What Sparks Poetry

Translation

What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature in which we invite poets to explore experiences and ideas that spark new poems. 

In our current series, What Translation Sparks, we’ve asked a group of poet-translators to share a seminal experience in translation. How does the work of translating poetry feel essential to the writing of one’s own poetry? Our contributors reflect on inspiring moments as intricate as a grammatical quirk and as wide-ranging the history or politics of another place. 

The English translation is a reminder of linguistic colonization. English now surrounds both Irish and Ojibwe, but in my translation is not the primary vehicle for interpretation. Providing an English version of the poem ensures it can be read by Ojibwe speakers who may not know Irish and Irish speakers who may not know Ojibwe. It also reflects that this is a poem primarily concerned with the connection between Irish and Ojibwe which is a decolonial act of reclamation.

Upcoming Contributors

Jeffrey Angles
February 1
Laura Marris
February 8

Catch Up on Issues of What Sparks Poetry

Perhaps, through my translations, I am driven by a similar impossibility: the desire to sense in other languages, through other filters, my grandfather's poems, and layer them on top of each other until he feels present.

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This element of Kurdish delights me: to crack a word open and peer inside it, to find a world within a word, a world where the abstract is embodied. The Kurdish language calls the body into every conversation, fashioning idea from body. There is no hiding the body, not even to protect it.

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I have read a wide shelf’s worth of books of translation theory, but when I actually sit down to translate, especially poetry, all of that beautifully formulated theory goes out the window, and I am faced with the poet’s mind, and my mind, and how I am going to get them to work together.

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Hatherly’s oeuvre fervently dismantles false dichotomies. For her, a commitment to innovation does not shun tradition, but rather reads it anew, and concrete and conceptual modes of writing do not preclude lyricism.

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We discussed many of Zewdu’s poems in some detail that morning. But not "My Silly Stomach." All he said about this poem was that stomachs can sometimes be political. So I knew straight away that the stomach in question is not just a stomach. In Amharic hodé (my stomach) can also mean “my sweetheart” or “my darling,” which is telling in a country whose history is plagued with food insecurity.

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