How can poetry, creative writing and translation unearth and represent experiences of displacement? In this poem – the first of two pieces by Giulia Balestra of REFUNITE which will feature on Refugee Hosts’ Representations of Displacement series – Giulia offers a reflection on belonging and positionality, with an English translation sitting alongside the original Italian. Through reflecting on the roles of creative writing and translation in contexts of displacement, Giulia echoes a number of Refugee Hosts’ foundational interests which you can read more about here (on creative writing and refugee studies), here (on translation and displacement) and here (on representations of displacement). Refugee Hosts will be exploring these questions further through a series of creative writing workshops with local communities in the Middle East, and through the poetry and translation of our Writer in Residence, Yousif M. Qasmiyeh, whose poetry you can read and listen to here.
Reflections on poetry and translation by Giulia Balestra, REFUNITE
As an anthropologist, writing has been for me a way to explore identities, to work with and through differences, and get closer to a better understanding of what connects and unites us as human beings despite (or maybe thanks to?) our differences. Working with asylum seekers and refugees across Europe and East Africa has been an essential step in finding my voice as a writer. However, I can use no other voice than the one I have and I acknowledge that, as much as I may try to understand ‘the refugee perspective’, it is through my own subjective lenses that I interpret and retell their stories.
These poems are the result of encounters with refugees and asylum seekers in my own journey. They host my memories of these encounters, and act as a reaction to the single narrative that dominates public discourses of displacement, which dehumanise refugees (also see here).
Translating these poems from Italian to English has been more a work of rewriting and a new creative process rather than a mere word-by-word translation. The translations try to capture the same feelings and sounds, but as is the case with all translations they are more of an interpretation of the original versions.
I grew up on a street called “Via Confine” which literally means “On the Border”. Being physically, culturally, and linguistically, between two countries has made me become more aware of issues and feelings related to identity, frontiers, and (non) belonging. This poem was written as a reaction to a series of anti-migration policies in my country and a progressive ‘unwelcoming’ atmosphere and narrative revolving around the so-called refugee crisis.
If you enjoyed reading this piece, we also recommend these contributions:
- Ufuk Ozturk: Broken Borders: Overcoming Personal and Cultural Barriers along the Refugee Route
- Yousif M. Qasmiyeh and Oxford Student PEN’s reflections on translation and displacement.
- Lyndsey Stonebridge: Poetry as a Host.
For more poetic and creative pieces on displacement visit our creative archive or click here. For other pieces published as part of our Translation and Displacement series – including poetry translated from Arabic and French into English -, click here.
Featured Image: “An outdoor library on the roof of a house in Baddawi refugee camp, Lebanon.” (c) E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh. Jan. 2017.