Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Reflections on working with Arc Publications

Publishing poetry in translation is something of a niche business, but it is a niche that Arc Publications has successfully made its own. I was fortunate enough to be offered an internship with Arc for the duration of my MA, and it has provided me with a fascinating insight into the process of editing and publishing translations of poetry.

Under the supervision of UEA’s very own Jean Boase-Beier, editor of the Arc Visible Poets series, I learned about how submissions are received, how decisions are made, and how some authors and translators are more amenable than others to suggestions for cuts and alterations
The Visible Poets series prints the original text and the translation on facing pages; visibility belongs to both translator and original poet. This allows the reader to get a sense of what the translator has done – even if s/he has no knowledge of the source language, s/he can still see how it looks on the page.
Arc’s understanding of and sensitivity to translation means that just as much importance is placed on the quality of the translation as on the original poetry. I saw submissions turned down because the translation was not bold enough – there is no place here for the age-old image of the translator as self-effacing plodder.
My introduction to the editing process began at the beginning, with some examples of what a proposal looks like, and also a couple of examples of how not to do it…

Allow me to generously pass on a few useful tips: look carefully at the website to make sure you are sending your proposal to the right person; don’t send a ready-made book of your translations of your own poetry; and in this particular case, take the time to find out that Jean Boase-Beier is not to be addressed as ‘Sir’.
These key tenets established, we moved on to the more difficult decisions. It will come as a surprise to none of you that publishing poetry in translation is not terribly lucrative; Arc, like many small publishers, relies on outside funding in order to pursue many of its projects. As such, it cannot take on all the excellent submissions it receives (although having funding will not be enough to get your proposal accepted if the translation is not up to scratch!). The word that came up again and again was ‘outstanding’. We were looking for something that really leapt off the page. There is, of course, no formula for this; it might be a distinctive voice, dexterity with the intricacies of language, or a dazzling solution to rendering wordplay and ambiguity. It was very exciting to be consulted on these matters, and made me think hard about what it is that makes an outstanding translation, as opposed to a merely competent one.

Another tricky issue to negotiate once a proposal has been accepted is ensuring the book makes a coherent, appealing whole. Cuts are often necessary, either because there is simply too much material, or because the book would be unbalanced. Once again, both original poem and translation have to be taken into account. A suitable title also has to be chosen – one which reflects the content as well as sounding like something people will want to read. It should not, however, sound like an existing work they have gone to considerable effort to avoid: following consultation, a forthcoming Arc book has been renamed and will not be published under the title Twilight.

Although my internship with Jean took place at UEA, I did make one trip up to Arc HQ in Todmorden to see an independent publisher in its natural habitat. I also attended several editorial meetings in Norwich, where we discussed the status of all ongoing projects, from Tamil to Finnish, and I got rather overexcited at the mention of some very well-known figures who might write an introduction for one of Arc’s forthcoming titles. Working with Arc has been a truly rewarding and exciting experience, and I am grateful to Angela, Tony and Jean for the opportunity. I am now looking forward to seeing the final published versions of some of the books I saw in manuscript form. Look out for forthcoming translations from German, Russian and Old Norse, among others, in the Visible Poets and the Classics series.

Find out more about Arc at

Livvy Hanks translates from French to English, with a particular interest in poetry. She can be contacted at