Student work: Homophonic translation

Conceptual poetry, not so good maybe at the lugubrious emotions, sundry melancholies, but sure good at giddy, it digs gid. I mean not a disease of sheep but the happy slippiness of speech.

To wit (to whit, to woo), early in the compost course, an exercise in homophonic translation, the full of which you can read here.

And bold preconceptionless forays by a new brave company (I like them! very much!) from which a few excerpts, and thoughts on them, forthwith.


This one drifts, as a number here do, some way from the sounds of its source. The title e.g.

La dulce boca

becomes

La Dual, Say Broke Up

A strength of this approach is that, as fidelity yields to association, some inspired phrases come to be.

Okay, a Jupiter minister elder zone dead

No turquoise sea quietly vetoes

Those are gems that could find a setting somewhere. A cost is, the limbo bar’s been raised to let the dancer get under. I laugh but also feel let down when I see aljofaradas y olorosas rendered as “hiatus seen multiple-sclerosis.”

To stay closer to the sound source, spurn the edges tween words. Com, that is, post them. A puritanical homophonic translation of

La dulce boca

might be

Lad duel, Ché book, ah


One chose German, a grievous challenge. Fünfundzwanzig? OMG. Again a considerable drift from the sounds of the source – so that

Die Sonne ging um fünf 

becomes

Season going on foot

rather than say the more rigid or rigorous “Die, son. Gingham? Pff!” But here I’ll touch on my other major notion about making a homophonic translation that will win fiends and influence poppies.

If one is, ignore and abuse the bounds between words in the source, the other is, imagine and impose all sorts of phrase articulations in your destination.

Here the student arrived at

Season going on foot or soon funds van zig off, also why men ought to through her all some dean stack …

and it feels, undifferentiated, an impenetrable thicket. A thing strong translations of this sort have in common, Zukofsky’s Catullus, Melnick’s Men in Aida, is very short sharp telegraphic phrasing. My own efforts have come pretty quick to the same strategery.

I could dilate why but I’d rather lay out more student work. Here it seems to me a little phrasal articulation would do a lot

Season going on foot. Or soon funds van zig off. Also, why men ought to through her all? Some Dean Stack …


This one made similar calls, and arrived at a nice refrain, from

Et il m’aime encore, et moi je t’aime un peu plus fort
Mais il m’aime encore, et moi je t’aime un peu plus fort

getting to

Ay eel lemon core aim-wash tem unpopular for
May eel lemon core aim-wash tem unpopular for

Again I was curious what a more puritanical adherence to sound – a recklesser disregard for word bounds in the source – and a fiercer phrase articulation in the target – might have got. From

Alors tu vois, comme tout se mêle

from which the student derived

Ah lore too voila come to so well

another possibility might have been

Ah, lore. Tuvak, om. Too, some ell.


Moving a bit quicklier or I’ll be here all night! This one feels caught in a between-world, somewhere on the way from its faux-Latin source to a mock-English target.

Dues Israel epp say true dare it virtue tem et

might for instance develop into

Dues? Israel up. Say true, dare it, virtue Tom et.


This one made v. bold w/ its source, bossed it, nor let it boss her, round. Never mind the author worked with’s Cervantes.

En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre

becomes

A noon Lou guard – day lemon.
“Shah Day cool, yo.”

Gnome bray Nokia …

Another fave moment from this one:

“Did your, uh, low stomach go consume Ian?”

Lost Stress Parties Day; halcyon.
Duh.

This brings to the fore a core diff. Respect your source text wholly and let it shove you round not at all. From hacienda, “halcyon. / Duh.” Okay she added an ‘l’ sound. It’s still pretty tight.


Here’s one with loads of good language substrate, just in need of some of that phrase articulatin’, and maybe shiftin’ a few vowels accordin’

Layin’ trouble masquerade a ponder we a soup-up a gamier shoe heir Adele guy in square tone “lay, double add-in trough.”

might become

Lay in trouble. Masquerade? Oh, ponder we a sou, poop. A gamier shoe heir, Adele, guy in square tone, lay double odd in trough.


This one stayed close to source sounds, so that

Tú para mi

became

Too paw raw me

but wanted perhaps again bolder rearticulations, so that for instance

A kay in may pray sent oh con me, sir

might have been remastered as

Okay. In May, pray send, oh con me, sir.

Or half a dozen other possibles. The thing is just to make it wholly your own.


This student hit on a tellingly brutal translation of love, one face of it, from

amo

to

Awe mow

and a bit more articulation would have drawn all the potential in it out. From the source text,

Te amo mujer
amo tu historia,
amo tu vida,
y amo tu paz

she got to

Tea ah mow moo hair
Awe mow to history ah
Awe mow to feed duh
He awe mow to pass,

And it strikes me that the insight in amo —> awe mow is not quite fully realized here. With a few tweaks you might get to

Day awe mow moo hair.
Awe mow to history. Awe,
awe mow to feed. Awe,
he awe mow to pass.

One of course of just a dozen ways it could go, a dozen dozen. (The change from “tea” to “day” seems slight to me, by the by, cuz it’s from unvoiced to voiced of the same mouth shape.)


The image by the way is a text I’ve yet to explore, I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips by Aaron Cassidy, who describes it as a product of Rimbaud’s “Voyelles,” Bök’s Eunioia, and a tangle of semantic and homophonic derivations of those. Look forward to getting to know it better.

purples
Click on me for some mathematical sublime

Okay a few more. This student from

Si la vida es amor, bendita sea!

got

Seal feed a, is armor. Bend it as me.

And from

Donde la mano

got

Don day, lamb an oh!


This one played fast and loose with phonemes but was also willing to compost words and impose word bounds the source author n’er had thought of, so that

Cordoba
Lejana y sola

becomes

Kurt, oh baa.
Leia, Han, huh? Pee Cola.

– laying the complicity between Lucas Studios and Coca Cola Corp. bare for once & all. Later the poet turns luna to tuna, fudging grapheme more than phoneme, but okay, hells, y not.

Here too though a bit more articulation? Exercise, where’s a good spot to put a period in this line? I can see at least four. Five if you strike an ‘l’ from “Llama.”

Llama ate a neigh is tough mirror and dough.


This student took on no less than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which en francais reads, article 26.3,

Les parents on, par priorité, le droit de choisir le genre d’éducation à donne à leurs enfants.

And perhaps as a comment on how much good it’s done, it becomes in translation, and I’ve articulated it just a little more,

Less parents on, pair parrots, Lee. Do it day chaser, Lee. Genre? Day education at diner allures infants.


Homophonic translation tends to draw out the unconscious of language, its polymorphic perversity, if you’ll let it. “Perversity” in a not bad sense, just etymologically, as in turnings off the straight and narrow path. This one makes bold to find such gists in an ordinary Spanish-language newspaper article –

Yo, no karaoke Margarita! Clod, dickhole! These interest, dear, scatter my pain. Yo, karaoke Lo Mein tie, never! OH! Penis? Okay. Meaty? Okay, sir. Arrow lad, a cone, laps are a toy. Lace: track her. EEK! You an asset, ran, sit. Oh? See affect area.

That seems to be about, whatever else also, its own activity, the queering of language this exercise seems ineluctably to go to.


This last one departs far from the sounds of its source text, and also comes to compelling lines in English, and I can only make out traces of Spanish, but have some feeling that the author has fell into Zukofsky’s own practice, of mingling homophonic and semantic translation at will. I’ll just give ya the first line –

Cuerpo de mujer, blancas colinas, muslos blancos

Aquarius day, new hair, blanket colonies – new blankets,

– and the last –

como una flecha en mi arco, como una piedra en mi honda.

Come oh one a fellatio in me on top.

And that there’s the unconscious of language, right there, remembering for us we’re in bodies, prideful, all.

Student work: 80 Flowers poems

The danger on all sides with this exercise was Staying On Topic. Some of the ones below manage to get gorgeously off-topic once and again. Others stick to a putative topic but the texture and resonance of the language exceeds all topicality. In several you can see a hesitant limbering-up in the first line or two then a far more confident soar. I’m really struck, once more, typing these up, how good they are at what they do.


POTATO

The dull dust-bowl craggy-exterior couch
rotten kitchen five-pound-bag wrinkly-skin grocery
Ireland-famine Idaho-farming scarecrow rolling dry
yellow dirt ground roots economy
thin-sliced thanksgiving mashed boring lazy
cook-it boil-it bake-it fry-it mash-it
vegetable grimes lumens old-man harvest
french-fries electrical-currents round brown gun
suds buds crud grudge spud


SIPS OF WHISKEY

Carefree ciaos binding sinners dawn
hairless in feature gruesome quenched
disease be sweet with June
a cloud full as cups
streaking glasses wiggled off noses
revenge useless teeth rotted sunflower
quick slandered years opium swander
easiness night wish us eve


PLUMB

Jump man castle princess save
brick gold life die pit
plant tube bite pants small
underground black greenness gone warp
spring cloud shell wing lift
ghost browning night gap stairs
air fish bridge leap straightaway
fire spin axe fall finish


TEA

Eyeballs until milky bubbling wave
Spiced wet sun sugar thumb
Porcelain Ukraine melts heated eve
Ancient opaque petals stir temple
Black steam with heavy blink
Soothed pinky stains marriage peel
Waking garden hearth quiet pour
Tea-leaf enjoys museum whisper sip


IF NOT, WINTER

white knife winter’s home again
green blade red between lips
ardor-arbor again wet as knife
shoots green movement legs-in-ground come
bouqueted breath mist kneads moon
like-I-scent foxlog winter breathing hoarfrost
tendrils fungi frankly disputing sparrows
youth-blood sapling lusts sorrows spring


Eat coffee grounds running morning
downwind wine orchards grapes making
beans process tea leaves scatter
summer flowers foating dirty water
fallen babes hotchocolate system milk
crash liquid brakes warm throat
stove appliances cats meow food
sleepy timer Nyquil roses out


HERMIT THRUSH

Winter parks ground cup nests
Forests breed westward rare vagrants
Stock speckled dark low wings
Underwing reddish releases nature song
Well known high melody altered
Unassuming harmonic ethereal modern media
Descending spiral pitches uniquely simple
Delicate earth tailed feathered hermit


SIREN

Pearls of wisdom sea salt
green blue glass sand shimmering
wet sting bare feet black-and-brown
aimless below thirty hot disappearing
sails tossed-up stones cuts grins
angel-kisses your game gulls aquamarine
ocean push-and-pull drops chilled out
in cycles shore between toes


WIND TURBINES

Pinwheel wheat fields spinning desert
hotel room hills slow hands
discovery channel children turning sun
energy lights dry crisp miles
telephone wires tattoo distance golden
white semis rise and fall
old highway birds spinning dusk
Columbia Gorge asphalt passengers flicker.


CARTOONS

blue plum slits skin ink
clotted pulled clocks push death
tidy pray box shine we
kneel love spin wheeled wilt
eggs crumble each star reels
breaks brew dolls plotted temples
glum lots drew sticks mud
castes loamed castle knots giggle


Finally some individual lines I really admired:

bone saw reek red cross

stub cylinder opiate lounge chair

Large not purple fat water

treasure wild paper golden by

Lives green in room mountainside

roof yellow circle entrance tree

Spring-bent sprung-scent love

Split-infinity slips toes tips

Exercise: Zukofsky’s word-flowers

This one came in three parts — a reading assignment, a journal assignment, a writing assignment. The first two meant (along with an in-class introduction to metonymy) (in which I promised we’d use the word more broadly than it usually is) (all language I do think it is metonymic just as all of it’s metaphoric) as robust prep for the third. And I was right they would find it a hard exercise! Maybe the hardest of the quarter. It did ask them to set aside things they’d spent years learning to do well, e.g., staying on topic, making proper sentences.

The exercise (with some of their work to follow) —

1. Reading

A few pages from Louis Zukofsky’s late word-flower sequence 80 Flowers. Like that one and this one:

STARGLOW

Starglow dwarf china rose shrubthorn
lantern fashion-fare airing car-tire crushed
young’s churning old rambler’s flown
to sky can cut back
a crown transplanted patient of
drought sun’s gold firerimmed branched
greeting thyme’s autumn sprig head
happier winter sculpt white rose

MOUNTAIN LAUREL

Known color grown mountain laurel
broadleaf of acid earth margin
entire green winter years hoarfrost
mooned pod honesty open unvoiced
May-grown acute 5-petal calicoflower cluster
10-slender rods spring seed sway
trefoil birds throat Not thyme’s
spur-flower calico clusters laurelled well


2. Journal exercise

Metonymy is calling one thing to mind by naming another that’s habitually associated with it. For instance, the phrase “red wheel barrow” calls to mind a barnyard, and perhaps a pile of dirt, or hay bales. Pick two individual words in 80 Flowers and describe the metonymic resonance of each — the things it calls to mind by habitual association. NOTE: Some metonymic associations are personal and idiosyncratic — associat­ing a red wheelbarrow with Indians, say, because there’s a mural with the poem on Indian Street. Try to steer away from those associations, and towards associations you can trust would be shared by a typical reader.

(In a class soon after we looked at how context, a word’s neighbour words, draw some metonymic associations into the foreground, and let others recede into the background.)


3. Writing exercise

Each of Zukofsky’s poems consists of eight five-word lines. Instead of coming together into sentences, the words make a sort of kaleidoscopic image of the flower — fragmentary, unparaphraseable. In fact, you might say that the relationship between any two adjacent words is not syntactic but metonymic, interested not in making a statement, but in drawing out habitual associations. Write a poem that uses the same form: eight five-word lines, compound words as you please, words next to each other not to make sentence sense, but to make richly textured juxtapositions.

Exercise: Homophonic translation

(Another of the exercises I’m giving my Art of Compost class.)

In a homophonic translation, you translate for sound, rather than for sense. For instance, this sentence in French

Je vais aujourd’hui à la maison de mon ami.

sounds roughly like

 Juh vase oh zhour dwee a la may zon de moan am ee.

And so its homophonic translation might go

Juvie, so, sure, twee. Ah, lamb, he’s on demon, am ye?

Notice how a word in the French can become two in English, or the end of one word and the start of another, in the French, can fuse to form a single English word. In other words, don’t worry about preserving the boundaries between words.

Notice, too, that the translation isn’t exact—vowel sounds shift a little, and sometimes a voiced consonant (e.g., “d”) becomes unvoiced (“t”).

The exercise. Take a passage of 50-75 words, verse or prose, in a language other than English, and do a homophonic translation into English. It’s better to choose a language that you know how to pronounce, but if there aren’t any of those, just make your best guesses.

Examples follow. You might also check out David Melnick’s Men in Aida.

Louis and Celia Zukofsky, Catullus

Source Text (Latin)

Multus home es, Naso, neque tecum multus homost qui
descendit: Naso, multus es et pathicus.

Homophonic Translation

Mool ’tis homos,’ Naso, ’n’ queer take ’im mool ’tis ho most he
descended: Naso, mool ’tis – is it pathic, cuss.

Christopher Patton, Overject

Source Text (Old English)

Frige mec frodum  wordum   nelæt þinne  ferð on
hælne degol þæt þu deopost cunne  nelle icþe min
dyrne gesecgan  gifþume  þinne hyge cræft hy
lest  ⁊þine heortan  geþohtas ∙ gleawe men sceolon gieddū
wrixlan god sceal mon ærest hergan fægre fæder user
ne forþon þehe us ætfymþe  geteode lif  ⁊lænne
willan  heusic wile þara  leana gemonian ∙ meotud sceal
inwuldre  mon sceal  oneorþan  geong ealdian god us ece
biþ ne wendað hine wyrda  nehine  wiht dreceþ adl

Homophonic Translation

Fridge me, Frodo. Um, word. Um, nail a thin firth on
hell. Ned—eagle that thou deepest can. Uh, Nellie—itch the mine,
dear. Now you sedge, an’ if thou math in how ye craft, how
lost and thin a heart an you thought as. Glue we men shall on yet. Um,
were Ixlan god, shall man arrest her gain? Fare a fader user.
Knife or than the hay us at fume. The yet ode, life and lane, uh,
will an hay us itch, while, o’there, Alan a’ye money on. Meow. Dude shall
in weld, remand shall on earth, an’ yon gulled Ian, god us each, uh,
both new. Endeth he new word. An’ a he new wicked dreck i’th’addle.