After translating a poem, I’m always left with a troubling handful of brackets and screws. The bookshelf sure looks like it stands on its own, but anyone peering at it closely, comparing the finished product with the instruction sheet, might spot the small, vital pieces I had to leave out. That’s the frustrating trade-off of this sort of writing, but I like to believe I’m getting better at it—and I’m pleased that one of my poems made it into the summer translation issue of Able Muse.
It’s a fine issue, too, with translations from Catullus, Martial, Victor Hugo, Christine de Pizan, Cavafy, Rilke, Rimbaud, Lope de Vega, and many more. My contribution is modest—ten lines of Latin, an epitaph for Charlemagne’s baby daughter Hildegard translated into alliterative, metrical English—but I’m among poets whose work I admire, including medievalist Maryann Corbett, classicist A.E. Stallings, and X.J. “Nude Descending a Staircase” Kennedy.
Last year, I let my subscription to Poetry lapse after realizing that I rarely found one memorable poem per issue. I put that money toward the biannual Able Muse instead, and it’s proven to be a far more satisfying read. Mirabile lectu, its editors are supportive of poems composed in recognizable forms, but they’re also open to good free verse, prose poems, essays about literature, and even the occasional visual-art portfolio. The 2010 Able Muse Anthology, which collects the best of their first decade, is a worthy introduction to their style and approach. Rather than serve as a one-way repository for CV enhancement, Able Muse feels like a journal its craft-conscious contributors actually read.
I’m busily working on a pile of new translations—and on this sun-baked afternoon, I’m happy to dredge up old “Quid Plura?” posts about this very subject:
- A few of my own: Charlemagne in Purgatory and a snarky ode to an emperor, both by Walahfrid Strabo; Alcuin, on winter; the Middle Scots romance The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier; the silly Latin poem “The Lombard and the Snail”; Rilke’s “Solitude,” from the German; and medieval verse translated (sort of) by both T.S. Eliot and Langston Hughes.
- What do you do when the form of a poem is vital, but it can’t be reproduced in English?
- Beowulf is worth reading, even when it’s rendered into prose Tolkienese.
- In praise of Christopher Logue’s wild rewriting of Homer and Adam Golaski’s irreverent Sir Gawain.
- Give pop-culture Dante a chance.