“Traumgarten” flirts with the idea of translation: the German title,
the off-kilter syntax. Should we understand it as a kind of
translation? If so, from what to what?
As a child, my first languages were French and Haitian Creole. When we
immigrated to the US, I quickly forgot my French, somehow retained my
Creole, and gained the English language. Later on, when I was about
nine, we moved to Havana, so I picked up Spanish as well. The oddity of
language itself – the charade of language, as a friend of mine likes to
say – has always been important to me, such that, even though I
consider English to be my primary language, I always want to come face
to face with the syntactical otherness of the non-English languages
that I’ve accumulated.
I admire the translation that sustains the sense of the original
language, which tends to result strangely, since the foreignness of the
text is there preserved.
The poem occurred to me in a sort of dream German. (I am much more
proficient in German while I am asleep.) I wrote it in that stupor one
feels upon waking, just as the poem began to dictate itself to me. If
anything, it’s a translation from a jumble of dreamt idiolects into
This poem abounds with unnusally percussive verbs – “crackle,”
“ricochet,” “spark,” – but the poem seems to describe a dream state. Is
your poem, like Marianne Moore’s, an imaginary garden with real toads
Moore’s dictum is a daunting one – to combine the raw material of
poetry, in all its rawness, with the genuine. Of course, she’s right.
If the toads aren’t real, then what’s the use? What do we have to hold
onto? With regards to my own dream garden, it hadn’t occurred to me
that the poem’s percussiveness was its pathway to the genuine, but I
celebrate that idea – as though the aural collisions of “crackle,”
“pluck,” and “suck” were piercing through the aether of the
dream-state. I wanted for the garden to feel sincere, despite all its
playfulness – which isn’t to say that play and sincerity are mutually
exclusive. In fact, one is perhaps most sincere in the depths of play.