Carmen Berenguer wins Ibero-American Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize

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Happy Poetry Month! Congratulations to Carmen Berenguer who has won the 2008 Premio Iberoamericana de Poesía Pablo Neruda.

I am very happy for her!

And for everyone who will now read her marvelous poems!

It makes me extremely happy that work so radical, experimental, feminist, and wild, has been recognized and honored.

carmen berenguer

“Es una sorpresa por la poesía que yo hago, que de pronto puede ponerle trabas al entendimiento y al sentimiento. Mi poesía es sonora, interna, musical, digo cosas increíbles”, comenta. “Soy una mujer combativa, vengo de los conventillos, de la pensión y esos argumentos hicieron que me fijara en las injusticias”, agrega.

*
It’s a surprise because of the poetry I write, that can suddenly put up blocks to understanding and feeling. My poetry is echoing, internal, musical, I say unbelievable things. I’m a fighting woman, I come from the projects, from poor neighborhoods, and that background fixed my thoughts on injustice.

Berenguer often breaks words and form, with poem titles at the bottom of pages or strangely broken across two pages, like this:

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and she ranges into concrete poems in her early work such as Bobby Sand desfallece en el muro as well as in later work such as the poem typeset to look like the Chilean flag. You can see a glimpse of that poem above.

I have translated some of her work over the last few years.

So far, I have spent the most time reading A media asta and La gran hablada. While I love her short poems, I am most fond of her longer work which sprawls and rants and sobs and screams across the page, long poems that build me up to a peak of understanding. It is not “leaping poetry” in the way that Bly meant, with graceful elisions. It is broken, unclear, obstructive, difficult, obstreporous. And, that is suitable, that is what is right, when you write about political violence, about gendered violence, about bodies, oppression, about Chile under Pinochet, as Berenguer does.

Carmen Berenguer

That is what I love best in poetry. I love when it has physicality, when it fights with sense, when it has elbows that stick out, when it feels like wading through mud or struggling to make my own broken body act and endure. It is poetry that rewards effort just as bodies do. Really kick ass poetry, seriously ass-kicking, rejects easy understanding, the facile Hmmmm and nod of agreement. It is perturbing! Bothersome! Berenguer’s work is all that. I think of her work as mixing up the neobaroque/neobarroso with écriture féminine.

I want to quote some of her poems and post my translations, but I am trying to get them published in journals at the moment. So here are a few excerpts. This is from “Bala humanitaria”, “Humanitarian bullet”.

…..Ese dardo
Penetra rompiendo la piel disparado a cien metros
Rompe la piel en sugundos el dedo gatillado
Rompe el silencio y lo dispara
Ondas sonoras irradian el campo comprometiendo el sonido
Interlocutor del suave murmullo El dardo penetrando
Los ojos abiertos y un ojo semicerrado afinando la puntería
El hombre acaricia el gatillo con deseos
…..
*
….. This shaft
Penetrates breaking the skin shot at a hundred meters
Breaks the skin in seconds the trigger finger
Breaks the silence and shatters it
Sonorous waves irradiate the compromised field of sound
Interlocutor of the smooth whisper The shaft penetrates
Open eyes and a half-closed eye sharpened the aim
The man caresses the trigger with desires
……

Here I thought for a long time about how to translate “dardo” and though “dart” or arrow would be more literal, I think “shaft” gets the phallic imagery properly into the poem. It is important because it is a poem that links rape and violence, that takes a gendered view of the sort of violence that can consider it right to make international law about the correct way to kill people with proper bullets. The lines on penetration and holes are not an accident… Further, I would say that it is good to note how Berenguer speaks about sound, about echoes and fracturing; this comes up elsewhere in her work and I think it is right to think of it as the Howl, as the song of the poet, the fundamental sound, poetry, art, creation — broken deliberately in order to reveal multiple truths. So, this is a poem about international politics and humanitarian bullets, violence; but it is also about gender, violence, rape; there is an industrial note, recalling thoughts of metals and mining, global industry; and it is also about words, poetry, logic, speaking, art, creation. That is the kind of poem I can get behind, 100%.

I feel inspired to go work on my translation of “Mala piel” now… and will post some excerpts from it later this month.

a media asta

It is maybe just a particular pleasure for me that poems like this have been honored in the name of Neruda. While I love Neruda’s poetry very much and honor him, I have some difficulties as a feminist with the way he writes about women’s bodies and how they become his male dominated metaphor of art and life and love, his landscape to traverse and discover and see. In fact, Neruda-worshiper Robert Bly is just the same for me sometimes with his graceful, easy “leaping”. For me as a poet, having spent years thinking about this in the way that poets do: I say fuck the leap. It is like cheating. Get your feet on the ground, dudes! Stay in your body! Go fast, but stay dirty! Thus it is particularly sweet to me, for a fantastic strong political woman who writes from and of the body, who makes words really embody, to win a prize named after Neruda.

Links:

* YouTube: el ojo no es un territorio, a video-poema.

* Palabra Virtual: The text of selected poems including a small fragment of one of my favorites, “Mala piel”, and a recording of “Desconocido”.

* YouTube: Berenguer en Chile Poesía

* Chilean wins Neruda Prize for poetry

* Carmen Berenguer, Ibero American Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize – with brief intervew.

* Pablo Neruda Prize 2008 to Chilean poet

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Poetry month, A little playful translation

I’d love to see more interpretations of this odd little poem by David Rosenmann-Taub. It’s from Cortejo y Epinicio, 1949.

Jerarquía

Ganglios
– líneas –
y puños.
¿Qué más?
Los panoramas.
¿Éstos?

Hierarchy (two ways)

Ganglions
– lines –
and fists.
What else?
Panoramas.
These?

*

Neural nets
– powerlines –
and grabbing.
What else?
Seeing everything.
This, too?

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Poetry Month: Day 2, Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva

enriqueta arvelo larriva

Happy Poetry Month! Today I have been thinking about Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva, a Venezuelan poet from the 20th century (1886-1962). Her poems are small and odd, but huge internally, like a pocket universe captured and studied from all sides; a bit abstract and philosophical. This, at a time when it seems to me like the way to be a famous woman poet was to blaze passionately forth in a sort of meteoric scandal of words. Arvelo Larriva’s positioning of herself is at the same time very personal and connected to the specific landscape of the Venezuelan llanos, the central plains — a tropical prairie. But at the same time she positioned herself as a very abstract, analytical, point of human consciousness.

Arvelo Larriva began writing and publishing around 1920 that I can verify (but I have also read she was a poet beginning at age 17, much earlier). Most of her poems that I’ve translated were published in the 1920s, but I don’t have all the research done to know exactly when they were written.

I’d like to point out a pattern I have found in looking at the work of women poets in Latin America. Their poetry was often being published little by little in journals, the same journals as more famous men who were their peers, who were in their same literary circles. But the men became famous more quickly, had books published earlier. I think this is one reason that books of literary history tend to describe the women as footnotes, afterthoughts, imitators, or as not quite catching the wave of a literary movement. It appears from short biographical notes on Arvelo Larriva that she began publishing in 1939. This is not true — she was publishing as early as 1918, and certainly throughout the 1920s, and was part of the Generación de 1918; and was part of the Vanguard of the 1920s student movement as well.

Why do I care? Well, because histories talk about those movements – but leave her out, or only mention her 20 years after her vital, early work. The elision of 20 or more years of her publishing history means that she is also cut off from politics; her brother and others of her political circle were jailed in the 1920s. She remained in their hometown on the prairies. My feeling is that the story of her life might be quite interesting and complicated, but that complication is not represented in any descriptions I’ve seen — which just marvel at how she could write clever poems even though she lives out in the sticks instead of in the exciting capital.

Her work persistently reminds me of the somewhat better-known poems by David Rosenmann-Taub from the 1950s. I’ll talk about his poems later this month and connect back to this post on Arvelo Larriva. I also think of some of the short airy poems of García Lorca.

So, onward to a few poems. They might not be your cup of tea. But I get very excited over their depth and over how different they are from other poems of the time. They stand out to me. Also, since I have read a bunch of her work, I am able to see some things in a larger context. So if it seems that I am reading too much into a tiny poem, try to bear with me.

Destino

Un oscuro impulso incendió mis bosques
¿Quién me dejó sobre las cenizas?

Andaba el viento sin encuentros.
Emergían ecos mudos no sembrados.

Partieron el cielo pájaros sin nidos.
El último polvo nubló la frontera.

Inquieta y sumisa, me quedé en mi voz.

Destiny

A dark impulse burned up my forests.
Who is left for me from the ashes?

The wind roamed alone, meeting no one.
Echoes emerged, mute, unsown.

Birds without nests divided the skies.
The last dust clouded the frontier.

Anxious and meek, I dwell in my voice.

“Destino” can be read in light of the Venezuelan llanos and the prairie burn-off of the dry season. Yet, like many of her poems, it can be read as a political commentary. There is the “dry season” layer, specific to the geography of Barinas, where she lives; the tangled, thorny groves are burned with controlled fires in order to clear room for new growth for vast herds of cattle. The poem could also work as a personal one about philosophical and spiritual renewal. However, the “pájaros sin nidos” ‘birds without nests’ can also be read as the journalists, students, and poets who had to flee the country under the rule of Juan Vicente Gómez, after the 1927 student uprisings or other political clashes.

Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva

The creative act of the word, of poetry, is presented as a solution to the problems posed in “Destino” as in many of her other poems. I see her as writing with intense vitality about violence, revolution, politics. But as encoding those concepts within a sort of personal artistic framework, where the poet’s voice breaks out of everyday life, a jailbreak from reason and order.

To be honest here on my translation, I am not happy with those birds without nests. Well, how long can one stare at the page muttering, “homeless birds… birds without nests… nestless….. no, dammit” before one just goes with whatEVER. Sometimes, I will be driving down the highway and a line of a poem I translated years ago will pop into my head — one of this sort of line, where my English is clumsy and graceless — and the perfect, beautiful phrase will come to me in a flash. From what people say, this happens to all translators and that is why we are always revising. I can work very hard on a translation, and feel in the groove for 90% of it, but that other 10% that just wasn’t inspired, is a torment.

I am also fond of this poem:

Vive una guerra

Vive una guerra no advenida. Guerra
con santo y seña, con la orden del día,
con partes, con palomas mensajeras.

Guerra pujante dentro de las vidas.
No digo en las arterias; más adentro.

Ni un estampido ni un rojor de fuego
ni humo vago dan desnudo indicio.

Mas paz de tiza la refleja entera.

And I will give you the first bit, which I think is interesting to translate. Try it yourself as a challenge, if you like.

A war lives

A war lives, unheralded. War
with saint and sign, with the order of day,
with parts of things, with messenger doves.

War throbbing inside whole lives.
I don’t say in the veins; deeper inside.

“Vive una guerra” continues the internalization of violent metaphors, with war metaphors to represent existential and philosophical struggles.

Someday I would like to really do her poetry justice, and translate her first two books. Just the little bit that I do know about her family (which included many poets) and her life and about Venezuelan politics, history, and geography, illuminates the poems for me. If I could do the original research, find the journals where her work first appeared, read her poems in that context, I imagine that I could translate them better, explain them, present them in a context that would help other people see where the poems lead.

There is more to say about the ways that Arvelo Larriva was framed as a woman, and about the gendering of literary history as it happens and in hindsight. I guess I’ll go into that more in future posts as I talk about other poets and their lives.

Enriqueta Arvelo Larriva

What I truly wish for is the ability to get some good, lowdown, dirty gossip. I’d like to know the poets I translate, who have been dead since before I was born, in the same way that I know the poets who are alive now in my city; what do people think of them, really? What are they like? Would I have liked hanging around with Enriqueta? Was she rude, kind, radical, bitchy, boring, pedantic, vindictive, wise? Was she more interesting when she was young? What was the course of her life? With many poets, I do get a sense for the arc of their lives and careers. With Enriqueta, I barely know a thing. And am not likely to get it in this lifetime. Maybe I’ll find an old journal or two, or a letter; her letters with Gabriela Mistral and Juana de Ibarbourou. Just knowing those letters exist, changes everything for me.

Maybe someone who knows more will write a longer Wikipedia entry. More likely, some boorish great-nephew will write to me and go “My god! You’re talking about old Aunt Netty and her insane scribbling! I didn’t think anyone cared about that! Blah blah blah, all those poetry readings, grande dame of Barinitas… She smelled like dusty lavender and dead mice… But, she made good cookies.” I can’t romanticize my dead poets too much, because I always imagine out those great-nephews who have become excellent dentists and who have healthy lives and perspectives lacking in poetry, who knew only the human being and not the metaphysical point in space and time that was the free-floating philosopher poet.

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April: National Poetry Month. Post 1: Nestor Perlongher in translation


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Originally uploaded by Liz Henry

I’m going to try to post every day in April on poetry and poetics. This blog has got some poetry in it, if you dig deep underneath the feminist eyerolling and disability rights and tech stuff.

In the last month, I’ve been going through my translations and poems from the last 10 years. My work schedule has been light – I am contracting, half-time. And there’s a huge backlog of writing which I just never bothered to send anywhere, and didn’t blog, figuring I’d send it out later. So, while I send these translations out to journals and publishers, I’ll be focusing here on describing work I like, or going through some of my own work.

That sounds boring I’m sure, but let’s start with a bang and talk about something super dirty. Let’s descend into the mire!

Today I thought about my translations of Nestor Perlongher’s poems. Nestor was an Argentinian gay rights activist, sociologist, and poet who died in the mid-90s. He lived in São Paulo for much of the 80s and 90s, and wrote in a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, and Portuñol, with a little bit of gay street French thrown in. I have read a fair bit about the Argentinian Dirty War. A few years ago, I heard an mp3 of his long poem about the the disappeared, “Cadaveres”. It blew my mind. I translated that poem and looked further on the net for his work. Not much was available, but what I found blew me away even more. It was weird, radically messed up, dirty, and queer as hell. It was difficult, disturbing, and beautiful.

Someone said the word “untranslatable” in my hearing. You know what happens next!

Perlongher was a sociologist who studied gay and transsexual street hookers in São Paulo. Wow, did he ever study them.

I am somewhat aware of the activism and politics around global human rights for queer and transgendered people. For example I have read plenty about human trafficking from Brazil to Europe and the U.S. and about the questionable safety of some of the more risky surgeries you can get done in Brazil (and elsewhere in the world). And I am somewhat aware as well of the cultures and communities of trans and queer, transvestite, drag queen, cross dresser, intersex, genderqueer, transsexual, and all that sort of thing in the U.S. There are some interesting differences between how trans people are viewed here vs. how they are viewed in much of Latin America. I set out to learn a bit about that, and did some reading in libraries and on the net as a background to translating Perlongher’s poems. It seems to me in many ways that queer urban culture is more global than I knew or expected. Like house music, like the transcendence of Frankie Knuckles, Perlongher’s genderqueer hookers would be at home in San Francisco or Chicago, Paris or Bangkok, as much as in São Paulo. And you have only to be even vaguely queer, to listen to Perlongher’s voice reading “Cadaveres” in that mp3, to go pretty much instantly, “Okay, that is a gay man talking.” If you think about gaydar, going across languages, it is pretty interesting.

Meanwhile, I was reading a bit more about the neobaroque (neobarroco) and neobarroso movements in South America and Cuba.

The poems themselves. What do I mean when I marvel at their spectacular dirtiness? It is hard to describe. They are slippery and pornographic. If you are my mom or something, just stop reading now, because I am going to describe the poetics of cocksucking. There is a pervasive sense of shifting ground, of a moving frame. A phrase will link to the phrase above it and mean one thing, and mean something else on its own when your reading-frame hits it and isolates, and means something else when linked with the phrase that follows; and again in the context of the whole poem, as a flickering impression or kinematoscope, layers up to create a general atmosphere, so that without actually having said the word “cocksucking” or “cum shot”, you realize that is what you are reading about. Everything is sort of glistening and sticky. You think of glitter, flouncing, dive bars and back alleys and strip clubs. Celebratory sleaze. It’s all blowjobs in the rain with smoky eyeshadow, in some over-romanticized Frenchified movie.

Perlongher’s poetics go into the gutter and find amazing beauty – and often, beauty that ties sexuality to resistance to political oppression.

As perhaps you can imagine, the human rights of trans hookers on the streets are not a priority, say, to the police and government. If you are politically active in other areas as well, and you are gay in that context, there is not a lot of recourse for you legally and you are an easy target. But also, as a gay person in a straight world, you have particular survival skills and ways of acting collectively that come in handy during times of particular political repression. I think that is a good angle to keep in mind while reading Perlongher’s work. Perlongher was an openly gay activist in Buenos Aires and in Brazil for gay and transgender rights. He also was around in the 80s and early 90s to watch everyone die. He is writes in a way that shows me he is aware of the violence and power imbalances in pornography and in the sex trade.

You see why I have come to love him dearly in the way that translators can love their poets who they have never known.

In the mean time his poetry is also wankery in the other, academic sense of the word, as in Baudrillard wankery, of spectacle and illusion and semiotics, the elusive and illusive web of meaning that surrounds absence & signs.

So, onwards to a snippet of poetry.

My disclaimer here is that I am super aware that in places I might just be dead wrong. And, the nonlinearity of the poem means that even if you understand every word in Spanish, you will be staring at the page wondering what the hell it means. (And, I considered every word’s meaning in Portuguese as well, because he did double-triple meanings on purpose, or wanted words to evoke other words.) If you tell me I’m wrong and argue it and back it up, I will listen and be grateful for the help.

Consider this section from “Miché”,


la travesti
echada en la ballesta, en los cojines
crispa el puño aureolado de becerros: en ese
vencimiento, o esa doblegación:
de lo crispado:
muelle, acrisolando en miasmas mañaneras la vehemencia del potro:
acrisolando:
la carroña del parque, los buracos de luz, lulú,
luzbel: el crispo: la crispación del pinto:
como esa mano homónima se cierne
sobre el florero que florece, o flora: sobre lo que
florea:
el miché, candoroso, arrebolado
de azahar, de azaleas, monta, como mondando, la
prístina ondulación del agua:
crueldad del firmamento,
del fermento:
atareado en molduras microscópicas, filamentosos mambos:
tensas curvas

the trannygirl
sprawled on the springs, in her cushions
jerks the fist gilded with leather: in that
conquering, or this submission:
of that which jerks
elastic, refiningfined in earlymorning miasmas the vehemence of the colt:
refined:
meatmarket of the park, holes of light, lulu,
lucifer: the jerk: the shuddering of the pinto:
like how that hand homonym purifies itself
on the flowery florist that flowers, or blooms: over that which
flourishes:
the hustler, straightforward, blushing
with orangeblossom, with azalea, like stripping bare, the
pristine undulation of water:
cruelty of the firmament,
of ferment:
busybusy in microscopic moldings, filamentous mambos:
curves tense

Okay, so, just consider that for a bit. I would love to publish the rest but I’ll just wait on that for a while. But, if you were going to write a poem about handjobs without ever saying anything directly dirty, here is your model. If you read Spanish you may go and read the rest in the original. It is full of lube, pushing blunt heads, grease, drool, perturbing firmness, throats and petioles, oysters and curves, and shining above the grime and flesh, the sparkle and “authenticity” of gold lamé.

I’d love to talk some time about his poem about Camila O’Gorman. It seems to me to be a perfect encapsulation of a way that gay men see cinematic and tragic femininity. It is all melodrama and heroine and actress, mist and gauze, mixed with sex, death, and of course flesh and dirt. I read it and just can’t believe how evocative and weird it is. It makes me think of the scene in Bataille’s Blue of Noon where Dirty and the narrator are having sex and fall off a cliff in the muddy rain, or when they are messing with that priest’s eyeball. But actually, sort of, the poem is about a 19th century pregnant teenager facing a firing squad. Where the rats and candle wax and worms come into this, I can’t say, but they fit just fine.

I love reading Perlongher’s poetry. Translating it is like being in poetic free fall. It is outrageously free and wild. It is maddening in its elisions. I could go on and on about it for a very long time, burbling.

Happy Poetry Month!

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Wiki Wednesday’s talk on Wiktionary and multilingual collaboration

crossposted from my blog at http://socialtext.com

September’s Bay Area Wiki Wednesday featured Betsy Megas, a mechanical engineer and Wiktionary administrator, known in the wikiverse as Dvortygirl. She’s a Wiki Wednesday regular and spoke at Wikimania 2006. In her talk, she gave us a ton of information on the history of Wiktionary, a tour of its interesting features, and thoughts on possible future directions for this worldwide, massively multilingual collaboration.

Betsy started by explaining the difference between Wikipedia and Wiktionary. Wikipedia’s goal is to capture all the knowledge in the world. Except for dictionary definitions! Wiktionary’s modest goal is to include all words in all languages. While an encyclopedia article is about a subject, a dictionary definition is about a word.

But what is a dictionary? Betsy went to a library to browse dictionary collections. Some dictionaries focus on types of words: cliches, law, saints, nonsexist language. Others center around types of content: rhymes, usage, etymology, visual information. Others are dictionaries of translation. Wiktionary, because it’s not paper, is searchable, unlimited by size; it can evolve; and it has strong ties to people who edit it, and to communities of its editors.

Wiktionary content includes audio pronunciations, definitions, etymologies, metadata such as a word’s frequency in English according to all the text on Project Gutenberg; pictures (such as this great photo illustrating the concept of “train wreck“); and videos attached to a word, for example, videos of how to express a word in American Sign Language. It also includes translations.

We went off on a few speculations to future directions for Wiktionary, Wikipedia, and perhaps the entire web. What if links knew why they were linked? For example, why is “Lima” linked to “Peru”? Betsy thinks that we are missing out on a lot of metadata that could be quite useful. And for Wiktionary specifically, what if we had categories that were structured around the functionality of a word, for example, its part of speech?

Betsy then went on to sketch out basic entry layout – which is different in different languages, but which for English is referred to as WT:ELE. She explains the problem of Wiktionary as “We have structured data, and no structure”. This is a problem and a feature of many wikis!

Wiktionary has many tools to help with the tension between structure and structurelessness. It heavily relies on entry templates, which fill a regular wikitext entry box with something like this:


==English==

===Noun===
{{en-noun}}

# {{substub}}

===References===
*Add verifiable references here to show where you found the word in use.

Other useful tools depend mostly on automated detection of problems, relying on human beings to do the cleanup by hand. For example, Connel MacKenzie wrote a bot to list potentially messed-up second level article headers, but a person checks each link by hand to do the gardening.

Structurelessness or being structure-light can be a problem for sensible reuse of Wiktionary content. Other dictionary projects such as Onelook and Ninjawords have used content from Wiktionary, but ran into difficulties with their imports. Is Wiktionary content reusable? Yes, but barely.

Somewhere in the mix, we also discussed WT:CFI (Criteria for Inclusion) and WT:RFV (Requests for Verification).

But then, the truly fascinating stuff about translation and multilingual collaboration. Words, or definitions, exist in many places. For example, we might have an English word defined in the English Wiktionary and the Spanish Wiccionario, and then a Spanish equivalent of that word also defined in both places. So, a single word (or definition, or lexeme) can potentially exist in a matrix of all the 2000+ languages which currently have Wiktionaries (or the 6000-7000+ known living languages) squared.

For a taste of how the Wiktionary community has dealt with that level of complexity, take a look at the English entry for the word “board“. About halfway down the page, there’s a section titled “Translations”, with javascript show/hide toggles off to the right hand side of the page. There are many meanings for the English word, including “piece of wood” and “committee”. If I show the translations for board meaning a piece of wood, many other languages are listed, with the word in that language as a link. The Dutch word for “piece of wood” is listed as “plank”, and if I click that word I get to the English Wiktionary’s entry for plank (which, so far, does not list itself as Dutch, but as English and Swedish.) I also noted that the noun form and the verb form of “board” have different sections to show the translations.

Ariel, another Wikipedia and Wiktionary editor and admin, showed us a bit of the guts of the translation template. The page looks like this:


[[{{{2}}}#|{{{2}}}]]

But the code behind it, which you can see if you click to edit the page, looks like this, all on one line (I have added artificial line breaks to protect the width of your browser window)}:


[[{{{2}}}#{{{{#if:{{{xs|}}}|t2|t-sect}}|{{{1|}}}|{{{xs|}}}}}|{{
#if:{{{sc|}}}|{{{{{sc}}}|{{{alt|{{{2}}}}}}}}|{{{alt|{{{2}}}}}}}}]]
 {{#ifeq:{{{1|}}}|{{#language:{{#switch:{{{1|}}}|
nan=zh-min-nan|yue=zh-yue|cmn=zh|{{{1|}}}}}}}||
[[:{{#switch:{{{1}}}|nan=zh-min-nan|yue=zh-yue|
cmn=zh|{{{1}}}}}:{{{2}}}|({{{1}}})]]
}}{{#if:{{{tr|}}}|&
nbsp;({{{tr}}})}}{{#switch:{{{3|}}}|f|m|mf|n|c|nm= {{{{{3}}}}}|
}}{{#switch:{{{4|}}}|s|p= {{{{{4}}}}}|}}

Fortunately, this template has a lovely Talk page which explains everything.

We all sat around marvelling at the extent of language, and the ambition of the multilingual Wiktionary projects. The scope of OmegaWiki was impressive. As Betsy and Ariel demonstrated its editing interface for structured multilingual data, I got a bit scared, though! Maybe a good future step for OmegaWiki contributions could be to build a friendlier editing UI on top of what sounds like a very nice and solid database structure.

We also took a brief tour of Wordreference.com and its forums, which Wordreference editors go through to update the content of its translation dictionaries.

I’m a literary translator, and publish mostly my English translations of Spanish poetry; so I’m a dictionary geek. In order to translate one poem, I might end up in the underbelly of Stanford library, poring over regional dictionaries from 1930s Argentina, as well as browsing online for clues to past and current usage of just a few words in that poem. Wiktionary is a translator’s dream — or will be, over time and as more people contribute. I noted as I surfed during Betsy’s talk that the Spanish Wiktionary has a core of only 15 or so die-hard contributors. So, with only a little bit of sustained effort, one person could make a substantial difference in a particular language.

The guy who is scanning the OED and who works for the Internet Archive talked about that as an interesting scanning problem. We told him that Kragen has also worked on a similar project. The IA guy, whose name I didn’t catch, described his goals of comparing his OCR version to the not-copy-protected first CD version of the second edition.

At some point, someone brought up ideas about structuring and web forms. I have forgotten the exact question, but Betsy’s answer was hilariously understated: “I think that the structure of languages is substantially more complex.”

Chris Dent brought up some interesting ideas as we closed out the evening. What is a wiki? When we talk about Wikipedia or Wiktionary or most other wiki software implementations, really we’re just talking about “the web”. And what he thinks wiki originally meant and still means is a particular kind of tight close collaboration. As I understand it, he was saying that possibly we overstate wiki-ness as “editability” when really the whole web is “editable”. I thought about this some more. We say we are “editing a page” but really we are creating a copy of the old one, swapping it to the same url, and making our changes. The old page still exists. So for the general web, we can’t click on a page to “edit” it, but we can make our own page and reference back to the “old” page, which is essentially the same thing as what most wiki software does; but at a different pace and with different tools and ease of entry/editing. So his point is that wiki-ness is about evolving collaborative narratives. I’m not really sure where to go with that idea, but it was cool to think about and I was inspired by the idea that the entire web, really, has a big button on it that says “Edit This Page”.

As is often the case, we had low attendance, but a great speaker and unusually good group discussion. I’m happy with only 10 people being there, if they’re the right people. And yet I feel that many people are missing out on this great event. Betsy’s going to give me her slides and an audio recording for this month, but next month I will try to get a videocamera and record the entire event. If any actual videobloggers would like to come and do the recording, I’d love it.

Also, tune in next week, or September 16, for the San Francisco Wikipedia/Mediawiki meetup!

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Reporting on the conference

I’m liveblogging the ALTA conference on the group blog, literarytranslators.blogspot.com. It’s a lot of work – I’m working very hard to make it not too sloppy or raw; to add links; and to get details, especially people’s names, correct.

I hope it’s helpful to give ALTA members and others an idea of what the conference is like. (Probably some people here think it is pretentious or annoying or that I’m checking my email, or being disrespectful.. but just so you know, my intentions are good. I try to sit in the back of a room, so as not to disturb anyone too much with my clickety typing noises or my unfortunate fidgeting.)

I’m hoping to get more translators to sign up for the group blog – even if they write something only a few times a year, it would help to make the ALTA blog lively, fun, and valuable to everyone.

I had trouble getting on the Hilton Bellevue hotel’s wireless, despite having paid for it. The manager, Frank, happened to walk by while I was asking if there was a particular problem, or a place with better reception, so I could send out my conference reports. (A ‘mere’ blogger, behaving all biggety, like a journalist.) How wonderfully nice – Frank gave me a hotel room right on the 3rd floor, not to sleep in, but to sit in with privacy and quiet and reliable wireless access. I appreciate it, and am finding it’s helping me to keep my head together in the whirl of social networking, to disappear for half an hour periodically during the day.

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The impulse to be minor

When I’m editing a wiki, even privately, I have the impulse to click “This is a minor edit,” even when I’ve made significant changes. It seems presumptious to have an implied “major edit” be the default. I don’t want to contribute too much noise to the signal of the wiki’s Recent Changes page.

Part of the impulse to label all my edits “minor” is because I twiddle and save frequently; I’ll edit a few words out of a sentence here and there, save, and go right back to that paragraph. I blog that way too, screwing up everyone’s RSS feeds, publishing carelessly as an idea comes, and then fiddling with the entry over the next hour as I realize my phrasing was clumsy or a new idea, related, strikes me.

On a related but different level, I believe that it is important to expose the process of thought, the evolution of intellect, the muddled waters where research and inspiration meet and ideas coalesce. Many people don’t know how to think; they don’t think they think; they can’t see themselves thinking, because they only have seen “finished products” and never the intermediate stages. Uncertainty is forbidden. It is private. It’s personal. It’s weak and vulnerable. That is a limitation I see as unnecessary. It is often useful, but not always. It’s a barrier to collaboration and to learning.

But then I wonder if both these behaviors in myself, the constant “minor editing” of blog and wiki, might signify an asymptotic process-focus, where I regard nothing as done, nothing as major, nothing achieved. My poems remain in their notebooks and rough drafts indefinitely. I consider even my master’s thesis as a “draft”. It pains me to refer to it as finished.

Gender plays into this. Women underplay their acheivements & work. I do it too. I don’t want to bring attention, or be under fire. I rarely feel any work is done, good enough; I might change my mind. Everything could be improved. I can think of someone who has done part of that, or expressed the idea, more neatly, more professionally. And yet I consider myself bold! What baggage, what damage, we carry.

A good friend and I were discussing this the other day as we rushed to deprecate ourselves and our collaborative work on our own private wiki. “I haven’t done enough.” “No, I haven’t done enough!” Then we realized what we were doing. The conversation led to our discussing how we compare our own work to the best in our field, come up short, and feel we are impostors. As I contemplated this impulse in myself I realized I compare my own thesis, as a work in progress (seriously, it’s not really *done* done, no matter what the diploma says!) to writing by women 30 years older than myself who are on their 10th book. We are not comparing ourselves to our peers, but to the best we see — and worse than that, to the best we can imagine. On some level I am proud of this impulse, and think it will help me to keep improving my work for my entire lifetime. However, this strange combination of arrogance and humility can be a huge obstacle; when it blocks me, I have to try to break myself of the mental habit of “being minor.”

As a generalist who is constructing anthologies, I also put a lot of pressure on myself, and feel pressure from outside, to have depth of knowledge as well as range. I cannot be as much of an expert on each poet, or each country, as women who (again) are usually far older than myself and further along in their careers and who have focused down in a narrow area.

Despite all these things, I am becoming more and more comfortable claiming authority. I credit technology and the control over the means of production that it’s brought me with part of my own intellectual evolution. Without the freedom to publish and edit, publish and edit, in a cyclical pattern, exposing “drafts” — unlike the publication of a book that would have to start out more perfect that I could imagine, and that would never be fixable — I would not have had the confidence to step into a public forum of ideas. My notebooks, essays, poems, and all that would have stayed, like so many other women’s over history, in diaries and personal letters.

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finished the thesis, not the project


thesis
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry.

Turned it in yesterday to the bindery. It’s done! And yet it’s not done, because I had to cut about 100 pages of extra poets and their poem in order to get it done in a “finished” version on time. The *real* anthology will take me several more years for it to be good enough for me to be happy with its breadth of vision and depth of scholarship. For now, I will take the translations in here that are … by my standards almost-done… and send more of them out to journals. And I will continue researching and translating.

It nearly killed me to leave Clemintina Suárez and María Villar Buceta out of this version, can I just say? And so many more! The more I look, the more wonderful work I find. And th e more I expand my concept of what’s good, of aesthetic appreciation. That’s a beautiful feeling. Several lifetimes would not be enough. I will make my best effort and try to contribute something… a small but solid brick in a very big cathedral…

TOWARD AN ANTHOLOGY OF SPANISH AMERICAN WOMEN POETS, 1880-1930

Liz Henry
San Francisco State University
2006

This thesis examines the valuation of Spanish American women’s poetry and is a feminist intervention in the ongoing construction of literary value. The body consists of an anthology that presents 42 poems by 25 women from 11 Latin American countries in Spanish and in English translation, with brief notes on each poet and their work. In the poems, metaphors of statues, swans, bodies, color symbolism, visions of women’s collectivity, and legends of Sappho’s life show the poets’ active participation in the literary discourse of their era. The introduction exposes sexist discourse in literary criticism of women poets and moves forward into feminist recanonization. The thesis aims to provide a wide variety of entry points for other translators who would like to translate work by women.


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gender wars in Argentina

I’m still editing my thesis and while looking over the bibliography for the hundredth time I had the horrifying realization that I had dissed Jean Franco by only citing a book she wrote in 1969 and nothing since. I think it is too late… but anyway in looking up Franco’s work online I came across this:

The Gender Wars

In July of last year, several members of the Argentine planning committee that had drawn up the guidelines for a nationwide curriculum resigned when they discovered that changes to their proposal had been made, apparently by the Minister of Education under pressure from the Catholic Church. Mention of Darwin and Lamarck had been eliminated, references to sex education had been erased, and the word “gender” had replaced by “sex.”

“Gender” rather than sex (in this case género and sexo) was especially controversial.

its use “intended to provoke an ideological shift and to generate a new conception of the human person, of subjectivity, marriage, the family and society. In short what is proposed is a cultural revolution.” Using the word gender “as a purely cultural construct, detached from the biological,” he warned, “makes us into fellow travelers of radical feminism.”

Then he quotes Shulamith Firestone. Ha. Kind of ha. Not really funny when you think about it.

Wow.

Absolutely fascinating… I am going to have to at least mention Franco’s later work and I feel really dumb for not looking earlier.

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free wireless at the library

My network was down and so I headed over to the library to get some work done. It was surprisingly cosy, pleasant, and welcoming out on the sidewalk on Middlefield Road. Free wireless, cafe tables with umbrellas, and really good music on decent speakers… the only thing missing was an espresso cart. About 30 high school kids were there in a nebulous swarm, chatting, and I’d say over half of them texting on their cell phones. Something was being arranged… a lot of them were waiting for some other group which finally showed up and they all went into the library.

I remarked on the niceness of the “internet library cafe” to this guy in the photo and then on impulse was like, “Hey! Can I blog you?” He was slightly taken aback. “Yes.” (unspoken: wtf! why is this little riot nrrd taking my photo? ) He (Bob) seemed like he could handle it just fine. Alas, I looked at the web site on his card and there’s nothing there! But now I’m totally wondering if he’s This guy and we were totally sharing a technological and social infrastructre? Or was he this guy and I could have had a fascinating conversation about the Khmu dialects & linguistics? Or is he the CTO of this company? Maybe he’s ALL OF THEM…. But if so, what’s with the cheap Vistaprint card and broken web site, dude?

Menlo Park… Palo Alto… check… tons of laptops. Redwood City? Not so much. I guess we’re gentrifying. I hope the town doesn’t lose its cool character as it gets richer and more silicon-valley-ish.

I wish some of those teenagers would have given me their myspace addresses.

Work on my thesis was horribly derailed by the lack of network at home – and by my having to pound on fixing it all day long. (After a lot of floundering, labelling everything in our co-housing network closet, 2 calls to comcast, and buying a new router, which helped, it finally was solved by upgrading my airport firmware and a restart/reset.)

The great thing about the library net cafe: I felt like it was really a public space, being used properly. A public square. There were no obnoxious rules, you didn’t have to buy anything, you didn’t have to be there for a particular reason. You could just hang out. No one came to give the teenagers a hard time (I *hate* that when I see it, and always speak up to point out how dumb it is.) We all spoke to each other – kids, guy in suit, and the kind of skeevy looking hairy guy in the painty shorts who was regaling the kids with stories of past drug busts as they tried to control their eye rolling and smirking and kind of failed. Anyway, it’s a really nice public space. And right across from City Hall, too!

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