Norma Cole and Elizabeth Robinson Translation Poems



We asked two poets to exchange work and create interpretations of each other's poems. Read the original texts and new interpretations, and then get the poets’ commentary on the process.






Robinson to Cole


Alba: the caracol by Elizabeth Robinson



Let undeclared


night delay


the past.


Nothing as arbitrary


as time can feign


song. Bereft









Dawn: the snail by Norma Cole



Leave before


alone, in


the dust.


No slippery able


hours worry


music. Sorrow







Cole to Robinson



Salto Mortale by Norma Cole



a record of limits

takes you or keeps you


always partial and incomplete

reason comes to an end


the beach

under the bombs




one leg over the edge

we get here too late


expecting nothing

gentle secret



was the other life







Leap by Elizabeth Robinson



Faith, like light,


is fatal: can’t be penned in.



We look up at what leaps through

the air before


it turns us, in turn, into incendiary dust.


Thus we are made parts of our own whole.




Previous.  By which one means reason.


Please be reasonable.  As anti-gravity


would be supremest reason, for whom


the believer leaps from the bridge, nostalgiac


for what came before this lucidity, like


a previous life.







Norma Cole

Night falls but doesn’t day fall too? Hooked on the alba, unable to arrest the dawn, the thousand golden threads of night evaporate in love’s light. The caracol, cochlea, inner ear “the better to hear you with,” is the shell-like structure divided, like the three sentences in the poem, into three parts. Two are canals for the transmission of pressure, and in the third is the sensitive organ of Corti, which detects pressure impulses and responds with electrical impulses. One “wakes in the light of the old dream.” (Walter Benjamin) It’s all in the harmonics.


Elizabeth Robinson

Who is “you”?  That perhaps that is the “other life,” the leap between a you and that you’s other, and the indeterminacy of history that so constitutes us.   A bomb falls, explodes, makes further dispersions.  But what if that incendiary diffusion is its own kind of logic or faith?  What if history is the gate that we throw our leg over, with a wistful backward look before we jump?






Norma Cole’s most recent books of poetry are Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988—2008 and NATURAL LIGHT. A book of essays and talks, TO BE AT MUSIC just appeared from Omnidawn Press. Cole has received awards from the Gerbode Foundation, Gertrude Stein Awards, Fund for Poetry and Foundation for Contemporary Arts. She teaches at the University of San Francisco.


Elizabeth Robinson is the author, most recently, of Also Known As (Apogee Press).  Two books, Three Novels (Omnidawn) and Counterpart (Ahsahta), are forthcoming.  Robinson is also co-editing, with Jennifer Phelps, an anthology of essays on contemporary women poets and spirituality, tentatively entitled Quo Anima. 



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