09 August 2013

the our lost jungle poetry form challenge: challenge #1 results

OLJ Poetry Form Challenge #1 Results
Today ends the first challenge of the 2013 Our Lost Jungle Poetry Form Challenge! This week's challenge was to write a "loose translation" poem. The results were fantastic; with several poems posted to this site, and a few delivered via email, it was great to see the many directions in which you all took this task. What was even more fantastic, though, was getting to read through some of your comments on what this challenge made you do in terms of your typical writing ... the bottom line was, it made many of you abandon your familiar and step into the foreign. Welcome to the Lost Jungle!

Whenever I did this prompt with a writing class, there were always a few who either found the task "too easy" or "too hard." "Too easy" usually meant "I can see words there, all I have to do is fill in the blanks," while "too hard" usually meant "I can't resist the need to know what it really means ... this feels wrong." To both of these groups, I'd offer an extension of the challenge, and I'll offer it to you now: pick a language that looks absolutely unfamiliar. These will usually be pictographic/hieroglyphic languages, or languages from the Middle Eastern and/or Asian regions. (In one case I gave a student my copy of The Dead Sea Scrolls, which were presented on little parchment pages that were rolled up and stored in a clay vase; her results were stunning.) When all you have is what looks, to your eyes, like "scribbles," you're not so much focused on "translating" as you are what I call "Rorschaching" -- the question is less "what does it mean" than "what do you see." Try this over the weekend to keep your brain working in the jungle zone! (Your texts don't even have to be poems: find an online foreign-language newspaper, or grab a copy of the Torah or Koran, or hit up a local museum with an ancient cultures exhibit, or check out some local cave drawings, or head into the city and "translate" all the graffiti you can find ...)

There are two featured poems this week! The first comes from  J.lynn Sheridan, who found some stunning words to put to a poem by Yao Feng:

“Little Bird”

We built our home to comfort our little birds.
A trellis of poems to drink with our tea
Bread rises in the oven A pond awaits your
warm limbs Sunfish to nibble your toes.
Hum sweet child when I wake you in the early hours
One delight after another is just outside your window
Take your sisters to the market Buy a silk cloth
Joy is waiting for you My little bird.

The second featured poem is courtesy of Debi Swim, who shared two versions of translation attempts. Here's the first version (I love the second, too, but follow me here):


Traces of potent promises
Seeds of champing possibility

You pretend it doesn’t matter?
You say now it’s too late?

I extend my hand, my heart
Meet me halfway, take a chance. 

The first version got my special notice especially because of the reminder it gives us about some of our hesitations with poetry. Remember: when it feels like you're doing it wrong, but you do it anyway, that's when you really stumble upon something. That's when there's something trying to come out that something else wants to doubt; let it out anyway! See what can come of it.

Stay tuned for the second challenge next Monday, and thank you all for sharing your works and mind-wanderings! Keep translating, get loose, get lost ... and happy writing!


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Join in the 2013 Our Lost Jungle Poetry Form Challenge!


  1. OH, I love that line...A trellis of poems to drink with our tea. Lovely, J-lynn.

    And Debi Swim, that is a beautiful poem.

    Congrats to both of you.

  2. Thank you, Linda! And Congrats to Debi!!!

  3. Khara, Thank you to you, too. But, mostly I hope you are feeling better. Is Dr. House nearby?

  4. Replies
    1. Well that just popped up there before I was ready! I was about to say and Lynn... and Khara, too.

  5. Get lost indeed! What a great challenge...I love the idea of translating-loosely the Dead Sea Scrolls...intriguing!

    Congratulations to both jLynne and Debi!! Both outstanding poems!

    Thank you happy weekend! :)'s


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

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