Writing Exercise #2: Translation

Translation, they say, is a good way to improve one’s language skills. Translating poetry, specifically, forces the writer to focus on the words — on diction, essentially — because all other elements like poetic structure and literary content are already taken care of.

For this exercise I chose three poems by three different writers. I picked a César Vallejo poem because I initially wanted to see if I could translate directly from Spanish to Filipino (I couldn’t). I was also curious about how nuances get lost in multi-level translations (i.e. Spanish to English to Filipino), but obviously I would never find an answer.

Next I went with Charles Bukowski, an author known for his polarizing stream-of-consciousness verses. I have read criticisms against his prosaic style — the same disapproving remark flung against so-called Instagram poets — so I wanted to explore how I could render this cadence in Filipino. Lastly I went with Lang Leav, partly for the same reason, but mostly because I wanted to know if her poems, which I admittedly do not enjoy, would look better (or worse) in another language.

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To Myself

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Some nights I wish that I took poetry lessons to heart. To learn Language. To make it dance then break its legs. To make it crawl out of the page, make it punch people in the gut, or maybe in the face. To know its dirtiest kinks and please it like a lover until it writhes and shivers and screams.

But tonight let’s just file these thoughts in a folder called “dreams.”


To Myself
Franz Wright

You are riding the bus again
burrowing into the blackness of Interstate 80,
the sole passenger

with an overhead light on.
And I am with you.
I’m the interminable fields you can’t see,

the little lights off in the distance
(in one of those rooms we are
living) and I am the rain

and the others all
around you, and the loneliness you love,
and the universe that loves you specifically, maybe,

and the catastrophic dawn,
the nicotine crawling on your skin—
and when you begin

to cough I won’t cover my face,
and if you vomit this time I will hold you:
everything’s going to be fine

I will whisper.
It won’t always be like this.
I am going to buy you a sandwich.


The poem is from Franz Wright’s Ill Lit: Selected and New PoemsThe featured image is 20,000 Leagues Beyond My Mind by Dawani de Leon

Mad Girl’s Love Song

This week has been shitty at best. The stress, the exhaustion, and the sadness have all become so unbearable — and it’s not even Friday yet. I will keep the details to myself, per usual, which of course leaves me with nothing to write about. Hayayayayay.


Mad Girl’s Love Song
Sylvia Plath

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)


The poem above — a villanelle — was written by one of my favorite dead ladies Sylvia Plath. The featured image is a photo I found in my media library. Random lang, if randomness even exists. 

bicol express, manhattan stop

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The saddest line of the night, apologies to Neruda, is this: I don’t miss home anymore.

I think about home sometimes, usually during the ungodly hour of the night when souls are at their most fragile. And when I think of home, I think of the past, of memories lived and now cherished, of regrets nurtured but now tempered. I have learned to nod terms with my old self, apologies to Didion, and I am now at peace with my decision.

I don’t miss home anymore, but I still call it as it is — home, and always will be.


bicol express, manhattan stop
Marie Bismonte

no geographical coordinate can pinpoint
a word that embodies a concept:

home is not a location, remembered in distant lands.
nor is it a journey from the road to Mayon,

where all beginnings take root invoked in sepia,
nor an arrival of an express train to the Upper East Side

in Manhattan, people ask me what i am.
all answers lead nowhere

in my head, i am neither a citizen or a national
but a transient between memories, moving through

post-it-notes and found postcards
to forgetting what cannot be remembered.

home is not a word.
it is a language of the sense:

an approximation of ingredients
to create the right mnemonic

in the pan, bicol express simmers—
the steam of bagoong and gata rising

to a smell abhorred by neighbors
who call it too ethnic, but to me it is

decoding the landmarks of my past,
the sili burning tracks

on my esophagus, a combination of words
that defies expression—

my tongue incapable of speech
as it recalls the taste tugging at my throat:

the loss of what cannot be recovered in
each meal, the comfort that makes my eyes water.


The poem above was published in the the anthology Crowns and Oranges: Works by Young Philippine Poets (2009), edited by Cirilo F. Bautista and Ken Ishikawa.

The featured image is Cycles by Dawani de Leon

“And then we cowards”

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We parted with a hug, a text message, a smiley face. I told you I will miss you, and you said same. No promises, nothing else — we remain slaves to silence, and that’s okay.


“And then we cowards”
by Cesare Pavese (translated by Geoffrey Brock)

And then we cowards
who loved the whispering
evening, the houses,
the paths by the river,
the dirty red lights
of those places, the sweet
soundless sorrow—
we reached our hands out
toward the living chain
in silence, but our heart
startled us with blood,
and no more sweetness then,
no more losing ourselves
on the path by the river—
no longer slaves, we knew
we were alone and alive.


The featured image is Julie Mehretu’s Dispersion.

Flying at Night

It’s 2am and I refuse to sleep. There’s nothing much to share, really, but here, a poem:

Flying at Night
Ted Kooser

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like
his.


The featured image is Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.