On Poem Writing with Google Translate and One Eye Closed

I thought I'd share the process of creating a poem, the draft of which is below. 

I came across John Masefield's poem Cargo (which is below, also) and, as I sometimes do, ran it through a number of languages in Google Translate. I imagined it was something like how story or language is transmuted through various cultures as a cultural meme travels.

Then I took the raw data translation (below, 2nd) and revised it, mixing in some local and contemporary language (the Starbucks' drink) and thought about a comment I'd made to a friend about poems as being connection machines, how in "the dance of connection, who leads?" so then I added that in, then abstracted that line a bit, making it more oblique. But on consideration, it's clear that that poem isn't satisfying—it's too one-dimension, a one-trick pony—and its meaning is closed rather than open. So I've further edited, rearranging somethings and deleting others so that the poem is more of a word / sight impressionist thing-in-itself. It isn't the greatest poem ever written, or the greatest poem I've written but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. The goal here was to create a prompt, a place to begin, that was rich in suggestion and material, something to work with. I see it as akin to being given a bunch of materials with which to create a sculpture or a collage, and something of the source material remains, if only as a ghostly presence far back in the foggiest regions of the imagination and, as well, that the component materials fire up their own attractions, resonances and energies. Something with which one can work with. 



lion of the lion

monkey of the lion


sandalwood, amethysts

Starbucks energy drink


beaches and peaks

isthmus in Spanish style 


I cross the harbour 

is that train driven by a pig?


cars loaded with empty pallets 

bowls of coleslaw



a question about distance 

driving home in Ontario sun

lion of the lion

monkey of the lion

sandalwood, amethysts

a Starbucks energy drink

beaches and peaks

an isthmus in Spanish style 

I cross the harbor 

is that train driven by a pig?

cars loaded with empty pallets 

bowls of coleslaw

who leads?



The question about Nineveh in the distant Ophia,

Driving home in the Palestinian sun,

And the lion of the lion,

And the monkey in the forest,

Sandalwood, cedar and white wine are sweet.

A beautiful Spanish style from the Isthmus,

See beaches and peaks,

and many diamonds,

emerald, amethyst,

topaz, cinnamon and gold diamonds.

British brownies with salty slaw,

Crossing the harbor on a crazy day in March

coal storage,

A train driven by a pig.

Wood, metal and pallets are cheap.


Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,

Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,

With a cargo of ivory,

And apes and peacocks,

Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,

Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,

With a cargo of diamonds,

Emeralds, amethysts,

Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,

Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,

With a cargo of Tyne coal,

Road-rails, pig-lead,

Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

John Masefield