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WHEN THE WORD Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation was published in 2010, its ‘spirit of collaboration and creativity’ and productive juxtaposition of diverse poetic voices challenged the academy to rethink how Old English poetry should be approached. Here was a collection of Old English poems translated by poets with very different knowledge of the material: some came to the project able to translate directly from Old English (or like Bernard O'Donoghue, translate certain poems from memory), whilst others needed the aid of prose translations, crib sheets and the careful guidance of the editors (the poet A. E. Stallings quips: ‘I have no Anglo-Saxon, except inasmuch as I speak English’). All of the translations sought to make early medieval poetry accessible and contemporary, and the collection as a whole demonstrates the full range of possibilities that Old English poetry offers to the poet writing for a twenty-firstcentury audience.
This particular anthology's endeavour to match the Old English corpus with ‘a word-hoard of our times’ is also representative of a wider resurgence in attention to early medieval poetry, a rekindling of interest that has seen a succession of high-profile translations including Ciarán Carson's version of the Tain Bo Cuailnge for Penguin Classics; a new translation of the Poetic Edda by Andy Orchard for Penguin, by Jackson Crawford for Hackett, and a revised version of Carolyne Larrington's translation of the same for Oxford World's Classics; and the arrival of Tolkien's long-awaited translation of Beowulf into an already crowded market. The passing of Seamus Heaney in 2013 also saw renewed attention to his merits as a translator, and particularly to his own much-lauded translation of Beowulf, which was serialised as BBC Radio 4's ‘Book of the Week’ following his death; the original Old English poem continues to be reinterpreted in every imaginable medium. The successful ‘Modern Poets on Old Norse Poetry’ and ‘Kennings in the Community’ initiatives in the UK have led to some extraordinary reworkings of skaldic verse by contemporary poets, and the hit series Vikings has seen Old Norse poetry recited in living rooms across the world.
The first decades of the twenty-first century have seen an unprecedented level of creative engagement with early medieval literature, ranging from the long-awaited publication of Tolkien's version of Beowulf and the reworking of medieval lyrics by Ireland's foremost poets to the adaptation of Eddic and Skaldic poetry for the screen. This collection brings together scholars and accomplished translators working with Old English, Old Norse and Medieval Irish poetry, to take stock of this extraordinary proliferation of translation activity and to suggest new ways in which to approach these three dynamic literary traditions. The essays in this collection include critical surveys of texts and traditions to the present day, assessments of the practice and impact of individual translators from Jorge Luis Borges to Seamus Heaney, and reflections on the particular challenges of translating poetic forms and vocabulary into different languages and media. Together they present a series of informed and at times provocative perspectives on what it means to "carry across" early medieval poetry in our contemporary cultural climate. Dr Tom Birkett is lecturer in Old English at University College Cork; Dr Kirsty March-Lyons is a scholar of Old English and Latin poetry and co-organiser of the Irish Research Council funded conference and translation project "Eald to New".BR> Contributors: Tom Birkett, Elizabeth Boyle, Hannah Burrows, Gareth Lloyd Evans, Chris Jones, Carolyne Larrington, Hugh Magennis, Kirsty March-Lyons, Lahney Preston Matto, Inna Matyushina, Rory McTurk, Bernard O'Donoghue, Heather O'Donoghue, Tadhg Ó Síocháin, Bertha Rogers, M.J. Toswell.