From Ron Silliman's blog

Saturday, August 30, 2003  

My second example of what I might characterize as a noble shipwreck in poetry is Chris Tysh’s homophonic translations from the French, “Acoustic Room,” the brief third section of her book, Continuity Girl. Here is an example:

Second Chant

All on, Sultan, evoke two languages, debar us, my dizzy song key, sail
it o’er the parquet. The bandage is fine: man, front attention, hate
to lovey away; deal o Sally, edgy crossy, this bandolier, a travesty
of my visage. The result at nest pass infinite. Quart shimmies, places
of sand and dixie moochers. Any quarrel passes, a première aboard,
K Maldoror contains a tent design with dense arteries; car chassis figure,
numbril Kelly’s reflexes due cadaver. Mess infant, set Tecumseh.
Pewter quay set up pray tool and song, kaput, continue sans corpse and
illest, probably kill neon rest passbook. Assay, assay, Cheyenne avid;
lest the parquet tell kill it; to us Levant ramp lit. Any faux pas
contains deboarding; cartoon tar dress pays off me. To us convent meant
refuge, vatic cushy, dance in a channel; esteemed nature, densely boner;
car tune pants wrap us, alley fame, pending trust jury’s immense
grace aglow, bulky t’is, send dues, den, sir, a vicuña
satisfaction sullent meant visible. Toy Leman, prance ballet; I would
ray ocean rin her on; may Johnny pass the force.

Come on, Sultan, with your tongue, get rid of this blood that stains the floor. The dressing is done: my forehead
dried and washed with saltwater, and I have crossed my face with bandages. The result is not infinite: four
shirts full of blood and two handkerchiefs.


The first portion of this work, one of five in “Acoustic Room” is a homophonic translation – roughly syllable for syllable – of a passage of Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror; the second portion, the first few lines translated more literally. This is Isadore Ducasse’s original text:


Allons,Sultan, avec ta langue, débarrasse-moi de ce sang qui salit le parquet. Le bandage est fini: mon front étanché a été lavé avec de l'eau salée, et j'ai croisé des bandelettes à travers mon visage. Le résultat n'est pas infini: quatre chemises, pleines de sang et deux mouchoirs. On ne croirait pas, au premier abord, que Maldoror contînt tant de sang dans ses artères; car, sur sa figure, ne brillent que les reflets du cadavre. Mais, enfin, c'est comme ça. Peut-être que c'est à peu près tout le sang que pût contenir son corps, et il est assez probable qu'il n'en reste pas beaucoup. Assez, assez, chien avide; laisse le parquet tel qu'il est; tu as le ventre rempli. Il ne faut pas continuer de boire; car, tu ne tarderais pas à vomir. Tu es convenablement repu, va te coucher dans le chenil; estime-toi nager dans le bonheur; car, tu ne penseras pas à la faim, pendant trois jours immenses, grâce aux globules que tu as descendus dans ton gosier avec une satisfaction solennellement visible. Toi, Léman, prends un balai; je voudrais aussi en prendre un, mais je n'en ai pas la force.


The problem of this piece lies not at all in Tysh’s imaginative rendering of the original, nor in the original, but rather in the mapping of sound patterns from French to English. Homophonic translation goes back to Louis Zukofsky’s Catullus and has been practiced now by American poets for over 40 years. At one point the late Dick Higgins was hunting down examples for an anthology of such works, but I don’t believe that it ever got done. [Consumer alert: I’ve published one homophonic translation, “Do We Know Ella Cheese?” a rendering of Rilke – did I need to say that? – which can be found in Roof V.]


For my money, far & away the grandest example of the form is David Melnick’s Men in Aïda. Here is the first page of Book One, one of three completed by Melnick.


Men in Aïda, they appeal, eh? A day, 0 Achilles! 

Allow men in, emery Achaians. All gay ethic, eh?

Paul asked if tea mousse suck, as Aïda, pro, yaps in.

Here on a Tuesday. 'Hello,' Rhea to cake Eunice in.

'Hojo' noisy tap as hideous debt to lay at a bully.

Ex you, day. Tap wrote a 'D,' a stay. Tenor is Sunday.

Atreides stain axe and Ron and ideas 'll kill you.

     The stars' foe at eon are radix unique make his thigh

Leto's and Zeus's son. 0 garb a silly coal 0' they is

Noose on a nast rat-honor's sake, a can, a lick, on toe delay.

A neck, a ton, crews in a time, & ceteretera.

Atreides oh girl tit, oh aspen-y as Achaians.

Loosen' em us, tea, toga, trap her on tap (heresy a boy now).

Stem Attic on anchors, in neck cable. Oh Apollo on us.

Crews say oh Anna skip trochee, less set to pant as Achaians.

A tray id, a them, a list, a duo, 'cause met to rely on.

"A tray id I take. I alloy a uke, nay me day's Achaians.

Human men theoi doyen Olympia dome attic on teas.

Ech! Pursey Priam's pollen, eh? You'd eke a Dick his thigh.

Pay Dad, am I loose! Ate a pill. Lent Ada a pen to deck his thigh

As oh men idiots who unneck a bowl on Apollo on her."

      Nth alloy men panties up you fame as an Achaian.

Aida is thigh the aerie a gay eagle a deck thigh a boy now.

Alec Atreides Agamemnon and Danny the mo'


Melnick, who counts Greek among his several languages, gives a reading of this text that literally stuns its audience, for underneath its ribald surface he has managed to capture a remarkable presentation of the actual music of the original. You can close your eyes & almost hear it in either language. The Greek-to-English is simply possible, as is Zukfosky’s Latin-to-English. In contrast, there is just no way to bring across the sound of Allons,Sultan, avec ta langue with All on, Sultan, evoke two languages. More importantly, I don’t think there’s any way to improve what Tysh has very ably done. The disjunct, the absolute gap, between each language as a system of sound organization is too great.


This suggests that homophonic translation is not a neutral form – it favors those source languages (and their poets) whose sound patterns most closely approximate the target language of the transformed piece. This may explain why I cannot recall ever reading a homophonic translation, say, from an Asian language.


I simply don’t know if there is a tradition of homophonia in Oulipo or other languages, or if the form is specifically American (one might argue that its dynamics replicate the treasure collecting instincts of centuries of exploration by Westciv hegemons, that a homophonic translation isn’t necessarily that different from seeing an Egyptian tomb on the edge of Central Park). From my perspective, a more telling question is whether or not it’s possible, if there should not be a fortuitous correspondence of tones between source & targe languages, to assert other values in the homophonic translation, to make it anything other than a statement about this ghost dance of tongues.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

In my first year I refrained from printing any of my own poetry. But since, yesterday, I alluded to my efforts at homophonic translation, I thought I would haul this one out & run it today. It first appeared in Roof V, 25 years ago. As mentioned previously, the source text is Rilke:


when itch scree
hurt as much

Then how's their angle
or known gun?

Honky sets selves,
his name a eye nor much.

Plows lick answers:
each fucking a fun sign-in,
starker in design.
Dent is seen as niche.

All's this wreck, leak, & hand~thang.
Then fear not grotto or raygun
and we're be wonder
and as so vile is gay lass in verse made.

And so's her story.

And yet her is shred clique
and is overhauled each much.

Den and verse
look Eden, lock rough.

Done kill inch?
Look then — Ach!
— fend formic and
fear then zoo broken?

Angle niche, mention niche.

Undefined again, her American is shown —
toss furniture for lace lick: zoo house sin.

Hinder good-day to tan felt?
Its plied ounce we like.

Oregon done bomb on them
the sphere-in-day clique:
feeder's anus ply buns.

Distrust a forecaster
and thus
for so long a true sign
I nor gay phone had.

Dare espy, once go feel.
Unsupplied sea and king niche.

0 anti-knock thy knock
fender fin fuller felt rum
and some on gay sick sort.

Vamply be seen each, dear Santa.

Sun's tint agenda:
welch it, a mind, sell none.

Her sin?
Moo some before state.
Is he then leaping then lighter?

Ach! Sea,
furtive in such enormity.
Nine dear earlobes.

Vice stews.
Notch niche.
Fear foes.
Then arm and heal ear.

Suit in Roman zoo?
The fear at men
feels like dusty fugal,
the air white art.

A loft fool
emitting in a game fugue.

Yacht —
heave free, linger.
Broke tan dishful.

Is mute eating muncher?
Stern at her zoo?
Thus do
sea's birdies.

Is hopcycle no vogue or heron?
Infer gagging on odor
(dative) or overcomes: steam,
go off nut, & fence, dear.

Go buy no guy,
just sicken.
That's all it's for —
a drag.

A bear bewailed big test dues.
Farce done each dinner?

Knock-fun air fart answers:
tried as cone
did to all is eye.
Knocker leapt thereon?

Foe fills
(stew sea bargain)
to dock "D".

Grow sin from them.
Go dunking by deer.

How soon?
gaining after.

Splay been by knock.
Sadistic upper?
So sing a deal even then.

Long a knock niche.
Downstair bleak gay nuggets.
Her bayroom is careful.

Not a need is sea-fast
for lass in inn.

Deed do
sofa leap-ender.
Fan stalls to guest tilting.
Begin inner fun.

I am the niece who air!
I can the price sung!

Is her hailed (sic) their held?
Selves stir,
undergone for him.

New rind for funds
who sign-sign
"Alaska gay bird".

Uppity leaping then numb the air!

Shove tonight.
Tour in sexy rock.
All's fair in niches.

Why moldy craft
(a thesis who listens),
has tutor gas per a stamp?

A tin canoe
can go dock.

shirking my medium.

Them there
go leapt and king.
I'm just a curtain.

Buys peel.
Her leap-ending fooled.
Thus each word a VC?

each endless counts diesel.

Testing more sin,
fruit bear aware then?
Is this nudge sight?

Thus we're leaving
once foam go leap then fry.

Noon is peeping,
pea stain.
Feed her file,
the sane be staid.
Whom guess some melt enough sprung.

Moors who sign
as their selves.
Imply bin is near kins.

Stem in stamen!
Hurry my hearse!
Fees on snore:
high league a-hurting?

Does he dare
read such a roof
of hope foreboding?

See other needing
and moo
(click) — a fighter!
& octet in snitch.

So far and see her in.
Niche does to goat
as air to guest.

steamerboy —

A bird is fay and a whore-a-day
and underbroken a not-rich teahouse
still as each built it
is roust, yet is fun, yeah?

None young into tents who dare
for inner-twined trots.
Read it and itchin', kitchen.

So roam in Nepal, rue Icarus,
seek salt, edge on.
Odor is true.

Kind of

Carpenter of
fee in oil lick,
teat offal in sand.

Am a reef, Formosa!

Fussy mere foaling?
Lice us whole.

Eat this
in wrecks and shine
up under
her air guise-stir!
Rind obey vague!
And munch,
Vain it be hindered.

For eye lick
is as selfsame.

The air done
each mare's,
who, beef owning,
come or learn to go broke
on each mare's "who you been?"

Reason in
and earn ikons.
breaking thin thing in niche deep.

A toy tongue!
Men's lickers who cones,
who gave in.

Thus was man far in on end-lickings.

Like hand-in-each mayors
who sign and selves,
then, eye gone on naming,
vague as who lost in the answer.

Broken is peel's ugh:
the venture niche fighters who function.
Selfsame all is!

Fuss each day?
So "lose in Rome"
— flattering zoo saying.

Undoes toad sign.
Is muse am
and fooler knock on.

Thus mono,
mail a kind fay neck,
a fig kite spurt.

Up or leaving?
Dig a mocking:
all Eden fell her.

Thus see zoo
stark under shy den.

Angle (sack man)
fussed in oft niche —

Lay bending,
gain over toting.
Tea a fig a strew among
rice Turk by the bear.

I go all a altar.
Enter miss sicken
who bear a tent sea in biding.

Cheese lick brow.
Can seance niche more?

Deaf rue
and trucked in man
and phoned —
sick desire!

Dishing soft
fee man then bruise.
Then mildew
their muttering fish.

Upper fear thee so?
A gay highness is broken.

Then in oust
(rower so oft),
sell liquor forts.

Writ in spring,
count in fear,
sign on a sea:
is the soccer whom zones?

Thus science,
tender clock,
a homely nose.

Fog end —
air's dimmer.
Shrugging in Rome.

The mind by now:
goat liquor.
Young lean plows
lick foreigner in trot.

Does learn, you know.
Swing and go read
tea once yet.

Sin riced
and roasted
and halved.