Monday, February 11, 2008

Writing Exercise: A Translitic

Taken from "In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop" by Steve Kowit. Steve, you're a gentleman.

A translitic is a poem "translated" from a foreign language by paying attention not to the meaning of the words but to their sounds. The poet uses as a guide whatever homonymic associations come to mind. So a line like "Garni vers un plus immortel" (from a pom by Jules Laforgue) might vaguely sound like "Garnish worst of plush immortals" or "Carnivore's impulsion or tells" or "Carny verse unplugs the mortals." Needless to say, it is easier to use a poem in a language you don't know. You can stick close to your first reading or, in later drafts, simply use what you have as a springboard and go as far afield of the original poem as you wish, making the final poem entirely your own.

Clair de Lune by Paul Verlaine:
Votre ame est une paysage choisi
Que vont charmants masques et bergamasques,
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs deguisements fantasques.

Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L'amour vainqueur et la vie opportune,
Ils n'ont pas l'air de croire a leur bonheur
Et leur chansons se mele au clair de lune,

Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rever les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d'extase les jets d'eau
Les grands jets d'eau sveltes parmi les marbres.

Draft one: Clear the moon
Votives aim on a passage choosy.
Cave on charming masks at burger-masks.
Jews on Duluth aid on sunny quasi
Priests sew lures to get someone fantastic.

To a chanting surly mole manure,
Love vainquishes at the opportune vine
Ill in palor, the choir a lure debonaire
A lure chases the miles to clear the moon.

All calm, clear the moon irrisistable,
Keys forever the rustle in the air
Asian gloater days toss the shadow
The grand shadow, svelt, part me the mob.

Draft two: Clear the moon
Choose your passage. Take candles
and carve a mask out of your face.
Other people in other places
use sunny lies to lure you in.

Chant on your passage to become less surly
Leave your love hanging on the vine.
Let not the ill pallor of your newly-carved face
Chase your song off its path to clear the moon.

All is calm and clear. The moon cannot resist
Dropping keys through the air for you to find
Do not let pride make you lose your shadow
When you’ve no shadow you’ll be lost in the mob.

Choose your passage and take along candles.
Carve a new mask out of your old face.
Remember that others with foreign ways
may use sunny lies to lure you out of place.

Chant songs loudly to lift your spirits.
Leave your love hanging on every vine.
Draw strength from the beauty of your new-carved face
and sing your song high to clear the moon.

The clear, calm moon cannot resist
Dropping keys for you to find in the air
Only in her light can you see your true shadow
and be a single flame in a pitch-black world.