January 6, 2021

Prompt: Translation

Image by Oli Lynch from Pixabay

As a teacher, the poet John Ashbery gave as a prompt Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo” in its original German for his non-German speaking students. He made it a translation exercise in which students sounded out the German words and wrote down English words resembling those sounds. They might have translated “sich hält und glänzt” as “sick halt and glance.” It would actually translate as "holds up and shines," but being correct in your translation was not the point. He didn't want students to focus on meaning and subject or try to crack the puzzle of the Rilke poem. The exercise was about sound and rhythm.

Their "translations" might have looked somewhat nonsensical but then they could try to find logic in this rough draft but maintain the original line breaks and stanzas.

We have selected for this prompt an unpublished poem that was written in English and used a translation app to put it into Portuguese and Latin. (see the translated poems here) They look quite different. We avoided more common Spanish, French and Italian versions in the hope that you might be less likely to know Latin or Portuguese and not be influenced by the words.

As with the Ashberry exercise, don't focus on being "correct." Don't cheat and run the poems through an app to put it into your native language! Choose one of the two translations. The goal is to focus on sound, meter and perhaps some similar cognates. The result will probably be a first draft that needs some logic applied to it. Revise but maintain the three stanzas and line breaks which will allow readers to see some of your path to the final poem.

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January 4, 2021

Some Thoughts About Submissions

A quick post while we go through the final edits on poems submitted in December which will appear on Poets Online tomorrow. 

The site has always been primarily a one-man operation, but I have always had readers who help sort through submissions - particularly when I wonder if a poem addresses the prompt.

Some of these revolving and occasional readers (all poets themselves) also help format and correct typos and obvious mistakes in the poems they think should be published. Rarely, we send a poem back to the author and ask a question or suggest a change. 

I got an email from someone who has submitted and been published on the site several times who said, "I'm trying to figure out how you order the poems on the page. Best ones at the top - or is their [sic] no real order?" Since I assemble the new issue as poems are accepted, the order is often that of acceptance with the first poems accepted at the top. I certainly don't rank them. I will separate them so that several long or short poems aren't together or split apart similar poems sometimes.

A new reader of submissions asked me, with some exasperation, "Don't these people read the actual prompt and submission guidelines?" 

I told him that he can expect to see: poems that don't address the prompt at all (not even in their email subject line) or that tangentially address it (as if they added a few words to an existing poem so that it seemed to fit) and poems not formatted in the requested single spacing (which means he has to remove all those extra returns) or that did not make the title in all caps so that it was clearly the title (and wouldn't need to be retyped) or submissions of multiple poems, or misspellings and unintentional grammar errors ("Don't they have spell and grammar checkers on their computer?")

"If I was you, I would just reject those poems outright. That's what a lot of journals do, " he replied.

I don't usually reject poems for most of those reasons - but we all do appreciate submissions that follow the guidelines.

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