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Transom:
“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?

Duplan:
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 English.

Transom:
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 in it?

Duplan:
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.