Translation, Substitution, Imitation


First Off:  Give Thanks, so before launching into the blog post, I want to thank the Birmingham Arts Journal for publishing “Kith & Kinder” by Sue Walker – and the Alabama Power Company for the Electra Awards that recognized artistic achievement in arts. “Kith & Kinder” was awarded first prize.

At a writing workshop on March 14, a member of the audience asked about this award and requested that Negative Capability Press re-print the poem.  While authors retain copyright to work printed in the Birmingham Arts Journal, it seems appropriate to acknowledge this fine print journal (also online) and say thanks. 

This Blog is about the process used in writing “Kith & Kinder” and to speak of the method of translation, substitution, and inspiration by design.  First the methodology – which notes an exercise by the New York poet, Charles Bernstein.

Charles Bernstein on Homolinguistic translation: Take a poem (someone else's, then your own) and translate it "English to English" by substituting word for word, phrase for phrase, line for line, or "free" translation as response to each phrase or sentence. Or translate the poem into another literary style or a different diction, for example into a slang or vernacular. Do several different types of homolinguistic translation of a single source poem. (Cf.Six Fillious by bp nichol, Steve McCaffery, Robert Fillious, George Brecht, Dick Higgins, Dieter Roth, which also included translation of the poem to French and German.) 

PROMPT:  Pick a poem that is not your poem – and replace the nouns, then replace the verbs – the adjectives – and you will come up with an entirely different poem.  But reference the original poem and author.

Now, here is Audre Lorde’s Poem:

Never to Dream of Spiders

Time collapses between the lips of strangers   
my days collapse into a hollow tube
soon implodes against now
like an iron wall
my eyes are blocked with rubble
a smear of perspectives
blurring each horizon
in the breathless precision of silence
one word is made.

Once the renegade flesh was gone   
fall air lay against my face
sharp and blue as a needle
but the rain fell through October   
and death lay a condemnation   
within my blood.

The smell of your neck in August   
a fine gold wire bejeweling war   
all the rest lies
illusive as a farmhouse
on the other side of a valley
vanishing in the afternoon.

Day three    day four    day ten   
the seventh step
a veiled door leading to my golden anniversary   
flameproofed free-paper shredded   
in the teeth of a pillaging dog   
never to dream of spiders   
and when they turned the hoses upon me
a burst of light.

Here is Sue Walker’s poem inspired by Audre Lorde’s poem – and playing about with substitution. 

Kith & Kinder
(After Audre Lorde)

Time creases the lips of crones;
years collapse in memory’s hull,
crumble into distance, then
disappear like ice melting in the brain-pan.
My ears are dulled with the dross of years
and the sludge of relativity
in fields of blear--
tachycardia’s racing ta dum , ta dum, ta dum
sounds the heart has made.

Lord, this rebel organ once was strong,
pumped: a lay, aired, sung, my face
flushed and oval as a bedeviled egg,
leftover, rotting:
a deathly condemnation,
blood in the yolk.

The scent of remembered musk lingers,
lust my dear, deer-heart of us, ever hunting.
I dream the scent of a baby’s skin,
but the long hand and the short
of the clock is broken. I am
the rut of October, the past tense,
the whereas of survival
against commination,

of blood, of kith and kin.
I’d never known the names,
Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley,
Carole Robertson, Denise McNair,
had never heard the explosion
at the 16th Baptist Church--
four little girls bombed to bits in Birmingham,
the white supreme terrorism more fierce
that pit bulls taught to fight,
prejudice sharp in decaying teeth.

In my aging heart, dare I dream
chronometric precisions presaging peace?

A final thanks, also, to Josh Davis who taught a workshop on honoring literary mothers.  He offered this suggestion in writing poems of imitation.

“If you imitate mix love with the great conflicts of western civilization in the twentieth century.  Let the anger and defeat start with personal and bloom outward.  Go free verse all the way. Play with white space. Juxtapose the long complex sentence and the relatively short line. Vary your line lengths.  Make your line breaks hurt. Aim for jaggedness.”

A Reference Book I am much taken with:  Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing, edited by Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith.