Things to Do with Words

The poetry of Peter Balestrieri appears in Mandorla, Deluxe Rubber Chicken, 5 Trope, Can We Have Our Ball Back, Snow Monkey and Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness. He has been a sax player for the Violent Femmes, the editor of RealPoetik, and is now a literary sleuth at the IWP. For some of his other identities, go to here or here

Online Translation Programs as a Tool For Composition

Through the Internet and its digital prostheses, I, the monolingual writer/reader, now have the capacity to translate. What happens to a text when it is translated into one or more languages by computer, and then translated back into the original?

This opportunity does not automatically offer a mirror translation but creates a range which includes both stiffly formal and loosely error-filled results. Another tool with which to explore the polysemy of all languages, and the meaning that we create in spite of it

Go to

Follow the directions for Machine Translation. After translating into one or more languages, translate back into the source language.


so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

- William Carlos Williams

Translated text (English to Korean to Portuguese to English):

It depends on above on the lapse

Sepulture deep-red of the wheel

In the territorial waters wheel of rain me

In the side of the white hen.

The result is a hallucination of the original. But hallucination is not "error;" it is access.

Peter Balestrieri

Two Documents from the Front Lines of Word Commodification Wars

In each case, words are not signs pointing to thoughts but rather things and products, subject to the same laws that regulate the production of shoes or grain, or accounting services.

• Firstly, a new set of rules from the US Treasury designed for the "axis of Evil" countries. These rules, when applied, would define as "services" those transactions that are necessary to prepare a text for publication–translating, editing, formatting–"if the text orginates in Iran, Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe"–as well as, interestingly enough, Iraq, since its sanctions remain unlifted (see Saadi Simawe"s commentary elsewhere in this issue).

As a letter from the American Association of University Publishers lays out in detail, this would then mean that all such editorial and translating services could be "impounded" by the US government, since they add value to the "products" otherwise known as scholarly articles. A way of restricting, even blocking, circulation of ideas from places we are already are thoroughly ignorant about. "Commerce" offers a shield where "censorship" might otherwise be glimpsed.

• The other, a letter calling for a living wage for literary translators. Here the antagonists are different: the electronic translation programs (much like for movie musicians in the 1920s who tried to resist "canned" music arriving recorded on the celluloid strip, and for theater pit musicians still today; see Pete Balestrieri"s take only an eyeball"s move away), but "one suspects" also "outsourcing:" get your cut-rate Spanish translations at developing-world wages! Certainly, in both cases, getting "the product" out faster, sidetracking the translator-as-performer for the translator-as-black-box-worker, delivering at a speed matched to the needs of the electronic environment.

Yet what if translation software, or the badly paid labor of highly qualified translator colleagues around the world were two strategies for breaching the anglocentric moat around "fortress America" which the US Department of Trade seeks to protect with such pointed legislature??

Nataša Ďurovičová