PLATTSBURGH - Dr. Alexis Levitin has been recognized as the latest distinguished professor for the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
Levitin was honored with the SUNY system distinction during a portrait unveiling ceremony at Plattsburgh's State's Feinberg Library Dec. 6. The professor was recognized for his dedication and accomplishments in translating Portuguese poetry into English.
Dr. Patricia Higgins, a professor of anthropology and interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, credited Levitin for being passionate about poetry and accumulating "an impressive body of work" in his field.
"As an anthropologist, I can appreciate some of the aspects of sort of cultural features," said Higgins. "I can recognize you can't really understand a language and translate a language without having a lot of understanding of the culture that's behind that language ... I can really appreciate the depth of understanding that I know that Alexis has in the cultures from which he has translated poetry."
"I think poetry, of all forms of oral expression, is even more difficult to understand in another language," Higgins added. "Then, to take that understanding and to shape it into English in a way that the meaning ‚ not necessarily just the words - carry over, I think it truly an astounding thing to be able to do."
Communications professor Dr. Jin Kim applauded Levitin for his career, particularly for his work in translating the works of Portuguese poet Eugenio de Andrade, "embodying the beauty, sensuality and mastery" of de Andrade's works.
"[Levitin's] scholarly skills have been an invaluable service, helping English language readers discover literary beauty in Portuguese poetry, thus expanding the standard of literary appreciation across cultural boundaries," said Kim. "There is hardly any translator in the U.S. who is not familiar with Alexis Levitin's outstanding contribution to the field of literary and translational studies."
SUNY Plattsburgh president Dr. John C. Ettling said the university's students have been fortunate to have a professor like Levitin on staff and that Levitin represents some of the best faculty the college has to offer.
"Faculty and staff are the greatest strengths any college can have and that's certainly the case here," said Ettling. "The entire campus community is proud of what you have done."
Sharing anecdotes from his near 30-year career with Plattsburgh State, Levitin reflected on his love of poetry and his work in translation.
"I think that translation of poetry is a little bit like transposing a piece of music from one instrument to another.
It's all about music, though we don't very often say that it is," said Levitin. "For me, as a translator of poetry, it is the musical quality that I'm most interested in ... that I most seek to reproduce somehow."
Levitin added he was grateful for the award, thanking those who made his nomination, and ultimately recognition, possible.
"I never really thought this would happen," he said.
Levitin is the second SUNY Plattsburgh professor to receive the distinguished professorship - SUNY's very highest honor. The first was Dr. Mark Cohen, a SUNY distinguished professor who has been credited for changing the way scientists think about civilization.
Levitin's work has resulted in 30 books, and his translations have appeared in more than 30 anthologies and hundreds of magazines and journals - including the American Poetry Review, Grand Street, Kenyon Review, the New England Review and the Partisan Review.
In addition to his latest recognition, Levitin has received a number of fellowships, grants and awards, including two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and two Fulbright Senior Lecturer Awards. Levitin holds a bachelor's degree of arts in zoology, a master's degree of arts in English and a Ph.D. in English - all from Columbia University.