Monday, July 25, 2005

Exercise: Homophonic Translation

EXERCISE*: Take a poem, or part of a poem, in a foreign language and translate it word for word according to what it sounds like in English. Try this with a language you know and then with one you don't know. Don't use a dictionary, just rely on what your ears hear and go from there.

This exercise is courtesy of Charles Bernstein from p. 126-8 in The Practice of Poetry, ed. by Robin Behn & Chase Twichell.

The source poem I chose is "Negro Bembon" by Afro-Cuban poet, Nicolas Guillen. For your convenience, I'll post the text here:

Negro Bembón

¿Po qué te pone tan brabo,
cuando te dicen negro bembón
,si tiene la boca santa,
negro bembóm?

Bembón así como ere
tiene de tó;
Caridá te mantiene, te lo dá tó.

Te queja todabía,
negro bembón;
sin pega y con harina,
negro bembón,
majagua de drí blanco,
negro bembón;
sapato de dó tono,
negro bembón.

Bembón así como ere
tiene de tó;
Caridá te mantiene, te lo dá tó.


Following is the homophonic translation I came up with. It's a rough draft, but it definitely succeeded in making me look at language differently:

Nigger of my bones

Poor, okay. Tea? Pour nothing. Pray boy.
Wonder. Tea the ice, Nigger of my bones.
See the tiny, lost boa constrictor,
Nigger of my bones?

My bones, I see you coming over the air.
To any, to
carry the tea. A man, to any. Tea low? There is no

Tea. Cage & tow the beer,
nigger of my bones.
Sin. Pay God. Come, hurry now,
nigger of my bones.
Ma’s hog is washed this day - dry & blond,
nigger of my bones
Sow, Pa told us that day, There is no
Nigger of my bones

My bones, I see you coming here
today, to
Carry that tea. In the meantime, the tea is low.

The day, too.

1 comment:

Tara Betts said...

Harryette Mullen plays so much with homophonic words in "Sleeping with the Dictionary". Check it, for real.