A poetic pursuit

MARSHALL – It took 19 years for her first book of poetry to be published, and Southwest Minnesota State University English professor Susan McLean also spent 10 years translating 500 Latin epigrams by a Roman poet.

This May, McLean will be taking a year-long sabbatical where she will work on entering her second full-length poetry manuscript in book contests. She recently received an Individual Artist Career Grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council to pay fees, postage and duplicating costs.

She’ll also be busy with finishing up a project where she translated 500 of Martial’s poems.

“He wrote over 1,500 short, funny poems (called epigrams),” McLean said. “He was wildly popular in Ancient Rome.”

The poems have been translated from the Latin into English before, but not all 1,500, McLean said, with the translations being in prose form.

“But I’ve turned them into poetry in English,” she said.

She got “addicted” into translating Martial’s works from a poetry workshop, challenging writers to translate just one of his poems. McLean said she just kept on with the translations until she had done 500 of them.

Her translations of Martial’s poems have been published here and there. McLean said she plans on doing revisions to the Martial translations manuscript during the summer, which is set to be published by the University of Wisconsin Press next year.

One of the advantages of doing a book of translated poems is that it might be used as a textbook for college courses, McLean said.

McLean said her latest poetry manuscript contains a variety of subjects.

“Some of them are about my own life, some are inspired about current events,” McLean said. And some of her poems are inspired by literature, she added. She said she just wrote a poem about Richard III after his remains were recently found.

But poetry books don’t make money for publishers, so McLean has to enter contests to get it published, she said.

She said she enjoys the humorous poems and would like to put a few in her upcoming poetry book.

“But ironically, it’s hard to get a book of funny poems published, they’ve kind of gone out of fashion,” she said.

McLean is going to give a reading at 3 p.m. on April 16 in the Whipple Gallery at SMSU.

“I like to keep busy,” she said, adding that she doesn’t get enough time to work on her own writing. During the summer and school breaks, she said she’ll get to write pretty intensely.

And if she isn’t busy enough, McLean is also working on translating the poems of another Ancient Roman poet, Catullus. McLean said he only wrote 116 poems.

“He’s also known for his love poetry,” she said.