Thursday, October 30, 2008

Some responses to responses - New Euro etc

Sorry to be so slow to respond to the responses to my response to the New European Poets. I'm buried in work (and then there's the whole Obama obsession/neurosis).

Let me say first something that must be apparent to most people who read my blogs: I have many contradictory thoughts about translation (the act, the treason, the object), many of which have come out in my reactions to this anthology. I don't for a second pretend I am not carrying many contradictory ideas; I think it's fine to have this kind of attitude toward a complex issue like translation (or poetry, or anthologies).

I am not opposed to this anthology. That is, I don't think it shouldn't exist! I have spent much time reading it and found plenty of interesting stuff.

However, I think there are problems with it (as all anthologies). And I think it's important to think about those problems.

One of the reasons I raised these problems at Alta was I felt a strange muteness about these problems when the area editors spoke. They almost entirely spoke about the problems of representing a country in such a short number of pages. As if you could ever represent a country - or to think that that would be a valuable activity. I thought they might have done better to discuss the problem of representing a national literature, and a continent.

I guess this anthology could act as a "gateway drug" (as a commentator wrote below); but the problem with that is that there is few more advanced "drugs" available. That is most of the people in this anthology do not have any books in English. So then you're left with just the little excerpts.

(Wayne Miller and Kevin Prufer are not to blame for this situation. I know Wayne translated a fine book of Albanian poetry and Kevin edits, Pleiades, one of the finest sources of reviews around. We need more of this kind of stuff.). The reason for this lack of "advanced drugs" is that we have a literary culture that is, yes, "insular" (or whatever metaphor you want to use - certainly we're not holding the heat in).

A quibble: something lacking about the book is that there is not framework for interpreting the poems. The introduction includes a political history but very little in the way of an introduction to the multiple movements etc that have influenced the poems in the book.

Another quibble: Roger Greenwald even said on his panel that he chose not to include any prose poetry because he didn't like prose poetry. Well, a lot of Danish and Norwegian poetry is prose poetry. He has all these (very old-fashioned American) preconceptions of what a good poem is - no wonder his idea of Norwegian poetry is odd from a Scandinavian perspective. Most people I know (me included) think that Gunnar Varnaess is one of the most interesting Norwegian poets today (though he lives in Skåne), and he's not in the book. A shame.

Likewise, it's unfathomable to me that someone would have a selection of contemporary Swedish and Finland Swedish poetry without including Aase Berg and Eva Stina Byggmästar.
I could go on about what's been left out but I don't think it's a fruitful discussion. I think Rika Lesser did a decent job with the Swedish poetry but she doesn't include any younger poets who started publishing after the 80s. She did include Hakan Sandell who is generally seen as a new formalist joke (though not by Poetry Magazine who published one of his poems a while back).

Francois is right that there could be an element of colonialism in translation. But only if we get take the translated text to wholly replace the original poem; or if we take the anthology to replace the nation/continent. The "loss" of translation is not a terrible thing. It doesn't make the translated text useless, it merely reminds us that we do not master texts/literatures.

I sometimes go off on reveries of interlingual, intercultural collaborations etc. Sometimes my views of this are naive. For me this has been the only way to survive in an American poetry that has not been particularly interested in the things I've been interested. But clearly there are issues involved that need to be taken into consideration. For example, America is powerful.


Blogger François Luong said...

On your last point, while strictly not a collaboration, what about Breton's recognition of Césaire as an equal, or the Western European avant-garde owing so much to colonies?

And can't translation be a form of interlingual/cultural collaboration? (Well, especially when the translatee is still alive)

10:34 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, that's how I tend to see it. However, I recognize that I'm at times naive about it.

Funny thing: I just remembered that Gunnar Varnaess emailed a few months ago and talked about how much he liked Mommy Must Be A Fountain of Feathers, and asked for Don Mee's email to help him translate the poems into Norwegian. That kind of connection is really interesting to me.

10:54 AM  

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