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Studies in poetry Donald Wellman. producción , interpretación , análisis semantica. Production: a more ample process than writing, writing perhaps precedes language, a bodily writing?

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producci n interpretaci n an lisis semantica
producción, interpretación, análisissemantica

Production: a more ample process than writing, writing perhaps precedes language, a bodily writing?

Interpretation: a critical act of assigning meaning. One of my mentors Susan Sontag changed the world of critical theory with her “Against Interpretation.”

Semantic and textual analysis: the research and science of coming to understand the relation between the poem and the language and history to which it belongs. The translation now gains the power to transform the receiving language.


For me translation is not easy. I don’t know Spanish or any of my languages with a native feel. As a poet, I always see more than what is actually there. That’s not a special gift. I will go over some examples of Antonio Gamoneda’s poems, obsessively and attempt to illustrate my main points.


Letter to Eppes

The earth belongs to the living, not the dead, he hummed as he drove from the hills into the valley

Daily the round

The gray limbs of early flowering maple tinged with the pink of life

The earth belongs, he copied the words into his book, to the living

The field of circulating medium


by private individuals

He sat up in bed, awakened by the pounding in his chest

A presence there like a wooden arrow pierced more deeply

The earth belongs. He took as precept, not natural 4law. When he died he saw that he would die completely. All zeroes. He looked down through the glass floor of the elevator

Continuance preceding as if having had a right to eat up the whole soil

If tracks fill with water, cease your digging

Frogs spawn where the bulldozer cut

Change in application, material, or design do not warrant patent

Limits to extend, not the dead

to bind

will and power

Earth free from all



Carta a Eppes

La tierra pertenece a los vivos, no a los muertos, tarareaba al bajar de las colinas al valle

La ronda diaria

Las ramas grises del tierno arce floreciente teñidos del rosado de la vida

La tierra pertenece, apuntó las palabras en su cuaderno, a los vivos

El campo del medio circulante


por individuos particulares

Se incorporó en la cama, despertado por un golpeo en el pecho

Una presencia como una flecha de madera traspasaba más profundamente

La tierra pertenece. Lo consideraba precepto, no ley natural. Supo que al morir moriría completamente. Ceros, nada más. Miró a través del suelo de cristal del ascensor

La permanencia precediendo como si tuviera derecho de comerse la tierra vegetal toda

Si las huellas se llenan de agua, dejen de cavar

Las ranas se reproducen donde surcó la excavadora

Un cambio de aplicación, material o diseño no requiere patente.

Los límites se extienden, los muertos no


voluntad y poder

La tierra libre de toda


Trad. Francisca González Arias


producción o la creación de poemas

  • I am not the poet, Antonio Gamoneda, I am only his voice in English. I cannot speak to his process of creation. I am a poet Here perforce I should speak to how I write and why I found an immediate sympathy between his work and mine.
  • Here are several factors that my poetry shares with that of Gamoneda:

Some common qualities:


Wellman: Las ramas grises del tierno arce floreciente

Gamoneda: pájaros, jaramago (más in otros poemas)

a conversation with the dead:

Wellman: When he died he saw that he / would die completely.

Gamoneda: los ojos de los muertos

cryptic images:

  • Wellman: Una presencia como una flecha de madera
  • Gamoneda: el llanto de hijos asidos al delantal sangriento.

proper names: Eppes, Juan Galea

political, economic and moral precepts:

Wellman: los muertos no / unen / voluntad y poder

Gamoneda: líbrame de quien se oculta entre palomas

  • The qualities of imagination that we share (and maybe only in my opinion) has produced a tendency on my part to project, to assume that Gamoneda and myself share similar thoughts and feelings. And although in some senses we do. This sympathy can be conductive to unwarranted interpretations in my translations. Gamoneda has specifically warned me against interpretation instead of direct translation.

IT WAS a confused time full of birds. There was no other light than that of a great sheet whose weave we did not recognize. The lye simmered, menaced by shadow, and passage­ways led to the great hall of fear. Some mothers bent forward to hear the crying of children who clutched the bloody apron.

Bitter cress was inside my mouth. Envy advances like oil on yellow cardboard and Juan Galea, with heavy panniers of anger, slowly succumbs to compassion.

Today is the day of steel; its brightness gleams in the eyes of the dead. Invisible mother, deliver me from one who hides among doves, cover my face, save me from Friday.


ERA un tiempo equivocado de pájaros. No existía otra luz que la de una gran sábana cuya urdimbre desconocíamos. La cal hervía amenazada por la sombra y los pasillos conducían al zaguán del miedo. Algunas madres se inclinaban para escuchar el llanto de hijos asidos al delantal sangriento.

El jaramago estuvo dentro de mi boca. La envidia avanza como el aceite sobre cartones amarillos y Juan Galea, con una espuerta de ira, baja despacio a la misericordia.

Hoy es el día del acero; su resplandor entra en los ojos de los muertos. Madre indistinta, líbrame de quien se oculta entre palomas, cubre mi rostro, sálvame del viernes.


2. interpretación o la lectura sencillo

  • Here are some instances with n the same poem where I have added meaning, which is an effect of interpretation
  • ERA un tiempo equivocado de pájaros
  • IT WAS a confused time full of birds\
  • I have no sense of a literal meaning for “tiempoequivocado.” There is no license for my introducing “full” into the context. I have an image of birds falling from the sky. That influenced my reading.
  • There are other images of confused birds in Gamoneda’s poetry, that have influenced me too.
  • PÁJAROS. Atraviesan lluvias y países en el error de los imanes y los vientos, pájaros que volaban entre la ira y la luz.
  • Vuelven incomprensibles bajo leyes de vértigo y olvido.
  • BIRDS. Theycross rain storms and countries in a misreading of magnets and winds, birdsthatwereflyingbetweenanger and light.
  • Theyreturnstunnedbythelaws of vertigo and forgetfulness.
  • (Libro del frío)

This discussion of birds may be an instance where analysis comes in and supports ‘interpretation.” It is still “interpretation instead of the quality of “translation to which I aspire.

Here is another problem passage from the text, “ERA un tiempoequivocado.” that part of the first sentence rings so true for me with out the “de pájaros.”

Juan Galea, con una espuerta de ira, baja despacio a la misericordia.

Juan Galea, with heavy panniers of anger, slowly succumbs to compassion.

espuertas in the plural can be idiomatic for “lots of,” “plenty of. I tried to convey that sense with “heavy” and also kept to the literal; “basket” or “panier” and I pluralized the term. Today I might write:

Juan Galea, with a loaded pannier of anger, slowly succumbs to compassion.

I remain unresolved as to options. All express a dissatisfaction possibly with Gamoneda’s original. Do I have that right?

“baja” also presents interesting problems. I might have used “sink” to go along with “heavy” but “heavy” is my invented term. I like “succumb.” It is a moral term and here I think my sense of morality rhymes with Gamoneda’s.


3. análisissemántica y textual

  • Semantic and textual analysis: theresearch and science of comingtounderstandtherelationbetweenthepoem and thelanguage and historytowhichitbelongs. Thetranslationnowgainsthepowertotransformthereceivinglanguage. In thissenseallpoetryisanact of translation, a languageact. Thisunderstanding of therelationbetweenpoetry and language has one of itssources in thetheories of Walter Benjamin. Hereisanextractfromhis “TheWork of theTranslator”

One can extract from a translation as much communicable content as one wishes, and this much can be translated; but the element toward which the genuine translator\'s efforts are directed remains out of reach. It is not translatable, like the literary language of the original, because the relation between content and language in the original is entirely different from that in the translation. In the original, content and language constitute a certain unity, like that between a fruit and its skin, whereas a translation surrounds its content as if with the broad folds of a royal mantle. For translation indicates a higher language than its own, and thereby remains inappropriate, violent, and alien with respect to its content. In the translation, there is a fracture between the content and language that constituted a unity in the original (158).

Por importante que sea la parte de comunicación que se extraiga de ella y se traduzca, siempre

permanecerá intangible la parte que persigue el trabajo del auténtico traductor. Ésta no es transmisible, como sucede con la palabra del autor en el original, porque la relación entre su esencia y el lenguaje es totalmente distinta en el original y en la traducción. Si en el primer caso constituyen éstos cierta unidad, como la de una fruta con su corteza, en cambio el lenguaje de la traducción envuelve este contenido como si lo ocultara entre los amplios pliegues de un manto soberano, porque representa un lenguaje más elevado que lo que en realidad es y, por tal razón, resulta desproporcionado, vehemente y extraño a su propia esencia. Esta incongruencia impide toda ulterior transposición y, al mismo tiempo, la hace superflua, (135)

  • The language of the translation is always inadequate or broken with respect to the content of the translation.
  • I am about to posit an eternal inadequacy of language with respect to content.

The object of the translator is the language that he faces. The object of the poet is something spontaneous. However, there are English language schools of poetry that since Derrida have taken language not sentiment as their object.

The object of translation has become not the essence of the original but a relationship to the language of the original, seeking some essence or reverberation between the two languages, during the act of translation.


Charles Bernstein, poet and theorist of the language-poetry movement in the USA, in his Artifice of Absorption a versified poetics, has written:

A dense or unfamiliar vocabulary

can make a poem hard to absorb, not only by calling

attention to the sound qualities of its lexicon

but also by preventing any immediate processing

of the individual word’s meaning. At some point,

the appropriate reference sources may be consulted—

but this is by no means the only way to hear

or understand the work.

Un vocabulario denso o no familiar

puede hacer que un poema sea difícil de absorber, no solamente

al llamar la atención sobre las cualidades sonoras de su léxico

sino también por impedir el procesamiento inmediato

de cualquiera de los significados de los vocablos. En algún punto,

la apropiada fuente de refencias puede ser consultada.

Pero esta, de ningún modo, es la única manera

o entender la obra. (tr. HeribiertoYepez).


I will explore this topic of language and poetry, poetry and translation tomorrow. I do want here to insist as Bernstein does on the importance of ears and hearing. Orality and musicality are crucial aspects of what has led me to translation. It is where the poetics of one language transforms the poetics of a second language.

For now I ask you to consider another example of my work with Gamoneda that reaches this level where one text transforms its own language and the translation transform the second language. At this level there is meaning to be found in language that either poet or translator or both may not be fully aware.


FROM the balconies, above the darkened doorway, I

used to watch with my face glued to the cold bars; hidden

behind the begonias; I saw the movement of gaunt men.

Some had faces gouged by firedamp, etched with terrible

blue threads; others sang to lull a hidden orphanity. They

were slow men, exasperated by prohibition and the odor

of death.

(My mother, with her eyes very open, fearful of the

creaking of the wooden tiles under her feet, approached

my shoulder and, with stealthy violence, pulled me back

into the interior of the rooms. She placed the index finger

of her right hand over her lips and slowly closed the

shutters of the balcony.)

DESDE los balcones, sobre el portal oscuro, yo miraba

con el rostro pegado a las barras frías; oculto tras las

begonias, espiaba el movimiento de hombres cenceños.

Algunos tenían las mejillas labradas por el grisú, dibujadas

con terribles tramas azules; otros cantaban acunando una

orfandad oculta. Eran hombres lentos, exasperados por la

prohibición y el olor de la muerte.

(Mi madre, con los ojos muy abiertos, temerosa del crujido

de las tarimas bajo sus pies, se acercó a mi espalda y, con

violencia silenciosa, me retrajo hasta el interior de las

habitaciones. Puso el dedo índice de la mano derecha

sobre sus labios y cerró las hojas del balcón lentamente.)


I call attention to these lines:

Some had faces gouged by firedamp, etched with terrible

blue threads; others sang to lull a hidden orphanity.

Algunos tenían las mejillas labradas por el grisú, dibujadas

con terribles tramas azules; otros cantaban acunando una

orfandad oculta.


There is historical material with reference to “el grisú” – which Gamoneda situates in realtion to forced labor in the earliest days after the victory of Franco’s troops in the Spanish Civil War. That historical information is transformative. More transformative in my reading is the idea of “orfandad.” It seemed to me, although there is an entomological precedent, that I had to invent the word “orphanity” in order to get at that precise sense of identification with unhoused and unloved entrapment which is crucial to Gamoneda’s poem. My notion is that here, the words and their sounds are crucial to history and language and pose therefore demand for translation. Consider also my choice of the English word “lull” and how its sounds find resonance in the Spanish.

Algunos tenían las mejillas labradas por el grisú, dibujadas

con terribles tramas azules; otros cantaban acunando una

orfandad oculta.

I will leave you here to contemplate how each of us stand before the realities of the languages that we know and how they pose the essential matter of translatability.