Mysteries of Translation

February 4, 2009 (Wednesday) / 5:00 pm6:30 pm

Terrace Room, Claudia Cohen Hall

Mysteries of Translation

Alastair Reid

Poet and Translator
Author of Oases and On the Blue Shore of Silence

Poet, New Yorker contributor, and traveler, Alastair Reid has translated the work of many Latin American writers, in particular, the poetry of Borges and Neruda. He has also been much translated himself.

With his renowned wit and verbal mastery, Mr. Reid explores the hazards and occasional felicities of translation, focusing on the influence of Borges on other writers, and of the nature of a bilingual reality.

One of Scotland's foremost literary figures, Alastair Reid is a poet, translator, and scholar of South American literature, as well as essayist and author of children's books. His deliberate rootlessness shows in his poetry, which, in one critic's words, is characterized by "natural irregularity." He is also a film director of note, mainly for the controversial production of Armistead Maupin's first Tales of the City for PBS in 1993.

Friend and confidant of some of the giants of 20th-century literature, he has written about Robert Graves, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cabrera Infante, and Mario Vargas Llosa. His collection of prose and poetry, Oases (Canongate, 1997), includes an extended essay on Neruda and Borges, in which he describes his friendship and work with Neruda: "Once, in Paris, while I was explaining some liberty I had taken, he stopped me and put his hand on my shoulder. 'Alastair, don’t just translate my poems. I want you to improve them.'"

Reid’s collections also include Inside Out: Selected Poetry and Translations (2008), Whereabouts (1987), Weathering (1978), and To Lighten My House (1953). On the Blue Shore of Silence (HarperCollins, 2004) is a recent selection of his translations of Neruda’s poems of the sea.

Graduating with honors from St. Andrews University after serving in the Royal Navy, Reid taught at Sarah Lawrence College and, along with his appointment as South American editor at the New Yorker in the late 1950s, has enjoyed visiting professorships throughout the United States and England, teaching Latin American studies and literature. He currently divides his time between residences in New York and the Dominican Republic.