Experimentation with the limit of translation

A few weeks back, I attended UDP’s 25th Anniversary in which Mónica de la Torre did a brief reading. I was particularly struck by one of her piece in which she translated one of her poems into mere cadence with the sound ta-ta-ta. This was personally provocative as it reminds me of the problems that I have with attempting to articulate myself through language—the work of communicating with my family and communicating with people here are always mediated by some form of translation. And something is always lost in that space of translation. How do I articulate academic jargon to my mother and how do I talk about Vietnamese homophones (and superstitions around them) to people who cannot distinguish the difference between tones? I attempted to meditate on this question through the following piece.



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Sarah Kay Reading! (Make-up Post)

A few weeks ago, I had the utmost privilege of attending a reading by Sarah Kay at the Columbus Theater downtown. Her reading in Providence was simply one of many for her book tour commemorating the publication of her newest book, All Our Wild Wonder. 

My decision to attend her reading was impromptu and spontaneous. The week of her reading was a hectic one and I had simply resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to attend. Still, hours beforehand, I decided to glance at the Facebook event for her reading and I CASUALLY checked if there were any tickets available. Surprisingly, there were and unfortunately, I would be lying if I said I even gave a moment’s worth of hesitation before I pulled out my debit card.

Sarah was one of the first poets I ever started following seriously. I found her narrative, long-form poetry captivating and fluid, partly because I personally resonated with the narrative form and also because long-form poetry was something that always felt—and sometimes still feels—out of my wheelhouse.

Perhaps one of the aspects that I love most about her work, one which her performance seamlessly mirrored, is its ability to juggle the witty and the sentimental, the hilarious and the hurtful. During her performance, she regaled the audience with an anecdote about how she had been asked—by her publishers if I remember correctly—about love poetry. She followed by reading said love poem and after she had finished, by which point I had already bounced between laughing and crying multiple times, she said:

“Surprise, it’s a breakup poem!”

One final note on her performance has to do with a quote that she left with the audience. At least, I felt as though it had been left with me. Partway through her performance, she recites a quote from Richard Siken that really struck me:

“Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else.”

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Wanting in Arabic Response

In the introduction to Trish Salah’s Wanting in Arabic, Lisa Robertson writes “history is what issues from that mobile, shape-shifting, pleasurable organ, the mouth.” I am compelled by this framing of history as explicitly tied to speech, temporality, and corporeality. I see this form of history working throughout Salah’s text, as she weaves narratives about her relationship to her heritage and her relationship to her body. Thus, Salah insists on a consideration of how lived experiences influence history and visa versa.

This relationship is evident in the title poem Wanting in Arabic, a piece in twelve sections about a romantic relationship and how it complicates the speaker’s view of their Arab identity. The twelfth and final part of the poem begins “Of course I don’t speak Arabic.” When read in conversation with the title of the poem, this line implies a certain limit to the speaker’s ability to communicate her desire—she wants in Arabic but cannot express this want fully through language. This line is followed soon after by the phrase “I mine genetic memory” suggesting that there is something inherent and visceral about the speaker’s connection to Arabic—she is searching for it in her body, but cannot fully access it.  

Later on in this poem Salah writes: “yes I  know you may not even now / risk that desire, not be poised to   call to /answer to—          it is a vast leap.” the breakdown of language her and the uneven spacing between the words implies a gap in understanding between the two lovers and their understanding of what risk is implicated in their mutual desire. This theme of risk is echoed in the line “Oh, but your caress— / What’s at risk? Is risk // your spine? Mine?” Here, Salah creates an intimate image bodies entwined by blurring the image of “your spine” and “mine.” This confusion of bodies might be read as the risk to which the poem refers. Salah seems to ask: how intimacy between bodies complicate an individual’s relationship to her own body—and, in particular, to the history imbedded in her body?  


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Class Notes 5/8/18

Yet, I started to realize that to not have experienced this exclusion myself, to always have situated myself in the “included” group, was a loss for me and a lacking in my literary experience.

This poetry performance was much less experimental than the works we’ve read in this class, and I wonder how that interacts with emotion. How can we keep holding emotional space for our poems and our poets while reading them critically? Omar and Remi both talked about creating empathy—can empathy be created if the reader/listener isn’t willing to hold it?” —Moie

“Moveover, the reevaluation of my own reading reminded me of the space between my understanding of this poem and the reader and writer’s understanding; this created a sense of intimacy between the lovers that I did not have access to.” —Marielle

“Also, the last line of the poem is very powerful: “when you come across it/ lean, I ask as a favour, lean” because it asks the reader (and the speak themselves) to try to understand rather than closing off or negating another mode of thought.” —Alanna

“Shimoda then described how some things that you did not intend can become incredibly clear to someone else; how some things were “inescapable,” and how others projected both themselves and the author onto different works to try and find a piece of themselves within.” —Luwei

“It strikes me that the burden of imagination is always on those trying to make radical change- it’s easy to ask people to imagine the world staying the same, or even ending entirely. The work of fully feeling an imagined world inside your body is much harder. Imagination is work, and the burden of this imaginative work falls onto those most affected (and of course, the world should be remade by and for those who experience directly and therefore know best its harms). But giving legitimacy to imagination as a mode of labor, of resistance, and of abolition was both deeply inspiring and made me think about who is forced to imagine, because the world has precluded a livable reality.” —Tali

“if you engage in racial discourse without engaging in anti-capitalist conversation, you’ve sided with the oppressor”—Julia


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Translation/ Misreading in nehi katawasisiw’s poem sâkihitowin maskihkiy

I am fascinated by nehi katawasisiw’s poem sâkihitowin maskihkiy, which translates to something like “Love Medicine.” I have included my annotations of the poem which reveal my thought process while reading. I also want to discuss how my understanding of the poem shifted after I looked up the phrases in Eastern Cree that I did not understand.

In my first reading of the poem, I did not know the translation of the title, but got the sense of the speaker’s desire to give protect and give something to a lover. Learning the meaning of the title made me consider whether the speaker’s actions are medicine either for her or for her lover. So too, looking up the term “kawenniiostha” changed my understanding of the poem. This word the opening line of the poem that repeats about one third of the way through. I read this first to be a description of nature, as it was introduced with a series of images of nature. When I looked it up, however, I found that this term is actually a name. This translation sparked a reading that the poem is a direct address to the speaker’s lover. Moveover, the reevaluation of my own reading reminded me of the space between my understanding of this poem and the reader and writer’s understanding; this created a sense of intimacy between the lovers that I did not have access to. 

The last term in Eastern Cree katawasisiw uses is “Tahkine” After learning kawenniiostha is a name, I presumed that tahkine was also a name as it is the last line of the poem and the line before this phrase is “yours.”   I originally read “tahkine” as a signature to the poem. My research revealed that Tahkine actually means “forever and ever” or “always.” Though I read this term incorrectly, I really enjoyed the meaning created in my misreading of this line. My confusion created the sense that the speaker of the poem and the concept “forever” are linked.


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A Close Reading of “wish fraud”

One poem in Wanting in Arabic that really struck me was “wish fraud.” This was probably my favorite poem in the book because I loved the vivid imagery that was present in the poem. While reading, I immediately noticed the brackets that Salah used in many of the stanzas. I think that the poem represents a conversation with oneself very well, and the brackets help to distinguish on inner voice from another. Particularly the line, “you remember/ you took the ferry / you walked on” signaled that the poem employs competing voices within one person to me.

Interestingly, the main voice in the poem seemed to be the subconscious mind. After reading the afterward and learning about Salah’s transition, I think the poem could work as a sort of internal conflict of doubts and worries that surrounded the decision. There was a mocking and almost derogatory tone that many of the lines took on that reminded me of how we often criticize ourselves harshly: “this is where your hands should be,” and “i was born too.” At first, I was unsure how to read the brackets, but I ended up not reading the brackets around empty space and reading the brackets with words inside as the mind responding to itself. The fact that most of the sentences make sense with or without the brackets was also something that struck me. I think in this poem, it confirms that fact that there is no right answer to the question that begins the poem – there are many complications and things to take into consideration. Also, the title, “wish fraud” suggests that the speaker’s wish is not legitimate, which is reminiscent of the invalidating arguments many people make against transitioning. Also, the last line of the poem is very powerful: “when you come across it/ lean, I ask as a favour, lean” because it asks the reader (and the speak themselves) to try to understand rather than closing off or negating another mode of thought.

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A poetic response to Tyrone Williams’s “Cold Calls”


This is a poetic response to Tyrone Williams’s “Cold Calls” in the anthology What I Say. Reading Williams’s poem, I was particularly struck the lack of a body text and the centrality of the paratext, specifically, the footnote. The emptiness, or the prevalence of the white space seems to gesture at a literal white space, and the invisiblization/marginalization of the Other’s body. Inspired by this formal experimentation, I composed a poem that plays with the way that the body of the text communicates with the footnote to gesture at the jarring feeling that I have when performing in a space that is made for another body. The body can be read separately from the footnote to form two distinct poems or they can be read, woven into one another.


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