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.

The Environment and Poetry

Last class we had workshop outside. How could we not? It was sunny and warm, and the green just outside Welles looked so inviting. I was practically skipping outside, and desperate to find a good seat.

The moment I was brought back into reality was when my white shoes squished into the damp ground. I hopped around, trying to find a good spot to land. I settled for a good enough spot, hopped over, and found my seat.

I really liked workshopping outside. It was a welcome change of pace. Instead of confining our poetry to the (often-overheated) walls of Welles 216, we were able to talk about poetry in nature (as close as we can get on the Geneseo campus). Golden hour is my favorite time of day, and to be outside with my fellow poets in such gorgeous weather, and soak up as much of the sun as we could before it disappears for the next six months, was a pleasure.

However, as indicated by the white shoe altercation with mud, I was not dressed for the weather. I wore a knit sweater and ripped jeans that day, poor choices when sitting stationary for an extended period of time. As time went on, I slowly froze. The freeze was the equivalent of opening your fridge extremely slowly for a snack at 3 am without trying to wake your sleeping parents up. Towards the end of that half of workshop, I was extremely eager to go back inside.

The moment that I really wanted to write about took place in the middle of workshopping Daniel’s poem. I looked over my shoulder and saw a stinkbug crawling up my right arm. That freaked me out. I pondered my options, not noticing that Lytton had started to ask a question.

With all of the patience I could muster, I swiped the stinkbug off of my arm. It fell into the grass below and scurried away. I took a moment to catch my breath, and realized that the rest of the class looked deep in thought. They might have been freezing and trying to keep as warm as possible, but they at least looked deep in thought. It dawned upon me that I had no clue what just happened in the previous conversation. I asked Lytton if he could repeat the question since I was distracted, and he repeated the question.

The reason why I am telling this story is because I am curious about how the environment influences how we read, write, and critique poetry. When I am traveling, it seems either I write the most original pieces of my life or absolute drivel. No in-between. If I’m stuck on an idea, a helpful thing for me to do is go walking outside, ideally talking to somebody else, but the change in environment helps me engage a part of my brain that might have been hidden before. Maybe the warm class environment (temperature-wise here, not ambiance-wise) helps my thoughts come together faster than they would in even the crisp fall air.

How does the environment influence the way you read, write or critique poetry? What is the most conducive environment for you to do those things? What is the least conducive environment for you to do those things?

discovering my purpose

My friend Jenna and I set out to do homework together. Both of us grabbed our things, packed up and walked to a nearby study room in my dorm. As soon as we got our laptops out, we both looked at each other, laughed a little bit, and decided we were going to write poetry instead. We decided to do an exercise where we put on a song and stream of consciousness wrote for the duration of it. No reading, revising, or even thinking as we went — just writing. It felt incredibly liberating to write without criticizing my own words as they came out. And even if just a line or even just a phrase was decent from the writing, it was something, and it was genuine, authentic writing being generated.

I entered Geneseo as an Adolescent Ed/English major. Three semesters later, I’m an English/Creative Writing major with a Women’s and Gender Studies minor. I knew as soon as I entered 201 here that Creative Writing was my place here, in fact, I’ve known CW was my place since high school. It was my safe space in high school, where I felt I could express myself without censoring anything, and it turned into the thing I love more than anything. However, it was my love of not just learning and understanding English, but of teaching it and making it accessible to others as well as providing feedback and editing that led me to even consider attending college at all. In my high school English courses, I always felt a desire to not just participate but be the one behind all of the participation, crafting the activities and writing comments on papers and poems.

In my time here, my desires have shifted from working with high schoolers to pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing and working with Creative Writing at a higher level. I think that through my work in the Creative Writing track so far, I have been able to not only push myself to new places as a writer, but to understand that I love creating prompts and helping friends with their work. I am grateful for all the track has given me so far and look forward to all the things it has in store for me in the rest of my time here.

Inspiration, or Lack Thereof

Sometimes an idea comes from a dream. Sometimes it comes from a glance at something new and exciting. Sometimes it doesn’t come at all. Those can be the scariest and most anxiety inducing moments, but not to worry, as long as the pen touches paper it can’t be too much of a waste of time. Even if you think it is.

My issue is of a different caliber; I have plenty of ideas, plenty of topics which can spring into life, forming verse on a sheet of paper. But those ideas are painful. They hurt to utter, to dream of, or to think of in line at the Starbucks in the union. Thoughts of lost loves, anxiety in the shapes of lightning bolts, empty glasses that should be full. The physical act of writing used to be cathartic; now it’s more of a trip into the sides that I don’t want to cross. In a way this whole experience could be used as a way to experiment with different types of writing, maybe trying to work on landscape pieces or piece of fiction, as most of my writing focuses on my own self, as narcissistic as that is. It’s fun to try an avoid something in writing; really digging in my heels and not even placing a “you” in a piece, and barely focusing on the “I”. It could be better, it could be worse. I hope this proves fruitful, and that I can dig myself out of a hole if I end up burying myself.

The End of Workshop

It’s hard for me to sit at my seat in workshop and not respond to people when they are critiquing my work. So hard. Sometimes I want to run over and hug the person who got the exact intention of my poem, or just wring my hands or roll my eyes at that one person who doesn’t. Ever. Get. It.

During my last workshop, I really wanted to tell the workshop the real story behind my poem. I wanted to tell everybody the stories of Marina Abramovic, of the weaver in Kusadasi, of the meta ideas I had about this poem. I suppose this is my space to do so.

Continue reading “The End of Workshop”


I have been writing poetry since before I even knew what it was or what it meant. It is something that has always come naturally to me, something that has always been important to me, and something I’ve never really known how to stop doing. However, something that was new to me when I began taking college workshops was the concept of revision. In my high school creative writing classes, the concept was certainly introduced, but after submitting our work, we got our assignments back, got the grade, and never had to revise. Revision was entirely left in our hands. And quite honestly, it was something that I never did. I felt that once my piece was written, with the exception of an occasional word change or line break change, it was usually complete.

When I got to Geneseo, my 201 workshop introduced me to the idea that revision was absolutely necessary in order to make the piece as effective as possible. After all, what is the purpose of a workshop if not to revise a piece and utilize the feedback being provided by other writers? We were not only introduced to the importance of the revision process, but also required to submit a revised version of our original workshop piece for a second “revision workshop”. When I revised this piece, I no longer felt like it was my own. I felt as though I took far too many suggestions, I drastically changed the structure and lots of other aspects of the poem until it no longer felt like my poem at all. This was no one’s fault but my own: but it made me even more afraid of revision than I had ever been. How to reconcile my preconceived idea that a poem was done once it was complete with the concept of workshop, something I’d be participating in for the next four years of my college education and my Creative Writing degree?

When I sat down with Lytton in office hours, my first question was how to begin reconciling this struggle of mine. This is my third semester at Geneseo, my second as a Creative Writing major. It’s my second time taking poetry, and for some reason, now more than ever, the feedback I am receiving is overwhelming me. My conversation during office hours reminded me of something important: everyone’s process is different, and also everyone’s process is valid. The idea that I have of my first thought being the most honest and real version of what I’m trying to say is valid, and revision isn’t about pleasing readers or changing your work to the point where it doesn’t feel like yours anymore. It’s about clarifying, using words that may make the piece make more sense, may remove readings from the room that you’re not okay with people having, and most of all, allow the poem to live up to its full potential.

The Ramblings of an Elephant Critic

There was an experiment done in which art critics were tested in deducing whether a series of abstract paintings were made by experienced artists or by elephants with paint brushes. They were able to correctly guess which was which 100% of the time. Years and years of training in an expressive field can hone your instincts in distinguishing when a work was done with skill and intent or when it was hastily slapped together, but given the illusion of being sophisticated. I’m not at that level. I’m the guy that scoffs at the art museum, “All she did was draw a circle on a red canvas. What’s so special about it?”

I’m not a poet. I don’t mean that in a meta philosophical way, along the lines of, “how could anyone consider themselves a poet if poetry itself is so subjective?” No. I mean, for real, I don’t have the slightest idea what I’m doing. My exposure to poetry seems to never be enough, no matter how much of it I read. More often than not, on any given poem, I’ll concede that I simply don’t confidently grasp the meaning.

Continue reading “The Ramblings of an Elephant Critic”

Poetry’s Loyal Accomplices

We’ve begun to think about translation and poetry in some pretty unfavorable terms as of late. After reading the clean shirt of it and framing ourselves, as readers, as accomplices to the poet/their speaker, I’ve began to imagine the intimacy of poetry in a different light. Poetry, as I’ve seen it, revolves around making connections between and via metaphors, images, sonic devices like rhyme or alliteration, any kind of repetition, and speaker and reader– creating an intimacy between disparate worldviews, words, things, or people.

However, in my more current (and admittedly less thought out) thoughts, I’m seeing poetry as more of an act of loyalty (as I’m reluctant to call poetry an act of faith since I think that removes some of the agency from a crafting poet and a close reader). There seems to me to be a kind of implicit contract that goes into poetry, as in the truths held within the page will not leave the confines of a speaker’s word or the infinitely varied spectrum of reader interpretation. The relationship between speaker and reader changes with whoever reads it.

Since there is this connection, but perhaps one we forge out of survival rather than desire (hence loyalty), our own version of a poem, perhaps our own translations, become acts of secrecy or selfish crimes, ones we’re getting away with. I think Britto’s/Novey’s word of accomplice fits that idea very nicely. We’re driven to act or change, even in the tiniest ways by poetry and the implicit connection between reader and speaker. In well-written poetry, I’m beginning to feel, intimacy fostered on the page can loyally extend beyond it. Loyalty is intimacy moved to action.

Thanks for reading.