‘The Wife’s Lament’ Translates into Fellowship for Alumna Gnaomi Siemens

BY Rochelle Goldstein, November 20, 2019

Alumna Gnaomi Siemens '18 was recently awarded an ALTA Travel Fellowship given every year to a select group of emerging translators. The $1,000 stipend from the American Literary Translators Association allows recipients to travel to the ALTA annual conference held at various venues throughout the US and the Americas where, in addition to the awards ceremony, fellows present their work to the gathering of members, publishers, writers, students and teachers. This year’s conference was held in Rochester, NY. Last year, another Columbia student, Mariam Rahmani was ALTA’s 2018 Peter K Jansen Travel Fellow.


While at Columbia, Siemens shifted focus from doing translations in Spanish and French to Old English, Old Scots and Sumerian, when she accidentally took a class with professor Patricia Dailey, a medievalist and specialist in women’s mystical texts and Anglo-Saxon literature. Professor Dailey, who had stepped in for the late poet Mark Strand, introduced Siemens to, among other things, poems from The Exeter Book, including some translations by the late Nobel-prize-winning poet, Seamus Heaney.


The female voice who speaks through these poems, according to Siemens, is still relevant today even though poems like “The Wife’s Lament” and others were transcribed into the written word from the oral tradition sometime around the 10th century. They wound up entrancing her into dedicating the next two years of her life to researching and translating poems from the text.


Siemens recently read from her collection The Wife’s Lament: New Translations From Old English at The British Library’s spectacular Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War exhibition in London, where she saw the original The Exeter Book manuscript in person. 


Siemens is a poet as well as a translator, and she was recently awarded a Poetry Society of New York Micro-residency at the New York Public Library, a program that helps to give working poets time and a place in which to work while facilitating more public engagement with poets and poetry.


Siemens’ manuscript The Errant was a finalist for GASHER journal’s first book prize. Her work can be read in Asymptote, Words Without Borders, The Believer, Slice Magazine, Europe Now Journal, The American Journal of Poetry, Penny Thoughts (UK), and American Chordata, among others in the US and abroad.