Impostor Syndrome?

I’m no shrinking violet by any means, but nor am I one to blow my own trumpet loudly. I am, before all else, English! From an early age, I was taught not to push myself forward but to “wait to be asked”. So that’s what I do. Sometimes it pays off. A couple of events this last week have served to boost my self-esteem more than usual and I’d like to share these with you while the glow still lasts

As you can see from the headings at the top of this blog, I also run a blog devoted to my English translations of poems by the German Jewish writer Nelly Sachs. My main purpose in posting these is to help make Nelly Sachs’ work known and accessible among English-speaking audiences who would otherwise be unable to appreciate the original German poems. 

Several people have asked permission to use this or that poem for specific events and I’m constantly coming across others on the Internet who have reproduced them without my explicit permission in all kinds of contexts. I see that as positive, because my chief aim in publishing them has always been to make the voice of Nelly Sachs heard among English speakers, so provided I’m given credit, I’m OK with that.  

I was approached a few weeks ago by Elly Sullivan, an American student, who requested permission to read aloud one of my translations at a Holocaust Memorial Event taking place at her college in Maryland, followed by an invitation to participate via Zoom in a virtual conference on literary translation that was being hosted by her college on Saturday, 9 April. This intrigued me, so I accepted.

After the initial contact with Elly, I knew that here was someone sensitive, sensible and reliable that I could trust and work with. We devised a format for the presentation based on an interview with me about these poems, the poet Nelly Sachs and all the whys and wherefores of my labour of love as represented by the blog. Because of the time difference between Maryland and Switzerland, we were allotted a slot in the morning immediately after the introduction to the conference, which was convenient for me as it was 4 pm here, a time when my brain is usually firing on all four cylinders. 

On the Saturday morning a week before the conference Elly and I took our presentation through a trial run with her erudite poetry group who very kindly gave us their feedback. This was encouraging and constructive, enabling us to make some adjustments and decide which poems to include in Elly’s PowerPoint presentation, to be discussed in the interview.  

Then just a few days later I found a request on my Nelly Sachs blog for permission to use my translation  “Chorus of the Consolers” in a talk being given in another conference on the Literature of Trauma at the university of Marburg, Germany – this conference had already started and was being streamed live! They were very relieved to have my consent, as the talk was in English and it had only occurred to them at the last moment that they didn’t have an English version of the poem (a crucial part of the talk), so I was also invited to watch and listen to that informative and interesting speech. 

Thanks are due to Covid for the rise of Zoom in these last two years, which makes connecting with people so much easier. From my couch here in Switzerland I am able to join others all over the world, so simply and comfortably.

To my relief and delight, back in Maryland yesterday the live-streamed Confluence interview / presentation entitled “Antidote and Access:  Literary Translation in the Blogosphere”  went smoothly, and  feedback on the live chat was very encouraging, full of praise, encouragement and superlatives that made my head grow several sizes too big for my bonnet. This interview was also recorded, so will be available at some point on the website of Montgomery College if any of my readers and followers are interested. (I’ll add the link when it’s all set up.) I hope Elly gets the A+ she deserves for all her work.

You may be asking: What’s all that about “Antidote and Access”? For decades before I retired I was earning my bread and butter – and sometimes a good dollop of jam – from technical and commercial translations, so the creative process of translating poetry really was an antidote at that time to the materialistic prose of the business world. And as for access, the Internet and blogosphere has the edge over a printed book by making blog content available and accessible free of charge to anyone capable of googling; my Nelly Sachs blog has received getting on for 121,000 hits – not bad for a poet whom only the elite few have even heard of. There’s also the extra bonus for me, that I can revise my English versions and add to my selection at any time with no difficulty. 

Still, could this lead to publication in book form? That, I must admit, would be gratifying and fun: I started my labour of love almost 30 years ago and though the work has been intermittent with long gaps – sometimes years – between poems, I don’t see an end to it! Nelly Sachs wrote several hundred poems, so there’s a long way to go yet. My currently inflated ego thinks it would be nice to see them in print. Who knows? I must confess to feeling like something of an impostor, and am still waiting to be asked. But – remember Grandma Moses! She was actually even younger than me when she was discovered.

10 thoughts on “Impostor Syndrome?

  1. How exciting!!! I was all primed to click the link and watch a video of you in action, or at least a recording of you in action. I do hope you’ll post that when it is available. It is wonderful to feel appreciated, validated. And you’re doing a great service in keeping Nelly Sachs alive for new readers, new thinkers, and perhaps educators of the future.

  2. Well done Cat. I looked at both the original German poems and your translated versions. I am sure Nelly Sachs would be happy. It is not easy translating poetry to get the feelings of the words into another language. And poetry is about feelings above all else.
    You have done a remarkable job.

  3. Well done Catherine, fame at last! How exciting for you. I know that you are not one for blowing your own trumpet so it is so pleasing that your talents are recognised. Well done that girl xx

  4. I can only imagine the challenge you must face when translating these poems, making efforts to maintain their original contextual character in another language. Sounds you still have poems to go before you sleep.😉

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