Expansiveness and Inclusion for Susan Thomas: Embracing Poetry

State of Blessed Gluttony

State of Blessed Gluttony
BY Susan Thomas
(Red Hen Press, 2004)

The Hand Waves Goodbye

The Hand Waves Goodbye
BY Susan Thomas
(Main Street Rag, 2002)

Voice of the Empty Notebook

Voice of the Empty Notebook
BY Susan Thomas
(Finishing Line Press, 2007)

You’ve recently given a talk at the Frost Place on “Translation, Adaptation, Imitation and Theft.” This sounds very intriguing and witty. Why the word “theft”?

In that talk I spoke of the opportunity translation gives us to expand and deepen our range as poets. We project ourselves into the work of another poet and we learn more than just the craft of translation — we learn the real stuff of poetry. I’m an analeptic translator with no left brain so I need to get all the way inside the poem, otherwise I can’t figure out what’s going on in there, even with the best dictionary.

We project ourselves into the work of another poet and we learn more than just the craft of translation — we learn the real stuff of poetry.

Then I need to separate from the poems I just translated in order to write my own poems again. That’s where the adaptation, imitation and theft part comes in. These are the tricks I use to escape from the translation. I make a poem in response to the poem I just translated. Call it imitation or adaption, but I think of it as talking back to the translation using whatever parts are sticking to me, but breaking away from the translated poem into my own images and opinions.

Sometimes, I end up keeping only part of the new poem — an image, a word, a rhythm — but sometimes it comes out as a kind of dialogue with the poem that I translated. I do that with Pavese a lot. I broaden my associations to it, but keep the basic architecture of the poem, talking back to it about my own life. It really is a kind of theft, but I always feel that I’m honoring the poet and I always cite the poem.

Tell us more about the translations that you’ve embarked upon. How did this work become such a central aspect of your writing?

I think translation has given me much of my poetic education. It teaches me the poetics and rhetoric of work I admire. When I’m translating, I have to say the poem to myself several times, and then I start looking for the nouns, verbs, objects, which pronouns belong to whom. I get the picture of who is doing the talking and of the poem’s shape from the inside out. I begin to see the poem’s architecture — where it’s going and how it’s getting there. Then I figure out most of the words I couldn’t find in the dictionary, because the poem’s diction has become my diction. I start to understand what is untranslatable, but also the essence of poetry — the “unsayable,” as Rilke calls it.


Page 2 of 4 1 2 3 4 View All

Printed from Cerise Press: http://www.cerisepress.com

Permalink URL: http://www.cerisepress.com/02/04/expansiveness-and-inclusion-for-susan-thomas-embracing-poetry

Page 2 of 4 was printed. Select View All pagination to print all pages.