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.

My Own Poetry

I’ve been thinking about my own poetry a lot recently thanks to this class, and I feel a bit disillusioned. From a young age, I’ve been told I’m good at poetry (this poem I wrote in first or second grade that I don’t really remember being frequently cited by my parents as proof), but I’m not sure how true that is. In fourth grade, I was told my writing (it was prose) was very “poetic.” I like to think that’s true sometimes, but even accepting that statement as true, does that I’m good at writing poetry? I’m a huge fan of metaphors, so I probably throw those around in a lot of my work, but besides that, I’m not sure if there is any poetic artistry involved in my actual poetry. Line breaks? Effectively my poetry’s comma. Rhyming? Just no (although I think the great realization that poetry does not have to rhyme was a huge step forward). Meter? What’s that? That was a joke. I promise I know what it is. Writing with it in mind is another story though. I suppose I am unsatisfied with my current poetry. I think some lines come out nice, but its far from masterful.

Even more bothersome is the incapability I feel about writing happy poems or really any feeling that isn’t pain or unease. I feel like I lack the words to describe feelings that aren’t hopeless. I jokingly refer to myself as the unpleasant poet. Just yesterday, I joked to my sister that my latest workshop poem would cement me as the kid who just writes unsettling stuff. But I don’t really want to be that person. By all means, successfully unsettling the reader does make me, dare I say, proud, but I don’t want it to be my only talent (assuming it is a talent I possess in the first place).

Ultimately, I don’t want this to be a pathetic praise/pity grab, but a reflection to lead to improvement. I was thinking that I should challenge myself to write poems I don’t usually write for the rest of the workshops. This is the best setting to learn after all.

Right now, my goals consist of 1 happy poem (that’s pretty vague, isn’t it?) and 1 narrative poem. The last narrative poem I wrote was written in 6th grade and probably overflowing with more cheese than an overstuffed quesadilla (although I still look back on it fondly). I’ve also been thinking about epic poems recently (like the Odyssey), but that might be just a bit too much. Just a bit. I still need a few more ideas to fill out this semester, but I think this is a good start.

Writing a Definition

When asked to write a definition for one of our words, I wrote one, erased it, and wrote another better one. Easy peesy. “Delve into the specific words you picked. Why?” (to paraphrase because my memory is not that good). Ha, I already did that too. I started to feel pretty confident and smug about this activity.

“Consider your line breaks” Line breaks? What line breaks? Was this supposed to be a poem? Suddenly, the five words I had written next to my word did not look so good. Maybe it was a nice definition (although not very scholarly), but it was not a poem. I did not write a poem …even though I was in a poetry class. It had not even occurred to me that it should have been a poem. When I hear “definition”, I think of, not poetry. This was a mini mind-opening experience. Why can’t a definition be poetry? In a way, a poem could be (but is not always) the definition to the title. What does the title mean? Read the poem to find out. Its almost the same as looking at the definition under a word in the dictionary.

Unfortunately, my creativity was not fast enough to transform the small definition I had written into a more intentional poem in the few minutes left of the activity, but even without the words written yet, I feel that my knowledge and experience with poetry has already grown. You could say my definition of poetry has expanded.