friday roundup: to carry over, a house at a crossroad, and doing the opposite thing

Róng manuscript image from wikimedia

Reader, today it’s taking every ounce of me to do my own work first. With the help of a few closed doors (hiding unmade beds, piles of dirty laundry, and the like) and some encouragement from my wonderful mother, I am here at my desk to bring you this week’s roundup:

to carry over  I used to have a good memory. Then I had children. So, I forgot to share one of my favorite radical revision strategies. I call it translate/retranslate/mistranslate. The idea comes from the poet Nina Lindsay who has written several poems as “mistranslations” of other poems (usually Chinese, I think). I don’t know enough about Lindsay’s process to say anything about it, but here’s what I do sometimes when I’m stuck on a poem: Select the text and paste it into the “from” box on Google translate. Choose a language to translate it into and translate it, then repeat the process to retranslate it back to English. Based on the retranslation (which is also probably a mistranslation, at least in some lines), grab a phrase, and/or willfully mistranslate a phrase to move you into the next version of your poem. The word translate comes from the Latin for “to go beyond” (trans) and “to carry over” (latus). Sometimes this trick helps me to go beyond my current ideas for a draft, while carrying over at least a ghost of the original poem.

a house at a crossroad  And speaking of Nina Lindsay, here is one of her mistranslations — a stunner of a poem. I’m sure I’ve shared this poem before (maybe on my old blog), but it’s one of my favorite poems of all time, so I’ll share it again.

the opposite thing This week, I’ve been reading Poetry in Person: Twenty-five Years of Conversations with America’s Poets. It’s a book comprised of transcripts from a poetry seminar led by Pearl London at the New School. Working poets such as Maxine Kumin, Robert Hass, Amy Clampitt and many others, came to the seminar with current drafts and discussed their drafting and revision processes, as well as their ideas about their own work and poetry in general. I’m really loving this book, and learning a lot. Right now, I’m reading the 1979 session with Louise Gluck (pardon my lack of umlaut). One of Gluck’s assertions is that “as soon as you can place yourself (in a certain category of poetry or poetics) –well, as soon as I can place myself and describe myself–I want immediately to do the opposite thing” (parentheses mine). She says she wanted to find out what kind of poems she could write when her “habitual devices were refused.”

I was also very interested in her discussion of fragmentation and the use of white space. She talks about white space as a way “to use silence to… almost… if you can properly frame an image or a verbal gesture in white space, in silence, you can make of that whole movement something equivalent to a single word; that is, the way a word, a contained word, explodes into meaning. It’s like those little Japanese stones that you drop into water. They become flowers. That’s a metaphor very attractive to me — the idea that something small should ramify.” I’ve never thought of white space in quite those terms, but now I will.

I recommend, con mucho gusto, Poetry in Person to the poets in the readership. It has helped me to notice things I might not have in others’ poems, and inspired me to try new things, i.e., refuse habitual devices, in my own. Sometimes is very freeing to work against type.

And speaking of working against type, I’m going to return to my own work now. I’m going to work against the June Cleaver type inside me, who wants swept floors, perfectly made beds, and plenty of T.P. in reserve.

Which, when (mis)translated by Google Translate, means: “June, the ax inside me, who is not willing to sweep the floors, or perfect beds. A large number of T.P. in the reserve.”
I swear I didn’t make that up!

8 thoughts on “friday roundup: to carry over, a house at a crossroad, and doing the opposite thing

  1. Molly,

    I love the idea of translate/mis-translate. I’m going to try it right away. Along another line, because of you and “the stanza,” I’m setting up my own writing blog.


    • Yay, Cylia! Can’t wait to read your blog! Yes, the translate/retranslate/mistranslate can be really fun. I hope it conjures some new work for you. Thanks for reading!

  2. I love the Nina Lindsay poem. Thank you. I have done the translation thing! Also I was assigned once to translate from a language without knowing the language, a radical “revision” of the first poem into a new poem. I’m glad you are having a day to do stuff. And I have that book, too, Poetry in Person, a gift! Enjoying it little by little.

    • Glad you like it! I think it’s lovely. The “translating” from an unknown language sounds fascinating. Must try.

    • I thought “the ax inside me” was awesome, too. Perhaps my next draft…… “Letter to June Cleaver, the Ax Inside Me” 🙂 I wish you many subversive translations and/or mistranslations.

  3. I love the translation idea too. I’m actually kind of getting addicted to it, just to see what happens.

    A First Kiss, Mistranslated
    Somewhere between Cowaramup and Jindong
    There was Malbec. Sailors here. The sound of corduroy
    straddling the tenth. Pin-prick the sky, unbelievable
    creatures circling our ankles, eyes,
    sparkling from the bush.

    • Oh, Mary, I love this! Thank you for sharing it. Makes me eager to try the translation thing again too. Thanks for reading!

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