Tag Archives: words

Strong Words


A short discussion with co-translator Jamie Richards on the unavoidable words in Gabriella Kuruvilla’s ‘That’s Life, Honey‘.

Gabriella Kuruvilla’s story, “That’s Life, Honey,” presents an array of narrative elements that are unprecedented in their native Italian context and certainly unusual in English. We have a teenage speaker, named Natasha, who we indirectly learn—based on the sex workers lining her street—lives in a degraded area of a city; we also find out that Natasha is not ethnically Italian, but Indian, at least on her paternal side, and that she is haunted by a lost native language that causes her to speak the only language she really can, Italian, imperfectly. Her story is punctuated by her mother’s darkly humorous expletive, “negro di merda!”, used to express her dissatisfaction with everyone and everything.

The Italian word negro migrates onto the main character as negra and becomes pivotal to the story. The translation of racial terms is always a difficult issue, as they singularly embody national and cultural ideologies and histories, which rarely overlap neatly. In translating this piece, a primary subject of the back-and-forth between Jamie and Alex—both white translators—revolved around the glaring issues associated with translating this particular word. As a slur, would the English cognate “Negro” be appropriate, or is it not strong enough? Would there be any point in italicizing?

Read the full post on the MassReview blog!

i want to be friends but i’ve touched your boobs (and other things): a (prose) poem on how to be aggressively platonic


i) in spite of your perfect hair and the shy dimple under your left cheek i wonder if i should have put my arm around you that night because when i think of you i only want to see the way your mouth goes bright as you tell me the names of the fish skipping across the water and the way your fingers make knots in rope so easy like every simple piece of string could coil into complexity but then i remember your bright mouth on mine and the ocean roaring inside me and how you knotted our fingers together so tight so close so we wouldn’t drift apart

ii) my stride is small my voice is smaller would you hear me if i shouted across the fields over the mountains through bamboo forests clicking in the wind would you see me running with thread and needle trying to stitch our islands together

iii) these things take time i tell myself i need space you say when i breathe my lungs inflate with salt and sky there is endless seaglass inside me rolled smooth but sometimes i must dive to cold depths to see even a glimmer of a sunken star i am breaking my hands on time and space and maybe this was a mistake

iv) the thread is red i see it out the corner of my eyes but when i look too hard it vanishes and it isn’t joy i feel but i tell myself it will be

v) most people grew vocabularies for this much younger than i, learned to put out fires, learned the language of storms, learned to suture open wounds tenderly as not to leave scars and now i flounder in the shallows, water kissing the backs of my knees but drowning would be simpler than this oh drowning would be simpler

vi) so i drown. i let the you the me the us the shallow the deep the wave after wave after waving you away at the station that one afternoon drown me. i drown in remembering limbs and fingers and hands and eyes and how you said what you did in tongues i did not know tongues i got to know tongues i have come to miss and down, deep down, i start to forget.

vii) i breathe again, coming up to the surface, knots in my hair – no matter, they’ll be gone with the next haircut, drastic measures for drastic issues – and look around. the sky is gone, fallen into the ground somewhere somewhen, as i looked for you through the sheen the surf the direction of the current swirling around my thighs my knees my ankles as I step out, slowly, back to land back to safety back to me. but i look back, just once just one more time, one more look

viii) (one day i will look and there will be nothing in the way of a different you)

ix) I look up from the screen. Have I been gone that long? I mean, no one is an island, but I seem to be running on my own timezone sometimes. That long? I look up to the clock above the screen. That long. I look back down. You have replied a number of times, I’m the one ignoring you this time. I do need space. We both did. Time is not the issue, of course. Space, strangely enough, is. Even confined within the green and blue walls of a text, space is an issue. We keep pushing at each other, waiting for something to give, again, despite what we said. Afraid to be pulled in again. I know I am.

x) Define. Synonyms. Thesaurus.com. Rhymezone. How to. How to find the words. How to lose weight in a week! How to tell someone they’re adopted. How to tell someone that it’s complicated but you want to see them but not in that way but also you do. How to tell someone you’re pregnant. How to video exclusive. How to go about starting the conversation. How to lose friends and alienate people and befriend aliens. How to tell you.

Collaboration with Emily Chou

NaPoWriMo 2015 Day 30 – When You Describe War


When you describe war, death
– words cannot make it.
Tears spring forth
from the soul’s source,
falling in the heart’s chasm.

Spasms of pain
course through your limbs,
lacerating a young smile
– shocking, continuous story
of a split country.

When you describe war, death
– your gaze falls
on the blank page.
Bombed by thoughts
– words die
in the eyes of humanity.

[Original Italian by Grażyna Miller (1957-2009)]

NaPoWriMo 2015 Day 29 – Where


Where have my robots gone?
Is there another shelf for them
or desk on which to lead
their silent plastic lives?
A room that is one
and two and four
and a space that is more than
what it seems, more
than what it sounds.

Where has my artwork gone?
The wordland, the doctor,
the space between will and power
and better angels still?
No room for one more
as the walls are
laid bare again –
to prosper perhaps beyond
the boxed papers whispered
by faceless passers by
and sudden saxophones.

Where have my covers gone?
Are there no more layers
for them to build upon truths
and cushion the inevitable fall?
There is room for more
than one person
more than one body
to lie away
from the streets
more than one spirit
to inhabit the shape
left behind by another.

Where have my words gone?
Were they lost
where I last saw
where I last heard

Where will my room
find its space
find its sound
find its place
once it’s gone?

NaPoWriMo 2015 Day 22 – Redacted



[immense power

an actual author
a perfect death

control the reader

How does it all fit in?

different perspectives
the lie the idea the

identity and visibility
not dissimilar

readers cannot

of communication
(often relegated

NaPoWriMo 2015 Day 12 – Glimpses


A motor-bike revs by the new flats.
I could look back and see…

The snake-hipped man sitting with the old woman
come to slake their fantastic lust –
scattering in all directions, at their wits’ end,
smiling mysteriously at the dead man.
(His silence was only another form of grief.)

Stood with my back to the sink,
I wish I might digress and tell you more.

[Found poem created by summing the alphanumeric values of ‘realism’ (=77), and choosing a line from that page of each novel on the module I’m teaching at UEA.]

NaPoWriMo 2015 Day 7 – Mediamente


L’italiano non è medio.

L’italiano non media
ma indica o ignora.
Non odia perché l’odio
è troppo forte, e le lodi
poi lo imbrodano, i poli
si oppongono da una parte e dall’altra
di un qualunque schieramento –
undici e undici e chissà quanti pollici
per la domenica in famiglia.

L’italiano non è medio.

In media in Italia
se si sbaglia si sbrocca
ma se per sbaglio (dicono
i media) ci imbavagliano
ci mettiamo la mano davanti alla bocca
a coprire lo sbadiglio:
ancora co ‘sta storia
abbaia abbaia ma che noia.

L’italiano non è medio.

Senza il medium non si accorge
dei corpi sventrati come pesci;
senza licenza media ci si avventa
sull’avvento di nuove lingue nuovi
organi nuove lezioni che non impareremo,
avventati e spaventati
da stranieri, stranezze e forestieri
mentre staremmo volentieri
a far merenda al banco.

L’italiano non è medio.

Se non capisce il dato,
il dito non te lo dà
ma può darsi il braccio lo prenda.
E non se la prende se lo fai
notare, che magari capisce male
ma alla fine ci si intende.

L’italiano non è medio.

E non si arrende davanti alle sfide
le alza di peso e le sposta
anche per partito preso
che non ci sono mezze misure
mezze calzette o mezze seghe
che gli si possono parar contro
sempre pronto allo scontro di opinioni
(ma non fate i pignoli, niente fatti
né pugnette – solo la pugna).

L’italiano non ha il medio
ma l’indice e il mignolo
volti verso il basso.
Che fai, porti rogna?

NaPoWriMo 2015 Day 1 – What a Joke


April can be the cruellest month
though it has showers sweet
and does sometimes pierce March’s drought


I really fucking hate February
with its bitter cold
days and evenings and nights.

And I know it’s not it
it’s me
unable to appreciate the apricity
a favourite word for a small bit
of warmth on a freezing day.

Fucking February.
Sitting there as if winter
were almost over,
bearing the cups of Carnival
and despondent gods
as a fucking child enraptured
by the fucking skies.

Pouring over poorly worded
sentences and claims,
delirious and feverish
declarations of love to the pound
to the ounce to the dozen
and cheaper if you wait.

Thank fuck it’s a short one.