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Out of English and Back Again: On Unintentional Retranslation

By Mark Weiss

In early April 2015 I discovered four poems by Juana Adcock on the Transtierros blog site. Adcock is from Monterrey, Mexico, and is the daughter of a Mexican mother and an English father. Her first book, Manca, was issued last year by the prestigious Mexican publisher, Tierra Adentro. It's mostly in Spanish, though some of the poems also contain a lot of English. As we'll see, Adcock also writes poems entirely in English—she's thoroughly bilingual.

I met Adcock last year in Glasgow, where she works as a translator. I had planned to translate several of the poems in Manca into English, but when I saw the poems in Transtierros, I decided to translate them and send them to her as a surprise. Here's the email correspondence that followed:

April 18, 2015, Mark to Juana

Your poems from Transtierros. It's a first draft. You'll note a few leaps (and probably some total misunderstandings). The luxury of working with a living writer (you o.k.?) is that I get to play and then be corrected. Note that in the last one I didn't translate the George Washington epigraph—it would be great if you could let me know where you got it so that I can track down the original.

I await with breath abated.



PS. I still plan to do a couple of things from your book.


April 19, Juana to Mark

Wow, thanks for these, Mark! I love your translations, and it's so interesting—these were originally written in English, what you've translated were some hurried self-translations into Spanish (now I feel slightly guilty that I didn't make a note about that on the Transtierros publication). To see what's happened to them on their journey back into English is making me feel like there's been a glitch in the system, some weird alteration of time and space; I experience strange brain zaps as I read my poems in your words. My English is so different to yours. There must be a way we can exploit this :-) Shall I show you the originals, or do you want to just work on these as a twin text, and we can maybe do something such as present both our English versions side by side?

I particularly love the arrival of the shoreline, and the hazy numbers, and the editorial authority.

The idea behind this series of “Graphic Poems” or (I love your title) “Poemographics” (genius!) was to play with how information is presented on the Internet. Buzzfeed articles have created their own clichés, infographics make complex ideas seem very straightforward (and purport to have no ideological agenda), pie charts are used to convince people of things without first explaining how they even arrive to those numbers. [note: the Spanish title is “Poemas Gráficos”]

The poem with the George Washington quote is meant to be a fake Forbes Magazine article. When you go to the Forbes website ( they always give you a random little quote to make you reflect about life—from a very neoliberal angle, as you can imagine. But most interestingly to me, they also put these beautiful unintentional enjambments into the quotes, probably just to fit the text into the box. So the GW quote reads thus:

                                    “Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit
                                                     your judgment to others with modesty.”

Much love,



April 19, Mark to Juana

I think we should publish these with the backstory, either by themselves or with the originals (I'd love to see the originals).

This unintentional adventure is perfect! So many interesting translation issues!




April 19, Juana to Mark

Here are the originals! xx


Published Sep 16, 2015   Copyright 2015 Mark Weiss

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