100 Creatives 2013: Robin Davidson, Poet and Translator

Categories: 100 Creatives

What She Does
Robin Davidson has been writing poetry for years and in 2013 she published two chapbooks and her first full-length volume of poetry. She is also an instructor of Eastern European literature, Contemporary American poetry and creative writing at the University of Houston-Downtown and is an adviser to UHD's literary magazine, The Bayou Review.

Davidson also works as a translator of poetry from Polish to English, and in 2003 won a Fulbright Grant to teach and study in Poland.

How Davidson came to study Polish and become a member of the American Literary Translators Association is a non-linear story that starts with Davidson falling in love with the work of a Polish poet.

"I was a student at the University of Houston taking a class called Modern Thought. We were reading work by Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska." Through Szymborska's work, Davidson was turned on to his contemporaries in Polish poetry, especially Ewa Lipska, with whom she fell in love.

"Her work was so different from my own," Davidson said. "Her work is inspired by Surrealism and Dadaism. She sees art as an accident of beauty."

"I knew I wasn't getting everything in the translation, so I decided I wanted to read it in the original Polish. At the time, I didn't read or speak any Polish, so I got a dictionary in 1999 and began translating word-by-word," Davidson said.

"I was so stupid. I had no idea how hard Polish was."

After getting her Fulbright, Davidson spent a year in Krakow studying Polish. In the spring of 2004 she started working as a translator, eventually working to translate Lipska's work.

This year, Davidson became a member of Calypso Editions, a literary press run by poets and translators. Calypso published one of her chapbooks this year.

Why She Likes It

"The domain of poetry is human empathy," Davidson said. "I feel like I'm engaged in an art form that enables empathetic thought. When we can feel what it is to be another person, there's a lot of compassion in that."

"I also love linguistic play. Twentieth Century Polish poetry is really subversive. I love the challenge of working in a form, and the radicalness of breaking that form. I love the music of language. Polish is a musically beautiful language."

"Some people hold that poetry is not really translatable," she said. "But literary translation shares ideas between two cultures which leads to empathy and compassion, which was the goal of Senator Fulbright."

Story continues on the next page.

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