Tuesday, April 27, 2004

A point of arrival 

Here is where I have gotten this semester in my rambling odyssey:

- I have been experimenting with writing in spanish or in a mixture of spanish and english in my own poetry

- I have translated some hybrid spanish/english poems into english and spanish.

- I've shared a lot of bilingual poetry, and my translations of it, with some spanish-speaking AND english-speaking monolingual poets. There are now a lot of curious people who want to read more of it and who felt inspired by Victor Hernandez Cruz, Jose Montoya, Leticia Hernandez and Luisa Valenzuela.

- I started writing some book reviews of these poets and I found people who would like to publish them.

- I've read quite a lot of poetry, some boring, some very exciting. The horizons of What is it possible to do with language widen for me as a poet. Now: What is it possible to do with languages.

All those things are far from my goal in the beginning of generating some sort of academic theory. But they are good, happening things!

Thursday, April 22, 2004

what could possibly be more fun 

What could possibly be more fun than translating that poem? I mean other than having written it. But as translation goes that was a happy fascinating romp. I get a silly "beavis and butthead" pleasure out of slang dictionaries because a dictionary is so very formal and the ideas are so funny and crude. anway this is a cool feminist poem. I took a little liberty with the end. (THAT WAS A HUGE PUN, as you will see) Decided to leave "coger" and "pendejo" and "Ay" in spanish, and had a great time thinking about about 20 different ways to translate "alocada libertina" keeping in mind that a libertina if a noun can mean a freed slave woman. ("slut" might be way too strong but I will check with the poet and different people) I left the parts that were spanish in italics. Ideally one woudl publish this facing with the original and then the english. or the english coudl be a footnote, whatever. I mean the whole point of the poem is that it goes back and forth between the 2 languages but in the interests of making a cheat sheet for the gringos here is my best effort that I think is a good job and reasonably witty.


In this country
it's easier for me to talk of things

like your ass, mine, and other dirty words
things unmentionable
because they can activate a spell
and freeze you in your tracks
so it's just that
what one says and writes
could turn real
Ay mama how scary
to hear my voice
ringing out so loud between these stone walls

in English it's not so loud somehow
no one understands what I say anyway
it's not the same to say coger as it is to say
fuck doesn't sound so 'low'
like it's playful, joking

asshole sounds better than pendejo
don't you think?

and there are so, so many shocking words
in my tongue
words that frighten
words that hurt or are uncomfortable
that I don't dare say
in english the words are sorta quilted, padded,
plump, made muffled,
, it's not me who's saying them
it's the other one
the foreigner
the radical free love slut
not the good girl from Mexico
she doesn't understand about anything crude
(or she keeps quiet about it)
and doesn't know what they do -
man and woman -
naked in a bed
how shocking
Heaven forbid - Lord help us -

In English words are far away,
and yet, at the very same time, so 'diarrhea of the mouth'!

for example 

A good example of what I'm talking about with canonization. The anthology that just came out - "Californi@ Poets from the G0ld Rush to the present". Why start there? Starting at 1850 sends a message right away. Looking at who and what is included in the anthology also makes everything rather clear. and I will make subsequent and competing anthologies, you can bet your boots.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

poem to think about 


En este pais
me es más fácil hablar de cosas

like tu culo, el mío, and other conchinadas
cosas que no se mencionan

because they can activate a spell
and freeze you on your tracks
así nomás
lo que uno dice y escribe
puede volverse realidad
Ay mamá qué miedo
oír mi voz
resuena tan fuerte entre estas paredes de piedra

in English it's not so loud somehow
nadie entiende lo que digo anyway
no es lo mismo decir coger que fuck
fuck no suena tan 'pior'
como que es de juguete

asshole suena mejor que pendejo
?no crees?

y hay tantas, tantas palabras espantosas
en mi lengua
palabras que asustan
palabras que duelen o incomodan
que no me atrevo
en inglés las palabras están como acolchonadas
regordetas, traen mofle,
, it's not me who's saying them
it's the other one
the foreigner
the alocada libertina
no la niña buena de México
ella no sabe ni una grosería
(o se las calla)
y no saben que hacen
hombre y mujer
desnudos en una cama
qué barbaridad
Dios nos libre y nos ampare

in English words are far away,
and yet, a la mera hora, so destapadas!

by Liliana Valenzuela from Mujer Frontera, Mujer Malinche, 2003.

I wrote to L.V,. and asked if I could quote her poetryin a review which I am sure i can get published in one of a couple of places and offered/asked to translate some of her poetry.


very cool - several hours later. L.V. wrote back and said yes let's do that and was super nice and enthusiastic. I really want to translate "bocas palabras"!

not much progress 

I read quite a lot but didn't take great notes and have not done what I thought I would do. I am going to at least try writing something on Liliana Valenzuela and on Leticia Hernandez (separate essays, one for each). Horribly i can't find the Razor Edge book - it is lost somewhere in my vast disorganized library - so i might just write on 2 poems of hers that i have xeroxed. I also want to talk a bunch about Valenzuela's "Sin vergüenza".

But mostly what happened this semester is that I read quite a lot and wrote poetry. The structuralist essay hasn't been written (yet?) and I've only written one Wikipedia entry that was kind of lame. I am also writing a general book review style essay on In/Formation in which I talk about its poems and Montoya and in passing will also mention a lot of other writers. Maybe that will be useful to make more people curious and make them read those writers.

The question of "why is this important to you, to poetry, etc" was a hard one and threw me for a loop. short answer is, "I know some spanish, like translating, like boundary crossing." As a poet it is useful and mentally freeing for me to translate or to read other languages. It shakes me out of linguistic or mental ruts --- ruts in the structure of language or the meanings of words.

for me personally I like the feeling of dislocation I get when I have to try to think in 2 languages. I love translating and specifically require translations to have both languages together - I believe strongly that when translations are published it is very important to have the original language next to the translation if at all possible. That way information is maximized and anyone who can read the original to any extent can look at it and think about it and think about the choices of translation. Mixing languages without too much worry about what happens next or who is listening seems brave, bold and important.

For me to write poetry partly in spanish will result in spanglish that is amateurish but that is no reason not to try any more than a recent immigrant to the u.s. shouldn't try writing poetry in english. Also when I am reading a lot of poetry in spanish and studying grammar, etc. though I am not fluent I am partly thinking in spanish and so it naturally comes out in poetry that I'm writing. this hopefully not arrogating any sort of cultural identity to myself (as I have seen people do) (Though I have my own personal issues with growing up being exposed to a lot of spanish but not being fluent)

I also believe that it is important to translate poems into various languages - to be a bridge between cultures. Sometimes english translators act as if they are doing some latin american poet a huge favor by translating them and possibly this is to some extent true that if as a poet one breaks into an english speaking and book buying audience you become more famous and maybe even make some money as the u.s. is a huge powerful empire. this can be very obnoxious though as if one is not really important as a poet until known in the u.s. and this seems a horribly imperialist thing to think. to what extent for example neruda becomes a u.s. commodity - it is very strange - with just love poems emphasized and not his way cooler political poems so that what "neruda" means to your average U.S. gringo poet is that whole exoticized latin stereotype as some sort of placeholder or signifier for primeval tropical passion... this, I especially hate... I don't want to participate in that sort of thing...

The Aztlan stuff and 70s chicano movement poetry is important to me as history that I don't want forgotten or worse completely unknown to, say, kids growing up in my neighborhood whether they are white or latino/chicano it seems important to me somehow and neglected. I asked Prof. M. "why is montoya not in the norton anthology for example" because it does make me feel outraged and he just sort of threw up his hands and said "why? we've been asking that question for 30 years..." as if to say, why do you want to canonize the non canonical? I don't necessarily I guess, but a little bit of that seems like a good thing (though it does seem to end up in tokenism - but does that make it utterly pointless? maybe not.) So yes I do want to engage in a little canonizing but one insight I have is that To know anything about something, it is necessary to look in both canonical and non-canonical sources. The disjunction between the two REVEALS SOMETHING and that something can be: racism, patriarchy, capitalism, or possibly just hegemony in general. For me to know about José Montoya it is actually necessary for me to know that he is NOT in the norton anthology and what IS in there, and then to know something of the context of chicano poetry/ latino poetry. For me to "know" about Liliana Valenzuela it is not enough (for me, at least) to "know" her text and read it. I want to know also, that i've looked in the Aztlan anthology and the Flor y Canto ones and thought about this: where are the women? Which women are in there? What are they saying? What is there to be said or written by women that hasn't been? Where does Valenzuela "fit" in there?

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