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Assignment: Translate Your Prose into Verse

2015/6/23 — 15:02

【Text by: Michael Odom】

Michael Odom on translation, poems, and pedagogy in the classroom.

“…it gave me a devil of a lot of trouble to get into verse the poems that I will read for you tonight, and that is why I will not read them as if they were prose!”-W.B. Yeats

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All reading is translation: translation from the language of one mind to the language of another. The worst possible translation is one that takes a great poem in one language and makes of it a terrible poem in another. For example, the translation in a student’s mind of “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” into “Memento mori!” is a ‘lost in translation’ reading. This occurred to me as I tried to teach university freshmen the correct terms for genres, prosodies, tropes, and dictions.

My students recited verse as if it were an unusually unmusical type of prose. They could not hear it and they could not conceive of lineation as anything but an odd way to write sentences. They droned as they read, flattening every stress and evening out tones as they raced from the initial capital to the period of the last sentence. Their close reading was the same: racing past language to ‘the meaning’. Verse as weird prose; as if poetry were a gameshow where a writer says something cryptic or enigmatic and readers try to guess what was said. Readers who guess right win a PhD. Poets who stump the audience take home an MFA. My students seemed to think the consolation prize would be an easy A.

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