100 Creatives 2013: Robin Davidson, Poet and Translator
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.
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"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."
What Inspires Her? "I love reading. I love the work of other poets," she said, naming Wallace Stevens and Eavan Boland as two of her favorites.
"I'm also really inspired by my teaching. I love to see my students engaged in their literature."
Davidson's outlook on life has a lot to do with how she sees the world. She said one of her favorite activities is riding the bus or light rail as a way to see the beauty of Houston, or hanging out at the Rothko Chapel.
"Houston is a very cool city. I am very inspired by the openness of our landscape," she said.
She's also inspired by her family -- her husband of 38 years, her son and her daughter, who just had Davidson's first grandchild.
"I'm just a very lucky person. I've come a long accidentally at a time in history that makes me lucky. We are surviving. We haven't had any wars in our country. I marvel at that."
And of course, Ewa Lipska inspires her. Lipska was writing a series of epistolary poems told from the perspective of a woman named Pani Schubert. Davidson began responding to these poems in the voice of a character she calls Mrs. Schmetterling. These poems became the chapbook City That Ripens on the Tree of the World, released in October by Calypso.
"I'm a very baroque writer -- that's something I consider a problem for me," Davidson said. "Lipska is very concise."
If Not This, Then What? "My mother was a painter, and there were a lot of times I wished I was a painter," she said. "When I first got married, we were really poor so I couldn't buy materials."
Davidson is incredibly active in campus life, acting as an adviser and mentor as well as teaching.
"I think a lot about retiring from university work," she said. "I would be really engaged in the literary world if I did. I don't think I'll ever leave the literary world."
If Not Here, Then Where? Though Davidson and her husband both grew up in West Texas, she said they don't think they'll ever leave Houston. Still, they occasionally daydream about buying a house in Alpine and retiring.
"What I'd really love is to be rich. So I could create a foundation to give artists struggling to finish their art a place and way to do so."
"I am ready to start over in my own work," Davidson said. "I am doing a lot of reading. I don't know what direction I want to go in yet but I plan to begin a new book of poems next summer."
Davidson is also working on getting a translated collection of Libska's Pani Schubert poems released in the United States. She's already got a publisher in mind.
"I am very determined to do that," she said. "I am not going to let my teaching or admin duties get in the way."
More Creatives for 2013 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Jessica Wilbanks, essayist and Pushcart Prize winner David DeHoyos, astronaut photographer Sophie Jordan, bestselling book author Jessi Jordan, comic artist, beekeeper and yeti enthusiast Patrick Peters, architect and professor Jamie Kinosian, visual artist Paris F. Jomadiao, mixed-media artist and stop motion animator Shanon Adams, dancer James Glassman, Houstorian historian and artist Lou Vest, photographer Sara Gaston, stage and screen star Rachael Pavlik, a writer mom Ana Villaronga-Roman, Katy Contemporary Arts Museum director Erin Wasmund, actor, singer and dancer Karim Al-Zand, composer Jan Burandt, paper conservator for The Menil Collection Deke Anderson, actor Craig Cohen, hockey fan and host of Houston Matters Mauro Luna, Poe-Inspired photographer Trond Saeverud, Galveston Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor Khrystyna Balushka, paper flower child Christina Carfora, visual artist and world traveler Sara Kumar, artistic director for Shunya Theatre Kiki Maroon, burlesque clown Gin Martini, fashion designer Lacey Crawford, painter and sculptor Homer Starkey, novelist Jenn Fox, mixed media Shohei Iwahama, dancer Erica DelGardo, metalsmith Bob Clark, executive director Houston Family Arts Center Kerrelyn Sparks, bestselling romance author Lindsay Halpin, punk rock mad hatter Drake Simpson, actor Shelby Carter, Playboy model turned photographer David Matranga, actor Crystal Belcher, pole dancer Daniel Kramer, photographer Blue 130, pin-up explosion art Nina Godiwalla, author and TED speaker David Wilhem, light painter Tom Abrahams, author and newscaster Browncoat, pin-up pop artist Kris Becker, Nu-Classical composer and pianist Vincent Fink, science fashion Stephanie Saint Sanchez, Senorita Cinema founder Ned Gayle, thrift store painting defacer Sameera Faridi, fashion designer Greg Ruhe, The Human Puppet Sophia L. Torres, founder and co-artistic director of Psophonia Dance Company Maggie Lasher, dance professor and artistic director Jordan Jaffe, founder of Black Lab Theatre Outspoken Bean, performance poet Barry Moore, architect Josh Montoute, mobile gaming specialist Ty Doran, young actor Gwen Zepeda, Houston's first Poet Laureate Joseph Walsh, principal dancer at Houston Ballet Justin Garcia, artist Buck Ross, dilettante and director of Moores Opera Center Patrick Renner, sculptor of the abstract and the esoteric Tomas Glass, abstract artist and True Blood musician Ashley Stoker, painter, photographer and Tumblr muse Amy Llanes, artistic airector of Rednerrus Feil Dance Company Bevin Bering Dubrowski, executive director at the Houston Center for Photography Lydia Hance, founder and director of Frame Dance Productions Piyali Sen Dasgupta, mixed media artist and nature lover Dean James, New York Times bestselling mystery novelist Nicola Parente, abstract painter and photographer Cheryl Schulke, handmade leather pursemaker Anthony Rathbun, Alternative Lifestyle Photographer David Salinas, computer-less analog photographer Danielle Burns, art curator Alicia DiRago, Whimseybox founder Katia Zavistovski, contemporary art curator Ashley Horn, choreographer, filmmaker Amanda Stevens, scary book author Peter Lucas, film and video curator, music lover and self-described culture-slinger Ana MarÃa Otamendi, collaborative pianist and vocal coach Billy D. Washington, comedian Michele Brangwen, choreographer and dancer Kristin Warren, actress and choreographer Kelly Sears, animator and film maker Colton Berry, Bayou City Theatrics' artistic director jhon r. stronks,dance-maker Joe Grisaffi, actor, director, writer, cinematographer
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