“Books teach me to attend to this world” — a guest post by Lynn Domina

Here’s another post for Couplets: a multi-author poetry blog tour from Lynn Domina, the author of two collections of poetry, Corporal Works and Framed in Silence, and the editor of a collection of essays, Poets on the Psalms. She lives in the western Catskill region of New York.


After a reading I recently did at the Downtown Writers Center in Syracuse, a member of the audience asked about my frequent references to animals, from the most common (blue jays, crows) to the most bizarre (shovelnose guitarfish, spotted wobbegong). It would seem I must spend a lot of time out in nature. The truth is I spend a lot of time with books, especially those hefty expensive full-color books about animals. The books teach me to attend to this world.

They teach me to feel astonished at life in its variety. However we all got here, this abundance speaks to me of a God who thrives on infinite possibility. Who could have imagined a tiger into being?—and then changed the stripes to spots so that we could have leopards too?—and then smoothed the pattern away, adding a shaggy mane? What could be more exciting than to witness the creatures of your imagination assume life? And so, because I cannot be a god, I have become a poet. We poets know that our impulse to create most closely aligns us with the divine and with everything that has ever been created.

My problem is I want to take it all with me. When I get to heaven, I’ll be saying to God, “oh, by the way, I brought along an armadillo and a rabbit. And a giraffe. And just a couple of tadpoles.” Here is a poem, from my most recent book, Framed in Silence, that grew from this desire.

First Morning in Heaven

Clover lifts slightly, stills, the breeze a brief
silent whiff. You never knew you’d longed
so for silence. Chipmunks here
scatter quietly; field mice
nibble softened seeds. You remember reading
how giraffes only seem mute to human ears;
one female suddenly nuzzles
the top of your head, tongues
a single strawberry from your plate. You’d waited months,
swimming in Squam Lake, to hear a loon cry
until one did cry off to the north, unmistakable as people said.
Your delight fills you again; one cries here, too,
beyond sight. You recall
leafy sea dragons, the most astonishingly bizarre creatures
you ever beheld, as twigs nudge lily pads across the pond,
tousled leaves dipping beneath ripples. They survive
in the New England Aquarium
and along Australia’s southern coast,
another place you still plan to visit, if only to listen
for a kookaburra’s raucous laughter,
pocket a dropped tail feather, like this one,
left by the plump male who springs from your porch swing now.
Once you saw a blue heron lift itself from shallows;
once you saw a bobcat
amble across your road. Impossible, visions
out of time. Yet you saw
once and see again.

Check out the other posts this month from Couplets: a multi-author poetry blog tour!

Translation in poetry: thorny problems — a guest post by Sue Burke

To celebrate National Poetry Month this April, I’ll be participating in Couplets: a multi-author poetry blog tour. Here’s the first in a series of guest posts appearing on the site this month, this one from poet and translator Sue Burke.


Translation in poetry: thorny problems

The Spanish language doesn’t have a verb equivalent to “finesse.” You can express the idea, of course. “She finessed her way into the party,” can be said in Spanish: Se las ingenió para entrar en la fiesta. “She used her ingenuity on things to get into the party.” Not quite the same, but close.

When you’re translating, that’s one kind of problem you can encounter, but there are more, as I’ve discovered living cross-culturally. I was born and raised in Wisconsin, and I moved to Madrid, Spain, in December 1999. I’d been studying Spanish since I was 12 years old, and I now hold a certificate from the Instutito Cervantes for mastery-level skill at the language.

I also write poetry, especially haiku, so naturally I try to write the same poem in both languages. To succeed, I may have to use certain translation procedures to overcome problems.

One technique is compensation, as using “ingenuity” to approximate “finesse.” Here’s another example of compensation:

nodding heads —
lavender flowers
weighted by bees

las abejas
meciendo las flores
de lavanda

In Spanish, you nod by asentir con la cabeza or “to agree with the head.” A literal translation would not work. The closest word, mecer, means “to rock,” as in “the hand that rocks the cradle.” So I wrote a Spanish version that means, literally, “the bees / rocking the flowers / of lavender.” It supplies the same physical picture, but the implied meaning is different.

You can also paraphrase, which may or may not get you what you need. In Spain, the famous festival in July in Pamplona, known for its running of the bulls, honors St. Fermin, so the fiesta and by extension the run are known as los sanfermines. But as you can see, the paraphrased English version still needs a little work.

el semáforo parpadea

the running of the bulls in Pamplona
a stoplight blinking

Another problem is cultural, which can be solved with adaptations. In Europe, the blackbird is the Turdus merula, basically an all-black version of the American robin, Turdus migratorius. (The European robin is a flycatcher, Erithacus rubecula. New World blackbirds don’t exist in Europe. Yes, it’s confusing.) For both these Turdus birds, their song is a harbinger of spring, so if I’m writing for an American audience, I will adapt the name of the bird to avoid confusion.

But the following haiku has another problem that requires a compensation. In Spanish, the adverb ya emphasizes the time of the event. What time? Now, then, soon, already, immediately, finally, never … you know from the context. So the Spanish version, translated over-literally, is “the blackbird sings / storks direction to the north / ~time? how that ~time?

el mirlo canta
cigüeñas rumbo al norte
¿ya? ¿cómo que ya?

the robin sings
storks headed north
now? so soon?

A particular problem is wordplay and puns. In this example, Spanish words can often distinguish gender, although English words can’t. The translation is exact, but the humor doesn’t come through.

<-lectores   lectoras->
los aseos de
la Feria del Libro

<-male readers   female readers->
the rest rooms
at the Book Fair

Of course, poems can also employ rhyme, rhythm, assonance, figures of speech, and all the other resources that form the art of language and which tend to resist translation. That’s why Italians say tradutore, traditore, “translator, traitor”: translations often betray the meaning, no matter how hard the translator works. Yet these challenges are what makes translating poetry as much fun as writing it.

Check out the other posts this month from Couplets: a multi-author poetry blog tour!

David Allan Barker reviews Blueshifting

A review of Blueshifting by David Allan Barker:

With poem titles like Making Time, Devolution, Entropy, Relativity, Dark Matter, and with an epigraph from Carl Sagan, and references to Mastodons, petroglyphs and quantum states, one might expect to find a collection of science-nerd poems. But science itself has changed (and maybe rescued poetry in the process). We don’t live in a deterministic universe of Newtonian mechanics. Yes, “The world / wheels toward the inevitable”. But we live in a universe of unobservable observations and strange attractions. The path to the inevitable is not fixed.


My chapbook, Blueshifting, is now available for Kindle on Amazon, and coming soon in ePub from Upper Rubber Boot Books. Please check it out! (Did you know you can read Kindle-format books without a Kindle? Amazon offers free Kindle apps for most computers, smartphones, and other devices.)

Also available on Amazon is 140 and Counting, an anthology of work from Twitter journal 7×20, which includes a contribution from me as well.

If you contributed to the Kickstarter campaign and have copies coming, you should be getting information in the near future on how to get them. Thanks for your support!