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The Reading Series: Paul Legault Recreates Emily Dickinson

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The Reading Series is a new feature spotlighting videos from contemporary poets.

Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?
-- Emily Dickinson in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Paul Legault translated Emily Dickinson's poems into what he calls "basic English," but I'd classify them as concise snippets of 21st century American poetry. These translations convey Dickinson's expressions, but do so using contemporary language. When we think of translation, we think mostly of translation done between two distinct languages. To decipher Dickinson's language, the abstracted jargon of her day, requires a skill that is mostly intuitive, partly exploratory, and wholly creative. That's what Legault does. He recreates 1,789 poems by Emily Dickinson. And by doing so, he writes 1,789 poems by Paul Legault.

Paul Legault is the co-founder of the translation press Telephone Books and the author of three books of poetry: The Madeleine Poems (Omnidawn, 2010), The Other Poems (Fence, 2011), and The Emily Dickinson Reader (McSweeney's, 2012). He is also the co-editor of The Sonnets: Translating and Rewriting Shakespeare (Telephone/Nightboat, 2012), 154 poets' "versions" of the bard's own. Legault lives in Brooklyn, NY and works for the Academy of American Poets. He's here.