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 26: Rebellion Cento


Yesterday’s assignment at POETRYisEVERYTHING was to write a Cento, a poem consisting solely of lines from other poet’s poems. Today’s assignment is to write an “opposite or oppositional poem” (Chris admits to be deliberately vague). Having missed the Cento assignment, I thought pulling one together today would be a good way to be oppositional. And I think I found the perfect first line.

When I assign centos to students, we physically cut apart lines of poems and then reassemble them (printed out, very large type, taped on the whiteboards of the classroom — great fun).

I thought Emily Dickinson might help me out.  (It’s late, and I refuse to make more sense of this. “My syllable rebelled” is likely to become the start of something else for me.)

My syllable rebelled —
The Dews drew quivering and chill —
Out of the foxglove’s door —
To Stump, and Stack — and Stem —

My river waits reply
As all the Heavens were a Bell
Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
The Motion of the Moon

Day 24: The Clerihew


(image found on the Facebook page of The Plot Whisperer, Martha Alderson)

The clerihew was, as I recall, favored by my mentor, Nelson Bentley, perhaps because the full name of its progenitor was Edmund Clerihew Bentley. It is a four line poem with rhyming couplets, biographical at least in that it begins with someone’s name. The four lines are rhymed AA BB (two couplets) and are of varying lengths and meter (for comic effect). It can contain addition rhymed couplets. This example is said to be Edmund’s first attempt at the form:

Sir Humphrey Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered Sodium.

I resisted this assignment so mightily that I decided there must be a gift for me in doing it. Then, researching this topic, I discovered that July 10 (the birthday of my two older daughters) is National Clerihew Day.

So, a few rhymes from moi:

Alas, said Bethany Reid
I’ve written a terrible screed.
I hoped Poetry Month would make me profound–
Instead it makes my head pound.
I could just refuse,
but now the ink’s–used. 
Consider this my apologia
For my April logorrhoea. 


Days 22 & 23: Two Poems

Rebellion is good, right? Yesterday I lost a day of my life to a migraine (no exaggeration), and then I was quite busy most of today. But at 3:30, it was Writing Lab time and I sat down and wrote not one but TWO bad-poems. I did not refer to the prompts at POETRYisEVERYTHING, but that might be part of the process (the surprising process). Today, anyway. Please remember that “one-bad-poem” per day this month was my goal. (And, if you’re worried about me, yes I have made an appointment to see my GP and ask for new headache meds.)


Poem One
I’m driving to Writing Lab when a deer leaps
from the grass beside the freeway
into the brush, and beyond that I know
there’s a wall, so I slow down, fearful
for the deer, fearful for coming traffic.
I catch only a final glimpse of a tawny haunch
before it’s gone. I say “deer,” out loud,
and I point, even though I realize,
mid-gesture, that I don’t have a child in the car
with me, and in fact my youngest child,
were she here, would be plugged in
to her music, texting, too; she’d never hear me.
The deer has disappeared faster than my daughters’
childhoods. They were buckled into carseats,
they were small for so long,
and I know at the time it seemed long,
like a river that didn’t end, ever, just kept
unfurling, the ocean an endless distance away.
And now I’m merging from the highway
onto the freeway and I swing into the faster stream
of traffic and I can’t even remember
why I have to wipe my eyes.


Poem Two 
A Stellars Jay pokes through the the pink blossoms
of a rhododendron, crooks his head
as if to ask me for a bauble or a seed.
It was late April when we decided
to move Mom from the farmhouse,
and that day, too, there were Stellar Jays
and pink rhodies, those gaudy
Mother’s Day blooms. We mowed the grass
and weeded the flower beds,
tasks that began to feel like the labors of Hercules,
Augean stables of flowerbeds.
“I’ve always done all of this work myself,
all my life,” Mom said, and we brought her a chair
so she could sit on the lawn and watch us,
“All this work.” Head crooked, an inquiring smile.