Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Feats of Translation

Beth Bates, prose editor for Booth Journal, sent a tweet in my direction asking for a list of "impressive feats of translation." A feat, to me, means a messy sort of translation or version, a hybrid, a borrowing which creates a new work distinct for the original. Here the face of the original author blends with that of the translator. Beth's timing is fortuitous. As I kicked around ideas for my list, I found fodder for my upcoming talk at the University of Michigan. So, in no particular order, feats of which I am fond:

  • This essay on Taiwanese literature contains a translation of a character poem into English that is visionary in its Anglicization of the ideas contained in the three characters 兵, 乒, and 乓.
  • Geoffrey Brock's mashup of Rimbaud, Rilke, and Seferis ties together three poems from three languages by linking the common phrase change your life.
  • Though maligned by critics, such as E. Bruce Brookes in this snarky article on the University of Massachusetts, Seamus Heaney's version of Horace's Ode I, 34 is the best poetic response I've found for 9-11.
  • With the poem "When You Are Old," W. B. Yeats pulled off one of the greatest coups of English literature. He managed to pass off Ronsard's French sonnet off as his own. I'll give him that his ending is much better.
  • Of the three versions I've found of Housman's Latin ode to his friend and unrequited love, Moses Jackson, this one replicates is an a Housman's voice and phrasing to an amazing degree. 
  • Eliot's "The Wasteland" must be mentioned for its sheer pastiche and the notable use of the Greek Anthology, a rarely read text I cannot recommend enough.
  • I started translating after hearing Cass Dalglish talk about translating cuneiform tablets from the Akkadian. She told the story of how she lay awake in the darkness in Cuba and listened to distant Afro-jazz drumming and the project clicked - jazz translations riffing off the original language which is full of multiple interpretations and choices for each character. Here are two poems she read at that reading.
  • Marlowe's Ovid landed him in hot water with the censors - but when wasn't he in hot water? A vastly underrated poet who may have rivaled Shakespeare had he lived as long, I love his plays and this translation in particular. 
  • The homophone/half-translation of Catullus by Zukofsky. I can only find bits of the text online
  • On a recent trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts, I read the plaque for "The Diggers" by Van Gogh which explained that the painter viewed this work as a translation of this etching by Millet.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

In Barnes & Noble

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends 
This is the way the world ends...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Poetic Obsessions II - Word Frequency

A year and a half ago, I wrote a blog on the words I'd used the most in my writing in 2011. It gave a good flavor for the year. Here is this year's list. I think the tone and tenor of my life, or at least my obsession(s), has changed. These compass sixty pages of drafts and poems, many of which are the hashing and rehashing of the same material, hence obsession - movement, heat, and the body it seems.

49 city, 44 summer, 30 bodies, 29 salt, 27 sun, 26 days, 25 mornings, 20 hands, 19 taste, 18 white, 18 skin, 18 would, 16 strawberries, 16 breath, 15 park, 15 heat, 14 salinity, 14 tarmac, 13 train, 12 airport, 12 statues, 12 picnic, 10 tongues, 10 sweat, 10 mineralization, 10 eggs, 9 delectation, 8 K________, 8 fluidity, 8 jealousy, 8 dry, 8 apogee, 7 suburbs, 7 tomatoes, 6 hips, 6 fluency, 6 graffitied, 6 gardens, 6 desire, 6 Berlin, 6 delight, 6 exhalation, 5 awkwardness, 4 Tiergarten, 4 sunbound, 4 seas, 4 shit, 4 palliation, 4 heelskip, 4 fog, 4 caesarian, 3 sweaters, 3 resorts, 2 lines, 2 unsure, 2 untranslatable

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Shakespyeare: Day 79 - Othello and Generosity

Tea, Complete Works, and Stack of Books
I spent the evening at the local cafe finishing Othello and playing a few covers for the open mic. A stranger passing my table glanced down at what I was reading. "A Shakespeare fan?" he asked. I told him about my year of the Bard. He smiled and said, "I'll be right back." 

He returned with a satchel and set it down in front of me. "I was just on my way to drop these at the library for donation. Take what you like." I opened the bag to find it stuffed full of pocket Shakespeare volumes. I took the obscure one's - Timon of Athens, Pericles of Tyre, Coriolanus, and such. How pleasant to meet new friends and find William lurking in unexpected places!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Shakespyeare: Day 74 - Kabuki Macbeth

Teaching kabuki and noh to my World Literature class today, I discovered this eerie rendering of Macbeth with kabuki versions of the weird sisters. Fair is foul and foul is fair...


Thursday, March 14, 2013

I've Got a Blues - Updates and Miscellany

I went with a friend to the Kat Edmonson concert in downtown Ann Arbor last night. The concert was nice, if a bit low key - overall, good. But there was one thing that grated on me. She told a story about listening to Eric Clapton and wanting to write a blues. A blues. Not the blues. Not a blues song. She went on to tell about a dream she had in which a blues came to her and she woke up and wrote it down. There is no a blues only the blues. Kat Edmonson is pretty and so could get by with songs that made me want to nap (yes, I'm swayable by beauty - I'm not proud of it) but there is no indefinite form of blues.

Other updates - 
  • Four of my translations from the Faroese of Jóanes Nielsen are appearing in the spring issue of Modern Poetry in Translation. 
  • My Lenten Psalm Translation Contest has 17 days left. Some great pieces have come through - submit!
  • I'm considering a Faroe/Europe trip this summer - pending funding.
  • Pondering the best way to make green punch for Saint Patrick's Day - send recipes.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Psalm Contest Update

We're just past the halfway point of Lent with 19 days left to go. I've received some excellent Psalm translations in the last few days including two translations of Psalm 51 with radically different approaches yet a similarly fierce poetic. One calls God my Source, my Sword, my Suture. The other rewrites the psalm from the perspective of a prisoner in a chain-gang shoring up a levee on the Mississippi during a flood. Whether your translation is alluvial or full of ice and fire, I am hoping to hear from you. Details here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Shakespyeare: Day 62 - King Lear in Detroit

Tucked between Wayne State University, burned out mansions, and Comerica Park, the Detroit Art Institute straddles the fault lines of post-urban Detroit. The museum was built and stocked during the heyday of industrial Detroit. Now, beset by budgetary concerns, they manage to hang onto a collection of decent work while bringing in an occasional smallish international exhibit like the five Van Gogh paintings I drove the hour to see.

A feeling of unevenness hangs about the museum. I stood before paintings I'd seen in books such as Brughel's Wedding Dance then turned and walked through halls of work that was clearly not up to the scratch for a major city's art museum. Somewhere in the middle to middling range, a painting of King Lear. Though perhaps a bit overwrought, it captures the atmosphere of a line I've remembered from childhood, "this night will turn us all into fools and madmen."

Sigh No More