by Claire Oxford
Foreign phrases and poetry collide in the newest publication from Jordi Alonso ’14 — The Lovers’ Phrasebook, a chapbook slated for publication in 2017 by Pennsylvania-based Red Flag Poetry Service.
The nuanced meanings of words from myriad languages captured the attention of Alonso and Phoebe Carter ’17 in a collection of 26 new poems, with each poem by Alonso and corresponding illustration by Carter dedicated to capturing the meaning of an untranslatable foreign word through verse. The Lovers’ Phrasebook will be Alonso’s second published book; his first book of poetry, Honeyvoiced, released in 2014 by Gambier’s XOXOX Press, was dedicated to Carter. Carter will be illustrating these untranslatable words, drawing from previous sketches she made last summer.
Alonso is thrilled to have Carter illustrating the chapbook.
“I think they’ll be a wonderful addition to the book, since both the poems and the illustrations have grown up together out of our little shared obsession,” he said. The Lovers’ Phrasebook features one poem and illustration per foreign word, with each poem attempting to capture the nuanced meaning of foreign words that don’t have a simple translation to English.
For example, one word that both Alonso and Carter enjoyed interpreting through their respective poetry and drawings is “mistimanchachi,” a word from the Quichua language that translates, according to Alonso’s manuscript, to “a light rain,” or “something that scares Spanish-speaking urbanites.”
“I like the challenges that words like this bring up in the translation process,” Carter said. “I feel like art is a different way of tackling that problem, like there’s no word to show this in English, but you can represent it in different ways.”
For Carter and Alonso, their fascination for untranslatable words began with door decorations in upper Norton Residence Hall, where Carter — a modern languages and literatures major — was a Community Advisor her sophomore year. For each first year, she created a door decoration with an illustration of her interpretation of words from other languages not easily translated into English.
Over the summer preceding that school year, she discussed this project with fellow words-enthusiast Alonso. He immediately jumped on board, and the two began researching more untranslatable words together.
Alonso, who is currently working on obtaining a masters degree in creative writing and literature with an emphasis in poetry at SUNY Stony Brook – Southampton, said his decision to send in his collection of poems to Red Flag Poetry Service was a spontaneous New Year’s decision. Red Flag Poetry — a journal that usually only publishes 12 poems per year in the format of postcards — has never published a chapbook before. While Alonso had already been published in 2015 by the organization, this was an unusual request.
“In my tipsy poet mind,” Alonso said, “I was like, OK, I don’t really want to go to bed yet, it’s two in the morning on January 1st. I haven’t done anything relating to poetry this year. I should do something, so I wrote up a little email saying, ‘Hey guys, here’s 26 poems.’”