The importance of sharing your poetry

As we approach the end of the semester and I sift through all my poetry to form a cohesive portfolio, I am forced to reflect on my writing and what I aim to accomplish as a poet. Like some of my peers have expressed, I have no idea who I am or what my purpose is (both as a person and as a poet). I tend to draw inspiration from my life and write about topics often overlooked. For instance, this semester I’ve written about a negligent, yet semi-present parent, the personification of mental illness, and the overbearing/outdated views of certain religions. To me, these topics are very important and need to be talked about. But how will my poetry help accomplish that? Without publication, my words might as well just stay in my head. I’m realizing the importance of publication and broadcasting, which gives poetry its full meaning. Even if I were to simply share my poetry with my friends, family, and/or peers, I’d still be broadcasting my work and therefore, sparking conversation on the topics. I’ve finally grasped the importance of sharing my poetry, because it has the power to, at the very least, bring attention to certain matters, and at the most, inspire people to make a change.

Translation and Revision

I’m so glad I read that essay/chapter on revisions with regards to translations. After my last workshop and since recovering from the mental exhaustion of writing a Japanese haiku, I want to take the English portion up a level (or a few). Currently, its as literal a translation as I could think of, but as we’ve talked about a lot in this class, a translation does not have to be direct or word for word. Sometimes, the better translations are not direct but manage to encompass the ideas of the piece in its first language better anyway. Susan Bernofsky talks about her experience translating “Letter to Edith” by Robert Walser, particularly a line involving the declaration of war. Ultimately, Bernofsky decides that the effect of the phrase in German is more in the sound/reading than the literal meaning. The line rhymes in German emulating a drunken sensation. Bernofsky decides that the idea of war is not what is essential to the translation so much as how it reads. She ultimately decides to remove the declaration of war from her translation to create a smoother, drunker rhyme in English. For Bernofsky, this is a more accurate translation of Walser’s writing as well as a better English piece on its own. She stresses the importance of translations standing on their own. A good translator creates a powerful piece in a new language. More than a summary for people who could not read the other text, the translation should function as its own exciting piece.

Overall, Bernofsky’s views on less direct translations are something I want to keep in mind as I edit my haiku. Maybe the readers want to know exactly what I said in Japanese, but more than that, they want a meaningful poem. Especially since its my own poem, I shouldn’t hesitate to deviate from the Japanese version. Since I wrote it, I’d like to think any version I write should be working towards a certain vision and I just need to find the version that expresses my thoughts best.

Of course, I don’t want to stray too far from the form of the Japanese (after all, this originated as a attempt at an untried form), but I shouldn’t let it limit me so much either.

taking critiques into consideration

Upon recently workshopping my poem “Unheard: An Introvert’s Inner Monologue” (still working on the title), I realized how much I’ve changed not only as a person, but as a writer. First as a person, I noticed I no longer feel the way I felt when writing that poem in high school. I (usually) don’t fear what reactions my “well-crafted thoughts” might evoke, and I’ve learned not to give a damn about what other people think. 

As a writer, I’ve noticed how much I used to allow workshops and critiques to dictate my pieces. Looking back on my first draft, there are quite a few phrases and images that I eliminated simply because a classmate suggested I do so. Other elements of the poem (that I’ve grown to hate) were added for the same reason. In fact, the title as it stands was specifically proposed by a professor. The current state of this poem has undergone many revisions, each based solely on what my peers and professor wanted. I didn’t think I had the power to disagree.  It wasn’t until my CNF workshop that I learned the power and choices were up to the writer alone. My professor always reminded us that critiques and workshop discussions were simply suggestions aimed at inspiring the writer to revise their piece in a way that feels right to them. As I return to this poem yet again, I will revisit the very first draft and rescue any darlings I’ve killed that belong in the upcoming rendition. I’ll take critiques and suggestions into consideration, but will make sure to preserve the integrity and personal meaning of my poem. I’ll make sure that it remains my own. 

Translating a language I don’t speak

A few years ago, I helped a friend with a poetry project for her Spanish literature class. She spoke fluent Spanish, whereas I could barely count to ten in the language. Still, I agreed to help her out, 1) because I was up for the creative challenge, and 2) because she was my ride home for winter break. The assignment was to write a poem (in spanish) inspired by Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. We decided that I’d do all the research and writing, and my friend would translate my work from english to spanish.

My research was limited to the english language and whatever translations of Darío’s work that I could find. What I found out was that he was a modernist poet who tended to write about social and political issues, naturalism, and eroticism, and many of his poems didn’t focus on a single theme. His writing was nonconforming to traditionaly literary styles, which was evident in his free verse and lack of rhyme scheme. So lucky for me, I didn’t have to worry about rhyming, which wouldn’t have effectively translated into spanish. Darío also wrote about mythical creatures, war, greek mythology and biblical references, and even broke the fourth wall by referring to the poem itself. He liked using big words and sometimes used exclamation points. Of course, I got most of this information from translations of his poems, and I’m not even sure if they accurately depicted his stylistic choices. Using these notes, I wrote a 12-verse poem in what I believe to be an adaptation of Darío’ style. I’ve included two verses, as well as my friend’s translation of them, below. 

Verse 3: Seas of green roll out as if to prepare the field.

The blood of the nymphs will soon stain nature’s carpet 

Poisoning the Earth, making Mother Nature wince.

Verso 3: el océano de verde se enrolla por la batalla

         La sangre de las ninfas se mancharán la alfombra de la naturaleza

         Envenenando la tierra, haciendo se estremece la Madre Naturaleza

Verse 6: In the distance, mountains shudder and quake

Quiver and shake

The sight of brothers killing one another

Brings them eternal sadness, they’d crumble into dirt if nature allowed it.

Verso 6: En la distancia, las montañas se estremecen y tiemblan

 El temblor y agita

 Las vistas de los hermanos se matando el uno con el otro

 Les da tristeza eternal, se desmoronarían en la suciedad si la naturaleza se permite

Still unable to speak Spanish, I’m not sure if her translation does my work justice, nor am I sure if my work did Darío’s justice. What I do know is that this was a rewarding, yet extremely frustrating, experience that I would be willing to try again. Next time, I hope to know a least a little bit of the language I’m translating.