The Found Poetry Review IMPROMPTU Prompt
Every day this month The Found Poetry Review is posting an experimental writing prompt by “some of the most forward thinking poets, writers and critics.” It’s part of a National Poetry Month project they’re calling “Impromptu.”
My prompt (on experimental translation) is being featured today. Here’s an excerpt from it:
When we speak of “translation” we usually refer to the process of turning a text that is written in one language into another language. But if we think about translation more broadly, we can imagine a diverse range of experimental processes that can spark new writing. All you need is to find a source text and invent a method of transforming, altering, or changing it.
To use a very recent example—Paul Legault’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror 2 (Fence Books, 2016) is an English-to-English translation of John Ashbery. The book is “a memory translation” in which Legault attempted to recreate Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror—a volume renowned for winning the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1975—by “writ[ing] down each of Ashbery’s original poems, from memory.” Ashbery’s “Grand Galop,” for instance, begins, “All things seem mention of themselves / And the names which stem from them branch out to other referents. Hugely, spring exists again.” Legault’s “Grand Galop 2,” in turn, is a kind of branching out from the original: “Everything seems to mention itself / The way people are trees of people / Connected through days as if by a force / Of some huge version of spring let out / That held us there.” Legault’s book follows the cultural logic of the sequel and the remix in order to pay homage to an influential American master, to acknowledge the extent to which contemporary poetry continues to translate Ashbery’s groundbreaking writing into a myriad of afterlives.
In terms of experimental translation, the practice of “homophonic translation” is well-known: it is translating a foreign language text by loosely imitating its sound rather than by following its sense. In homophonically translating Rimbaud’s famous sonnet “Voyelles,” Christian Bök turns the line “A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles” into “Anywhere near blank rage / you veer, oblivial.” But there are many other methods of transforming a found text.