Portals into Language

Exploring Poetry in Translation

As poets, language is both our inspiration and our medium, what we consume in order to create, what gets filtered through our creative imaginations and becomes uniquely our own. But what happens when we read and break down poems that come from elsewhere, that arrive into English from different languages and countries and cultures? How does a poem written in a completely different language with different rules and traditions break open our understanding of English, and how can we use that to forge new paths in our own writing, create new doors into new imaginations?

In this five-week online workshop we’ll explore a range of poets in translation from non-US countries and non-English languages, venturing to a new location each week. We’ll look at the ways in which these poets expand our sense of what a poem can do in English: how they push our understanding of syntax and line, how their use of metaphor departs from our own, how they build images in fresh ways. How does the translation of Alejandra Pizarnik’s (Argentina, Spanish/French) syntax reflect the terror and anxiety of her poems? How does Hagiwara Sakutaro (Japan, Japanese) invert and expand on traditional Japanese imagery, and how do we receive that? Through weekly readings and poetry prompts derived from those readings, we’ll attempt to replicate some of the techniques we find, and we’ll also generate drafts by attempting free translations of poems from their original language. No knowledge of a second language is necessary! This is a generative workshop, so we’ll be writing a poem every week. Weekly work for the course will be done asynchronously on Wet Ink, and the professor will provide video introductions to material and a one-on-one video conference with each student.

Workshop Details


Ariel Francisco is the author of A Sinking Ship is Still a Ship (Burrow Press, 2020), All My Heroes Are Broke (C&R Press, 2017) and Before Snowfall, After Rain (Glass Poetry Press, 2016). His work has been published by the New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Academy of American Poets, New York City Ballet and many other venues. A poet and translator born in the Bronx to Dominican and Guatemalan parents and raised in Miami, he earned his MFA at Florida International University and is a visiting professor in the MFA in Writing & Publishing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.