Translation Assignment


To better understand the mechanics and effects of poetic forms, students will complete one “translation” of a poem from one form into another, or a piece of found prose into a poetic form. The translation will be accompanied by a 500-word reflection on the thought process behind the translation, and how the change in form affects the meaning and operation of the original text. Seeing as this is not a creative writing class, my evaluation will be guided by the careful thought and attention to the translation process demonstrated in the reflective piece.

Both the translation (along with a copy of the original text) and reflection are due in class in hard copy and via email in electronic copy on Wednesday, September 30th.


The idea behind this assignment is to give you the chance to “get your hands dirty” with poetic form to better understand its mechanics and effects. The same way that certain kinds of music are better appreciated once you’ve had some experience with making music yourself, formal poetry tends to shine a little differently for readers who have given writing it a try. In writing the reflection, the goal is to also allow you a space to think aloud about what experimenting in form has taught you, along with giving me a better sense of the thought that went into your translation.

Completing the Assignment

The assignment has three basic steps: selecting a poem or piece of prose to translate; picking a target form and performing the translation; and composing a 500-word reflection on the process.

Selecting a Text: Your choice of text is entirely up to you. I recommend picking one of the following two options. First, a poem that you know and enjoy and would like to think about further. This poem can be from wherever you like: your chosen volume, our course syllabus, the anthology, or from your own reading. The only requirement is that it be significantly different in form from the translation you write. Second, a brief news article or feature you’ve read recently that struck a chord. In this case, you’d be translating from prose into formal poetry, as opposed to from one poetic form into another. Regardless of genre, try to pick a text that you think you’ll have fun with, and that is suited to the assignment.

The Translation: Once you have your text, look through the Fry and try to pick a form that you think will be a good fit for your original. You may pick any of the forms Fry describes, so long as they have a defined and recognizable structure. (In other words, free verse is not going to work for this assignment.) The form must also produce a poem that is at least 10 lines long. If you pick a very short form like haiku, you must write a series of them to get you up into the minimum line requirement. Try to keep to the requirements of your form as closely as you can. If you break it, be prepared to account for why you did so in your reflection.

Reflection: In your 500-word reflection, I want you to walk me through your process of completing the assignment, indicating what parts were difficult, what parts came more easily, and what you learned from writing your translation. Seeing as this is not a creative writing class, I’ll be evaluating the assignment largely on the quality of thought and care put into the piece, as opposed to the quality of the piece itself.  The reflection is your chance to spell out in concrete terms what that thought and care looked like. Some questions to consider while writing your reflection: Why made the text I chose a good one for the assignment? Why did I choose the poetic form I did for the translation? What steps did I take to complete the translation? What aspects of the translation gave me particular trouble, and how did I resolve the problem? If I deviated from the form, what reasons did I have for doing so? What did I discover about the form in trying to write in it that I didn’t know beforehand? Even if your poem is less than successful—and writing a successful poem is hard!—your reflection should communicate, in as precise terms as possible, the hard work that went into translating your text.


As mentioned above, my evaluation of your translation will be guided by your reflection. In grading the assignment, I will be guided by the following questions. Again, your reflection is your chance to make sure the answers to these questions are as clear as possible.

  • To what extent did the student make a thoughtful and effective choice in selecting both their original text and the form for their translation?
  • How well does the student make use of the form selected? Is there a clear demonstration of effort on the student’s part? Is there a kind of logic or thought process linking form and content? If the form is broken, is there a good reason for doing so?
  • Is the student able to write clearly and specifically about the choices they made in preparing their translation in the reflection? Does the reflection yield some insight about the use of the chosen form in particular or poetic form in general?

Note that the translation assignment is worth 10% of your overall grade. A full grade breakdown can be found on the Assignments page.