Translations of my poetry

THURSDAY, August 15, 2013

This past Sunday I received a list of three dozen poems that Jose Rico and Robin Myers have proposed as the core of a book of poems to be translated into Spanish and published in Mexico. I first heard about the possibility of this project a couple months ago through Jose Rico, who has already translated some of my poems for a magazine called Circulo de Poesia. I have had other translators work on my writing over the years, but this is the largest scale on which this kind of work has ever occurred.

I have to confess that it feels a bit odd having a collection of my poems being translated into another language. It’s not that I haven’t written during the past 45 years with the hope of such a book appearing in my lifetime. I have found too much encouragement during my life from poets in other languages not to hope that my own writing might be able to do the same for a poet in another country. When I consider how many other poets are deserving of this honor, I’m somewhat surprised that my poems have managed to become the focus of a translator’s imagination. The list of poets with whom I have read at the Idyllwild Poetry Festival would certainly provide any aspiring translator with a score of equally worthy candidates:

Chris Abani

Ellen Bass

Christopher Buckley

Lucille Clifton

Wanda Coleman

Brendan Constantine

Richard Garcia

Eloise Klein Healy

Yusef Komunyakaa

Suzanne Lummis

Tom Lux

Harryette Mullen

Marilyn Nelson

Naomi Shihab Nye

Holly Prado

Doren Robbins

Aleida Rodriguez

Natasha Tretheway

Cecilia Woloch

Robert Wrigley


I hope all of my comrades can someday experience my excitement at the onset of this translation of my poems. Something must be astir in regards to my writing because I also recently received an e-mail from Zachary Payne in Spain, who spontaneously decided to translate some of my poems into Spanish. With his permission I am posting them on today’s entry. His translations are followed by the list that Jose and Robin sent me of their first pick of my work.

(translations by Zachary Payne)

three poems from Bittersweet Kaleidoscope

            tres poemas del Bittersweet Kaleidoscope




Objects linger when they move,

unaware of the day´s alignment

between your death and mine.




Objetos persisten cuando se mueven,

ignorantes del alineamiento del día

entre tu muerte y la mía.




My brain weighs the world and the world weighs stones

and rocks and trees. I know the world weighs more,


but my legs and back and neck insist raindrops

hanging from the needletips of a pine tree-


one I stood beside twenty years ago-are heavier

than thought, which adds no more weight to its origin


than a flower to a bee passing over damp petals.

Mysticism exaggerates, but so does the literal.


And to think the truth is in between

ignores the abyss that holds them apart.




Mi cerebro pesa el mundo y el mundo pesa piedras

y rocas y árboles.  Sé que el mundo pesa más,


pero mis piernas y espalda y cuello insisten gotas de lluvia

colgando desde las agujas verdes de un pino-


uno que paré al lado hace veinte años-son más pesados

que pensamientos, que no incrementan el peso de su origen


que una flor a la avispa volando sobre pétalos húmedos.

El misticismo exagera, pero también lo hace lo literal.


Y pensar que la verdad está entre medio

e ignora el abismo que los mantiene separados.




            For Bob Flanagan


Stunned by tequila from the night before,

I remember poking at embers as dawn

puffed its mist into a clearing. Bob sang

and coughed, sang and coughed. Even then,

I wondered how much longer he had.

Every time his body jerked, I winced.

I loved his improvised, contaminated genius.

Tonight he´s in the hospital again, alone,

and this poem is like a waitress who deserves

a big tip-half the bill-for telling me

it´s time to stop drinking coffee and drive over

and rescue him, perform the one miracle

I´m allowed in this life, but I´m not,

because Bob´s not the one I´m supposed to save.




Para Bob Flanagan


Atontado por el tequila de anoche,

recuerdo atizando las cenizas mientras el amanecer

sopló su vaho en un claro. Bob cantó

y tosió, cantó y tosió. Aún entonces,

me preguntaba cuánto tiempo más tenía.

Cada vez que su cuerpo sacudió, me agonizaba.

Me encantaba su improvisado, contaminado genio.

Esta noche está en el hospital de nuevo, solo,

y este poema es como una camarera que merece

una propina grande-la mitad del cuento-por decirme

es hora de dejar de tomar café e ir

y salvarle, hacer el único milagro

que me es permitido en esta vida, pero no,

porque Bob no es él quien yo debería salvar.






BILL MOHR – New & Selected Poems (1978-2012)


From The Headwaters of Nirvana

Why the Heart Never Develops Cancer


Dream Drain

The Bump


Ars poetica

The curiosity of Marlene K. Section 7

Compared to what

The restoration

The trolley problem

The foot bridges

Death’s real job

One miracle


Real days off

The ghoul convention

Reincarnation slaughterhouse

In the ocean of nothingness

The headwaters of Nirvana


From Poems from the 1980s

The Ambiguity of Motion

Naked chef


From Hidden Proofs


What allowed me to live to see this cat?

Scorpio in the summer

After rain


From Bitersweet Kaleidoscope



After many years of love

Bittersweet Kaleidoscope

The origins that memory considers

An answer

The offering

Elegy for Roy Orbinson

Eye chart for an orbiting space station

On the poetry of barbarians

How to quit writing poetry

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