In this third collection, Catherine Wagner assumes a mantle of responsibility. Her slangy, spoken, and singing world of representation slides from syntactic unit to unit, making room for a galaxy of metonymy. “Things mean,” she writes, “and I can’t tell them not to.” In each of the four series that make up this book we find a female body watching itself and marking that watching with a severe wit, charmed visuals, and the analytic prowess of a born human.
This book is called Hypneratomachia Fuckphila. Fuckfila on her journey her new spelling reminiscent of Chick-Fil-A. Fill the chick and filler well of ding ding dong. Fuckin’ A. Behold a useful and profitable book. If you think otherwise, do not lay the blame on the book, but on yourself. If you sourly refuse the new erotic guest, do not despise the well-ordered sequence nor the fine well-ordered style. Then in this volume she falls in love. It is a worthy book, and full of many ornaments: he who will not read it is dull of mind. Various things are treated in it which it would tire me to relate, but accept the work which offers a cornucopia emending it should it be incorrect. The End.
“Catherine Wagner’s New Job might be the last great book of the aughts . . . One picks up some Sylvia Plath but what I really felt was Frankenstein. My New Job is tinkering with life.” –Eileen Myles
“Wagner delivers the unanticipated beauty of acknowledgment—reduplications, pain ratios, contradictions, corrections, consumables, “and the things in people’s eyes.” This is work worth returning to.” –C. S. Giscombe
Catherine Wagner was born in Burma and grew up in Baltimore. She is the author of Macular Hole (2004) and Miss America (2001), both from Fence Books. With Rebecca Wolff, she edited Not for Mothers Only: Contemporary Poems on Child-Getting and Child-Rearing (Fence Books, 2007). She teaches at Miami University in Oxford, OH.
The inimitable Swedish publisher Vertigo has just published Marquis de Sade's "Juliette." Here's a funny little review that talks about how the Swedish cultural ministry denied the press subsidies because they felt the book lacked artistic merit. Chalk one up to government arts funding.
Vertigo by the way is a really fantastic press. They've published Delaney's Hogg, Robert Coover, Apollinaire, HP Lovecraft, Nikanor Teratologen (soon to be published in English translation via Dalkey, his books are about... well, old people), Zizek, Louis Aragon's erotica and a lot of erotic/subversive classics, and of course the continuing saga of Klitty (lesbian detective). It's run by Carl Michael Edenborg who was a member of the Surrealist Group of Stockholm back in the day.
[Here's my response to Barbra Jane Reyes blog entry on the Harriet Blog (it gets me every time!) about reviewing books in translation:]
Hi Barbra Jane and Co,
Here's my advice: You review books of poetry in translation in a similar way you review other books of poetry: You try to figure out what's going on, what makes the poems tick, what they are concerned with, how they operate.
You want to acknowledge its status as translation, but that doesn't invalidate it as poetry in English.
Of course, you want to consider that it might not have the same context and goals as an American Poem, but then there is no One American Poem either, so that's useful to keep in mind when you review American poetry too.
It often helps to know something about the literary context of the work (which is often included in intros etc), but that is true of reviewing American poetry too.
Besides, I've seen reviews by people who know something about the context and it getting in the way of actually engaging with the text.
If you want to make a study of the translation, you obviously have to know the other language to some extent. These kinds of review are also useful, but that's only one kind of review.
The idea that this is the only useful review of a work in translation is very problematic for me: as if foreign works had no interest beyond scholarly knowledge and curiosity. We need the correct text in order to achieve Mastery!
The obsession with the "correct translation" is a really reactionary notion - based on the really reactionary idea of there being *one* original, presumably as interpreted by that highly problematic reader, the Ideal Reader. The Ideal Reader is never a foreigner, just as his Ideal Text is never a foreign text.
This makes me think of a really great piece Haryette Mullen read about reading as the non-intended reader. It's on the web somewhere.
I also want to note that the Action Books book of Finland-Swedish avant-garde poet Gunnar Björling ("the Gertrude Stein of Scandinavian Literature") was reviewed incredibly well in the fine journal Pleiades by someone (I'm sorry I can't remember his name) who did not know Swedish as far as I could tell. But it was really one of the best articles I've ever read about Björling's prosody/syntax, including all the scholarly articles written over some 80 years (and I've read pretty much everything ever written about him). Likewise, Lara Glenum's article about Aase Berg that we published on www.actionyes.org is one of the most perceptive articles about that Swedish poet. So it can definitely be done.
Jonathan Mayhew recently wrote a highly enjoyable, informative book about the translation of Lorca into English, but in it he argues that translation is "kitsch," that it's a second-hand experience, "apocryphal." As Lawrence Venuti pointed out in a recent review of that book, this is a profound misunderstanding of not just the way translation works, but the way literature works - that only the true scholar has access to the real text and all else is kitsch, a lie, "second hand." Well, I certainly don't feel that way, not about works in translation, or about works of American poetry. And I hope we haven't come to that as a literature - when only the certified scholar has access to the true text.
But then I've been living my entire adult life as a foreigner, a second-hand reader and writer of American poetry.
"... lodged like a foreign body in the overall system of art"
I'm giving a reading and talk on Friday:
"... lodged like a foreign body in the overall system of art": poetry/translation/kitsch/cinema/grotesque" Friday, November 20, 2009 116 Debartolo Hall 1:30 pm
I'm going to build off Daniel Tiffany's article to talk about translation as kitsch. I'm also criticizing Jed Rasula's model of "American Poetry Wax Museum" as essential a kitsch-based framework. I'll also talk about Breton, Plath and Aase Berg as kitsch/translation. I'll post my findings on this blog when I'm done.
The Creative Writing Program will be hosting a reading/multimedia event featuring poets Christine Hume and Jeff Clark on Nov 18 at 7pm at the Hammes Bookstore.
Christine Hume was born in 1968 and has lived in sixteen different States and countries. She is the author of three books and a chapbook: _Musca Domestica_ (Beacon Press 2000), winner of the Barnard New Women Poets Prize; _Alaskaphrenia_ (New Issues 2004), winner of the Green Rose Award and Small Press Traffic's 2005 Best Book of the Year Award; _Lullaby: Speculations on the First Active Sense_, a chapbook and CD (Ugly Duckling Presse 2007); and most recently _Shot_ (Counterpath Press 2009). Lux Books in Berlin will issue a bilingual Selected Poems in 2010. Her work has been translated into German, Dutch, and Slovenian. She currently teaches in the interdisciplinary Creative Writing Program at Eastern Michigan University.
Jeff Clark was born in southern California in 1971. He went to Iowa for poetry, then moved to San Francisco, where he lived from 1995 to 2000. From 2000 to early 2004 he lived in Oakland, and now lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan, with his partner, the poet Christine Hume, and their daughter, Juna Hume Clark. After eleven years with Oakland design studio Wilsted & Taylor, Clark does book design as Quemadura (www.quemadura.net). His own books are _The Little Door Slides Back_ (Sun and Moon, 1997; reprint FSG, 2004), _Music and Suicide_ (FSG, 2004), and _2A_ (Quemadura, 2006), a book written with Geoffrey G. O'Brien. A limited edition book entitled _Ruins_ just appeared this fall, coinciding with a show in NYC of Clark's design work.
Book signing to follow. Author books will be available for sale at the bookstore. The event is free and open to the public.
Wanted to mention the new issue of the journal boundary 2. This special issue of American poetry after 1975, edited by Charles Bernstein, features a great essay Joyelle wrote about Hannah Weiner and disability theory, as well as a bunch of other stuff that looks good but which I haven't had the time to read yet. Check it out.
I just re-read John Barth's "The Literature of Exhaustion," and found this peculiar passage about Borges, "Day" by Kent Johnson and Kenny Goldsmith, and, most interestingly from my perspective, translation (the article was originally published in Atlantic in 1967):
"... Now, this is an interesting idea, of considerable intellectual validity. I mentioned earlier that if Beethoven's Sixth were composed today, it would be an embarrassment; but clearly it wouldn't be, necessarily, if done with ironic intent by a composer quite aware of where we've been and where we are. It would have ben potentially, for better or worse, the kind of significance of Warhol's Campbell's Soup ads, the difference being that in the former case a work of art is being reproduced instead of a work of non-art, and the ironic comment would therefore be more directly on the genre and history of the art than on the state of the culture. In fact, of course, to make the valid intellectual point one needn't even recompose the Sixth Symphony, any more than Menard really needed to re-create the Quiote. It would've been sufficient for Menard to have attributed the novel to himself in order to have a new work of art, from the intellectual point of view. Indeed, in several stories Borges plays with this very idea, and I can readily imagine Beckett's next novel, for example, as Tom Jones, just as Nabokov's last was the multivolume annotated translation of Pushkin, I myself have always aspired to write Burton's version of The 1001 Nights, complete with appendices and the like, in twelve volumes, and for intellectual purposes I needn't even write it. What evenings we might spend (over beer) discussing Saarinen's Parthenon, DH Lawerence's Wuthering Heights, or the Johnson Administration by Robert Rauschenberg!"
What I find interesting in this passage is not that people in the 1960s were playing around with authorship functions and appropriation, but the strange equation signs that exist between these appropriated texts and Nabokov's translation and "the Johnson Administration by Robert Rauschenberg."
As if translation was just a transcription (even Nabokov's notoriously painfully literal translations). I think this speaks to the general unease or "scandal" of translation: it troubles a little like works of appropriation trouble. But in some ways translation seems to be the opposite. Appropriational works like "Day" and the ones Barth mentions above seem to insist on a certain kind of materiality, while translation creates something more like an excess, pushing the texts into a kind of flux (for example, in Nabokov's case it generates the excess of annotations).
And, what might recreating "the Johnson administration" as a work of art mean? That sounds like a pretty mean work of art.
Does this suggest that the Johnson administration was a kind of appropriation of the Kennedy Glamour that Rasuchenberg had dealt with? It also seems to suggest that appropriative works take away the agency of the subject matter in some way. R's version of the Johnson Administration afterall cannot wage war in Vietnam (or give civil rights to African-Americans).
[Joyelle gave this poetics statement at AWP last year. It was later reprinted in Fence. This is the first part of it and the final piece to keep it in more bloggish length. You'll have to seek out the Fence issue for the whole thing.]
Expenditure: Or, why I’m going to die trying by Joyelle McSweeney
1)My non-realist writing is exhausting. It exhausts the sentences. It has no good measure. It starts out formal (interested in genre) but it distends form and makes it sag.
2)When Bataille analyzes society, he divides it into two parts: the productive part, and then “the second part, represented by so-called unproductive expenditures: luxury, mourning, war, cults, the construction of sumptuary monuments, games, spectacles, arts, perverse sexual activity [...]—all these represent the activities which, at least in primitive circumstances, have no end beyond themselves.”
3)Ladies and gentlemen, we live in primitive circumstances. There are wars of attrition going on all over this planet that have no end in sight, wars which regardless of their recent dates of inception seem immemorial. In place of ‘immemorial’, let’s try ‘expiration date’. It’s time for the show stopper that brings down the house.
3)Bataille says “the term poetry [...] can be considered synonymous with expenditure; it in fact signifies, in the most precise way, creation by means of loss. Its meaning is therefore closer to that of sacrifice.’ By sacrifice he means a loss unto extinction; Sacrifice produces sacred objects. Furthermore, “in particular, the success of Christianity must be explained by [...] the Son of God’s ignominious crucifixion, which carries human dread to a representation of loss and limitless degradation.”
5)Or, put another way, there’s no success like failure.
6) Some have said that Roberto Bolaño’s work, with its many missing, absent, or disappeared artists, thematizes the failure of art to intervene in and alter history, to prevent coups, to make anything happen, but I think his formlessness and archival quality makes a history on art’s terms. In the final passage of Amulet, dead bodies extend all the way to the South Pole and back, a parody of a utopian vision that would stretch further; the dead bodies in the fourth part of 2666 dishevel the narrative and even the ability of the genre—here noir—to assemble itself. The bodies amount to just carnage and dread of more carnage. Boring, boring dread.
7)I often talk of my work in terms of form but what the form frames is something else that gapes away from it—in the final form of my sci-fi novel Flet the protagonist becomes an archaeopteryx rotting in the desert and that’s how the entire second half of the plot is ‘resolved’, or, decomposed in a decomposing artwork that involutes and becomes darkly and toxically capacious. Like the women of Juárez, it can die and die and die.
8)The figure of an accounting is obviously central to the model of expenditure vs. capitalism built up in Bataille, and it’s a nice fit with what we’re here to discuss today: story making. The making of an account. The accounting. Should the accounts be measured? Should the balance hold? I think they should take the form to destruction and beyond. Mine will be poorly made, willful, deathleaning. Spend, spend, spend. This does not mean it will be drab, minimal, but maximal, desiccated, well dressed for death. I like archaic things which have already failed or are not destined to survive, failure to thrive, shrift instead of thrift, a shrivening, a mourning, the lack of sturdiness that pertains to minor genres, the eructations they engender instead of children. As Baudelaire writes of the Dandy:
“Whether these men are nicknamed exquisites, incroyables, beaux, lions or dandies, they all spring from the same womb; they all partake of the same characteristic quality of opposition and revolt [...]Dandyism appears above all in periods of transition, when democracy is not yet all-powerful, and aristocracy is just beginning to totter and fall. In the disorder of these times, certain men who are socially, politically, and financially ill at ease, but are all rich in a native energy, may conceive of the idea of establishing a new kind of aristocracy, all the more difficult to shatter as it will be based on the most precious, the most enduring faculties, and on the divine gifts which work and money are unable to bestow.”
--and he goes on to give as examples the Dandyism of the ‘savage’ tribes of north America.
9) Indeed, northwestern North American tribes, with their model of potlatch, provide Bataille with his extensive model of expenditure. Whereas the displaced Lakota provide me with the model of the Ghost Dance. The materialization of irrational expenditure of the Ghost Dance caused such panic in the would-be sensible army that they had to put a cease to it. They who did not believe in spirits or ghosts found the spectacle of this expenditure so frightening that they reacted irrationally and completed the Indians’ acts of expenditure by sacrificing them, and making them sacred.
11)And they all spread from the same womb, the same womb or entrails, and their high fashion, their cloaks and adorned, bulletproof ghost shirts, cover over it until it can’t. Which brings us to the topic of camp. And particularly to the figure of Judy Garland, once the girl next store who always seemed to be singing from beyond the grave, as if her flesh would really melt from her voice at any minute, her body weight and its untidy expenditures the matter of constant biographizing. In the wholesome ‘Summer Stock,’ the film with which the whole notion of ‘putting on a show in the barn’ reaches its apotheosis, Garland-the-farm-girl stops the show by shedding her overalls and performing a sexy, terrifying Weimar-inspired cabaret number in only a man’s jacket, fedora, and hat. She sings
Forget your trouble, come on get happy We’re going to chase all your cares away. Shout alleluia come on get happy, We’re headed for the Judgment Day.
This ghoulish hymn to death-in-life is all the more ghoulish for its context—like revolution, it stops the show by maxing it out. Like revolutionary violence, it stops the clock. Death and life touch there. In ‘real life’, Judy fled the set for a eight week Dexedrine purge midway through the production. She literally stopped the show and remade it in her own artificial image. Moreover, her incarnation of Weimar sensibilities opens an aperture from the awe-shucks American setting onto an earlier and patently ghoulish time. Death-in-life applies not just to the lyrics of the song, which in their manic inability to arrive at the promised land suspend the ‘we’ in a feverish, plagued inbetweenness—but in its aesthetic ventriloquism of the Weimar period, the decadence that was the recto of the Holocaust’s verso.
15) Which is all to say: I may be writing a maximal, dandified, camp, illgendered, millenarian text, for the sentences to run on past health to death, a region in which the most blasphemous rituals take place, and they require an undo attention to style, flair, garments, gestures rather than actions and plot, descriptions only of things which never were, an uncanny, transporting voice not tied to any body, around which flesh accrues and decomposes, a text which does not choose life but might acquire it alongside death.
Joyelle and I will read at Oberlin College on Thursday. Please come if you live in that area.
Thu, November 12 2009 04:30 PM - 06:00 PM King Hall @ 101 North Professor St. Oberlin, OH 44074-1097
Also I'm reading my translations and talking about that scandalous act at the University of Iowa on December 3rd... but, no, don't jump to hasty conclusions. I am reading to the Translation Studies program. Please come if you live in that much-maligned city.
Check out our new issue featuring the work of Scott Abels, Maureen Alsop, Kathleen Andersen, Takako Arai (trans. from Japanese by Jeffrey Angles), Rachel Gontijo Araujo, Cara Benson, Mark Bilbrey, Wyatt Bonikowski, Jessica Bozek, David Brennan, Megan Martin and Anne Lesley Selcer.
As well as a fantastic Canadian special curated by everybody's favorite, François Luong.
[Here's an excerpt from an interesting review by Olivia Cronk about two books of poetry. It's interesting that her friend got ill from Aase's poetry; in a book on postomdern Swedish poetry that came out a few years ago, one critic made the same claim, but then went on to analyze what made her ill and it was a pretty interesting essay.]
I am disturbed by the tendency of poets and readers of poetry to create false boundaries around their own curations and tastes; this seems, to me, a kind of deluding process by which the thinker justifies (and therefore preempts the need for expanding) her or his own ideas. Three months ago, Bookslut ran a feature in which a poet argued (among other things) that grabbing John Berryman over Jorie Graham on the way out the door was somehow an ideological position that she had to defend. The conflict here seems moot, a half-awake gesture. While teaching in a Creative Writing institute this summer, I listened to a guest speaker contend that there are currently just two kinds of poetry: Narrative (good, interesting, comprehensible) and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E (bad, confusing, jibberish-esque). In his estimation, the poetry world allows a lot of confusing stuff to be published, and he would, of course, prefer to read and write “things that communicate” with the reader. A peer, in a very small poetry group, denounced an Aase Berg poem I had selected for an exercise; she said that she “would never read that again because it made [her] sick to [her] stomach.” In short, rather than identify the metaphorical landscape of the piece, she felt physically ill from the mention of eating guinea pigs (note: read the link to see the strange misreading present in such a literal reaction). A friend of mine was told, years ago, while attempting a friendly writing exchange with two classmates, that a poem’s job is to offer clarity; otherwise, they demanded, what’s the point?
The point is this: contemporary poetry, as the massive and unwieldy thing it is, should be encouraged to re-shape our realities. Why bother consuming information that simply reinforces the things we already know and feel? I am not arguing for canon-negligence or firmly placed camps (if “Narrative” and “L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E” are the only options available to readers and writers, then there is a serious problem). I understand that straight language and plainsong and the telling of stories in poems can provide edifying experiences, but I am not sure why we can’t also think aggressively (intellectually, imaginatively) about what is “serious” poetry (a notion I think I am stealing from Susan Sontag) and what my aforementioned friend calls “prose broken into lines.”
[The whole division into sense and nonsense (which is supposedly language poetry) is incredibly detrimental and reductive, and right now there's a prominent "third way", in between sense and nonsense, nevertheless based on this simplistic binary.]
I've actually translated all of Fosla Fett/Transfer Fat, including some key revisions worked out together with English poet Michael Peverett. I haven't had time to really pursue getting it published yet, and Action Books has too many upcoming projects as it is. But hopefully it will be published at some point. In the meantime, a lot of pieces were published in a recent New American Writing issue. Maybe the second most recent issue.
Question: Why did you start your small press/why did you become an independent publisher? What need was not being met by the existing presses?
Answer (Johannes Göransson and Joyelle McSweeney, Action Books): We started the press because we were interested in and engaged with a certain kind of poetry – gothic, influenced by the historical avant-garde and the paraliterary, visceral, grotesque, maximalist – and very few of those books were being published. We knew a lot of other people were reading and writing in this vein, and some of it was being published in journals, but not in books. To a large extent, we felt this had to do with the normative publishing conventions of US publishing (including small press publishing)–this was writing that was “too much,” “excessive,” “in bad taste” (kitsch)– which to our mind copied over the normative reading conventions of workshops and English classes. In particular, we loved our friend Lara Glenum’s manuscript The Hounds of No, but no press dared to publish it. So we thought we would.
We were also frustrated at the lack of engagement with foreign literature and poetry in translation. At the time I had translated a lot of the work of Swedish poet Aase Berg. She’s a very influential young Swedish poet whose poetry – influenced by Surrealism, grotesque tales, Plath and b-movies – is not only very unique but also intricately translingual; that is to say it was not a poetry that feared getting “lost in translation” but a minor poetry, a poetry that deforms and transforms. But it was hard for me to find publishers for my translation. This struck me as insane – here was a young, happening poet from another country whose writing was different from anything published in the US. One would think US publishers would be rabid to publish it! But I was having a hard time finding a publisher for the book of translations, and looking around, I saw very little translated texts published. So we decided to publish Remainland: Selected Poems of Aase Berg and to make our interest in foreign literature become an important element of our press. We don’t think everyone must publish works in translation – but the fact that almost no small press publishes works in translation should at least cause some pause.