Diving further into INTO ENGLISH

Turkish is an agglutinative language. That is to say, a word’s meaning can be elaborated on and added to by the attachment of suffixes. In fact, there is a single word in Turkish that can express the following English sentence: “You are not one of those who can be turned into a New Yorker.” Here it is: Nevyorklulustiramadiklarimizdansiniz.

— Sidney Wade, commenting on translations of Yahya Kemal Beyath’s “Gece” (Night)

It has been said that Russians believe everything can be translated into their language and nothing can be translated out of it; and wihle they cite Pasternak’s Shakespeare as a paragon of translation, his own poems are deemed untouchable.

— J. Kates, commenting on translations of Boris Pasternak’s Гамлет (Hamlet)

In the middle of comparing “the vocation for eternity” with “the vocation of eternity” and “the calling of the eternal” in translations of Sophia Mello Breyner Andresen’s “A pequena praça” (The Small/Little Square), Alexis Levitin writes:

Let me mention, parenthetically, that one of the greatest challenges for the translator lies in those pesky, elusive, mercurial little words that inhabit all idiomatic expressions and try to place us all in time and space. Prepositions are the tiny stumbling blocks that we translators, again and again, beat our shins against.

And then there’s new-to-me words from someone who wrote other words I have long loved . . .

I, who use just a small part
of the words in the dictionary.

I, who must solve riddles despite myself,
know that were God not full of mercy,
there would be mercy in the word
and not just in Him.

Yehuda Amichai, “אל מלא רחמים” (God Full of Mercy), translated by Robert Alter

(I’ve linked Amichai’s name to a page with a recording of him reciting the poem in English and Hebrew. So far, I like his own rendition the best.)

Returning to Fields and Gardens

I requested Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries (Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2017) after reading Marissa Lingen’s capsule review. This anthology (edited by Martha Collins and Kevin Prufer) is indeed my kind of thing: twenty-five poems in a variety of languages, from Ancient Greek to Haitian Creole, accompanied by three translations, followed by an essay about those translations by another translator who sometimes adds their own. I remember almost nothing about the Aristotle class I took in college with the late Eugene Gendlin, but his advice to consult more than one translation of any text when possible has stayed with me throughout the years.

Interlibrary Loan finally wants the book back. I was able to keep it long past the original due date because of the pandemic, so there was time for it to accumulate some of the bookmarks that populate many of the other volumes in the house:

book + kittens book + kittens

So, what were some of the things I wanted to remember?

page 8: “History doesn’t only efface a text – it also builds ever-changing scaffolds of meaning around what is left.” —Karen Emmerich, commenting on translations of Sappho fragments (98a and 98b)

page 22:

“Returning to the Farm to Dwell” is a landmark poem by Tao Qian (365–427). It is the first in a series of five poems and celebrates a return to a simple life in the countryside. For over a decade, Tao Qian worked as a government official, but he felt constrained and grew increasingly dissatisfied. In 405, Tao Qian retired to the countryside, where he farmed, planted chrysanthemums, drank wine, and wrote poetry. In cultivating his spirit, he became one of the early, great dropouts in the tradition of Chinese poetry.

—Arthur Sze

page 20:

From early days I have been at odds with the world;
My instinctive love is hills and mountains.

—the beginning of James Hightower’s 1970 translation

pages 20–23:

Returning to Fields and Gardens I

“By mischance I fell into the dusty net / And was thirteen years away from home.” —Hightower

“I erred and fell in the snares of dust / and was away thirteen years in all.” —Stephen Owen (1996)

“I stumbled into their net of dust, that one / departure a blunder lasting thirteen years.” —David Hinton (2008)

In all three translations, it’s worth pointing out differences in the poem’s numbers. . . . In line 4, all three translators choose to ignore the literal text, which clearly says “thirty years,” and use “thirteen years” instead. Hightower asserts that thirty years makes no sense; that the time of government service was probably close to thirteen years, and so he transposes the “ten” and the “three” (ten plus three, instead of three times ten). Owen and Hinton follow suit.

In contrast to these translations, I chose to retain “thirty years” and want to offer a justification. First, the text clearly says “thirty years”—no one disputes that—and, although thirty years is not literally true, there’s a figurative justification for it. “Thirty years” has shock value, and it’s also justifiable in that one can conceive of thirty years as half a lifetime. In Chinese astrology, there are twelve zodiac creatures and five elements (wood, earth, air, fire, water), so one cycle with each of the five elements requires sixty years. That cycle can be seen as a completed lifetime. I take Tao Qian’s phrase to mean that once one departs from the true path, it may take half a lifetime to discover it.

When I was young, I did not fit in
with others, and simply loved the hills and mountains.
By mistake, I fell into the dusty net
and before I knew it, it was thirty years! . . .


Speaking of nets, it’s time for me to apply my own analytic powers to other people’s English and Spanish, so the rest of the sticky notes and scraps will have to wait for some other day.

“a few old socks and love letters”


Today’s subject line comes from the last paragraph of George Whitman’s obituary in the New York Times:

Mr. Whitman had variously called himself a communist, a utopian and a humanist. But he may have also been a romantic himself, at least concerning his life’s work. “I may disappear leaving behind me no worldly possessions — just a few old socks and love letters,” he wrote in his last years. Paraphrasing a line from Yeats, he added, “and my little Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart.”

That’s a Whitman manifesto at the top of this entry. This is my partner in front of Shakespeare & Company, browsing through a book on the Japanese economy:


This is what the rest of the front patio looks like on a chilly November night:


Lori-Lyn asks (in her “Loving 2011” series), What books made an impression on you this year? One of them was Mademoiselle London Hearts Paris (Sometimes), which I picked up on impulse inside S&Co. I especially like the poem that starts out with her throwing rocks at Hemingway’s geraniums.

I deliberately searched for was Yves Bonnefoy’s translations of Yeats’s poems (which I eventually picked up at the Gallimard shop, along with Fuzier and Denis’s translations of Donne into French). The thing is, I knew about their existence because I’d come across part of Bonnefoy’s rendition of The Circus Animals’ Desertion back in college:

J’ai cherché un thème et ce fut en vain,
Je l’ai cherché cinq à six semaines.
Peut-être qu’à la fin, vieux comme je suis,
Je dois me contenter de mon coeur. Et pourtant,
L’hiver comme l’été jusqu’à ce grand âge,
Ce qu’elle a paradé, ma ménagerie …

Les images sont souveraines de par leur forme achevée
Et celles-ci grandirent dans la pureté de l’esprit.
Mais de quoi naissaient-elles? Du dépotoir
Où va ce que l’on jette et le balayage des rues.
Vielles marmites, vielles bouteilles, boîte cassée,
Vieux fer, view os et nippes, et à la cassée
Cette souillon qui délire. Mon échelle est tombée,
Et je dois mourir là, au pied des échelles,
Dans le bazar de défroques du coeur.

But the last words for tonight should be Monsieur Whitman’s, non? [click the images to enlarge]



the tree that bears the fruit / is not the one that was planted

Today’s conundrum subject line comes from W. S. Merwin’s “Place,” which I saw this morning both in an e-mail from Poetry Daily and in the April issue of Oprah’s magazine. (Yeah, still making my way through it.)

Also in O: an interview with Maya Angelou.

Q: How do you write?

MA: I keep a hotel room in my town, although I have a large house. And I go there at about 5:30 in the morning, and I start working. And I don’t allow anybody to come in that room. I work on yellow pads and with ballpoint pens. I keep a Bible, a thesaurus, a dictionary, and a bottle of sherry. I stay there until midday.


I keep meaning to mention that Mary and I have a collaboration up at Blue Print Review. This delights me.

Also, I will be reading with Jane Ormerod and Ice Gayle Johnson at Nashville’s Global Education Center on Friday, May 13, at 7:30 pm. Admission is $8. Jane and Ice Gayle are co-editors of an Uphook Press anthology that will include one of my poems.


Some of the poems on the tabs I’ve had open:

Life is a long song

The glory of words

New fruit

a blade into his heart

Loving “Hate That Cat”

I picked up Sharon Creech’s Hate That Cat at a sale, thinking it might make a good birthday present for a friend.

Two things I didn’t realize:

(1) It’s a sequel. (Guess I’ll have to keep or donate it instead.)
(2) It’s about poetry! I’m 32 pages in and there’s already been an entry on William Carlos Williams that made me laugh.

not broken, but rearranged

I’m liking what I’ve read so far of Lauren Kizi-Ann Alleyne’s poetry:

  • Reb reprinted On the day of your favorite color: at the BAP blog
  • A selection at the Drunken Boat (including “It is not impossible to survive,” from which today’s subject line is taken)
  • Five poems in the No Tell Motel archives. Mmm. I’ve printed “Bend, Bend, Break” to put in my re-read binder.

  • As for me, there’s The Silence of Too Much To Say at unFold, and a packet almost ready to mail out. According to my submissions log, it’s the first snail mail batch I’ve prepared this year. Oy and oof. Maybe I’ll declare October to be la grande PegPoSubMo. (Maybe I should get back to the Must Dos currently in the way of my Wanna Writes. Yeah.)

    “Let me see your feet.”

    It’s the height of summer, and my hands currently smell of basil and garlic. (I’m making pesto with the last of last week’s leaves before improvising some sort of okra-onion curry for dinner.) I’ve got Rameau on the CD player and assorted windows open. Let me tell you about some of them…

    Recently published:

  • You can tell…, at microcosms (today!)
  • Cheshire knife…, at microcosms (August 2)
  • The song goes…, at PicFic (July 19)
  • By the waters…, at microcosms (July 16)
  • Some poems I’ve printed out or e-mailed:

  • Pin Setter, by Chris Green
  • Lightning Bugs and the Pleiades, by Coleman Barks
  • Horizon of Feet, by Philip Dacey
  • A collection I’m enjoying (and which I’ll be reviewing for Galatea Resurrects): Eating Her Wedding Dress: A Collection of Clothing Poems

    A collection I need to return to: the postings at the Blue Print Review blog under the “moment” tag. The entries that held my eye at first glance:
    “sky crossing 2,” “sky crossing 1,” “missing words,” “december in just a moment,” “samurai” (this one’s getting rec’d on the fandom blog when I steal some other moment to update it)

    Current squee: I’ve managed to draft 22 pieces in 23 days as a participant in 24/7 (actually 23 pieces in as many days, but I didn’t manage to finish anything within day 8), as well as one twelve-line poem outside of the project. That pleases me — and so does one of the pieces being scooped up for publication within hours of my posting it privately to the group. (The editors said they were “smitten” by it! I will thunk back to earth as soon as I turn to the next page of my notebook — ars longa, verse nty-nth — but at the moment, I’m as full of bubbly glee as a flute of sparkling wine.)

    (And speaking of returning to earth, I’d best get back to the making of pesto and curry…)

    “the side of a highway into Nashville”

    The subject line’s from Sarah Lindsay’s “The Driver,” one of the poems featured on the NYT’s Hot Type: Poems for Summer page this weekend. I love both the wordplay and narrative of Tony Hoagland’s “Summer Studies,” and am entertained by the pairings created by the slant rhymes of Edward Hirsch’s sonnet. (They make me want to spend some time expanding them into new poems of my own…)

    Pieces published since the last time I posted here:

    A Study in Setting at qarrtsiluni (text and audio)

    free from school… at tinywords

    Robin Morgan’s “Monster”

    I have been struggling to find all of Robin Morgan’s poem “Monster” since I read an excerpt of it on Feminist SF – The Blog.

    It’s an angry poem and I adore it. I would love to quote you the entirety of the piece, all 6 pages of its glory, but I would also like to respect Morgan‘s creative ownership of the piece.

    I admire its bravery, I admire the descent to violence but not the submission to violence. I need it because it reminds me that there are ways of writing that align with my ways of being and that most of the written word and the spoken word are not written and spoken in those ways. It reminds me that there is nothing wrong or despicable about who I am.

    Here is an excerpt:

    And you, men. Lovers, brothers, fathers, sons.
    I have loved you and love you still, if for no other reason
    than that you came wailing from the monster
    while the monster hunched in pain to give you the power
    to break her spell.
    Well, we must break it ourselves, at last.
    And I will speak less and less and less to you
    and more and more in crazy gibberish you cannot understand:
    witches’ incantations, poetry, old women’s mutterings,
    schizophrenic code, accents, keening, firebombs,
    poison, knives, bullets, and whatever else will invent
    this freedom.

    This is adult, end-of-the-day Poetry Friday.