Untranslatable – Poem

Sometimes you come across a phrase, a sentence, a line or two of poetry that resonate with power; a demonstration that words are remarkable.

Recently I came across Felicity Plunkett (@FelicPlunkett) via a tweet. It was only a few lines of poetry but the strength of them moved me.

“I want both that you find me
and that my disappearance
                    is untranslatable”

from Lost Sea Voices

It was the word “untranslatable” that piqued my mind; it’s use is unpredictable, causes you to stop and pause, contemplate the word choice and see that no other word fits so perfectly.

I wrote this in response when I retweeted it: “When you want to dress yourself in another’s words as they’re so beautiful, play dressups & pretend you’re this good.” (And this in itself is composting for a new poem)

It pushed me to thinking, to explore the idea, because I couldn’t shake it.

But all of this has a further backstory.

It all began with an image from Stuart Barnes, and its caption “the moon gathers its lamps”.

Stuart Barnes Image

I knocked out the following lines in a brief 3-minute window of opportunity

the moon gathers its lamps
arranges them in lines
along the tide of evening
like footsteps, to watch
them fade at dawn

It was favourited by Felicity. And as you do, you find out who is the person behind the favourite who is not following you (promise I’m not a stalker, but now a definite fanboi). She is a poet, a critic and poetry editor and recently long listed for the Montreal Poetry Prize. This is someone who knows poetry far better than me.  

Of course I followed her on twitter. Reciprocation and then conversation. I sent a copy of the poem to Felicity before I posted it; I didn’t want it to be rubbish and sour the reputation of a wonderful poet.

She approved *smug mode engaged* had some positive comments to say (will be feeding my ego for some time to come).

This is the poem, “Untranslatable”.

You search for me like a skin-kneed scholar
learning a new language with textbook enthusiasm
     marking your progress with
          scratched out pencil lines
          paper worn from vigorous erasure
          dog-eared reference points
while you prattle and prate
                    declensions and conjugations
          as if by speaking
                    you will know me
secretly flicking to the back of the book
                    for answers
     missing the point of the exercises
until the closing of the last page
and the forgetting
of what you set out to learn
I want both that you find me
and that my disappearance 
                    is untranslatable

Untranslatable

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