In transliteration, you take a poem written in a language that is foreign to you, translate the sounds of the words into your language, and shape it into a poem. In the example below, Josh Corey has taken an excerpt from Dante’s Fifth Canto of Inferno, written in Italian, and done a transliteration of the sounds of the words (not the meanings), into English. His transliterated poem is at times funny and at times incomprehensible, but always fun. It can be very surprising what you can come up with:
Here are a few of the lines in the Italian:
Si tosto come il vento a noi li piega,
Mossi la voce: “O anime affannate,
Venite a noi parlar, s’altri nol niega!”
Which in English means:
No sooner had the wind bent them toward us
That I urged on my voice: “Oh battered souls,
If One does not forbid it, speak with us.”
And here are the corresponding lines of Corey’s poem (which originally appeared in the Boston Review):
The Kitchen of Francesca and Paolo
Inferno, Canto V
See the toast? I come vending a vile pirogie
in mossy lavatory to overhear: "O animate fiancée,
a benison on your parlor. Alter no nearer!"
Alternatively, you can chose a text that is not from literature, as the basis of your transliteration. In the example below, I have taken “The Quadratic Equation:"
x = (-b +/- √(b2 - 4ac))/2a
(which, in English, reads: "x equals a negative b plus or minus the square root of b squared minus 4 a c all over 2 a") and transliterated it into a poem called “The New Math:”
The New Math
Thunk ward rat: “techy-crazed young!”
Sexy squalls, an agate if be. Pleasure, mine,
awes this choir, rude, of bisque wared,
mynahs far racing — a lover to egg.
Admittedly, it is pretty non-sensical. But it was so fun to do. And who knows, maybe "mynahs far racing" or "a lover to egg" may make it into a new poem?
Exercise: choose a poem or story in a foreign language, and transliterate the sounds of the words into English. Alternatively, take a mathematical equation, or a technical paragraph, or a phrase from elsewhere in the Arts & Sciences, and transliterate it into a poem.