Friday, June 28, 2013

Poetry Friday: The Supreme Court and Shakespeare

The man himself
 In honor of the Supreme Court striking down DOMA this week (and in memory of my friend Daryl, and with respect for his loving partner Wayne)  I offer up this sonnet by Shakespeare, who knew a thing of two about love:

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved. 

Here's to striking down unconstitutional impediments. Bravo!!  (Speaking of Bravo, I really should have a poem here honoring Wendy Davis of Texas!  And I should have another poem about how disappointed I am with SCOTUS's Voting Rights gosh, what a week!)

Poetry Friday this week is being hosted by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater over at The Poem Farm. Head over there to see what other people have posted.

Friday, June 21, 2013

On the Idea of Learning More

First, watch this video from NASA. Pure visual poetry that reminds us the world is large and amazing, its people varied. 

Little darling, you know the sun is slowly rising....
   Next, try reading this poem aloud (and it should definitely be aloud): 

Upriver, Downriver

Bella Coola, Clallum, Comox, Halkomelem 
Lummi, Lushootseed, Musqueam, Saanich, 
Salish, Songish, Sooke, Squamish, 
Twana, Couer d'Alene, Columbia-Wanatchi, 
Kalispel, Lillooet, Okanagan, Shuswap, 
Spokane, Thompson, Tillamook, Chehalis

It sounds like one of those wonderful children's counting games out on the playground, doesn't it? But it's a list of the different permutations of the Salishan language group spoken by many Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. And the list comes to me via the The World Atlas of Language Structures.   

A World Atlas of Language Structures???? Who knew there was something so strange and wonderful?  Granted, it's not for everyone. But as far as I'm concerned - ooh! For example, Chapter 13 talks about "tone" in different world languages: 

"All languages make use of variations in the musical pitch of the voice as part of their sound systems, but they differ in the ways in which modifications of pitch are used and how many different types of functions are served by pitch variations. Linguists distinguish between two of the major uses of pitch as tone and intonation. Intonation is the term that is used to describe sentence types, such as question versus statement, or to indicate whether a speaker has finished or intends to continue speaking, or to show which parts of an utterance present new or highlighted information versus old or less significant information.

Tone is the term used to describe the use of pitch patterns to distinguish individual words or the grammatical forms of words, such as the singular and plural forms of nouns or different tenses of verbs. In the simplest cases, each syllable of a language with tones will have its own characteristic tonal pattern, which may be a relatively flat pitch at a particular level, or may involve the pitch rising or falling over the duration of the syllable. When the pitch has a moving pattern of this sort, the tone is described as a contour tone."

Contour tone = moving pattern of pitch. Must learn more!
Visi-Pitch Displays Chinese word wenti  - I have no idea how to read this.

Click here for a world map that shows tonal pattern groups. Apparently, English is one of 307 languages that has "no tone." How can that be? That can't be right. Must learn more. Navajo and certain forms of Japanese are on the list of 132 languages that have "simple tone systems" and Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai and Vietnamese all have "complex tonal systems." Something to do with tone within syllables. Must learn more!
Be sure to click on Gender Types (some languages include five genders that have to have subjects, modifiers and verbs agree syntactically, while English only has three -he, she, it - and Spanish/French only have two - he/she.) Hard to imagine what there is besides he/she/it - isn't it? (Must learn more.)

And don't miss Rhythm Types (English is essentially trochaic, that's a surprise. Swedish, Russian, Turkish have no rhythmic stresses, how is that possible? Winnebago and Yup'ik are iambic - wish I could hear that.)  Here's the map that shows Rhythm Types around the world.

The list of language features at that site goes on and on. Some sound dull. Some sound like Interesting Stuff, bound to inspire a few poems. My kind of site.
The Poetry Friday Round-Up this week is being hosted by Carol over at Carol's Corner. Head there to see what other people have posted.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Poetry Friday: What Gets Lost (or Found) in Translation

Brueghel's Tower of Babel

For Poetry Friday today, I'd like to suggest a writing experiment involving translation. I've done it before on my own but was reminded about it again by Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland, who talked about it over at Brain Pickings, the wonderful blog written by Maria Popova. I've applied this experiment to a few short lines of poetry to see if we can get from one thought to another, one inspiration to another. Note that changes in the sense of it can be amusing, but more than that, other changes provide food for thought about how important the effects of sound are (the original language - how it flows, what strategies are used - meter, rhyme, consonance, assonance, alliteration, idiomatic sayings, familiar metaphors) on the success of a poem.  It certainly proves the adage that poetry is what gets lost in translation, but maybe it proves, too, that poetry can be found in the mistranslations.


  1. At the Babelfish site, put your poem (or a famous poem you love) into the translation box. Choose a language to translate it into (let's say Ukranian) and, once you have the translation, copy and paste that translation into another translation box.  You are going to do this three times, each time translating into a new language.
  2. Okay, you copied the first translation - you have the poem in Ukranian. Paste it into a new translation box and translate from Ukranian into another language, not English. Let's say Japanese, this time around.
  3. Copy the Japanese version and translate into another language. Maybe Spanish? Copy that.
  4. Take the Spanish version, paste it into a fresh translation box and translate BACK INTO ENGLISH.
  5. See what you've got once you go through four translations (in this case, from English to Ukranian to Japanese to Spanish then back into English.)  Does it make any sense? If you wrote the poem, is there anything - maybe a word choice, a phrase or two -  that inspires you to rethink the way you wrote the original? 
Here is the result from a little couplet ("Little snake, little snake, / What a pretty pair we make") translated exactly as I've suggested:

"Most snakes small snake make beautiful couple " - the lovely rhyme is lost, of course (line breaks are the first to go, then rhyme) and the meaning is significantly changed - but it's food for thought - that a snake can make a "couple" with itself; in other words, a snake is duplicitous. Or maybe the meaning becomes this: that a snake can couple with any other snake, no need for a particular snake. Which would make for a strange anniversary message. Something to think about.

Here is something slightly longer - the first verse of a familiar lullaby:

Hush, little baby, don't say a word -
Mama's going to buy you a mockingbird.
If that mockingbird won't sing,
Mama's going to buy you a diamond ring.

Mockingbird - Apparently Untranslatable

Put through the same four translations, it comes out this way:

Hush little baby Don t ' ' t say.
Going to buy MOM peresmišnika.
If you win the peresmišnika
' will buy the MOM diamond ring

I love the fact that a mockingbird gets completely lost after the Ukrainian - the automatic translator can't move it into Japanese. Does the Japanese language not have a word for "mockingbird"?  Are there no mockingbirds in Japan? That's probably not true, but the idea of it - a land where there were no mockingbirds -  would make a lovely poem. And the fact that "cry" has turned into "say," and that the mockingbird has been won - strange!

Here is one of my own poems involving burnt toast - followed by its mistranslation.


How hot were we? Hot as toast!
Now the most we can do
is scrape off the burned bits.
Still, we’re not half bad
with a little honey, Honey.   

Translation (I've added back in the line breaks and some punctuation):


We did it as a hot day?
So hot toast! Now rub,
the most we can do is burned bits.
But we are half wrong,
not a little honey is honey.

I wonder if that's true, that not a little honey is honey? And look how sneakily an anniversary has become Memorial Day (in Spanish, it was "el dia de los caidos" - the day of the fallen - which would make a great title, maybe, for the original poem.) And even though "we're not half bad" is what I meant, I love the idea behind "we are half wrong," which is open to interpretation.

Like I said, food for thought: mistranslations, opening up interpretations.

Poetry Friday today is being hosted by Marilyn over at Reflections of the Teche. Head over there to see what other people are sharing.