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Poetry & Translation

“As a poet, translation gives me the opportunity to engage directly with poetic strategies different from my own. In attempting to recreate them in English, I am also practicing them. It is a chance to work in the ‘clay’ of poetic language with my ego, experiences, preferences, left in the wardrobe closet,” says former Academy Chancellor and translator Marilyn Hacker. Whether it’s for National Translation Month in September or any time of the year, learn more about the art of the translation with this collection of texts, videos, poems, and more.

And if you’re a translator, learn more about how to submit to our translation prizes, the Ambroggio Prize, the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, and the Raiziss/de Palchi Translation Awards.

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lesson plan

Incredible Bridges: “Translation for Mamá” by Richard Blanco

National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
This lesson plan is part of the series “Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community," a project developed by the Academy of American Poets in partnership with EDSITEment, the educational website of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), during the NEH’s 50th anniversary year-long celebration.

Funded by the NEH, “Incredible Bridges” responds to the NEH’s initiative The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, which seeks to demonstrate and enhance the role of the humanities in public life.


poem

Translation for Mamá

What I’ve written for you, I have always written
in English, my language of silent vowel endings
never translated into your language of silent h’s.
               Lo que he escrito para ti, siempre lo he escrito
               en inglés, en mi lengua llena de vocales mudas
               nunca traducidas a tu idioma de haches mudas.
I’ve transcribed all your old letters into poems
that reconcile your exile from Cuba, but always
in English. I’ve given you back the guajiro roads
you left behind, stretched them into sentences
punctuated with palms, but only in English.
               He transcrito todas tus cartas viejas en poemas
               que reconcilian tu exilio de Cuba, pero siempre
               en inglés. Te he devuelto los caminos guajiros
               que dejastes atrás, transformados en oraciones
               puntuadas por palmas, pero solamente en inglés.
I have recreated the pueblecito you had to forget,
forced your green mountains up again, grown
valleys of sugarcane, stars for you in English.
               He reconstruido el pueblecito que tuvistes que olvidar,
               he levantado de nuevo tus montañas verdes, cultivado
               la caña, las estrellas de tus valles, para ti, en inglés.
In English I have told you how I love you cutting
gladiolas, crushing ajo, setting cups of dulce de leche
on the counter to cool, or hanging up the laundry
at night under our suburban moon. In English,
               En inglés te he dicho cómo te amo cuando cortas
               gladiolas, machacas ajo, enfrías tacitas de dulce de leche
               encima del mostrador, o cuando tiendes la ropa
               de noche bajo nuestra luna en suburbia. En inglés
I have imagined you surviving by transforming
yards of taffeta into dresses you never wear,
keeping Papá’s photo hinged in your mirror,
and leaving the porch light on, all night long.
               He imaginado como sobrevives transformando
               yardas de tafetán en vestidos que nunca estrenas,
               la foto de papá que guardas en el espejo de tu cómoda,
               la luz del portal que dejas encendida, toda la noche.
               Te he captado en inglés en la mesa de la cocina
               esperando que cuele el café, que hierva la leche
               y que tu vida acostumbre a tu vida. En inglés
               has aprendido a adorer tus pérdidas igual que yo.
I have captured you in English at the kitchen table
waiting for the café to brew, the milk to froth,
and your life to adjust to your life. In English
you’ve learned to adore your losses the way I do.

Richard Blanco
2016
poem

Translation Class

—Rainer Maria Rilke, "Archaic Torso of Apollo"

The word’s augapfel
meaning eyeballs or “apple of the eye.”

But we only have the torso of a god here.
Apollo’s abs! Not, the poet writes, his

“unknowable” head. Not his unseen immortal gaze.

But a god might materialize within a sudden turn of phrase:
          those startled eyes,

arms and legs: sudden lamp-bright rays
               from inside the bruised translucence of stone.

Then a “proud manhood” flaring—don’t look away!
See, this god doesn’t lust after your little life—or care.
It is his own Apollonian god-ness insisting on itself,
handfuls of gems shaken over that chest, blinding

us. Blinking as each rendering slides its straitjacket
over him as he spins, rocketing back into monument.

Translation is about freeing ourselves from our selves:
That older voice, from the back.

Long ago Dresden, she sat, a kid in kitchen lamplight,
a decade after nonstop bombs obliterated each strasse:
                    homes, hospitals, museums, towers: rotating

beams. She cut open an apple with a pocketknife,
watching its heart break into a five-pointed star,
                                   that children then called augapfel.

Apple on a plate, Apollo’s petaled eye…
Searchlights rake each word’s perfect precedence.
There is nothing here that does not see you—

your word-history in ego’s funny destruction,
in linguist-selfies, a drone’s drone-sight. So follow Apollo now!
                              @ hashtag: You Must Change Your Life.

Carol Muske-Dukes
2018