Listening with our Tongues

Antena Aire

Being in the places between we don’t After Don Mee Choi and Gabriela Torres Olivares

Being in the places between we don’t understand we don’t understand claims the jumps re-jumps salts no one talked no one talked to us she loved herself anyways weddings happen in the past she thinks she doesn’t belong she doesn’t correspond it isn’t corresponded to her doubt whatever we want we didn’t want the ocean is not the sea the soil the air maybe a system without translation a system is not a wedding no one with a lover loyalty doesn’t cross blood hands more more distances triumph air fixes or something in bed or get up wake up out of bed or pain in shouts shouting undesired pain non-binary language this multi-plarity ¡ja!

Performed December 7, 2018 at the University of California, Irvine as part of Migratory Poetics: Literature, Theory, and Visual Cultures in Translation, a conference organized by Ana Baginiski and colleagues from the Department of Comparative Literature at UC Irvine

That poem is from Antena Aire’s recently published chapbook The Flame Through the Bridge: Notes and Transcripts from Improvised Interpreted Poem Performances, 2014 - 2019, published through the wonderful small press project Tripwire, based in Oakland.

You’ll find a video of us creating/performing this poem here:

We’ve been asking ourselves and others for years: what would it look like, sound like, feel like, taste like—which histories would be uncovered, licked into visibility—if we were to listen with our tongues?

We wanted to explore our poetry practice from the place where our interpreting and translation practice live, to explore intersections and mutual interventions. We decided to engage some experiments in welcoming error. The unexpected and imperfected as drivers of our collaboration. The interruption of our possible “expertise.” These were some of our first attempts at using cross-language practices as generative strategies for creative work.

What we devised, through trial and error and practice and experimentation, was an improvised discomfortable text-generating experiment based on a repeating, spiraling practice of collaborative interpretation and addition, for which we invented a few key constraints to guide us. We work back and forth across Spanish and English, the two languages we each use in our daily lives. We make poems in the space between the two, and through practices we use in our everyday cross-language work. We begin with one text fragment in one language. This text fragment is immediately interpreted into the other language by the listener, using consecutive interpretation; the interpreter-improviser then adds one text fragment in that same language. After the reading and initial interpretation of each of our “found” texts, every time one of us “interprets,” we add a line or two of our own devising, for a total of (more or less) five sets of improvised “interpretations.” Our rules are that we have to take new notes on a new sheet of paper or cover our old notes every time we interpret (to avoid simply transferring notes and/or memorizing text blocks), and that we can return to the same original text if we want to include more of those lines rather than improvised lines of our own. 

We break key rules of interpreting. We invent new constraints for the experiment. The process is eminently discomfortable. And the result: a discomfortable text, an interpretation-inspired instigation, an ultratranslation. A poem. Not a poem.


We work from and toward questions always.

What is it to perform an impossibility? 

What is it to labor when we know the goal is unattainable? 

When the very terms do not allow for a “successful” outcome? 

Or how does poetry allow us to understand moments of failure as moments of radiance? 

Or how does this small task, necessarily ending badly, allow us to carve a space to do something together? 

How does doing something together bring us into another kind of moment? Another kind of movement?

Image Credit: Marco Antonio Huerta

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