Suphil Lee Park on translating Im Yunjidang: Korea has a long history of diglossia and linguistic oppression, from its wide use of Chinese characters for writing up until the mid-twentieth century to the Japanese colonial rule that banned the use of the Korean language in public. Back in the day, women were not given a voice, let alone celebrated. Most of them were denied formal education, right to personal assets, freedom of choice or to travel, and often, even proper names. It is a small miracle in itself that poems from the 16th-19th century Korean women poets have survived at all to this day, though countless others have been lost.
Im Yunjidang is a unique example in that she comes from the time in Korean history when class did not equate wealth, but rather access to higher education, a cultural phenomenon that would persist for a long time afterward; she was born to aristocratic parents who were far from well off, but she was compensated with education of quality and scope unconventionally generous for 18th century Korean women. As a result, she ended up even studying Philosophy and Politics, disciplines exclusively reserved for men at the time, and is now considered possibly the first woman scholar and philosopher of Korea.
In order to reflect Korea’s history of diglossia, I first translated the original poem, written originally in Hanja—Chinese characters—into Hangul, modern Korean, then finally into English. The three versions of translation-in-progress offer a most elaborate version, the one faithful to the original syllable count, and the most literal word-for-word one.
Nin Andrews on “Little Pea”:
I have always been anxious to hide my past, not only from you, dear reader, but also from myself. Sometimes it sits on my desk, arms crossed, and shakes its pale gray head. When are you going to write about me? it asks. Sometimes it sings hymns, lullabies, cicada songs, rubbing its wings together, popping its ribs, click, click, click. Sometimes it has the face of death. Last year my son was in the hospital – not once but again and again, and to soothe my nerves, it picked me up and rocked me in its arms until I was small again. I had no choice but to listen to what it said. To write the stories down until it told me, That’s enough now. Hush up. Take a little rest.
Philip Fried on “War’s Metallic Pastoral” and “War’s Misunderstood”:
William Trowbridge on “Funky Town”:
On my way into town, there’s a roadside building with a sign announcing it’s “Funky Town.” It must have been a brightly-colored place offering some kind of harmless frolicking, probably aimed at children or at least young people. It’s now a graffitied hulk surrounded by vacant lots. When I pass it, I often think of Philip Larkin’s “Sunny Prestatyn,“ which also involves an invitation to exuberant pleasure that’s been defaced and discarded in a world with too little tolerance for it. Funky Town seems, as Larkin said in another of his poems, “A joyous shot at how things ought to be, /Long fallen wide.” I thought the formality of blank verse suited the poem’s elegiac tone.
Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow on her two poems:
“Let’s Talk About the Beauty of Cloud Cover”
This did actually happen. The location is a suburb of Phoenix; a portion of the “giant bowl” area of the Sonoran Desert proven to be fatally hot, scorched, and waterless. Most every day is blindingly bright, any time, any month of year. So if a monsoon shrieks in with rain instead of dust, or when enormous clouds usher in, profound appreciation is warranted, at least from this native Chicagoan. You couldn’t tell from the “private streets” signs posted at two neighborhood exits or the tidy look of this tucked-away little hamlet that conspicuous fear festers here. Just last year a neighborhood memo was circulated during the time that civil, lawful, peaceful walking protests were taking place in downtown Phoenix. The memo referred to that occasion as “nearby unrest” – yet this protest took place some 30 miles away. I create poems that sidle up to significant, quotidian, or often topical subject matter, grab its entirety “in the act” or by cloak, by sleight of hand, by patient watchfulness, or during the consequences of subjects’ aftermath. I like a poem that unwraps from the axle, revealing the bulk or essence of its mechanics, where the reader then is obliged to engage in its thematic meaning(s) and subtext(s). This poem took a long time to revise to properly synchronize its modulations of alternating tones, enhanced by differing grammatical functions. Functions turning in varying directions coincided with the 2021 trial of the vicious police officer who murdered a faultless man, George Floyd. May it not be lost upon the reader that critical homage is paid.
I am grateful that the superb editor of PLUME, Danny Lawless, always registers with the humor, many times dark, I infuse in my poems.
Author Note: Those “neighbors”? Moved away.
“Found Folded Note on School Composition Paper Partially Added to for Classified Purposes”
I never imagined I would write a version of a “found poem.” I take no issue with them on the face of it; most I read are appealing. For me, not speaking for anyone else, but personally speaking, a found poem essentially leaves the taste of half a quart of cribbing someone else’s goods.
What grabbed me and wouldn’t shake away about this found thing, though, was twofold: she, the author of the “note,” whom I deduced to be a 4th or 5th grader (after an hour Googling grade school graduation photos of kids from that year), impressed me as being keenly aware that a reputation is a precious thing, easily destroyed, delicately constructed, in addition to her comprehension that the world is replete with manifold creative crimes, lies, ills, and dangers. Not a fairy tale she most likely grew up hearing; perhaps many tales when she was only a tad bit younger. For me, the note never would have qualified entirely as a poem on its own. I was compelled to draft some extra lines here and there, oh, and maybe a parenthetical, and the insertion of line breaks and poem space, as needed. And a couple of odds and ends. A friend of mine, a poet-therapist said I had to change the original names. I told her these kids will never read this poem. She said, “They are adults today and, you never know. They both would definitely remember this incident. Particularly the girl.” She got me on that one. The names are changed. There were some years here in Arizona when it looked like every one out of three boys born were being named “Colton,” a name I don’t find outstanding, a reverse form of lucking out. But I lucked out on the upside when I discovered “Cerissa.” Of French origin, it means “cherry.”
Author Note: I retain the original note intact.
David Keplinger on Translating Wagner:
My work with German poet Jan Wagner extends back to 2009, when he and I first set out to co-translate a selection of his early poems for American readers. Our first attempts–four or five poems, unrhymed–took weeks to complete, at which time I learned how his attention to consonance, assonance, and meter gave me, paradoxically, room, permission to invent the same effects in our English versions. I found the whole process, call it translation or collaboration or both, freeing and wonderful, the way Octavio Paz describes the strange, reverse engineering required of the translator, the ineffable ways one must reinvent in the new language what Paz has called “the immobility of the sign.” Wagner’s reputation in Germany and internationally has soared since those early days. In 2017 he won the prestigious Georg Büchner Prize. Wagner and I published his selected poems in English,The Art of Topiary, later that year. In these new poems, written since the publication of that book, readers will recognize the ingredients of meter and rhyme, as well as an engagement with history and myth that is comparable to Komunyakaa’s Talking Dirty to the Gods. Over the years I have tried to maintain the rhymes; in the new work I’ve made even greater effort in that area. Thus, I have sometimes, carefully–playfully, too, and with Wagner’s permission–substituted words or adjusted syntax to bring across a strong sense of the literal, while emphasizing the flavor of music so vital to his poetry.
Daniel Meltz on “Cataclysmic Paternity”:
Beckian Fritz Goldberg On “The Cricket”:
The poem was inspired by an especially annoying muse–the cricket in my room at night who wouldn’t shut up except when I went hunting for it. Then it was mum. I was thinking how this simple situation is timeless and universal, for instance, a man in 3rd century China might well have found himself in my predicament and hunted for his cricket, maybe holding his shoe, ready to flatten that insect should he find it and, thus, get some peace. The first stanza came to me right away and once I heard that in my head, I started hearing the rest of the poem which I completed in one draft. I seldom write in tercets so the form was a surprise to me, but that’s how I heard it. I may have changed a word or two but no more. The only hesitation I had was at the end where I used a little
Middle English flavor simply because that’s what came to me. I thought about changing it (“ye” for instance to “you”) but it just didn’t seem to work that way for my ear, so I was willing to risk it. As for the cricket, he stayed for several nights and I never found the little bastard.
Brian Swann on “The Garden”:
The book-jacket endorsement (aka “blurb”) notes that the elegies in my new collection “Imago” (due next spring from Johns Hopkins University Press) “refuse elegiac premises”, and points to the poem here, “The Garden”, as illustrative. Until I read this comment, I hadn’t thought of the poem as an elegy, but now I think it might well be, not in the way of “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”, but as a kind of broken duet on mortality. This is no Marvellian garden, no locus amoenus, and yet is not quite “scattered thoughts of a broken mind”. It is something I wrote during Covid, a time when I also wrote the prose “Ya-Honk! Goes the Wild Gander” with the subtitle “Covid Divagations” (also out next spring, with MadHat Books). Covid was a time of doubt and fear, anxiety, uncertainty, dark thoughts, and the kind of humor we call “dark”. The biblical garden, the beginning of the human dynamic, was a place of opposites, “all that’s made”. This poem, this split mind-garden, this divagation, is me.