Translating the Ineffable from the Liminalities of Otherness
Updated: Apr 6
AWP 2019: How Do We Translate a Sense of Place Across Places?
Number: S264 Date/Time: 3:00pm - 4:15pm on Saturday March 30, 2019
Location: E143-144, Oregon Convention Center, Level 1
I seek to translate my words from either English or Spanish, to either English or Spanish, not so much based on the syntactic craft and speech structures of each of these languages, but to translate the metaphors of living in a place. I live in a permanent liminal space, in the in-betweenness of experience. I inhabit liminality; I am otherness. My work is the river running under the bridge built upon two lands. I am the water in the moat, but not still at all. I have fallen down San Andreas’ fault, I have seen and touched the incandescent magma of Earth, and I have climbed up, and stepped on either side of the lands divided by the trenches. It is because I am aware of the ecosystems I dwell in, that I flow through ecological dimensions of resilience and I regenerate, I enable myself to thrive when I stand on any place, and speak, or write, and so I communicate.
Translation occurs in the immediacy of my bilingual mind, I am a poet translating poetry, as poetry is being written on the place that is the page. Mine is poetry written in translation from its very origin, from its cathartic becoming. As a poet, my work seizes language as a means to decipher the ineffable. As a self-translator, my explorations of language seek to find the core of phenomena as a means to make sense of reality through the senses. Words in translation become transmutations, keeping the gene from the source, its original DNA codification; but language transitions into new shapes revealed in the semantics of the target language. For example, in my first collection of poems, Psaltery and Serpentines, many poems play on words and meaning from my two languages. Words stand the ground, plant a flag warranting my human right to stand upon the space that my body occupies, for my right to be, to exist as I am. In Spanish To Be means at once being and being in place and time. In Lexis of Emotions, page 51, I say:
My/ mother tongue is not my language/ for my native voice/ is the poetic texture of
my being./ tied in a knot I must write/ to unravel my essence outwardly / for there
is a force that binds me to my origins/ a thread of tears, drop by drop/ like footprints staining the soil/ with echoes of laughter and sequences of sorrows.
Another poem, Era de Tango, speaks of a love story drawn from the musical style of Tango and the lyrics of unrequited love, falling in love, falling out of love.
Love too is a place, where the lovers in the poem dance. Era in Spanish means It was, and in English, it means Age. Era of Tango can be Time of Tango, or Time to Tango, It Takes Two to Tango. The female character is an archetype of sensuality, the muse for the speaker/the singer to sing. In Uruguay and Argentina, where Tango is from, this archetype is Malena, “the one who sings the tango better than anyone else.” My Anglo readers may not grasp who Malena is, and what her name signifies, culturally. So, I sought to find a figure to imply, to generate this notion, and I found the iconic character in “Gone with the Wind,” a classic. Page 13 of Psaltery and Serpentines:
"Our bodies are boundless beings/ dancing on the ground in rebellion/ and crumbling into waves of an indescribable sea/ as we tango on the immaculate tiles/ you in black tuxedo and sleek hair./ Me, a Scarlet from a farther south./ until my skirt climbs your bowtie/ unfurling you in shades of red, as if it were possible/ love between deer and deer hunter.”
Internal and external agents of culture, cultural mutagens produce an original transcription, which in its mobility asks to proceed onto a translation phase that effects a movement to a final stage where it emerges as a transformed body, a mutated body of words. This mutated body is constituted by original traits and showing characteristics of inheritance, maintaining and revitalizing them from the previous generation, the body of words written in the original tongue. The central dogma of my transmutations draws from genetic tropes of replication and sequencing into literary tropes, such as metaphor, synesthesia, oxymoron…, eliciting empathy, tapping into sensory reactions, challenging binaries, etc. So, from first phase to last, the text mobilizes to transform itself, to become, to adapt, to fit in, and to have its identity within the new realm. My writing aims to find meaning so to make sense of a place, and to sense the being in place. I have invented a system of codification for my notion of transmutations.
These two examples I have shared from Psaltery and Serpentines are Missense Mutation: Non-Synonymous or Mutation by Substitution, Frame –Shift Mutation: Insertions or Deletions, and Shifts in Grammar and Syntax, and One Point Mutation: Single Substitutions generating a different temporal/spatial meaning. My studies in Ecology and Creative Writing at Antioch University made possible the finalization of my debut novel. When I write fiction, I crosspollinate, I self-pollinate, I trans-pollinate; therefore, I write from otherness. Translating a sense of place transpires as interpretations of the metaphors of an ecosystem to bestow a place on the page for my characters to find themselves, their voices, their identities. Tropes generate revelations as subtext of their internal conflicts crafted as Ekphrasis of nature, of say, a place inhabited by birds, a place that renders my prose with the subterraneous rivers of my characters’ emotions:
Eric had fallen in love with an Eastern Phoebe, the first bird that he had quickly recognized. It had perched on a thin branch of a shrub, all plump-chested catching flies in the air and celebrating the gulp with the sweetest chirp, while its feathery tail pumped to and fro as though balancing itself on the twig, maybe even dancing at its own beat.
Blue jays didn’t chirp necessarily; they emitted a loud jeer in sets of two in call and response with other blue jays nearby and far away. Northern cardinals sand and called with musical variations. Eric would repeat: “rich-what-chur-chur-cheer-purty-purty-purty-cheer….It sounds more like sweet-sweet-cheer-a-cheer-a-pretty-pretty-cheer Actually” repeated Eric. The Cardinals’ birdsong consists of one note that slides down in pitch, like a melody that comes after a series of beats sounding metallic, low bells, followed by a quick succession of very staccato
whistles, upwards, in the opposite direction, and fading away with a lip thrill, as though blowing raspberries with a beak, “Close to a cat’s purr, indeed” elucidated Eric. Cardinal calling and courting songs sounded primal, with more purring and lip thrills, like ululating little cries and yells like the calls of indigenous people. He smiled at the memory of his own oral manifestations of pleasure when he and Brook made love. Onomatopoeias of primal sounds would sprout out of their mouths in languages that had probably been dead for too long.
Sex with Brook meant unearthing them, speaking in revitalized tongues. He shook the thought away, regretting his own red herring. “Where was I? uhm, ahh, Northern Cardinals whistling is pure melody. Just magical!”
I also write ekphrastic expositions inspired by a myriad of artistic expressions, aiding me to transition from the public to the private domains where myself, or my characters of poems and stories find themselves in loving intimacy. A topic for another time, another place.