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Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Here's a fun poetry prompt that came in the November 24th issue of the Poets & Writers email newsletter, The Time is Now:


Use Google translator ( to experiment with the text of an existing poem (yours or someone else's). Translate the text from English into another language, such as Finnish, Urdu, or Korean, and then translate the foreign-language text back to English again. Observe the metamorphosis of syntax and diction as the poem travels through the filter of another language. Then look for a particularly striking phrase, an odd construction or image, and use it to begin a new poem.

I saw this done years ago by (I think it was) Juliana Spahr....I'm fuzzy on the details now, but as I recall (and this may be completely incorrect) she used translation software such as Babel Fish to translate something from English into a foreign language (dare I say Japanese, or is that my own particulars coloring my memory?) and then back into English. The disturbed syntax that resulted really was pure poetry. I think she used the entire translation as her poem, rather than mining the results as suggested above, but as I say, I could be completely wrong about who, what, when, where, and how in this story that isn't a story but half a memory, or less.

I used to sometimes use in my poems my sons' convoluted English that resulted from them being raised bilingually. Sometimes they said things that were just so delicious, I had to use them. As they get older and more fluent in both of their languages, we have fewer linguistic snafus, which is good for them, but sort of sad. They speak much less colorfully (but much more effectively) now.

Anyway, this idea from P&W looks like good fun. I'm going to try and mine it for some interesting lines to work with. If you try it and want to report (or share results), please do.

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