Sunday, February 21, 2010


The Spanish textbook chapter we're on is about the environment (as well as past participles and the present perfect tense), and Thursday we all got a handout detailing the homework for Friday, which was to write an "Ecopoema" in the style of the Chilean writer Nicanor Parra. Parra's Ecopoemas are short, undisciplined little crypto-Marxist screeds that don't much appeal to me, to say the least. The wheels in my head started turning immediately, since if high school taught me one thing, it's that the way to redeem a distasteful poetry composition assignment is to write something mildly ridiculous in singsong rhyming couplets. But could I do that in Spanish? Well, tenía un diccionario and not much to do on a Thursday night.

So here goes, just since Pete was recently sharing his poems, and just to demonstrate that I've got my poetry en Español up to about a fifth-grade level (some metrical wobbling, lack of irony). It did delight my professor, Carmen, who greeted me with a beaming "¡Jack! ¡Mi poeta!" when I showed up for class on Friday, having emailed the Ecopoema to her the night before. (Carmen, incidentally, doesn't come up with the assignments, which are set by the department for all seven or eight of the Spanish sections, and I think she's too hip to find value in undisciplined crypto-Marxist screeds. The undergrad students, to their credit, all avoided writing undisciplined crypto-Marxist screeds as well.)

Traducción aproximada follows. This includes a few of the prof's corrections, so as best I can tell it's grammatically legit.


Tiene una voz, el mar.
Quizás la va a levantar
y gritarnos: ¡Pueden escuchar!

¡Dudo, con pesar, a veces
que me dejen algunos peces!

Por pescar no hay la paz.
¿Es el humano tan voraz?

Y por la contaminación
yo pierdo la razón.

Sufre cada gran tortuga,
tiburón, delfín, beluga . . .

Y muere mi querido coral.
Es la época fatal.

. . . Pero entonces va a dejar
de hablarnos la voz del mar.
Y nada va a cambiar.

* * * * *

It has a voice, the sea.
Perhaps it will raise it
And shout to us: Can you listen!

I doubt, with regret, at times
That you are leaving me any fish!

From fishing, there is no peace.
Is the human so voracious?

And because of pollution
I am losing my mind.

Suffering is every giant tortoise,
Shark, dolphin, beluga . . .

My beloved coral are dying.
The time is horrible.

. . . But then is going to cease
Talking to us the voice of the sea.
And nothing is going to change.

* * * * *

The other Spanish-class item of aquatic interest this week was learning the delightful idiom tan aburrido como una ostra, or "as bored as an oyster." Compare, of course, to the English idiom "as happy as a clam," and appreciate how neatly the difference between the two idioms encapsulates the ambivalence inherent in living the mild-mannered life you've chosen for yourself.


Blogger nate said...

Maybe the life of a bivalve mollusk is satisfactory by the standards of the Anglophone world but comparatively dull for Spanish-speaking societies. Although now that I've written that out it seems like a crude ethnic / molluscous stereotype.

I don't speak the Spanish myself but I think your poem is pretty good.

2/23/2010 10:11 AM  
Blogger Pete said...

Bivalve ambivalence.

2/23/2010 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Mom said...


2/23/2010 2:08 PM  
Blogger nate said...

I the clam, quite happy, lie
at the ocean's bottom. Why
move through water, earth, or sky?
No complaints here. Pleased as pie.

On the floor I have no need
to swim among the crab and weed
and, by my sandy confines freed,
hunker down, and filter feed.

Am I bored like yonder oyster,
that finds its bed too like a cloister;
life too samey, lacking boister;
everything, in sum, lackloyster?

No! And yet, with each day spent
as every day before it went
I have to tell you -- deeply meant --
I feel a bit... ambivalvent.

2/23/2010 9:23 PM  
Anonymous Mom said...

Oh, I feel so sorry for families that only have ONE poet in their midst. (I'm so proud!)

2/24/2010 7:44 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

I like this. How are we pronouncing this? Am-bivvle-vent?

2/24/2010 9:16 PM  
Blogger nate said...

I was reading it as "am-bivvle-vent", yeah. It scans.

2/25/2010 12:39 AM  
Blogger Blair said...

If you ask me, this belongs up there with the other great entry in the project-for-intermediate-Spanish-class-by-a-guy-I-know category... the scrapbook "Estoy en la Banda" by one Aaron Wasserman. His inspiration was less Angry Marxism, more Tiger Beat, but the undisciplined part is the same.

3/04/2010 11:23 AM  

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