Translator’s Note

Kristine Ong Muslim

Mal (High Chair Books, 2011), a book-length poem created through the systematic erasure of a poetry collection by one of the Philippine National Artists for Literature, is fragmented, ambiguous, and rife with foreboding. In describing his method of erasure to create Mal, Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles explained that he used some of the first two words from every line of each of the poems in his source text, Bakit Kailangan ang Himala (University of the Philippines Press, 2007) by Rio Alma, and retained only the original order of the lines in the poems.

These two lines, more or less, encapsulate the ethics of the erasure that birthed Mal, a long poem whose enigmatic sway is both jarring and strangely melodic.

There is no mark

on everything that should be erased

Walang marka

sa bawat dapat burahin

My translation, in turn, showed the corresponding degree of disjointedness, oftentimes brutishly literal to the point that it would appear as if my only concern was to find the simplest, most musical word-for-word equivalence. I felt Arguelles’ Mal warranted this sort of treatment, this translating and transcoding via empathetic manhandling. Filling in the glaring syntactical gaps through unbridled creative translation would have robbed Mal of its vaguely menacing feel. It seemed to frequently hint at something malevolent and completely out of reach — like in this published excerpt that I also translated. So, I worked to reproduce that same vaguely menacing effect in my translation.

about the author