Last week we featured an interview with Carlota Caulfield, and promised to share one of her poems, co-translated with Mary G. Berg.

Mientras traduzco poemas irlandeses
By Carlota Caulfield 

En medio del lento buscar de palabras,

tú dices, “Mi patria oscura”,

“Un mapa infantil de Dublín”,

esa isla,

tentativa de dejar atrás el borrador

hasta trazar nombres y adjetivos

con más precisión.

Mas hay cierta acidez en no encontrar

significados para tal o cual vocablo.

No me detengo. Tengo prisa

y me pierdo en pliegues de mi idioma,

paso las páginas del diccionario con

inquietud de novicia,

y todas las cosas van tomando forma,

hasta ese cansancio que fluye

dentro de mí, sangre doble

de cada día, vacío repentino.


Salí tras nombres de árboles y pájaros,

bajé, subí, caminé de un lado a otro,

escuché el eco de un trombón,

y otro borrador del poema

se puso en mi lengua.

While I Translate Irish Poems
Co-Translated by Carlota Caulfield and Mary G. Berg 

While slowly searching for words

you say “My dark homeland,”

“A child’s map of Dublin,”

that island

effort to leave behind the rough draft

and to spell out names and adjectives

with greater precision.

But there’s a certain bitterness in not finding

meanings for some of the words.

I don’t stop. I’m in a hurry

and I get lost in folds of my language,

I flip through the dictionary pages with

the anxiety of a novice,

and everything takes on a shape

even that weariness that flows

through within me, double blood

of each day, sudden emptiness.


I went out seeking names of trees and birds,

downward, upward, I walked from one side to the other,

I listened to the echo of a trombone,

and another rough draft of the poem

was written in my words.

Poem taken from Cuaderno Neumeister, to be published by hardPressed poetry, Ireland. Permission to print granted by Carlota Caulfield.

Many thanks to Carlota Caulfield for allowing us to publish her work! When I read Carlota’s poem and translation with Mary G. Berg, one of the lines that jumps out at me and sticks in my translator’s mind is the following:

But there’s a certain bitterness in not finding
meanings for some of the words.

Moving meanings and concepts between two languages, two cultures is the translator’s work and can be incredibly challenging, which is why collaborating on translations can be so rewarding and the results so masterly.

If you are interested in learning from some of the masters of translation, be sure to sign up for our next session of Lessons in the Art of Literary Translation beginning on April 19, 2016. We will learn from some of the greats, analyzing and comparing multiple published translations of four well-known Spanish literary texts. The skills and approaches learned in this class can be applied to non-literary work as well, ensuring your translation reads like an original. We look forward to having you in one of our online classes soon!

 Readers, can you relate to the line in Carlota’s poem about not finding meanings for some of the words in your work? Do share. We’d love to hear!

Stacy McKenna received her MFA in English and Creative Writing from Mills College in Oakland, California. Her translations have appeared in The Other Poetry of Barcelona, Códols in New York, 580 Split, Cerise Press, and Río Grande Review. She has taught English and ESL throughout the Bay Area and worked at several nonprofit organizations including the Center for the Art of Translation. She has recently returned to the Bay Area after teaching literary translation and English at the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro in Querétaro, Mexico.