pp. 919-931.

Moure, Erin. Sheep’s vigil by a fervent person: a transelation of Alberto Caeiro/Fernando Pessoa’s O guardador de rebanhos. Toronto: Anansi, 2004.

Mozaffari, Hamideh. An Anlytical Rubric for Assessing Creativity in Creative Writing. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, vol. 3. no. 12, 2013, pp. 2214-2219.

Murphy, Amanda. “Poétiques hétérolingues: le queering des Langues? L’exemple de Katalin Molnár.” de genere no. 5, 2020,

Osman, Jena and Spahr, Juliana (eds.) Chain 10: Translucinación. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2003.

Petäjäniemi-Brown, Soili. “Cultural/Feminist/Non-literary Translation and the

Manual for a Life-Support Machine.” conference paper given at the Truths and Tales - Gender and Cultural studies conference, 28-30 Novembre, 2013 University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland.

Poibeau, Thierry. Babel 2.0. Paris: Editions Odile Jacob, 2019.

Philip, Nourbese M. Zong! Madrid, Spain: Silver Press, 2020.

Philips, Tom, A Humament, London: Thames & Hudson, 1970.

Place, Vanessa. La Medusa. Alabama, USA: University of Alabama Press, 2008.

Reiß, Katharina and Vermeer, Hans. Toward a General Theory of Translational Action: Skopos Theory Explained. Translated by Christiane Nord, St. Jerome Publishing, 1984.

Robert-Foley, Lily. “The Politics of Experimental Translation: Potentialities and Preoccupations.” English: Journal of the English Association, vol. 69, no. 267, 2020, pp. 401-419,

“To Erre is Calque: the uses of abuses of calque in Avant-Garde Translation.” Avant-Garde Translation, Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill (Approaches to Translation Studies series), 2022.

Sedarat, Roger. “An MFA in Literary Translation.” Teaching Translation: Programs, Courses Pedagogies (ed. Lawrence Venuti). New York: Routledge, 2017.

Simon, Sherry. Translating Montreal Episodes in the Life of a Divided City. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006.

Slater, Avery. “Crypto-Monolingualism: Machine Translation and the Poetics of Automation.” Amodern, 8, 2018,

Starhawk. Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics. Boston: Beacon Press, 1988[1982].

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Van Harskamp, Nicole. My Name is Language. Amsterdam: Scriptings and Archive Books. 2020.

Vinay, Jean-Paul and Darbelnet, Jean. Stylistique comparée du français et de l’anglais. Paris : Les Editions Didier, 1958.

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Collaged Flarf poems using a name + evocative verb, followed by a translation constraint chosen from Mónica de la Torre’s Repetition Nineteen.

1. Flarf for Paul (by Elia Gargliardi)

Paul means that you are not a piece of paper

Do the dirty work to make sure you are not a piece of paper

Paul loves the music and the music is very good

Paul has to marry his mother in law

Paul is like a ray of sun piercing through the clouds

And the massive wave of the social forces that incluence you

Paul wants to be a part of your team and your family

T12: Adaptation to the language of soccer

Paul means not to get a red card

Do play fair to make sure you don’t get a red card

Paul loves to score and his goals are very good

Paul has to make his mother in law proud

Paul is like a ray of sun shining on the field

And his massive strikes on goal that make you win

Paul wishes to be a part of your team and your family

2. Flarf for Gaïa (by Zoé Ennya)

Gaïa creates old Gods

in the Valley of the sun,

charting the sky

a space of unconditional acceptance,

and motions of More than a billion stars

T17: Rewriting the poem in a different context. Only visible objects in the room in which the translation was performed could be written about in the poem. (by Gaïa Freby)

Gaïa creates gone light bulbs in the room of

the university writing in the ceiling a space

a space of unconditional focus

and interness of more than a billion letters

3. Flarf for Morgane (by Lara Dolay)

Morgane loves juice

Morgane deserves re-election to Lewes Council

Morgane deserves to be on the top of the graduation

Morgane deserve to go to South Africa

Morgane loves chocolate

Morgane loves teaching

4. Flarf for Lara (by Morgane Durand)

Lara deserves rich stuff

Lara loves Paris

Lara deserves better than this

Lara deserves help

The sweetest baby Lara deserves a beautiful cake

Lara deserves jewelery

T8: Transcription of a translation into emojis (here presented as a text exchange between the two students).


Examples of creative translations using prompts from the course pack in a first year Master’s Translation Training course.

1. Prompt : Translate changing the register


Madame, Monsieur,

A ce jour, je n’ai pas reçu la déclaration détaillée de vos revenus de l’année 2016 qui aurait dû être déposée pour le 17/05/2017

La production de ces documents constitue une obligation prévue par la loi aux articles 170 et 170 bis du code général des impôts (CGI). Le manquement à cette obligation légale ou le retard à l’accomplir vous expose à une procédure de taxation d’office prévue aux articles L. 66 et L. 67 du livre des procédures fiscales ainsi qu’aux sanctions prévues aux articles 1727, 1728, 1731 bis et 1758 A du CGI (voir au verso).

Même si vous n’êtes pas imposable, il est dans votre intérêt de souscrire cette déclaration. Elle permettra en effet à l’administration de vous adresser un avis d’impôt sur le revenu que vous pourrez utiliser pour justifier du montant de vos ressources auprès d’organismes qui vous le demanderaient pour vous accorder certains avantages.


Afin d’éviter toute erreur d’imposition à votre préjudice, je vous demande de m’adresser, après l’avoir rempli, l’imprimé de la déclaration que vous avez dû recevoir précédemment. A défaut, vous pourrez l’imprimer à partir du site internet Dans tous les cas, votre envoi doit intervenir dans un délai maximum de trente jours à compter de la réception de la présente lettre.


Je me tiens à votre disposition pour vous fournir tous renseignements utiles.

Je vous prie d’agréer, Madame, Monsieur, l’expression de ma considération distinguée.

Le responsable du service

b) CREATIVE TRANSLATION by Elio De Oliveira Santos Neto

To whom it may concern,

To date, there is a tax declaration you haven’t returned,

Or perhaps we haven’t received,

We are not accusing you, possibly it hasn’t been retrieved,

Be that as it may,

From this very day,

Failure to accomplish such obligation may lead to a procedure called “obligatory taxation”

Cause, according to the tax code,

Fines and penalties may be imposed,

And even if you are in penury,

It’s in your best interest to declare your poverty,

But hey, being broke is not that bad,

You might be eligible for a special benefit, how cool is that!

If you declare your revenue,

You will be able to walk shameless in the avenues,

A good citizen that respects our bureaucracy, our autocracy disguised in democracy…

Such a hypocrisy!

Oh well, I shouldn’t have spoken,

The gate of truth has been opened,

I might lose my job,

But I have to say, your dignity will be bought


Let’s head back to the subject aforesaid,

as I was explaining

And I am supposing,

You have received a document that according to my imagination

It is your own declaration,

Please send it completed

But don’t feel defeated,

Only if you have received

Dear, we are not accusing you, maybe you haven’t retrieved

In any case, you can print it out from our website,

No more excuses to not declare your taxes, alright?

But please, do not hesitate to contact me,

And I guarantee, no additional fee, one hundred percent free!

if you have any question,

However be kind, let’s avoid any verbal aggression

Cause you know, this passive-aggressive thing only works one way,

And that is me: I mandate!

you obey,

you pay,


Yours faithfully,

The servant of the mercy,



4. Prompt: Translate changing the power dynamics (ex: by changing the word “précarité”)


La précarité à l’Université

« La vie, la santé, l’amour sont précaires,

pourquoi le travail échapperait-il à cette loi ? »

Laurence Parisot, alors présidente du MEDEF

Le Figaro, 30 août 2005

Multiplication des CDD, CDI à date courte, stages, Intérim : les formes de travail et d’emploi sont partout marquées par la précarité. L’Université, comme tous les services publics, n’est pas en reste. Nous sommes ATER, CDU, «Vacataires», PAST, CDD… Nous sommes chercheur.e.s, nous sommes enseignant.e.s et nous sommes précaires. Qu’est-ce à dire ?

Pour le dictionnaire, la précarité renvoie à une situation dont on ne peut garantir la durée, la solidité ; qui, à chaque instant, peut être remise en cause. Instabilité, incertitude, fragilité en sont les principales caractéristiques. Plutôt qu’un élément statique, il faut appréhender la précarité comme un processus, une dynamique de précarisation croissante du travail et de l’emploi. C’est une étape nécessaire pour comprendre en quoi ce processus impacte de nombreuses situations individuelles, comme c’est le cas aujourd’hui à l’Université.

La précarité recouvre un certain nombre de conditions précises d’embauche et de travail, sur lesquelles il est grand temps de faire le point, mais c’est aussi un processus de dégradation de l’emploi et des conditions de travail. Ensemble, « ces processus contribuent à fragiliser le modèle salarial construit sur la norme de l’emploi stable et à plein temps : aujourd’hui, l’emploi n’est plus garant d’un ensemble d’assurances et de protections dans l’avenir à moyen et à long terme. La précarisation fait renaître des incertitudes et des vulnérabilités là où la société salariale avait apporté stabilité et sécurité ».

b) CREATIVE TRANSLATION by Lily Robert-Foley

Prayer in University

“There are many prayers for life, love and longevity; but can we really pray for work?”

Laurent Montpellierot, former union rep for FIW (Federation of Immobile Workers)

The Burping Fig, August 30th, 5002.

Everywhere we look, workers and employees are erupting in prayer, and short-term, fixed term and casual contracts, internships and temp work are rapidly diminishing, and nowhere more so than at university and all across the private sector. We are the Adulating Terrestrial Electric Regenerators. We are the Communists Demanding to be Unhinged. We are the Open. We are the Past, we are the Future, we are the Now. We are the Care that Digs Deep. We are the Seekers. We are the Teachers. Let us pray:

“According to the dictionary, prayer is ephemeral, both timeless and yet fleeting: fluid. A spring whose sources are constantly shifting. Its foundations are mobile, roving, and fungible. Prayer is a process, not a product, an ever expanding rhetoric, like the universe. To apply prayer to work is to understand that process takes precedence over product; this is the means by which prayer has impacted the situations of innumerable individuals throughout the university, as elsewhere.

Prayer has lain itself into the very specific instances of how we work and why, like a large quilt woven from fastidious stitches, under which work has slept and regenerated. We have awoken together to the fragility of our working models, constructed upon norms of full time and atomized labor. Today, work is no longer about prudence, and protection, it is about creating a wide open and balanced future. With prayer, work has been reborn, and uncertainty and vulnerability are shared amongst us in communities who work together to do no more and no less than what is needed.”

May we rest.

Lily Robert-Foley

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1 For an excellent and comprehensive study on homophonic translation see Broqua, Vincent and Weissman, Dirk (eds). Sound/Writing : traduire-écrire entre le son et le sens – Homophonic Translation – Traducson – Oberflächenübersetzung. Paris : Editions des archives contemporaines, 2019.


3 A theory of translation that focuses on the aim or function of a translation. See Reiß, Katharina and Vermeer, Hans. Toward a General Theory of Translational Action: Skopos Theory Explained. Translated by Christiane Nord, St. Jerome Publishing, 1984.


5 For more about creative feedback on Alison Bouhmid’s tremendously rich blog devoted to creativity and writing in English language teaching, see: The creative writing and feedback system developed in this class are also deeply indebted to Alison Bouhmid’s work using creative writing in LANSOD, which she also writes about extensively on her blog.

6 This kind of exercise is not new, and is practiced by fellow Outranspians, and similar practices are also proposed in Sedarat, Roger. “An MFA in Literary Translation.” Teaching Translation: Programs, Courses Pedagogies (ed. Lawrence Venuti). New York: Routledge, 2017, p. 40.

7 I do not have space here for an exegesis on M. NourbeSe Philip’s extraordinary work, but I entreat you to discover this remarkable long poem:


9 Examples can be found in the appendix as well as on my experimental translation blog: See 5.2 “Alter ego translation” and 5.3 “Geographical Modulation”.

10 Found in T. Poibeau, Babel 2.0 p. 169.

11 I am referring here to Theo Lutz’s “Stochastische Texte” published in the magazine Augenblick in 1959.

12 Nicole van Harskamp’s Englishes series is a wonderful example of a pedagogical approach that fully welcomes English as a non-native language:

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Référence électronique

Lily ROBERT-FOLEY, « Creative translation and translucinación in practice-based research and pedagogy »e-Rea [En ligne], 20.1 | 2022, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2022, consulté le 23 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Université Paul-Valéry, Montpellier 3 EA741 EMMA
Lily Robert-Foley is Associate Professor in the English department at the University of Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3. Her current monograph in progress is entitled Experimental Translation: The Work of Translation in the Age of Algorithmic Production, and will be forthcoming from Goldsmiths Press. She is also the author of four books of poetry including m, a book of poetry-critique-collage (Corrupt Press, 2013), graphemachine, a chapbook of visual poetry (Xerolage, 2013), Jiji, a novel in prose poems and conceptual writing (Omnia Vanitas Press, 2016), and The Duty to Presence, a book of poetic autotheory, forthcoming from the To collection of the Presses Universitaires de Rouen, along with its translation by Anne-Laure Tissut. She has translated two books of poetry, by Claude Ber and Sophie Loizeau, and she is a member of the Outranspo, an international group of experimental translators.
Lily Robert-Foley est MCF au département d’études anglophones à l’Université Paul Valéry-Montpellier 3. Elle prépare une monographie intitulée Experimental Translation: The Work of Translation in the Age of Algorithmic Production (Goldsmiths Press). Elle est également l’autrice de quatre livres de poésie dont m, un ouvrage de poésie, de critique et de collage (Corrupt Press, 2013), graphemachine, un carnet de poésie visuelle (Xerolage, 2013), Jiji, un roman de poésie en prose et d’écriture théorique (Omnia Vanitas Press, 2016), et The Duty to Presence, un livre d’autothéorie poétique, ainsi que sa traduction par Anne-Laure Tissut (Presses Universitaires de Rouen, 2022). Elle a traduit deux livres de poésie, de Claude Ber et de Sophie Loizeau, et est membre d’Outranspo, un groupe international de traducteurs expérimentaux.

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