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“trans-late,” by Everett Lane (US)

Issue 4.3          February 2023          

Read the piece here.

Spoken Word Activity

—featuring poetry analysis with speaking and listening connections

The intensity of the voice in “trans-late,” and the poet’s use of repetition and refrain, lends well to a read-aloud and is reminiscent of the spoken word genre. Spoken word is a type of poetry that is meant to be performed; our 2022 Poetry and Spoken Word Competition resource states:

“In addition to considering the rhythm and cadence of your poem, take time to practice elements such as projection, enunciation, pauses and eye contact. Watching these performances will give you a sense of how the delivery of a piece creates mood and meaning just as much as the words themselves. You’ll also notice that the spoken word genre celebrates authenticity of voice and subject matter. As you experiment with your own lines, remind yourself that the power of spoken word comes from writing about what matters most to you, and expressing these sentiments in your own voice.”

Watch this video of Phil Kaye performing “If You Get Everything Done”. Then, go back to “trans-late,” and re-read the poem considering this spoken word context. With a partner, use highlighters, markers, and different colored pens to annotate “trans-late” in a way that shows how you would read it aloud. As you annotate, consider the following:

  • Word choice: Which words would you emphasize, and how would you emphasize them (Speaking more loudly or softly? Sounding tentative, or perhaps frustrated, as you state those words?)

  • Cadence: Where would you accelerate your speaking? On which lines or phrases would you slow down? Where would you pause, and why?

  • Gestures/Facial Expressions: Where would a smile, a shake of the head, a shrug, a creased brow, or any other physical gesture complement the words of the poem? What tone/meaning do you hope to deliver with these choices?

Using your annotations as a guide, read “trans-late” aloud to your partner, each taking a turn as the performer. Take note of how the experience of performing the poem and also listening to the poem as performed by your partner varies from that of reading the poem silently.***

Finally, we invite you to listen to the recording of “trans-late,” which is available in our online journal. Discuss the following questions with your partner or whole class:

  • Does the reader make any choices in their performance that are similar or different from the choices you discussed with your partner in the spoken word activity (above)? To what effect?

  • Does the reader make any choices in their performance that makes you understand or interpret the poem in a different way?

  • Which experience of the poem is your favorite and why? (Consider the experiences of reading the poem on the page, performing the poem aloud with your own choices included, listening to your classmate perform the poem, or listening to the recording of the poem performed aloud in Write the World Review.)

Discussion Questions (Or short written responses)

—featuring poetry analysis with reader response connections

  1. Did annotating the poem “trans-late” as if preparing for a spoken word performance (in the style of Phil Kaye’s “If You Get Everything Done”) cause you to notice anything new in the poem that you had not seen before? Were you left with any questions or areas of uncertainty when considering how you might perform a certain section of the piece? Ask your classmates how they interpreted those sections that left you feeling confused or unsure.*

  2. “trans-late” was written in response to the WtW prompt “Found in Translation,” which asks writers to “write a poem or story that seeks to explain the meaning of a seemingly untranslatable word or phrase, treating it as a theme for your narrative.” Which lines in “trans-late” emphasize themes of language, communication, and/or miscommunication? Summarize the poet’s main point, and evaluate how effectively the poet uses language to make themselves—and their message—understood.*

  3. In her reflection (see below) on “trans-late,” WtW Community Ambassador Eloise highlights the frustration of trying to make oneself understood by others who may misunderstand, or not want to understand, one’s identity. Eloise uses the words “desperation, “indescribable,” and “struggle” in her reflection. What words come to mind for you when you read “trans-late,” and can you identify how these words mesh with the tone, mood, or characterization in the poem? Can you relate to this feeling of frustration, even in relation to different scenarios or situations? How would your tone sound in a poem on that topic from your own life, on that thing that makes you feel misunderstood?

Reflection on  “trans-late” by Community Ambassador Eloise

“There is significance in the way in which the poem has been framed around misunderstanding. It's about finding a voice that is to be understood by others, even when they don't (or don't want to) understand you. The particularly potent metaphor of translation and a ‘language barrier’ is used here to represent the barriers between the experiences of two people that prevents one from truly understanding the speaker's identity. With each line comes an indescribable kind of relatability, where I can cast my mind back to teary conversations as I struggled to define my own identity. This is a text that not only resonates with queer readers, but also more broadly with those who have had to almost explain themselves and their identity to people in their life.”

Writing Activities

Spoken Word

Try your hand (and voice!) at your own spoken word piece. Consider recording yourself performing your piece, too! Write the World’s former guest judges Jacob Sam-La Rose and Amina Atiq for the 2021 and 2022 Poetry & Spoken Word Competitions share more about the genre. Our 2022 Poetry & Spoken Word Competition brief outlines what you need to know to get started! We hope you’ll enter your piece in our 2023 Poetry & Spoken Word Competition being held on Write the World this April!**

Teacher’s Note: Spoken word pieces can be written about any topic, so this is an opportunity to connect this work to other parts of your curriculum. Is there a theme or event in a novel or short story you’re reading in class that you’d like students to respond to in a spoken word piece? Is there an initiative at your school to perform locally or for younger children, or to raise awareness about a social, environmental, or political issue? All of these scenarios could be woven into this work with spoken word. Please feel free to email our education team if you have any questions or would like more support connecting this work to your class’s curriculum!

Poetry Analysis

Think back to the discussion questions for “trans-late” (or look back at your notes or short answers to those questions), and pull one concept out from that material to use as a topic sentence for a paragraph of poetry analysis. Are you most interested in tone? Word choice? Repetition? The poet’s use of the hyphen in “trans-late”? Something else? Make this one item the focus of your paragraph. In your writing, explore and explain the role of that topic in the poem. How does the poet use this technique purposefully? What does that technique accomplish in the poem, and why/how does it work? Use specific examples from the poem to support your statements.*

Common Core Standards Alignment for this Lesson

*Reading Standards for Literature, Craft and Structure, Grades 11-12

Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

**Writing Standards, Production and Distribution of Writing, Grades 9-10

Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.

***Writing Standards, Comprehension and Collaboration, Grades 11-12

Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

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