and rhetoric. And it’s boring as a result. Music, which is sound play inpoetry, is one of the things that enlivens it, and rhythm comes in, asdoes sharp imagery. Ezra Pound talked about translating poetry. He saidthere are three kinds of poetry. There’s a poetry of picture, or phano-poeia; there’s a poetry of sound, or melapoeia; and there’s a poetry ofargument, or logopoeia. Probably all those things together make a goodpoem, but every poem leans more on one than the other, and in the habitof any individual poet, there is more of one than the other. It’s not thatone is better than the other; it’s that they all have their effects. To go onwith my criticism of contemporary poetry, too much of it is about platitudes of social conduct that sound like sermons.
WALPOLE: You have been a past president of the American LiteraryTranslators Association. How has your work translating others affectedyour writing?
BALABAN: Something I learned from Robert Lowell—he thought thattranslation could bring you back to your own poetry just because ofthe ardor and the pleasure of translating a foreign poet, the sensibilitythat you inhabited or liked. That’s true, but if you’re going to translate apoem, you have to figure out what made it successful in the original andwhat is there in English that could make it successful in a similar way.That’s a big challenge. To succeed at it, you have to work with an awfullot of tricks and techniques in poetry. And, as Tony Barnstone writes,you have to know “the poem behind the poem.” You learn from translation; it’s a great self-teaching tool.
I collected on tape a lot of oral poetry during the war, sung by farmers and fishermen and housewives. That poetry had a remarkable prosody to it, and it was beautifully musical—indeed, it was sung. What itrelied upon are certain prescribed rhythms and rhymes, and the rhymeswere devilishly concealed. They would skip from the ends of lines tothe middle of the next lines—Gerard Manley Hopkins called it “roverhyme”—and I adopted some of that in my poetry.
WALPOLE: What did you think of Ken Burns’s PBS documentary seriesabout the war?
BALABAN: The Burns documentary was disgraceful. It saw the VietnamWar in a way I thought we had well moved past. That is, as an extension