Sarah Riggs

Sounding Translation episode 2

Photo of Sarah Riggs by Omar Berrada.


In this interview conducted by Teresa Villa-Ignacio, the poet, translator, filmmaker, and activist Sarah Riggs recalls how, upon moving to Paris in the early 2000s, she began translating French poets including Isabelle Garron, Marie Borel, Etel Adnan, Stéphane Bouquet, and Ryoko Sekiguchi. Riggs also discusses how this translation work impacted her own poetry, including the books Waterwork (Chax, 2007) and Autobiography of Envelopes (Burning Deck, 2012), and describes opportunities for poetic translation exchanges she has facilitated through the organizations Double Change and Tamaas. The interview was recorded on June 8, 2013, in Paris.

Riggs reflects that immersing herself in the writing of the poets she was translating helped her to “come into [her own] writing” at the time, as she was still working on her first book of poetry when she started out as a translator. She notes that poetic translation involves learning about fields you’d never expect you’d become familiar with; for her, Isabelle Garron’s ballet references and Marie Borel’s naval vocabulary are just two examples. It is also very important to Riggs to bring attention to the accomplishments of women poets, both by translating them and by organizing readings featuring their work. 

The conversation also touches on parallels between Riggs’s translation work and her poetry: in both, she enjoys working with language in dense forms, which is evident in her books governed by such contemporary technological constraints as text messages and post-it notes. Even as she testifies to an increasing interest in the expansiveness of prose, Riggs also enjoys living and working in Paris, a city known for its density: as she puts it, “Paris is a tight form.” Perhaps finding an equilibrium between density and breathing room, the conversation ends with observations about the annual READ Translation Seminar that Riggs and Cole Swensen have hosted at Reid Hall in Paris, in which several pairs of poet-translators work together to translate each other’s work for a week in July. Whenever possible, the work sessions and the reading take place in the courtyard gardens. Riggs notes the synergy of poets and audience members enjoying poetry and translation outside, literally outdoors but also figuratively outside all the usual poetry reading venues: university, bookstores, and the like.

This podcast was produced by Bridget Ryan, Stonehill College class of 2023, through funding from a Stonehill College 2022 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) grant.

Click here for a transcript of this episode.