It helps me read contemporary poetry to conjure the mindset of an athlete in the elite sport of pole vaulting. The bar sits there at a distanced height. I summon latency, coil with icy focus, charge the standards, launch myself on the flexing pole, soar contortedly… On a good day I clear the poem and land flushed with endorphins.
When I was half of who I am your voice came along / rewarding me with provocations. It was a fulgor as / beautiful as treasons on the outer banks on another / night. There were horses, wild ones whose thunder / abandoned earth for lattices of successive hoofbeats.(From “Abraham Lake” by Nathan Spoon, Poetry, October 2020)
Language redolent of fulgors, beautiful treasons, and lattices of hoofbeats can be repulsive or propulsive according to the reader’s readiness and conditioning. I choose my task to be that of honing a sensibility able to submit to being reached by knowers who are worth their salt. I want good verse to affect me, and complacent satisfactions don’t go with the territory.
“As with other great poets, [Louise] Glück does not invite paraphrase.” (Robert Boyers)
“[The reader] may not get it at once but, if he is sufficiently interested, he invariably gets it. (Wallace Stevens)
The best cue may come from my Arabic teacher’s preface to his Spanish translation of the Koran:
“Although it’s true that to translate is to interpret, we separate clearly what’s commonly called interpretation from translation, distinguishing what the Koran ‘says’ from what it ‘seems to mean.’ ”(Julio Cortés, rest in peace — un saludo, Profesor)
Let translation follow Nathan Spoon, then, where paraphrase fears to tread:
Cuando era la mitad de quien soy llegó tu voz / premiándome con provocaciones. Era un fulgor tan / bello como traiciones en las riberas alejadas de otra / noche. Había caballos, salvajes cuyo trueno / abandonaba la tierra buscando enrejados de cascos ruidosos.JMN
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