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January 2021

As a teacher, the poet John Ashbery gave as a prompt Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo” in its original German for his non-German speaking students. He made it a translation exercise in which students sounded out the German words and wrote down English words resembling those sounds. They might have translated “sich hält und glänzt” as “sick halt and glance.” It would actually translate as "holds up and shines" but being correct in your translation was not the point. He didn't want students to focus on meaning and subject or try to crack the puzzle of the Rilke poem. The exercise was about sound and rhythm.

Their "translations" might have looked somewhat nonsensical but then they could try to find logic in this rough draft but maintain the original line breaks and stanzas.

We have selected for this prompt an unpublished poem that was written in English and used a translation app to put it into Portuguese and Latin. (see below) They look quite different. We avoided the more common Spanish, French, Italian versions in the hope that you might be less likely to know Latin or Portuguese and not be influenced by the words.

As with the Ashberry exercise, don't focus on being "correct." Don't cheat and run the poems through an app to put it into your native language! Choose one of the two translations. The goal is to focus on sound, meter and perhaps some similar cognates. The result will probably be a first draft that needs some logic applied to it. Revise but maintain the three stanzas and line breaks which will allow readers to see some of your path to the final poem.

This was difficult writing prompt and the submissions were heavily weighted towards the Latin version. (The Portuguese must have really thrown people off.)

Note: We also played with the idea of translation in an earlier prompt.

Ambulare volenti

Tantum possit cogitare
facti sunt ante damnatorum.
Si retinerent propinquus
ea mihi
(Sum nimis saepe fit)
(Quod sit ecclesia cathedrali)
fit custodia.

Quae regerent passus ambulare volenti tecum,
Non supplantabuntur gressus ejus. Ego paratus sum
Con- secrationis, deiectio, revelatio, unctio?
Slow spiritum meum, et pace possum?
Nam quamdiu sum ego audio vox?
Quid erit orationis meae?

Sunt multi modi ut amissa
ubi unica via est.
Et lapis super gradum in oculis meis
caeruleum trahitur convexa.
Quae regerent passus ambulare volenti tecum,
oriri cogitationem meam in vastitatem mergitur.
Querendo caminhar

Os pensamentos podem chegar apenas até certo ponto
antes que se percam.
Mas se eu os segurar perto,
guarde-os para mim
(como tenho feito muitas vezes)
a mente
(que deveria ser uma catedral)
torna-se uma gaiola.

Querendo caminhar pelo labirinto com você,
Eu vacilo. Estou preparado para
consagração, purgação, iluminação, união?
Posso desacelerar minha respiração e ritmo?
Vou ouvir a voz que anseio?
Qual será a minha oração?

Existem muitas maneiras de se perder
mesmo quando há apenas um caminho a seguir.
Os olhos na pedra e passo
é atraído para a abóbada azul acima.
Querendo caminhar pelo labirinto com você,
meus pensamentos sobem para a vastidão.

If you're curious about Lily Hayashi's original poem, she psoted it at

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


Sidewalks and their four-foot widths are
just enough for the hound dog and me.
For her a leash length to sniff and
For myself
(Now and then stumble stepped)
lost bereft
(Amid cracks in panels and twig-scribed names)
roots in the open.

A rainbow of impressed letters: Geo. H. Oswald, Contractor,
And subordinate, dates decades long gone. Cordoned in the city’s work
Why – concrete freshly poured, an elixir, for George’s name an honor
framed, a shared pride?
Could they have known George, as I have come to?
Will his echoed call rise to a stranger’s voice?
Will my fancy allow his hardened plea?

Over decades we pedestrians
have eyed the corner before us.
Not the precise lettering above a random date
his name his title the day’s remembrance.
He confidently mixed city water and sandy compound,
high-sided shovels full of anticipated pride his gift our passage.

Rob Friedman

Creator of the universe and light - from two gods to one; eons passed
Neither Father nor Sun; traveler in a burning boat; nature and dead be damned
A sea of sand so reticent, a queen without a clue
An army of soldier mummies guard Pharaoh
Some need a muse, some gods; they bow and sigh at feet and knee
What seat of clay or cathedral befits such a custodial deity?

Quiet the generations do not pass; a man rules; violence returns
Supplanting grace - there goes paradise
The sacred rejected, an unctuousness revealed, detected
Spirits entombed in hate
An end comes none too soon; ego is no hoax
Quit rewriting the oratory

Should multitudes amass
We will unite in a final test
Or lapse into a most grand doom
To cerulean-eyed, horned, vexed traitors
While the passing regent, a man-ruler, calls to them
In violence they will come
a vast agitated merging

Terri J. Guttilla


The Tantrum Posse cogitates
facts stunned against a dim sanctuary.
See re-itinerant propinquity
on air mile-high
(the sum minus seep-fit).
(the quad set against ecclesiastic cathedral)
a fit custodian.

Complaint regenerates, passes ambulant volunteers’ tea-party,
known supplanting adventure’s greasy aegis. Ego apparatus it is
consecration, dejection, revelation, unction?
slow-spirit museum, at pace of possum?
name your qualm, sum of ego’s audio voice?
Quiddity inherits orations (may he?)

Stunned multi-modes are out, amiss.
You be one way east.
Eat laps super-grade in ocular mice-
carols’ theater complex.
Complaint regenerates, passes ambulant volunteers’ tea-party,
or eerie cogitation-mourn in vast murderture.

Taylor Graham

translated from the Portuguese and Latin

What you are thinking:
facts before damnation.
We retain propriety
each time.
(The words must fit)
(Like with Ecclesiastes in the cathedral)
Fit like a prison.

When we meet I want a shared voice.
You hesitate. Are you prepared for
consecration, purgation, illumination, unity?
Did I dial your number breathless and waiting?
Is it your voice that answers?
What does your number mean?

There are multi modes
but only one is real.
The stone opens like my eye
to the blue dome above.
Our violent ends come from quiet beginnings,
our thoughts mean vastness merges.

Lianna Wright


Tantrums of codgers
and fractious aunts, damnedest
retinue of propinquities,
each of my meh poems
(some nemeses are fitting)
is an animal
(sitting on the quad outside the cathedral),
a fit custodian

of the passing ambulance, the violent teacup,
supplanting all abundance. Gestures of the emu, parades of the ego,
secreting dejection and revelation. Uncles
in their slow, mean-spirited posses.
Can you name that zero sum game? Make it audacious and boxy.
Write it, quitter, or else! Meaning

suns, multiple, measured and amiss.
And the ubiquitous uncles vying eastward
in their wet lapels. Suppers of grandmas in cul-de-sacs of mist.
A curriculum of traitorous conversations
regenerating the passing ambulances, the violent teacups.
But no regurgitated memes. Visitations of my guitar.

Paul Hostovsky


Congratulations on your positive understatement.
Although some facts are not clearly demonstrated,
it is preposterous to think otherwise. Eeny,
meeny, miney, moe, I would expect to see angels
among the caretakers.

When violence passes through the ambulatory,
to redeem the sum of your deductions, sent
directly into your ego, a slow inertia sets the
pace of your position. Audio, egotistical
voices emerge.

Interactions, interjections are the same
ubiquitous matter, no matter what the cost.
They lap the sugars and odors of man's
cerebellums. cortex and oral negotiations
that are nothing but mistaken validations.

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello


Tantrum posting "Not all there"
Feckless stunts ... ranting "DAMN DECORUM!"
Sly, recalcitrant, promiscuous.
You're a Bad Guy
(Dumb, nimwit, hissy fit)
(Crowd lit Ego at a Red Hat Rally)
TWIT. I could go on.

Wake resurgent masses? You'll be sorry, fomenting treason.
Goon, Supplanter, Trickster, graceless, screw loose Ego, Partisan
Con, Segregationist, Reject, Bozo, Rebel, Hater, unctuous Crow.
You dismantle freedoms to seize power.
Have you no qualms? Bum. Bully. Audacious Ox!
Quit your Twitter Tantrums ... PLEASE!

Sent angry mobsters on a mission ...
Fury unleashed at your behest.
They listened to your ranting, then became violent.
Unruly scum, traitors, convicts ALL.
Quake ... repugnant Fascists. Insurrectionists will be punished.
After investigating them, we will incarcerate them. Mark my words.

Frank Kelly


What I say is akin to heresy to him, a spoke in his wheel, he the tyres I say,
He says the facts he says, he says, wants to dam up my nature
Sir reticent, propensity for violence
Hey yeah, me yes!, so far, he, we split the air with the same knife
(Sum of all of my nemeses, he) escape is expedient
Anima in me – irrational he believes, cartoonish
(At my core, I see him more ecclesiastic than a cathedral)
Fitted me, moulded me, he had custody

Lock without a key, I stood reverent, king's court, while she passive, two bulls brutal: take them both at face value
Unsupplanted, it's his bounty, money from the seeds he planted, seat of ego axis. Father. The seed to egg that parts its shell.
Consecrated secret eye on us, laser eye on me, revealing hardly ever
Slow spirit, keeping mum about his feelings?
I numb, qualms, God spoke of something audiovisual, dreams and visions
Ask for a dime, get gold earrings, oral tones meandering like prayers

Same thing, same multi-modified marbles lost, now far from home, I'd miss him
Up and on an ice sheet at his behest
We've been done before
Then ate, drank, lapping up, super, big ideas in his eye, for his baby mice
Gaze in awe, rule them not like a traitor, convex pupil, and bulging with plans
King's key, pass us walking flying by, have them taught right and they'll make it, he poured
Or am I as bad as he wondered, meandering in those vast rivers, like prayers, taught me
Nearly nothing and almost everything

Lee Burke González