March 29, 2023

Endorsed by … (updated periodically)

Timothy Green, Rattle
Katie Dozier (KHD), The NFT Poetry Gallery
RG Evans, Imagine Sisyphus Happy
Gordon Kippola
Joshua Eric Williams, The Strangest Conversation
Ana María Caballero
Michael T. Young, The Infinite Doctrine of Water
Abby Steiner,
Jess Britton
Frank Beltrano
Kimberly Williams
Dick Westheimer
Christine Potter
Gwendolyn Soper
Alexandra Umlas, At the Table of the Unknown
David motame
Hannah Levy, The Rebis
J. O’Nym
Neall Calvert, editor of 72 books
Julian Matthews, Trinetizen
Mohammed Yusuf
Monica Flegg, Somewhere in the Cycle
Melissa Coffey, Scrittura
Jean Berry
Margaret Kiernan
Kari Gunter-Seymour, Women Speak Anthologies
Rachel Custer, Flatback Sally Country
Lisa Venes
Sophia Bischoff, wordstobepoetry
Jamison Dove
Debra Harmon
Sylvie Bax
Tom Barlow
Pamela Ross
Ankit Raj Ojha, The Hooghly Review; Pinpricks
CR Green
Cindy Patrick
Mark Danowsky, ONE ART: a journal of poetry
Wayne Benson, American Writers Review
Richard Gilbert, Heliosparrow Poetry Journal
Rumaisa Maryam Samir
Biswajit Mishra, 365-Ramblings of an Insomniac
Joe Barca
John Atkinson
Dotty LeMieux, Henceforth I Ask Not Good Fortune; Viruses, Guns and War
Karen Mooney, Missing Pieces & co-author of Penned In
Paul Corbeil
Susan DiPronio
Rowan Ferrie
Kagen Aurencz Zethmayr
Keith Gorman
Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose, Imago, Dei; Wild Things
Virginia Parfitt
Daniel Dicks
Mary Moreno
Ann van Wijgerden
Olga Klekner
X. P. Callahan
Lory Widmer Hess
David Eadington
Pris Campbell, Truth and Other Lies
Lauren O’Donovan, HOWL New Irish Writing
Wess Mongo Jolley, The Last Handful of Clover
Cindy Guentherman
Denise Garvey
Clare MacQueen, MacQueen’s Quinterly
Matt Mason, I Have a Poem the Size of the Moon
Raka Chaki
Jeffry L Littlejohn
Kathy Figueroa, Paudash Poems; Flowertopia; The Cathedral of the Eternal Blue Sky
Charlotte Innes
Carla Schwartz, Signs of Marriage
B. J. Buckley, In January, the Geese
Barbara Schweitzer, 33 1/3: Soap Opera Sonnets
Sarah Zacharias
Sean Kelbley
Stephen DiLauro
Heather Hubler, Vocal; Medium
Erica Reid
Bill Garvey
Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, All the Honey; Hush; Naked for Tea
elizabeth beck
Jack Powers, Everybody’s Vaguely Familiar; Still Love
Jody Stewart, This Momentary World: Selected Poems 1975-2014
Rebecca Graves
Dana Reddick
Lesley-Anne Evans, Mute Swan; Poems for Maria Queen of the World
Stephen Grant, 149 Paintings You Really Need to See in North America (co-author)
Susan L Lipson
Clayton Clark
Cathy Hailey, I’d Rather Be a Hyacinth
Robbi Nester
Susan L Lipson
Judy Kronenfeld, Groaning and Singing; Bird Flying through the Banquet
Jendi Reiter, Winning Writers
Jennifer Phillips, A Song of Ascents
Carol Coven Grannick, Reeni’s Turn
Christine Pennylegion
Carol Shamon, A Different More
Jeanne Chinard
Katherine Matiko
Deborah J.Ranz-Smith
Miranda Barfuss
Maxima Kahn, Fierce Aria
Chris Arvidson, The House Inside My Head
Seif-Eldeine Och, Voices from a Forgotten Letter: Poems on the Syrian Civil War
Lois Baer Barr, Tracks: Poems on the “L”
Perie Longo, Baggage Claim: Poems
Scott Waters, Arks, a poetry chapbook curated by Selcouth Station press
John Maney
Scott Smith
Brandyce Ingram
Hadley Grace
Freya Rohn, The Ariadne Archive
Paula Lepp
Elizabeth McCarthy
Todd Heldt
Gillian Mellor
Laura Turnbull
Robert Bensen, Woodland Arts Editions
Kirk Swearingen
Kim Goldberg, Devolution
Nadia Ibrashi
Nathalie C.M. Sabbagh
William Butler, Pure Slush
Randall McNair, The #Barpoems Series
Margret Lockwood
Margaret Rosenau
Sharon Lopez Mooney
Colleen Bak, Breadcrumbs
David Q Hutcheson-Tipton
Julie Daniels
Ellen Austin-Li, Firefly; Lockdown: Scenes from Early in the Pandemic
Autumn Newman
Andrea Ferrari Kristeller
Andrew Glen
Beatriz F. Fernandez, The Ocean Between Us
Francis Hicks, The Long Ride: Learning About Life From An Outlaw Biker
Sabne Raznik, AvantAppal(achia)
Sue Reynolds, Piquant Press
Diane Haynes, Jane Ray’s Wildlife Rescue Series
Jim Stewart, Ochoco Reach; White Ravens: and More Stories
Roger Desy
Rachel Kellum,
Martha Klein Henrickson
Wesley Houp
Dig Wayne, Hip Pockets
Michael dupuy
Candace Kubinec
Louise Moises
Aurore Sibley, All These Little Remonstrations
Joe Wilcox
Marian O’Shea Wernicke, Toward That Which is Beautiful; Out of Ireland
Dave Cavanagh, The Somnambulist; The Good Life
Art Curtis
Claudia Putnam, The Land of Stone and River
Joannah Whitney
Mike Brubaker
Bruce Niedt, The Bungalow of Colorful Aging
Jimmy Pappas, Falling off the Empire state Building
Dawn DeVoe
Debra Bennett
Marcia Morley
Cynthia Pratt
Jay J Pennington
Lily Prigioniero
Cindy Gore
Colin Hopkirk, Natured
Catharine Bramkamp
Lisa Lopresti, Bird Song; Nectar in the Silences
Carl Heap
Lara Phelps
Diana Fusting
Christa fairbrother
David Colodney, Mimeograph
Stephanie Johnson, Novel Slices
Esther Ottaway, Blood Universe; Intimate, Low-voiced, Delicate Things; She Doesn’t Seem Autistic
William Welch, Doubly Mad
Ceci Webb
Kelly Sargent, Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion
Elizabeth Boquet, Galoshes
Walter Crump
April Manteris
Sabrina (Brie) Manno, A Momma & Her Pen
Mari Maxwell
Michael Blumenthal, Poems, Selected & New, 1980-2023
Janet Pollock Millar
Mary Magee
April Ridge
Stanford M. Forrester/sekiro, Bottle Rockets Press
hannah brooks
Jack Byrom, Stories from the Road
Liza Moore
Joshua Johnson, @Haiku10k
Meg Weston,; Magma Intrusions
Lynne Bronstein, Nasty Girls
Ann Lilly Jose
Mark Cassidy
Holly G Jahangiri
Susy Kamber
Jeff Siggins, The Tranquility Calendar
Carolyn Martin, Kosmos Quarterly
Nolcha M Fox, Open Arts Forum; Cow Candy
Carol Levin
Thomas Allbaugh, The View from January
TA Dugan
Laurel Hedges, The Evil Lurker
Patricia Smith Ranzoni
Barb McCullough
Iris Arenson-Fuller
Ron Perovich
Peter A. Witt
Richard Simonds
Aaron Wulf, Dragonband Tales series
Dale Going, The View They Arrange
Lauren Sylvia Foster
Prartho Sereno, Indian Rope Trick; Elephant Raga
Mary Meriam, Lavender Review
St. Leger “Monty” Joynes
Deborah Tobola, Hummingbird in Underworld: Teaching in a Men’s Prison
Troy Johnson
Michael New
Martyn Crucefix
Nancy Foley
Michelle Ballou
Lollie Butler
Susan Dines
Mrs Sylvia Mary Clare, Mindfully Speaking
Carl “Papa” Palmer
Sarah Goettsch
Lucy Griffith
Irfan Afzal
Kaisa Miller
Les Brown, Cold Forge
Sujata Lakhe
Effy Wild
Kelly Davis,
Emma Wasserman
Dean Robbins, Dean Robbins’ Poetry
Donna Henderson, The Eddy Fence
Nancy R. Yang
Janice Mathis, Broken Bits for the Mosaic; Clouds in the Looking Glass
Chad Norman, A Matter of Inclusion
Cristy Watson
Paul-Newell Reaves,
Alexey Deyneko
Ray Liversidge
Ursula Vaira, And See What Happens
Anurima Shivade
Maurice Corlett
Mark, Approaching Poetry
Eugene Datta
Martha Klein Henrickson
Aaron Sandberg
Thomas Terceira
Mary Dean Carter
Deborah Kennedy, Nature Speaks: Art and Poetry for the Earth
Malvika Vazalwar
Michael Salcman, The Clock Made of Confetti; The Enemy of Good is Better
Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca, Family Sunday; Light of the Sabbath
Byung A. Fallgren
Brian O’Sullivan
James Higgins
Irene Fick, The Stories We Tell; The Wild Side of the Window
Karen Stone
Pamela Leavey
Faye Turner Johnson
Jim Feeney
Nupur, Insta Gita, Insta Women
Maureen Hurley
Emilio Carrero, Southeast Review
Susan Polizzotto, Tree Frogs or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying
Glen Hunting
Lindsey Harrington
Gale Sprinkle Tousignant
Brenda Martin
Danilo Art-Merbitz
Martina Robles Gallegos, Grab the Bull by the Horns: Escaped Death to Face Hell
Caitlin M.S. Buxbaum, Red Sweater Press
Gerry Stefanson
JoyAnne O’Donnell, Heaven’s Medal
Stewart Florsheim, Amusing the Angels
Katharine Weinmann,
Susan Niemi
Joseph Chaney, Wolfson Press
Earl Keener
Tajender Singh Luthra
Laura Johnson, The Color of Truth; Not Yet
Kelly O’Brien-Yetto, Impressions
Amy Coulombe
Kari martindale, Pen in Hand (co-editor)
Mary Chris Bailey, 805 Art and Lit (guest editor)
Lolo 2inj, Honey & Gravel
Jefferson Carter, Yesternow
Danielle Alexich
Doug Jacquier,
Suzanne Biro,
Stephanie Gail Eagleson
Glenn Pape
H. Ní Aódagaín
Lyndsay Wheble
Rachel Pollock, Exit Wound; Journey to Long Nose
Debbie Walker-Lass
Ana Neculicioiu
Margot Suydam
Barry Casey, Wandering, Not Lost
Laura Esther Sciortino
Celia Sorhaindo, Radical Normalisation; Guabancex
Stacia O’Connell
Rose Lennard
Jason Conway, Steel Jackdaw
Vincent Brincat
B.A. Van Sise
Zakia R Khwaja
Olivia Spring, SICK magazine
Paul Lawrence Andino, Here, A collection of Poems & Art
Trevor Cunnington, The Invisible Truth
Marc Wheeler
Thomas E. Strunk, Transfigurations
Erica Freiburger
Adyasha Priyadarshini
Wendy Babiak, Conspiracy of Leaves
Elena Falcon
Elaine Sorrentino
Allen Blair, The Uncommon GRACkle
Carolyn Breedlove
Robin Gabbert
Jason Z Guest, Wild Words: A Poetry Newsletter
Linda McQuarrie-Bowerman
Julie Steiner
Sourajit roy
Sandra Inskeep-Fox
Petros Isaakidis
Joji Mathew
Hannele Luhtasela
Karin Evans, The Lost Daughters of China
Susie Whelehan, The Sky Laughs at Borders
Scott Hammond
Anjali Pandey
Jason Conway, Steel Jackdaw
Floyd Brigdon
Amber Shockley
JoyAnne O’Donnell, Heaven’s Medal
Kath Abela Wilson, Poets Salon,
Elena de Roo, The Rain Train
Sage Cohen, Writing the Life Poetic
Garrett J Brown
Laurie Flanigan
Nikita Parik, My City is a Murder of Crows
Sara Costantino
David Cooke, Poetry Boxes
Adam Summers, My garden is a girl

February 17, 2022

Tribute to Librarians

Conversation with
Janice N. Harrington

The Spring 2022 issue of Rattle featured a Tribute to Librarians. Librarians work on the front lines of literature and are often the last bulwark against censorship, as we discuss with former librarian Janice N. Harrington in the conversation section. The theme includes 16 poems by librarians and their always-interesting contributor notes. The open section features 22 poets exploring the mysteries of life, both large and small.



Audio Available Kathleen Balma Salmon Shreds in Gravy
Norma Bernstock What I Remember About That Dress
Audio Available Tony Burfield Field Glasses
Audio Available Janice N. Harrington Connecting Flights
Audio Available Becca J.R. Lachman Both Goal and Medicine
Audio Available T.J. McGuire The Mozart Effect
Audio Available Jackie McManus Dock Grade Road
Audio Available Elizabeth McMunn-Tetangco Leaf Cutter
Audio Available Jessy Randall Sylvia Plath’s Handwriting
Audio Available Stewart Shaw My Breath Is Recycled
Audio Available Catherine St. Denis Lucky Ones 
Audio Available Betsy Fogelman Tighe Alphabets Are Like Cows in Sunlight
Audio Available Asa West Offering
Audio Available E.A. Wilberton Visiting My Mother’s Wars
Audio Available Martin Willitts Jr. The Librarian and the Sullen Blank Paper
Elizabeth S. Wolf When the Phone Rings

Open Poetry

Olabimpe Adedamola Back to the Beginning Which Is to Say …
Audio Available Porsha Allen A Prayer
Audio Available Jessica Barlevi Unborn
Audio Available Sara Beck On a Square on a Screen
Audio Available Alexandra Bessette Day 274
Audio Available Mike Bove To My Son on September 15th
Audio Available Tara Bray Memoir
Audio Available Christine Degenaars Swimmers in the Caribbean
Audio Available Raquel Franco An Alternate Universe Where Safety Is …
Audio Available Oli Isaac Hyacinth in Heaven Wondering Why …
Audio Available Jill Kandel How Much Do You Weigh?
Audio Available David Kirby Mass Shootings: A Biography
Audio Available Gary Lark Lenny’s Day
Audio Available Campbell McGrath The Fire
Jeff McRae Kurt Vonnegut Stepped Off the Plane
Audio Available Linda Michel-Cassidy Buoyant
Brian Morrison Lighting the Rocket
Audio Available Jim Peterson The Light
Cati Porter In the Checkout Line at Rite Aid,
e.a. toles What Does Black Taste Like
E.D. Watson Father, Daughter, Hungry Ghost
Tiffany Wu Regulation


Janice N. Harrington (web)

Cover Art

Sherry Shahan (web)

April 17, 2018

Notable News from Past Contributors to Rattle

Note: click the issue # links to find some of their poems!


Art Beck (The Impertinent Duet) has published his translation of Martial, Mea Roma. Starting with a “dissenting” translation of Martial’s Book of the Spectacles, Back translates 130 poems “strictly from a literary standpoint.” (October 17, 2018)

Chaun Ballard (issue #60, PR) won the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize from Tupelo Press for Flight. Judge Major Jackson described it as “… songs that celebrate the miracle of endurance in a country defined by the peculiar phenomenon of race.” (July 19, 2018)

Rodrigo Dela Pena, Jr. (Ekphrastic Challenge) just published on his first book, Aria and Trumpet Flourish! Frequent Rattle contributor Luisa A. Igloria blurbed that “these poems sings always out of a sense of urgency underwritten by love.” (July 13, 2018)

Donna Hilbert (issue #57) just published on her New & Selected book, Gravity, with Tebot Bach! “Donna Hilbert’s poems are brave, unsparing and heartfelt revealing a woman’s life in a way that is universal,” says Joan Colby. (June 28, 2018)

Martin Ott (issue #20) just published his eighth book, Lessons In Camouflage, which “spans his turmoil as a U.S. Army interrogator to conflicts personal in nature …” (June 24, 2018)

Chera Hammons the 2017 PEN Southwest Book Award for poetry! Two of the poems in her book, The Traveler’s Guide to Bomb City, appeared in Rattle: “Sparrows” and “Tornado Alley” (June 15, 2018)

Lynne Knight has a new book, The Language of Forgetting! Lynne has appeared in seven issues of Rattle and #PoetsRespond, and was winner of the 2009 Rattle Poetry Prize. Order the book from @Sixteen_Rivers Press! (April 27, 2018)

Timothy Liu (issues #43, #47, Poets Respond) has a New & Selected book, Luminous Debris, just out from Barrow Street. “Timothy Liu is a poet faithful to forms of unruliness,” says Roberto Tejada. (April 27, 2018)

Luisa A. Igloria (issue #24, 27, 59 & Poets Respond) has a new book, “The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-life Crisis from Phoenicia Publishing. “Poem after poem reveals the Buddha.” (April 17, 2018)

John Gosslee (issues #39 and 56) has a new book, Fish Boy, where “he turns to face the raw nerve of grief with guts and grit.”

George Bilgere (issues #51, 57, and more) has a new book, Blood Pages. “The poems in Blood Pages take the bland surfaces of our daily lives and beat the daylights out of them.” (April 17, 2018)

• Big congrats to Malachi Jones (RYPA 2017) on winning a $10,000 scholarship through the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards! (April 17, 2018)

Lowell Jaeger (issues #26, 37, 59) has a new book, Earth-Blood & Star-Shine: “… poetry turns every-day life into a meditation on what it means to be human.” (April 17, 2018)

Yakov Azriel (issue #59) also has a new book, Closet Sonnets: The Life of G. S. Crown (1950–2021), which “turns life as a closeted gay male into an aesthetic form …” (April 17, 2018)

• Finally, congrats to Michael P. McManus (issue #24 and more) on his new book, The Buddha Knot, a book about love, death, and “the slow erosion of all we cannot keep.” (April 17, 2018)

October 6, 2016

Art Beck


this speechlessness, as if it weren’t enough
for me to keep quiet, as if I’ve been assigned
nasty keepers—a persecutor
who strolls into my cell
four or five times a day
to remind me in his memorized English—
“No talk. No words. No speaking
allowed.” But as he leaves the cell-block, the steel

doors ringing in the air, the guards’ fear
lingers like cologne as if they know
the simplest language can destroy these walls.
Know, even if they were to tear out
my tongue, shatter my cellmates’ ears,
our fingertips dancing in code
would recite the story of the resurrection
and the life. It’s the inexplicable
illusion of solitude that keeps me silent.

from Rattle #15, Summer 2001
Tribute to the Underground Press

Rattle Logo

August 1, 2016

Zeina Hashem Beck

« 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner »


3arabi Song by Zeina Hashem Beck3arabi Song is a song of sorrow and joy, death and dance. Yes there is unrest, war, and displacement in countries like Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and Egypt. But there is also survival, music, and love. Iconic Arab singers like Umm Kulthum, Fairuz, and Abdel Halim Hafez, inhabit these poems—they mourn and celebrate. So do children, parents, refugees, and lovers. These poems want to hum you stories that straddle the personal and the political, in an English riddled with Arabic words. The voices in them want to mourn for loved ones and broken homelands, but they also want to sing, as Asmahan does, “inta inta imta—you you when / will you know I love you.”


Praise for 3arabi Song

Rarely does poetry seem to matter more than while reading the work of Zeina Hashem Beck—a poet of immense talent and passion who is clearly at the beginning of a long and important literary career. 3arabi Song is a book of displacement and connection, of gravity and grace, and the human music that binds us all together. It’s a tribute to the Arab world and Arab singers, to refugees and refusal, to hope and home, to sorrow and song. Like no other collection we’ve read, these poems feel absolutely necessary. This little book will break your heart and then mend it.
Rattle Editors

“Give me your pain and I will break it into quarter notes.” From the beginning, 3arabi Song opens the broken world and finds the shards beneath shimmering with beauty and hope. These poems ache with the music of reverie, balm for a torn country where grief and loss are as common as prayer. War, ritual, songs on the radio, lovers, friends and family all echo in this haunting collection, the poems calling us to return over and over, to endure, like the mother who urges, “‘Don’t be afraid, just sing it,’ …/ ‘Sabbouha means Sabah means morning,’/ she said. Not mourning with a ‘u.’ Yes, that thing that shines.”
—Dorianne Laux

These poems are brilliantly balanced between languages, between nostalgia and news, between Self and Other. I could read them over and over like, well, playing a favourite Fairouz record, but here the words are the music and the words recreate a world I love, savour and mourn.
—Marilyn Hacker

Sample Poems

•“This Country: Ghazal for Abdel Halim Hafez” in Rattle online
•“Pantoum for Sabbouha” in Rattle online
•“Ya’aburnee” in Rattle’s Poets Respond
•“Ghazal: Back Home” in Rattle’s Poets Respond
•“Adhan” in 32 Poems
•“3arabi Song” performed live with the Fayha Choir in Lebanon, live on YouTube:

About the Author

Zeina Hashem BeckZeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her first collection, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. She’s also the author of the chapbook There Was and How Much There Was, a smith|doorstop Laureate’s Choice, selected by Carol Ann Duffy. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Forward Prize, and has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, and The Rialto, among others. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Dubai, where she has founded and runs PUNCH, a poetry and open mic collective. Zeina is a strong performer of her poetry, and has participated in literary festivals in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States. (website)



Cover art by Yazan Halwani
“Arabic Musicalligraphy,” ink on paper, A4

ISBN: 978-1-931307-30-7
Cover price: $6.00
Chapbook: 40 pages
Size: 6″ x 9″


August 31, 2014

Rare & Retired Content

Rattle has been in continuous publication since 1995, and over the years we’ve experimented with a large number of side projects. For several years, for example, we were publishing a new poetry book review online every fifth day—you’ll find hundreds of those reviews on our e-Reviews page. Before we shifted to quarterly production, we published a series of e-Issues in the spring and fall, with original content and previews of the forthcoming issue—you’ll find those, below, as well, along with many other odds and ends. Some of them, like the book interviews and Poets in Prose essays, may return from time to time. Others, like Critique of the Week and the Ekphrastic Challenge, are ongoing. But they’re all archived here for you to enjoy!



Audio Archive 1,000+ mp3s (now indexed on issue pages)
Book Interviews Poets discuss their recent books
Contributor News Regularly updated updates from Rattle contributors
Conversations Anthology 14 of the best Rattle conversations
Critique of the Week A live video workshop
E-Issues 12 free PDF downloads
Ekphrastic Challenge Monthly Art-Inspired Poetry
E-Reviews 8 years of book reviews by our readers
Eye Contact A look at visual poetry with Dan Waber
Impertinent Duet Translating poetry with Art Beck
MicroReviews Brief reviews that lasted briefly
Poets in Prose Essays by poets on any topic
Workshop Program Free copies for free classes

March 27, 2013

Art Beck



I. Macaroni con Corazone

Not too long ago, I came across a selection of Sephardic proverbs gathered by Michael Castroi, a skilled poet and translator. He’d collected these sayings in Ladino (the Judeo- Spanish of the Sephardic Jews) mostly from family sources with the aid of a cousin and the memories of older relatives. Most of the proverbs were clear, while still managing to retain a unique sense of place and culture:

He who runs, falls.
Do, but don’t brag.
Grain by grain, the chicken fills its intestines.
Moses may be dead, but God endures …

But there was one fascinating old saying that didn’t seem at all clear to me: Cominos macarones, alambicos corazones. We ate macaroni and licked our hearts.

The image seemed so jolly, a plate of buttery pasta and something intimate, maybe even erotic? A meal reminiscent of the Tom Jones movie scene? I had no idea, but the proverb sang to me. Finally, I asked the editor of the journal in which they appeared if he could put me in touch with Michael Castro.

Michael’s reply was revelatory. He said his sense of the saying’s meaning was “somewhat conjectural,” but that it “tended to be applied in conversations about surviving periods of poverty. Licked our hearts in this context would mean something like ‘consoled ourselves and each other,’ ‘got by on love,’ etc.”

We ended up agreeing that an American equivalent might be something like: We made do with beans and dreams. But while “beans and dreams” might be an equivalent idiom, it draws its energy from another culture and loses the unique images of the Ladino. It transcribes a delicate minor key riff for the guitar, to a hardscrabble banjo.

On the other hand, a Sephardic Ladino speaker wouldn’t be aware of anything exotic or out of the commonplace in the expression. And, from a translation standpoint, if you retain the exotic aspects, aren’t you just adding embellishments that aren’t really there in the original? Ladino, like Yiddish, is a fading language, spoken mainly among the dwindling old. Should an English translation of an old Ladino saying be automatically archaic and foreign? Or is equivalence what a translator should aim for? The dichotomy between the approaches is a core question in translation theory. And there’s probably no single right answer.

Consider the following: Das ist mir Wurscht is a commonplace Austrian colloquial phrase, more or less equivalent to “I don’t give a hoot.” When an Austrian friend saw it translated literally in a New Yorker article as “It’s all sausage to me,” she was incensed at the implication that Austrians spoke in quaint, cute imagery. To the American journalist who wrote the article, this was the point of quoting the literal phrase. But to my friend, a direct translation seemed somehow to infer Austrians were bumpkins. Still, how could any American reporter pass over such colorful language from the politician being interviewed?

II. Yankee Doodle’s Macaroni

Then there’s that other macaroni. The refrain that ends: … stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni. It’s a song we all know, a song taught to six-year-old school-kids. But, how many of those kids, or even their teachers, know what the line means? It’s become simply a nonsense rhyme, although one that’s easy to research.

And when you do, you find that “macaroni” was 18th century English slang for a dandy, a Beau Brummell. And so the original meaning, from a British standpoint mocking the colonists, was that Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his rough cap and decreed it the height of fashion. But the song was too good for the colonists not to take up. And in winning their rebellion, the macaroni feather became a badge of honor—a finger in the face of the Crown.

Now, we’ve lost all that because macaroni/dandy has slipped so far out of our language. Should we change the lyrics when we sing to something like “… stuck a feather in his cap and called it high style”? Well, someone more skilled than me would have to work on the rhymes and a better equivalent. Still, how would you translate the old phrase into, say, French, if you were doing it today? Archaically? Or would “macaroni” become “haute couture”?

Is it an under- or overstatement that in trying to translate an idiom, you’re as often as not going to find yourself between the devil and the deep blue sea? I mean it really is a fine kettle of fish you’re stirring.

III. So what’s an idiom, really?

The MS Word dictionary on my computer gives the primary definition of “idiom” as “a distinctive and often colorful expression whose meaning cannot be understood from the combined meanings of the individual words.” But secondary definitions are: “the way of using a particular language that comes naturally to its native speakers,” or “the style or expression of a specific individual group,” and/or “the characteristic style of an artist or artistic group.”

So “idiomatic” can cover a wide range—from “conversational usage” to something akin to the black holes of language—expressions that began as bright images but have since imploded into a mute energy; indecipherable passwords shared by initiates. The one commonality, I think, is that idiom is language that taps an internal energy apart from the speaker’s intent or control. Or as G.K. Chesterton put it (at the beginning and near the end of a 1901 essay): “The one stream of poetry which is continually flowing is slang …” And later: “All slang is metaphor and all metaphor is poetry.”

Almost every idiom begins with an image—even though that image often becomes so blurred through usage, similar to the image on a worn coin, that the image is no longer essential to the currency. Translating idiom is tough enough in prose, but it’s that still pulsing wellspring of underlying imagery that can really roil the water if you happen to be translating poetry.

IV: King Harald’s Blue Tooth

In our world everything is accelerated, and the blurring process can happen quickly. Most everyone knows—at least in passing—what “Bluetooth” does. It allows wireless connection of various electronic devices.

As a bit of background, the electronic protocol was negotiated by a consortium of major manufacturers to enable any Bluetooth device to “talk to” any other without regard to different individual software or competitive formats.
But why the name Bluetooth? Because the consortium of competitors named it after the tenth-century Danish King Harald Bluetooth, who “united warring factions.” Even knowing this, who thinks of King Harald when they use a Bluetooth device? Not even the most nerdish among us, I’d guess.

In the nature of things, Bluetooth, like VHS and Beta will, sooner probably than later, pass into the graveyard of old technology. But let’s say that before that happens, one of us became inspired to use Bluetooth in a poem. Maybe a love poem entitled, say, “Electricity”:

… our fingers didn’t need to touch,
when we glanced, our eyelashes were already entangled.
Your whisper was Bluetooth tickling my tongue.

Well, I pulled those lines out of my butt, but say they were better and that something came of the poem, that it got good enough to be anthologized, and some fifty or a hundred years from now someone wanted to translate it into German or Chinese. Let’s say five hundred years from now, long after the minutiae of today’s high tech is as obscure as the highly engineered parts of ancient racing chariots. Think what fun a 26th century translator might have with “Bluetooth.”

Think how impossible it would be for someone in another culture and separated by five hundred years to get it right. In the context of accelerating change, the average educated reader knows more about the minutiae of the Classical world than the seventeenth or eighteenth century, mainly because up until that time our ancestors had longer cultural memories and wrote all this stuff down. If change keeps accelerating, how could someone five hundred years from now hope to research a technology that probably will last less than ten years?

So think how many ways there might be in 2610 to get the Bluetooth whisper wrong. Was Bluetooth a drink? Obviously. Some sort of vodka, no doubt. No, a type of oyster, ergo a late twentieth century euphemism for a forbidden sexual practice.

An intuitive poet-translator might simply finally choose to ignore “Bluetooth” and, taking a cue from the title, emend the line to “your whisper was electricity tickling my tongue.”

In fact, saying that, I’m thinking that “Bluetooth” might make a better title for the poem than “Electricity,” and electricity is better than Bluetooth in the line. But then translators could argue about the title. Is “Bluetooth” a woman’s name, perchance? A disease? Some sort of dental tattoo?

But what if, five hundred years from now, a translator did stumble on not only the definition but the etymology of Bluetooth? And what if that translator decided to utilize the image implicit in Bluetooth: King Harald uniting the warring factions.

Then, we’d have something like: “your whisper was a truce tickling my tongue.” On the one hand, maybe a more interesting, more complex poem—and a better poem? But if so, isn’t the translator mining something that wasn’t really there? Adding an embellishment that wouldn’t have occurred to any twentieth century reader.

But why not, if it adds to the 25th century translation? If it produces a real poem that resonates with 25th century readers, what harm’s done to the long since worm-eaten original poet? To the competitors who coined the word, Bluetooth was, above all, a productive detente. A format that avoided expensive, needless product wars. To its users, Bluetooth, with its strange alliterative name, evokes a sort of magic, an electronic ESP. A glowing tooth of sorts. Cool electricity. But these are the kind of resonances that will be hopelessly lost five hundred years from now. If the hypothetical Bluetooth poem is somehow resurrected in that hypothetical future, other—as yet unimagined—resonances will have to replace them.

V. The Way of All Flesh

Bluetooth is an artificial example. An advertising agency’s inspiration. Natural idioms are richer. Especially when it comes to sex, death or disaster.

A troll of the internet will yield several guesses at the origin of the phrase “bought it”—as in, “He bought the farm.” But all seem to agree it originated among wartime pilots. The first time I heard it was from auto racers. With the connotation that this was the way you “retired” from a dangerous occupation. Similar to the way “he graduated” is used to describe someone fired from a corporation. Or the way old women talk about their friends in the nursing home—“she’s in the finishing school,” where she “talks to her parents.”

On a more ancient level, there’s sarcophagus. Literally, in Greek, “flesh eater.” A word taken into Latin that apparently began as an idiom and that we now use in English without much awareness of its ghoulish image. What funeral director would suggest consigning a loved one to a “flesh eater”? This was something I should have known but didn’t know some twenty years ago when I was translating a Luxorius poem about a sarcophagus. I say “should have known” because Luxorius, a grammarian writing around 525 A.D. would have almost certainly been aware of the Greek etymology.

Rilke, in his 1907 poem “Roman Sarcophagi,” certainly seems aware of the etymology when he says “inside slowly self consuming garments/ a slowly loosened something lay—/ till it was swallowed by the unknown mouths/that never speak…” (Edward Snow’s translationii).

And again in the “Sonnet to Orpheus #10,” first part—about now vacant ancient sarcophagai—“I greet those gaping re-opened mouths/ torn away from any doubts/ who know now, what silence means” (my translation).
But Luxorius puts a somewhat different spin on the image-rich word:

De sarcophago ubi turpia sculpta fuerant
Turpis tot tumulo defixit crimina Balbus,
Post superos spurco Tartara more premens.
Pro facinus! Finita nihil modo vita retraxit!
Luxuriam ad Manes moecha sepulcra gerunt.


The notorious Balbus, who furiously chiseled
all the filth he could on his own coffin—
as if he could pump and bugger the underworld
into some kind of submission … If he’d had time
to think, would he be ashamed of himself?

His recent death had no effect
on the continuing flow of that raucous life,
that coffin, like one of his erections
carried in solemn funeral procession
to a pale, insatiable tomb.

Before getting into the flesh-eating coffin in this poem, I should mention (especially to those who read Latin) that my translation is fairly loose and expanded. This approach, I think, befits translating a poet whose work for the most part survived in only one early medieval manuscript with no way to check copyist’s mistakes. And with titles believed added by monks as a way of cataloguing artifacts of a no longer relevant pagan world.

Luxorius is fraught with obscurity—a voice lost for a thousand years until the manuscript containing his poems resurfaced in the 1600s. So any attention is better than the attention he’s gotten. The only real harm a translator can do with a poet like Luxorius is to be boring.

So I stretched out and embellished as the spirit took me. One of the things Luxorius didn’t exactly say was “insatiable tomb.” What he said was moecha sepulcra—“adulteress tomb.” (If in fact that’s even what he said, since “moecha” represents a 19th century scholar’s best guess emendation of an otherwise unknown word.)

What’s interesting though is the way the insatiable flesh eating idiom/image found it’s way into my translation—without my even thinking about what may have prompted Luxorius to portray the same kind of Roman sarcophagus that Rilke characterized as a mouth—as a man eating, desperate housewife. In retrospect, maybe it’s a better translation for my not being conscious of the way the underlying goulish idiom pulses through the poem like a half-remembered nightmare.

VI. Akira Kurosowa’s Idiomatic Dream

Flaubert, in an 1853 letter to Louise Colet, writes:

What seems to me the highest and most difficult achievement of art, is not to make us laugh or cry, nor to arouse our lust or rage, but to do what nature does—to set us dreaming … iii

In his 1990 film, Dreams, Akira Kurosowa explores this aesthetic. The film is a sequence of eight dreams presented in what’s been characterized as “magical realist” mode. It’s a highly personal work in that each episode is purported to depict an actual dream of the director, who turned 80 in the year the film was released.

The first episode is entitled “Sunshine Through the Rain” and has at its heart an idiom, “the foxes are getting married” or “the foxes’ wedding.” This is an expression used in Japan and Korea for a sun-shower—rainfall while the sun is shining. And, with some animal variations (monkey, jackal, wolf, rat, bear), it also appears in many Asian, African and European languages. But the image is as hermetic as it is universal. An idiom that seems to exist at a core of language so deep and ancient that no matter how deeply we reach, it no longer makes decipherable sense—an artifact, ur-idiom.

It’s not hard to imagine the expression coming from a time before written language. From a time when, possibly, our ancestors imagined magical animals who were guardians of the sun-shower, the way ancient demigods were said to guard sacred groves and streams.

Or, not so much a name for the sun-shower phenomenon, as an arcane description of the imagined dynamic, an image in itself as mysterious as sun-showers. Or an ejaculation uttered almost like a protective charm in response to a magical occurrence. The “foxes’ wedding” could be any or all of these things.

Kurosawa’s “Sunshine Through the Rain” is an enigmatic journey into that ancient image. His dream-episode is as short, haunting, and ephemeral as a sun-shower. Adjectives that might also apply to lyric poetry, a territory into which Kurosawa’s episode implicitly enters.

The “dream” begins with a boy of around six running into the courtyard of a large but traditional Japanese home on a sunny morning. The time might be today or hundreds of years ago. He’s dressed in a traditional Japanese robe, but because of his age and knowing this is a dream, the robe “feels” more like pajamas.

Then suddenly it’s raining, and the boy stands under a lintel sheltered from the rain falling both in front of where he wants to go and behind him in the open courtyard.

Responding to the sudden shower a woman runs out of the house holding a yellow umbrella, gathering cushions and pulling them inside. Then the woman, presumably his mother, tells the boy. “You’re not going outside today. The sun is shining, but it’s raining. Foxes hold their wedding processions in this weather. And they don’t like anyone to see them. If you do, they’ll be very angry.”

Of course, as in any worthwhile fairy tale, he disobeys. After peering inside to make sure his mother is no longer watching, the boy sets out through the sun-shower into a primeval redwood forest where ferns reach as high as his shoulders. The sky through the tall old trees is blue, but the rain keeps falling. Strangely (or is it just the off quality of the pirated YouTube clip I’m watching), his robe-pajamas seem to stay dry.

The little boy wanders aimlessly, almost as if he’s sniffing his way, looking this direction and that. Until, in a gap between the Tolkienesque trees, he sees a blue glowing mist, a ground hugging cloud that radiates gold sunlight on the forest floor. And from this cloud: at first slow, solemn Japanese music. Then, little by little, the quiet, measured wedding procession of the foxes. They walk in studied steps as if engaged in some deep, bittersweet ritual. Their unhurried feet guided by light syncopated drum taps. Every few steps, their knees slightly bend, half-genuflecting. The male foxes are dressed in blue coats and trousers. The vixens in traditional gowns. They’re all masked, as if they were Noh players, their faces wooden, unreadable.

From time to time, the eerie procession stops, as if startled and the Noh-foxes turn their heads in unison, from side to side, testing the air. The little boy hides behind a large trunked tree. The third time the creatures stop like this, they spot him and he runs.

And then, in the dream, the boy is running up to his grand house, his sandals flopping through puddles drying in the sun, the rain finally stopped. His mother meets him sternly in front of the front gate. “You went and saw something you shouldn’t have. I can’t let you in now. An angry fox came looking for you. He left this …” From her sleeve, she hands him a short scabbard, which the child opens to find a tanto sword, the traditional weapon of ritual suicide.

In Samurai culture, compulsory suicide was a traditional form of capital punishment—the tanto knife presented like a gun with one bullet in the chamber. A chance for an honorable death, otherwise …

So the knife is serious, akin to showing the child the electric chair. The boy, with his curious and rash exploration of the buried image beneath the idiom, has stumbled into a sacrilege as unforgiveable as eating the cattle of the sun, or blinding Poseidon’s one-eyed son. Only this is a shaken six-year-old, not wily Odysseus and his battle wizened cohort.

“You’re supposed to kill yourself.” His mother’s face is stern, but her voice holds out a slim ray of hope. “Go quickly and ask their forgiveness. Give the knife back and tell them how sorry you are.”

But then, turning away: “They don’t usually forgive. You must be ready to die.” She closes one side of the gate, then moves to the other. “Get going. Unless they forgive you, I can’t let you in.” She begins to close the other gate.

But I don’t know where they live,” the shunned and alone little boy desperately begs. Just as she’s closing the gate, his mother tells him, “You’ll find out. On days like this, there are always rainbows. Foxes live under the rainbows.” Then she slams the door to their home in his face.

If we accept this episode—as Kurosawa asks us to—as his own dream, did he dream this as a six-year-old, or as an old man? Because for me, what makes the dream so painfully personal—not just a filmmaker’s fantasy—is the tanto knife and the admonition to suicide.

Kurosowa did, after all, undergo a deep depression at the age of 60, and attempted suicide, slashing himself almost fatally, some 30 times, with a razor. So, is this a dream of childhood foretelling, or of late life healing? And why was it triggered by the hermetic idiom of the foxes’ wedding?

But really, if this is an old man’s healing dream, could it be the miraculous but tentative sun-shower itself, reaching into itself for a metaphor worthy of Kurosawa’s art? And with Kurosawa the artist, the sacred animal metaphor at the heart of the indecipherable idiom gives a quiet voice to scarred personal depths.

As the director-poet’s dream continues, the condemned boy stands forlorn in front of a home that’s suddenly expelled him. He explores an also locked side door, holds the grim knife and broods. Then sets off shuffling with the uncertain steps of a helpless child preparing himself to die.

But then, dreaming on, we see the little boy walking in the sun through a meadow of wildflowers as tall as the ferns in the fox-forest, the horrid knife still held in both hands, but no longer shuffling. His step is quizzical now, wandering, but there’s the slightest trace of jauntiness, of “what the hell” as he walks through the multi-colored meadow toward a blue misty gap in the hills and the edge of a barely discernable rainbow.

In the dream, a six-year-old who’s trespassed on an arcane magical rite walks toward a rainbow razor’s edge that will bring either death or absolution. But stepping back from the dream to the dreaming Kurosawa: does the 80-year-old necromancer of light and shadow also sense he’s moving somewhere? Towards death of course, but maybe beyond, towards the cusp of reincarnation and yet another childhood? As with so much mythical marriage, is the sly sun and rain showered wedding of the foxes just a prelude to birth?

With this unresolved scene, Kurosawa’s dream enigmatically ends on a mood that Flaubert, later in that same letter to his lover and muse Louise, describes better than I can:

Through small apertures, we glimpse abysses whose somber depths turn us faint. And yet, over the whole there hovers an extraordinary tenderness. It is like the brilliance of light, the smile of the sun, and it is calm, calm and strong.iii

Flaubert was talking about the experience of writing and communing with language at a level few ever attain, but it helps to be reminded that language and imagery not only live in us—but that we exist in an imaged language older than any human memory. And that its vagaries and strange twists can be as inscrutable, haunting and fertile as dreams.


i Castro, Michael. Big Bridge:
ii Rilke, Rainer Maria, tr. by Edward Snow. New Poems, 1907 (North Point Press, 1990).
iii Flaubert, Gustave, tr. by Francis Steegmuller. The Letters of Gustave Flaubert 1830-1857 (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1979).

—from Rattle e.9, Fall 2010 (PDF)


Art Beck was a regular contributor to Rattle e-issues with a continuing series of essays on translating poetry. He has published several collections of poetry and poetry translations, most recently Luxorius, Opera Omnia or a Duet for Sitar and Trombone, published by Otis College, Seismicity Editions. His poetry and essays have appeared in a wide range of literary journals including Alaska Quarterly, Artful Dodge, OR, Sequoia, Translation Review and in anthologies such as Heyday Books’ California Poetry from the Gold Rush to the Present and Painted Bride Quarterly’s 20 year retrospective.

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