Nancy Naomi Carlson

Three translations of poems by Rene Char

20th Anniversary Reflections

Nancy Naomi Carlson has been instrumental in promoting literary translators and recommending their inclusion in this journal. She was first featured in Beltway Poetry Quarterly in the Summer 2005 Portfolio Issue (Volume 6:3), and her work has also appeared in: the Prose Poetry Issue (Fall 2013, Volume 14:4, guest edited by Abigail Beckel); the Spring 2014 Issue (Volume 15:2), in which her translations of poems by Abdourahman Waberi were published; the Sonnet Issue (Winter 2015, Volume 16:1, guest edited by Michael Gushue with Kim Roberts); and the Jewish Poets Issue (Spring 2019, Volume 20:2, guest edited by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub with Kim Roberts). Carlson co-edited the Poetry in Translation Issue, Summer 2015, Volume 16:3, with Katherine E. Young and Suzanne Zweizig. That issue featured translations along with original poems in several languages we’d never had the opportunity to include previously in the journal, including Vietnamese, Burmese, Latin, Bulgarian, and Faroese.

She writes: “Co-curating Beltway Poetry Quarterly’s translation issue (co-sponsored with DC-Area Literary Translators Network (DC-ALT) was exciting and fun, especially because we got to showcase the talent of so many DC-area translators, translating from so many different languages. Collaborating with the other two editors—Katherine Young and Suzanne Zweizig, made this experience especially enjoyable.”


Three Translations of Poems by Rene Char

Robust Meteors

In the wood we hear the worm boil
The pupa turning toward the clear face
Its natural means to be freed

Men are starved
For secret meats for cruel tools
Rise up you beasts of slaughter
To outrun the sun.


Robustes Météores

Dans le bois on écoute bouillir le ver
La chrysalide tournant au clair visage
Sa déliverance naturelle

Les hommes ont faim
De viandes secrètes d’outils cruels
Levez-vous bêtes à égorger
À gagner le soleil.


Oracle of the Great Orange Tree

The man who carries evidence on his shoulders
Recalls waves in the warehouse of salt.


L’Oracle du Grand Oranger

L’homme qui emporte l’évidence sur ses épaules
Garde le souvenir des vagues dans les entrepôts de sel.



With the help of stones
Efface my long fur

I dare not use
Stones that look like you

Scrape with your claws
My flesh is rough bark

I’m afraid of flames
Wherever you’re found

You speak
Like a man

Don’t get me wrong
I’ll not go to the tail end of your denouement.



À l’aide de pierres
Efface mes longues pelisses

Je n’ose pas me servir
Des pierres qui te ressemblent

Gratte avec tes ongles
Ma chair est d’une rude écorce

J’ai peur du feu
Partout où tu trouves

Tu parles
Comme un homme

Je ne vais pas au bout de ton dénouement.


“Robust Meteors” and “Double” were originally published in The Journal; “Oracle of the Great Orange Tree” was originally published in Notre Dame Review. All three translations appeared in Hammer with No Master by Rene Char, translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson, Tupelo Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission.



Nancy Naomi Carlson is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maryland Arts Council, and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County. Carlson is author of four books of poems and translator of six books from French to English, including An Infusion of Violets (Seagull Books, 2019), recently named a "New & Noteworthy" title by the New York Times Book Review. A senior translation editor for Tupelo Press, her work has appeared in APR, The Georgia Review, The Paris Review and Poetry. Her website: To read more by this author: Summer 2005 issue