Dan Bellm is a poet and translator living in Berkeley, California. His most recent books of poetry are Deep Well (Lavender Ink, 2017) and Practice (Sixteen Rivers, 2008), winner of the California Book Award. His translations of poetry and fiction from Spanish and French include Speaking in Song by Mexican poet Pura López Colomé (Shearsman Books, 2017); two works by Mexican poet Jorge Esquinca, Description of a Flash of Cobalt Blue (Unicorn Press, 2015) and Nostalghia (Mexico City: La Diéresis, 2015); several works by French poet Pierre Reverdy, including The Song of the Dead (Black Square Editions, 2016) and Sun on the Ceiling (American Poetry Review, 2009); The Legend of the Wandering King, a young adult novel by Laura Gallego García (Scholastic, 2005); and Angel’s Kite by Alberto Blanco (Children’s Book Press, 1994). His translation of Central American Book of the Dead by Mexican poet Balam Rodrigo will come out from Flower Song Press in Spring 2022.
He has published four books of poetry: Deep Well (Lavender Ink, 2017); Practice (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2008), winner of the California Book Award and named one of the top ten poetry books of 2008 by the Virginia Quarterly Review; Buried Treasure (1999), winner of the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award and the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize; and One Hand on the Wheel (Roundhouse Press, 1999). His poems have appeared in such journals and anthologies as Poetry, Ploughshares, Tin House, The Threepenny Review, Best American Spiritual Writing, Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Writing, and The Ecopoetry Anthology. He has been awarded residencies at Yaddo and Dorset Colony House, an Artist’s Fellowship in Literature from the California Arts Council, and a Literature Fellowship in Translation from the National Endowment for the Arts.
I teach translation in an eight-week online “Art of Translation” workshop that all MFA students take during their second project period. Why translation? Because it’s a genre of creative writing in its own right, it’s the closest possible form of close reading, it’s an excellent skill for any reader or writer to develop, and it’s an incomparable way to encounter the world of words that extends far past our borders.
Over the eight weeks, we try our hand at translating passages or brief works of prose and poetry from eight to ten different languages. How is this possible, especially if you don’t read or write in another language besides English?
Each week, along with the text in question, I post a basic glossary and contextual information, along with recordings or other links if possible, that help you create a “literal” rough-draft, first translation. Then, in conversation with your fellow students online, each of you develops a second, more refined translation of the text. Since this is an art of interpretation, no single version is “correct.” Engaging in dialogue, and learning from each other how you have tackled the same assignment, are a central part of the course. I take an active part in the discussion as well. Each week, I also ask each student to comment on each other’s work and to post a brief “process note” addressing matters of craft: what was difficult, how you solved problems, what choices you considered. At the end of the term, I host an Art of Translation reading at the Antioch residency where all students showcase some of their work.
- Deep Well
- Buried Treasure
- One Hand on the Wheel