Because it usually takes its source material from another language, register, or dialect, translation is inherently an act of reclamation. But no form of translation excites me quite the way homovocalic translation does. The reason is that homovocalic translation preserves the vowel sound sequence in a line but permits a degree of openness with everything else; sound is reclaimed but it is used toward the construction of entirely novel lines. Gale Nelson’s homovocalic translations of Shakespeare should strike you as familiar and strange at the same time—Hugh Kenner once quipped that Shakespeare was the only poet whose diction could never be predicted, and Nelson’s poetry preserves that excitement. But Nelson’s work is also strikingly original, managing to address topics as varied as city and keel in the span of one line. What emerges is something borrowed and something new, poetry that reclaims one aspect of the past to reconsider the present.
The present that Nelson explores is one that seems to constantly err. The kitchen “echoes/slip-ups” and spigots must be enlisted for the “cattle calls”. Ironically, this is a present where books seem to have less of a role in helping us in our “fused care” amidst crawling calamity—a strange assertion for a speaker relying on Shakespearean vowel sequences. Yet the “relief/as coils ache content’s place” evokes freedom as much as servitude, with “ache” suggesting a desired control and uncomfortable stirring. For me, I read this line as aesthetic statement, paralleling Nelson’s own relationship to the comforts of having a preconceived model for poetic construction but also struggling against that very form in the act of reclamation.
Such tensions form more of our daily lives than we’d like to admit. My life feels disordered if not for the calendar, the daily grind, a meal at seven o’clock. In “Their Vocal Soul Din”, Nelson injects high melodrama into a kettle. This kind of disparity works throughout the poem and registers both the dream and impossibility of a present without past, of comfort without domesticity. Culminating in a distaff forming “term limits, alas, a sham”, Nelson’s selection reclaims again and again that sense of novelty in a routine we thought was fixed.
Lasting Cure’s Ideal
Kitchens’ candor can echo slender
slip-ups. In calamity’s present
crawl, loud slate cuffs unnerve the
city’s keel. Enlist spigots in cattle calls
aireds claimed breeds
go hovering, legs in, thrust back. Treat
these pools evenly, beg
this count as done in. Vex
calamity’s back-chat lore, but
listen. All the fused care shuns
books paged there befouled
when miraged and preened. Lost,
we seek guardian’s grasp—
bottom’s soil unloops smug tally
in energy’s rough hand. This then relief
as coils ache content’s place.
Their Vocal Soul Din
Fissuring tempests, follow honor’s lead on
fine kettle’s terror and query timid
terraces—ideas linked and voiced
by that vapid saga singing all tracings that
show filament’s clone feasting. Evergreen youth—
shackle large smug corn sacks as loving troves
engaging pairs in color duets. Young console
shifts noon’s level on shading dares. Those
song birds sing of forest’s ground in accents last found
as torrid flasks shirk all grains—
the eight peaches bend as roundels keen. We
toast lax tippling, spar limp clogs, feel
quartz sting, or gag as clever agony slices
the shelf in half. Tribute not, but orate triad’s
fancy—distaff forms term limits, alas, in sham.