Day 28: Translation

Here’s a thumbnail portrait of today’s process…

I tried to take seriously Chris Jarmick’s assignment for day 28, to “translate” a poem into English from a language I don’t know. I found a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and printed it out. I carried it around. I don’t know German, but I thought I could make out a few of the words. I opened my poetry book and copied out the poem in longhand. It’s a longish poem (“Erlkoenig” is the title, I think) and I thought I would copy only a stanza or two, but I ended up copying the whole thing. Then…for a long time…I stared at it. Then, I wrote this (please excuse the lack of cool accent marks):

Resisting Translation

The assignment is to translate a poem into English
from a language I don’t know–
and knowing so little of languages other than my own,
it seems an easy enough assignment.

“Translate,” in smart quotes, which must mean,
“not really translate,” though I can guess
that Nacht und Wind 
means Night and Wind. (Is that cheating?)

Assignments, I tell my students, are about
getting out of our accountant, linear left brains
and into our creative, more imaginative
right brains, into what poets count our better half.

But aren’t I beyond assignments, beyond
all that sturm und drang, not to mention the Nacht
und Wind? 
No knave or knabe, not I.
And spat (which I looked up) has nothing to do with spitting,

not even a spitting wind. Mein Vater, my father,
let me off the hook of this difficulty,
let me mutter and growl in my own tongue,
write (whatever it might mean) birgst du so bang. 

Day 21: Blessings for Parents

Today’s assignment at POETRYisEVERYTHING is to write a parody of a well-known poem. I decided, instead, to write an imitation.

One can’t improve on the Beatitudes from Matthew, but they make for an interesting foundation, a kind of map to explore other kinds of blessings. (I remembered, as I worked on my imitation, that “to bless” means, etymologically, “to wound.”) I started writing with the intention of being light, and then it…sort of changed. I’ll let it compost in the drafts file and see if something else cooks up from it.

Beatitudes for Parents

Blessed are the parents of infants, sleep starved as mystics, endlessly rocking, for they shall see visions of all that is possible.

Blessed are the parents of toddlers for they shall learn the limits of earthly patience.

Blessed is any parent of an ailing child for they shall be exposed to their own limitations, they will learn the limits of their own too-permeable limits.

Blessed are the parents of seven-year-olds for they shall be called wise and, if truly wise, they will know how foolish and how brief wisdom can be.

Blessed are the parents of fourteen-year-olds, for, as in the days with toddlers, they will grow infinite patience and yet none will call them wise.

Day 15: The Cross-Out


from, “Is a Freighter Cruise for You?”

As I didn’t do a great job of writing my ghazal (mine is not syllabic, for instance), I thought I’d direct you to Chris Jarmick’s prompt for today’s poem. I’ve always wanted to try a cross-out. I’m not satisfied with the result, but I am inspired to try more of them. And maybe it’s the sort of thing one has to practice? Anyway, here’s the prompt. My poem appears at the end of this post. 

Tuesday April 15th Prompt

Prompt 15 – Create a Cross-Out aka Erasure FOUND Poem

The cross out or rub out/erasure poem is a type of FOUND poem using existing material. You will be crossing out words you don’t want in your poem from another source. Here’s what I’d like you to try to do.

Take a newspaper, magazine article or piece of text (I’d suggest of several thousand words in length) or an internet version of such. Do not change the order of any of the words when you create your poem. In other words you could look at the previous sentence (Do not change….) and create; DO CHANGE THE WORDS but you should not make this sentence: CREATE THE ORDER OF WORDS (because you’ve changed the order of the words as they originally appear).

In each line your new poem should include two words or three words that have been kept together exactly as they appeared in the original article but do not use more than THREE WORDS in a row as they originally appeared. In my example ‘the words’ appeared in the original text and in the new line of the poem. You may not change the words in any way to ‘make them fit’. Don’t make something plural or past tense. You use what is there and create something different with it. You do not have to keep the same idea or theme as the original (but you can keep it the same if you really want to). The text is simply a bunch of words that you are re-using to create your poem.

Your poem should be at least 6 lines long. And it should be somewhat poetic. (you can add some additional rules if you would like: Have a consistent pattern regarding the number of syllables in your lines – every line is 10 or 12 syllables. Or line 1 is 10 syllables, lines two is 12, line 3 is 10, line 4 is 12 etc. You can rhyme the first and second or first and third lines and the last lines in similar fashion.

Remember you are creating something poetic with your cross-out/erasure found poem.)

I picked up the Feb. 3, 2014 edition of The New Yorker, and used Patricia Marx’s “A Tale of a Tub” (pages 26-28; it’s about a freighter cruise, hence, the picture). Have I created something poetic? I don’t know. Logical? Definitely not. (Playful, yes.)

One Sort of Voyage

Hankering lovely, hurly-burly world
no handful over submarines, everything in short —

prison, electric subsisted, a hundred limes, a shark-

neglected plum varnished into the shape
of a peacock. Precipitately

streaming, jutting, failing what seemed like
guitars (perched, panoramic,

camouflaged, accompanied, flushed),
you did not ever have to stay —

allegedly sweet, last-minute
(Bonne chance!) flesh in a cow’s mouth —

dusk, a box of ginger snaps,
my reverse trip, approximately my disaster.


Finally, here’s a link to Chocolate Is a Verb, a blog featuring a variant of this sort of exercise — almost every day!