Sunday, January 19, 2014

Twenty-five

For S.L.

A quarter-century seems such a poured-concrete measure.
The push-me-pull-you of our journey is better
defined by craned-neck views of indigo buntings,
hand-in-hand sprints for cover from sudden storms,
morning-loon lakes traversed in canoes,
late-spring lady’s slippers hiding in plain sight,
winter-chilled lunches in ember-warm ski huts.

How actuarial to mark the mere day we met 
when, had we taken sufficient notice 
of that butterfly’s wingbeat, 
of every bus just missed or caught, 
we could have predicted our first encounter to the second… 

yet never in a million magnolia blooms,
a thousand Sunday dinners
a hundred seasons come and gone
a dozen road-trip holidays
could we have foreseen 
these countless simple pleasures
that have filled our life together.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Attack of the Zombie Translator

Texture
Photo credit: Chris Chabot

The other day I was talking to a friend who works as a building contractor. He was telling me how even though he’s not the cheapest guy around he never lacks for work because of his meticulousness and commitment to quality. I told him that it was exactly the same for me, and we went on to bemoan the general lack of quality in our respective professions. 

Little did I know that I would come across a glaring example a few days later. I was translating some voice-overs for a film on diving in the Caribbean that will be released in both French and English versions. Many of the people in the film spoke English, which had been transcribed for translation into French. As I was translating the French voice-overs, I noticed that there had been several errors in the English transcription, which had in turn created some very serious errors in the French translation. 

For instance, a dive tour operator with a South African accent was explaining how “the island relies on dive tours.” This had been transcribed as “the island relies on doctors” and translated as “l’île dépend des médecins”—completely ridiculous in the context.

Another huge error occurred when a speaker was explaining his role in the establishment of a botanic park. In this case, “botanic” had been transcribed as “platonic” and translated as “platonique.” Seriously, how do you write “parc platonique” without a huge red flag going up?

Some of the fault clearly lies with the transcriber. In the case of the South African saying “dive tours” I had to listen to it twice myself before I understood. But if the transcriber had been more attentive, the context should at least have made it clear that the word “doctor” was not right.

To me, however, the French translator made the more egregious error. It is a translator’s job to grasp the context and write a coherent translation. This clearly didn’t happen on several occasions here. Whenever I translate subtitles or voice-overs for a film, I always ask for access to the film itself. It invariably provides visual cues that often help me select a tense or decide how much I can leave out in adapting a subtitle. I’m not sure what happened with this translator, but they didn’t do their job. It might as well have been a zombie doing the translation.

Partly because I began to double check the English transcription and the subsequent French translation as I went through the film (at no charge to my client), it took me about two hours to translate just over 600 words. Pretty slow going for an experienced translator. On the other hand, I feel that this kind of service—going the extra mile, going above and beyond the call of duty, to trot out a couple of tired aphorisms—is why my clients trust me and appreciate my work. They know that I care about their product at least as much as they do.

It seems to me that in an age where machine translation is making ever more alarming encroachments into the territory of human translators, we non-zombies must strive more than ever to demonstrate our superiority to our stiff-jointed competitors. Clearly, my anonymous zombie-colleague did not live up to that standard today. I can only hope that my own efforts made up for it in some way.

Now where did I put that shotgun?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Twenty-four


For S. L. 

Like hours in a day, the years flash by…
Like a falcon folding its wings, hurtling earthward,
like a kite tethered to the ground, we escape gravity 
only by virtue of the surrounding air.

Like a falcon folding its wings, hurtling earthward,
blind love, the meteor, seeks its fortune, ablaze 
only by virtue of the surrounding air.
Our imagined fortresses burst open with the impact of 

blind love. The meteor seeks its fortune, a blaze
of life—and death. Bound to a trajectory in this
hour, imagined fortresses burst open. With the impact of
two keeps colliding, we lie shattered in the stream

of life and death. Bound to a trajectory in this,
an unceasing cascade washing over us, we
two keep colliding. We lie shattered in the stream,
and over time our fractured edges soften, intermingle.

An unceasing cascade washing over us, we
resist yet find a way to be swept away,
and over time our fractured edges soften. Intermingled,
we love as if the world has never before known love.

Resist, yet find a way to be swept away—
like a kite; tethered to the ground we escape gravity.
We love as if the world has never before known love
like ours. In a day, the years flash by…

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Day 100


Yesterday, April 9, was the 100th day of 2012. How do I know this? Because it was also Day 100 of my little “Resolution 2012” project, wherein I strive to write something creative every day. Perhaps it’s time to take stock of what I've "accomplished."

1) About 32,000 words, including this post. Not bad, though not as much as I had originally hoped. That said, in the last few weeks, a crazy work schedule and a bit of a creative lull have combined to slow my daily output. I initially tried to compensate somewhat by attempting the NaPoWriMo thing, but it has been an unmitigated failure.  OK, maybe not unmitigated, since I do have the start of a reasonable poem to show for it, but most of the “poetry” I’ve written over the past nine days would barely qualify as horrible prose. I’m not sure I’ll continue to bother with it.

2) Twenty published posts (including this one) on my two blogs, plus several others that I wrote but didn’t bother to publish. In both cases, this is already far ahead of previous years’ outputs. Yay for me!

3) Six or seven poems started, though most if not all need some serious polishing. Still, I am unaccustomed to this kind of output in recent years, so something is definitely working. I’m not sure if I’ll have the makings of a year-end chapbook, but I’ll certainly have some good material to work with. 

4) Quite a few “placeholder” entries. I won’t even bother going back to count them, but it must be at least 15, and perhaps closer to 20. A 20-percent “slacker” index is nothing to be proud of, but I went into this knowing there would be days I just didn’t have the energy to write anything more than “Hi Mom.” So my built-in failsafe seems to have worked… mostly… which brings me to my most shameful admission...

5) Two missed entries. I had really hoped to have an entry for every day this year, but that is not to be. While I was in Cleveland playing The Magic Flute, I missed days 79 and 84. After the first miss, I chalked it up to my absorption in the project and decided to forgive myself. And to be honest, these projects always sap a lot of my emotional energy. I have trouble focusing on anything other than the music, and it takes a huge effort of will to get any other work done. My entries for that week are mostly reflections on how I was feeling; in other words nothing more than diary entries. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s probably the way to go if I’m not going to forget to write during my other musical projects this year. But in retrospect, I am a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to at least write two words on those two days. 

6) Where do I go from here? By the ides of March, I was feeling very encouraged. I’d written some decent poetry, my blog writing was going well, and I felt like I was back in the writing groove. Then work got really crazy, and suddenly it was as if my brain said “no!” and my inspiration plummeted; I’ve written very little of any consequence since then. But I have enough experience with creativity to know that it goes in cycles, so I’m not too worried. And to be honest, this project has been a fun ride. I’m looking forward to writing a year-end wrap up.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Layton & Jobs: Idealists



The year 2011 was a tough year for the admittedly narrow demographic of left-leaning Canadian Apple aficionados. In August, we lost Jack Layton, the leader of the New Democratic Party, to cancer at the age of 61; and in October, we lost the founder and CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs, also to cancer. 

At first glance, the two men didn’t have much in common. Layton was a career politician and a man of the people. Steve Jobs was one of the most successful businessmen of our time and an intensely private man. Yet both were highly respected among their peers and inspirational to those who looked to them for leadership. And the public outpouring of grief at their untimely passing was of a scale and intensity that has not been seen for decades for a politician, let alone for a businessman. 

Both managed to take the reins of their respective organizations and lead a gradual but seemingly inevitable reversal of fortune, Apple going from a nearly bankrupt computer maker to the most valuable company in the world; the NDP going from an afterthought party to the official opposition. 
But respect and success will only take you so far. Certainly it doesn’t automatically elicit the kind of widespread public mourning that Layton’s and Jobs’ passing did. Of course part of it is that they died far too young and that their lives were cut short at the height of their success. It’s only natural that we feel the tragedy in this more acutely. 

But it occurs to me that the one important thing these two men had in common was an unrelenting idealism that they somehow managed to preserve in fields where compromising one’s ideals is pretty much par for the course. Idealists in politics are generally don't last long; they either get out of politics or make that deal with the devil. Idealists certainly do not rise to party leadership. But Jack Layton was able to stay true to his principles more than any other Canadian party leader in recent memory, and Canadian voters were just beginning to sense this when he died. Steve Jobs’ unwillingness to compromise when it came to user experience is what ultimately set Apple's products apart from those of its competitors. It was what made him a legendary badass among the Silicon Valley elite, but it was also what earned him the grudging respect and admiration of those who worked for him. And it was what endeared him to several generations of Apple fans. When we use an Apple product, we get the feeling that it has been designed specifically to delight us in a thousand different ways, not simply to coax a few hundred dollars from our wallet. This was Steve Jobs’ doing. 

The incredible impromptu public memorials that sprang up after Laytons’ and Jobs’ passing were monuments to idealism. And in this age when people simply assume that all politicians are corrupt and all businessmen are crooked, the grievers were also tapping into the same sentiment that the Occupy Wall Street protesters were channelling. I know this sounds melodramatic, but in some sense, they were mourning the death of truth and honesty and protesting against cynicism.

It’s tough when we lose the good guys. They’re too few and far between.

Monday, April 02, 2012

NaPoWriMo


So April is National Poetry Month in the US and, according to wikipedia, since 1999 in Canada too. In conjunction with "NaPoMo" is National Poetry Writing Month, or NaPoWriMo (all together now), wherein we "poets" are urged to write a poem a day for all 30 days of April. 

Needless to say, as a poet who is thrilled to write—or even start to write—two decent poems a month, I've never participated. It always seemed to place the focus on quantity rather than quantity. But in this year of my own "Resolution 2012 project," in which I have basically thrown quality out the window in favour of quantity, I suppose this is my year to take a stab at NaPoWriMo (even if just saying it leaves a bad taste in my mouth). 

Yesterday, I wrote a "poem" so execrable that I'm surprised my computer didn't destroy itself in shame for having to harbour such drivel on its hard drive. It only deigned to keep it because yesterday was April Fools Day. Today I made somewhat more of an effort, though as you'll see below, the results are only just one level from the bottom on the stinking bathroom scale of "pee-ew."

There once was a poet from somewhere
who didn’t write poems or care.
he spent all his days
in a writer’s-block haze,
but he wrote this damn lim’rick, so there!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Magic Flute


Last week I was in Cleveland for a three-show run of Mozart’s The Magic Flute with Apollo’s Fire. It was a “semi-staged” production with several very fine singers in the lead roles and a couple of excellent dancers who enhanced the production value considerably. There was no set to speak of, but the singers were in lovely period costumes, and there were a few of props to enhance the "decor." Interestingly and unusually, the orchestra was on stage, split in half with an aisle down the middle, which the choreography put to good use; indeed, the orchestra was often called upon to participate in the action on stage little ways. All in all, it made for a great deal of fun, and the audiences—especially the near-capacity house in Cleveland’s magnificent Severance Hall that instantly leaped to their feet at the end—were very appreciative.  

I brought home many positives from the week. For instance, I’ve been practicing quite a lot recently, and my chops felt very solid on this gig. It was wonderful to feel confident in my playing, to feel sure that the music I was hearing in my mind would come out of my horn. In the last few months, I’ve been working hard on a few technical issues with my playing. It’s been a slow process of unlearning some bad habits and relearning some old good habits that I have lost over the years, but I feel I’m making very good progress, and this gig was a good barometer of that.

Playing in Severance, one of the great concert halls in the United States, was a real thrill. It’s a beautiful old hall and such a nice acoustic to perform in. It’s no wonder that the Cleveland Orchestra developed into one of the United States’ great orchestras. 

But most of all, there was just the sheer joy of making music with such a talented bunch of artists. When I return from these projects, the euphoria lasts for a good week afterward. I wonder if musicians who do this full time get used to it, or do they exist in a constant state of euphoria and don’t know the difference between that and a “normal” mental state. I suppose that eventually the everyday annoyances in any job will bring even a musician down to earth, but for me, the contrast between the occasional music making and my more mundane (though, I hasten to add, very fulling) work as a translator couldn’t be more striking. As always, it’s difficult to put into words, but I feel as though making music taps into something very primal, as if I were speaking some proto-human language based solely on emotion; yet it’s no less nuanced than any modern language for all that. 

It seems to me that because this language cuts right to our emotional core, some of the friendships we forge on these projects are simultaneously superficial and significant. I had never met most of the woodwind and string players in the band before, and even those musicians and singers I do know, I only see once a year at most; still, the mere fact of making great music with them makes them special to me, so it is always with a bittersweet sense of sadness for leaving behind friends mixed with joy for having been part of it that I return from these projects.