All entries for Tuesday 16 January 2007

January 16, 2007

Robert Bly's Eight Stages for Translations

Salvador Dali

Robert Bly’s approach to translation includes eight stages:

1. Creating a literal version of the poem.
2. Unpacking the meaning of certain foreign words and phrases, ensuring that these are understood properly.
3. Making the poem the best it can be in the English language.
4. Translating the poem into American English or spoken English: “the desperate living tone or fragrance that tells you a person now alive could have said the phrase”.
5. Ensuring that poem, changed as it is, is still true to the mood and of the original.
6. Paying attention to sound. (Bly recommends learning the poem by heart).
7. Ask a native speaker to assess your translation.
8. Providing the final draft and making final adjustments.

If you are writing a translation this week, would you add any other stages to Bly’s process? What stages would you suggest for writing an imitation or version of a foreign-language poem?

Selling the Poet?


We considered Chris Hamilton Emery’s view this week that the public buys poets not poetry. We looked at the text that he recommends: Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Some of you seemed to think that the selling and marketing of poetry was inevitable, while others seemed to disagree. The point of contention seemed to be whether marketing is a means of communicating with an audience or a gaudy publicity machine giving way to media values of sex and immediacy.

Take a look at this piece by Neil Astley: In The New Statesman Astley suggests that making poetry accessible to the masses is important. What do you think? Compare this with views expressed by poetry publishers in The Argotist’s feature

Mirror Poems

Follow-up to Jacques Lacan and the Mirror Phase from ZoŽ Brigley: Teaching Blog

In the seminar this week, we looked at mirror poems by Lee Harwood, Paul Muldoon and Ian Mcmillan, but here are some others…

The Mirror by Edwin Morgan
(from Collected Poems)

There is a mirror only we can see.
It hangs in time and not in space. The day
goes down in it without ember or ray
and the newborn climb through it to be free.
The multitudes of the world cannot know
they are reflected there; like glass they lie
in glass, shadows in shade, they could not cry
in airless wastes but that is where they go.
We cloud it, but it pulses like a gem,
it must have caught a range of energies
from the dead. We breathe again; nothing shows.
Back in space, _ubi solitudinem
faciunt pacem appellant_. Ages
drum-tap the flattened homes and slaughtered rows.

Auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominis imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant. (They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace.) Spoken in Tacitus’ Agricola which tells of the life and death of a Roman general. The words are spoken by a British chieftain.

The Mirror on the Ceiling by Sinead Morissey
(from There Was A Fire in Vancouver)

I took it down two years ago, but he still comes knocking.
There was too much space in him.
I gave him everything on the outside—-
The long curve of my spine; arms, feet, thighs.
He was the actor and director of his own imagination,
Dying for every exterior. The moving
Crown of my head was the rising star in his heaven.

Never whole and never alone, I got to wanting it
Without sight of it. No show, no reflection—-
Not even in his eyes, which were so outside of himself,
So beside himself, so down on every last cell of himself—-
I craved for nothing but blind discretion.
He stands on my doorstep, pleading his lost barbiturate,
But the mirror is in the outhouse. I promise cobwebs, whitewash.

Moments of Vision by Thomas Hardy

That mirror
Which makes of men a transparency,
Who holds that mirror
And bids us such a breast-bare spectacle see
Of you and me?

That mirror
Whose magic penetrates like a dart,
Who lifts that mirror
And throws our mind back on us, and our heart,
until we start?

That mirror
Works well in these night hours of ache;
Why in that mirror
Are tincts we never see ourselves once take
When the world is awake?

That mirror
Can test each mortal when unaware;
Yea, that strange mirror
May catch his last thoughts, whole life foul or fair,
Glassing it—where?

Mirror by Sylvia Plath

I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see, I swallow immediately.
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike
I am not cruel, only truthful –
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.

Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me.
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

Jacques Lacan and the Mirror Phase


Another interesting idea that may have bearing on poetic identity is Jacques Lacan’s ‘mirror phase’. The ‘mirror phase’ represents the moment when the child recognises their own corporeal or bodily unity; it is a moment of identification – the child identifies with an image outside his or her self when viewing his image in a mirror or another child. Before this the child’s identity is often defined in relation to its close relationship with the mother in something that is called a mother-child dyad (dyad meaning a unit of two individuals).

After this recognition of the whole, separate selfhood, the child has a new mastery over its body. See Anthony Wilden’s summation of Jacques Lacan’s ideas here:

The “mirror phase” derives its name from the impact of mirror relationships in childhood. The significance of children’s attempts to appropriate or control their own image in a mirror is that their actions are symptomatic of these deeper relationships. Through his perception of the image of another human being, the child discovers a form…a corporeal unity, which is lacking to him at this particular stage of development…Lacan interprets the child’s fascination with the other’s image as an anticipation of his maturing to a future point of corporeal unity by identifying himself with this image. Although there are difficulties in Lacan’s expression of his views on this extremely significant phase of childhood, the central concept is clear: this primordial experience is symptomatic of what makes moi an Imaginary construct. The ego is…another self, and the stade du miroir is the source of all later identifications.

The ego is another self, a form constructed outside the self. Can this idea be extended to apply to the poetic persona?

Later in relation to the mirror phase, Lacan poses the idea of the symbolic that is the social, cultural and linguistic networks into which the child is born. Lacan believes that language is the arbiter of the child’s entire existence even before he or she is born. Although, the child is born without immediately grasping language, Lacan emphasises that the networks inherent in family and surroundings are already drawing the child into a symbolic order.

Later he begins to talk of the ego-ideal and the ideal ego. The ideal ego is the identity that you take on and the ego-ideal is the point from which you self-examine. Who is it that you construct your selfhood for? Who is your audience?

Some questions that arise here are as follows:
*Could there be a parallel between Lacan’s thought about the self and the writer’s construction of a poetic persona?
*Have you looked into the mirror and found unity as a poet?
*Have you severed the links with your maternal precursors and found a new mastery of your poetry?
*To what extent is your writing defined by the symbolic i.e. the cultural, social and linguistic networks into which you were born?
*To what extent is your poetic persona a construction created with a certain audience in mind? Can it truly be called ‘natural’?

Sonia Sanchez on Poetry and Politics

Sonia Sanchez

All poets, all writers are political. They either maintain the status quo, or they say, ‘Something’s wrong, let’s change it for the better.’ That’s what my life has really been about.

we are sudden stars
you and i exploding in
our blue black skins. -Sonia Sanchez

Edwin Honig on Poetry

Edwin Honig

A poet contributes to the development of the art of poetry by the magnitude or the implacable center [sic] of his vision and craft. The energy of his expression withstands close scrutiny, sustaining its power and effect over the years. Just as everyone owns his particular face and voice, so the major poet owns his own particular style and makes it do what he wishes it to do in a way that is rarely mistakable. For his manner of treating a subject invariably remakes it so that it appears to be presented for the first time.

-Edwin Honig

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Creative Research Blog

Please note that I also have a blog for ideas and research at:

Women Writing Rape

See this new blog set up to coincide with the symposium, Women Writing Rape: Literary and Theoretical Narratives of Sexual Violence

Practice of Poetry Seminar:

Thursdays 9 – 12 noon in the Mead Gallery, Warwick Art Centre

REMINDER: When bringing poems to be workshopped in class, it would be great to bring extra copies so that we can all see the poem on the page.

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