Found in translation: 12 Dutch-speaking students translate a poem by Katie Hale

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Twelve Dutch-speaking students from the KU Leuven (Campus Brussels) and their professor Tom Toremans met with our British writer in residence Katie Hale for a translation workshop focusing on her poem “Fish”. Here you can read Katie’s comments on the experience, along with the original poem and the final version of the students’ translation.

See also: ‘Found in Translation: a poem by Katie Hale in nine different languages


“It was such a privilege to meet with the students, and to have my poem ‘Fish’ so attentively translated into Dutch.

The first part of the workshop was a discussion on the broader themes of the poem and of more general questions about what is involved in translating a poem, as opposed to other forms of literature. How do you honour the metre and rhyme, the sound and the sense and the structure of the original, and yet still stay true to the possibilities of the new language? How do you keep the essence of the original, while also creating something new: the translated poem as its own musical entity, existing in relation to and apart from the original text?

For the second part of the workshop, we started to go through the poem line by line, comparing the students’ different translation choices, and discussing how they related to the original. Could the translation keep the soundscape of the original text? How might we alter a sentence structure to give the line ending a similar function in Dutch? What might be lost by the use of a particular word, or gained by the use of a different one?

These were all important questions to ask for the purpose of translating. But they’re also the questions I’m asking myself all the time as a poet. Whenever I write, I’m considering word choice, sense, sound, lineation – all the intricacies of creating a poem. What struck me was the similarity between the process of comparing translation notes on ‘Fish’, and the process of creating and editing a poem. The attention to craft and to nuance, in both instances, is vital.”

Katie Hale


Slip of metal, little flicker I netted
from the beck at the bottom of the village,

how you suspended yourself, silent
in your margarine tub world. How I

watched for your rapid shivers, like mercury
broken from the bulb, the liquid shift,

how you would rise till your spine
feathered the surface, then drop,

go still, wait,
how once I tried to time

my breath to your stillness
but had to let go. How I would

blink, then think I’d missed
your quick arabesques. Little fish,

how you waited
till my back was turned, to fling yourself

out into the world, a new coin tumbling,
till the dark mouth of the plughole

took you in. O how I picture you
still, my sequinned escapologist,

flickering on through the pipes, to where
the depth of a river lies calling.

First published in Assembly Instructions (Southword Editions, Cork, 2019), reproduced courtesy of the author.


Sliertje metaal, lichte flikkering in mijn net
uit de beek beneden aan het dorp,

hoe je bleef zweven, zo stil
in je botervlootwereld. Hoe ik

zocht naar jouw snelle trillingen, als kwik
gebroken uit de bol, vluchtige vorm,

hoe je steeg tot je rug
het oppervlak streelde, dan daalde,

je stilhield, wachtte,
hoe ik eens mijn adem

aan jouw stilte wou meten,
maar los moest laten. Hoe ik

knipperde, dan dacht dat ik
je snelle arabesken had gemist. Visje,

hoe je wachtte
tot mijn rug gekeerd was, om jezelf

de wereld in te werpen, een tuimelende nieuwe munt,
tot de donkere mond van de afvoer

je opving. O hoe ik me jou nog steeds
inbeeld, mijn schitterende houdini,

flikkerend door de pijpen, naar waar
de diepte van een rivier je roept.

Vertaald door de studenten van de MA Vertalen van de KU Leuven (Campus Brussel), onder begeleiding van Tom Toremans: Alexandra Danneel, Nette De Preter, Sibylle de Woot de Trixhe, Jonas Deferm, Sara Ketels, Lise Kragt, Leonie Martyn, Nele Van Cauter, Evie Van Malderen, Ellis Van Miert, Miriel Vandeperre en Eveline Weckx.

Photo / Foto : Harald Arlander