Monday, April 15, 2013

National Poetry Month: Guest Blogger Kamilah Aisha Moon

Thanks to Kamilah Aisha Moon for today's "faux-translation" writing prompt.

Kamilah Aisha Moon's poetry collection, She Has a Name, is forthcoming from Four Way Books. Her work has been featured in several journals and anthologies, including Harvard Review, jubilat, Sou'wester, Oxford American, Lumina and Villanelles. She has taught English and Creative Writing at Medgar Evers College, Drew University and Adelphi University. She has led workshops for various arts-in-education organizations in settings as diverse as libraries and prisons. A native of Nashville, TN, Moon received her MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College.

Faux-Translation Exercise

It is easy to settle into the rut of how you usually form a thought, compose a line.  Just like with any form of exercise, for maximum results, it is best to cross-train your muse; to periodically change the intensity or terrain of your workout.  I’ve found this writing prompt helpful to arrive at meaning in fresh, unexpected ways.  Whenever I use this prompt with writing groups, it is astounding to see the range of writing that emerges from the same text; the countless ways that our minds process unfamiliar information, the various associations and leaps that each person makes—producing unique work that surprises, but is still very much each person’s own.  It is also interesting to note consensus, to see threads of the same theme(s) approached from so many different angles of thought and experience.

Find a poem in a language that you don’t know well at all.  (If using this exercise for a group, be sure to have a few diverse options on hand.  It is staggering the over 6,000 languages the world speaks; so many tongues that we communicate and poet in.)

Without looking at a literal translation, proceed to “translate” what is in front of you.  You may do this in several ways.  Some people literally guess word for word what they imagine the poem says.  Some translate each line, or write down in their own words the overall impression for each stanza.  Some people try to translate phonetically, choosing words in their own language that sound similar to replace the ones on the page.  These choices lead to random images, triggering memory and emotions as you move through the piece.  At some point, what usually happens is that a poem begins to form from the combination of “found” words and images you may not have paired together otherwise, as whatever subject or obsession that has been brewing in your subconscious surfaces.

You may wish to strictly adhere to the poem for the entire exercise at first, later mining some of the more interesting phrases and images that result to write a poem. Some allow their minds and imaginations to have free reign as compelled at any time after beginning to write.  This is a highly intuitive exercise that works best when you let go of what is “correct” and simply let your mind wander, gallop and graze in the strange, wonderful meadow of a poem in another language.
As a final step, you may want to compare what you’ve written to a literal translation to see what kind of “conversation” you had across culture, language, intellect and meaning.  This is particularly fun when a group “translates” the same poem together.

Thanks for the invitation to share a prompt for National Poetry Month, ChloĆ©!  And for this insightful, helpful blog you’ve created. And for your necessary poems.

1 comment:

Barbara Ann Yoder said...

What a great exercise! Can't wait to try it.