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Brian Henry
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“[T]here are no rules. What I think is that you start with materials. You start with matter, not rules.” —Clark Coolidge “And the matter is language or, more exactly, words or, more exactly still, the material of words…” —Gerald Bruns William Carlos Williams’ famous statement (in his introduction to The Wedge) that “a poem is a small (or large) machine made of words” points to the fact that machines, like poems, are assembled by someone. This somewhat echoes Grigory Vinokur’s claim (about 20 years earlier, in 1923) that “poetic creation is work on the word not only as a sign,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 31, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Translation apparently can be a dangerous activity. In Javier Marías’ novella Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico, a 22-year-old Spanish-born man assigned to Elvis during the making of a film in Acapulco nearly gets killed for translating an insult. After a skirmish in a seedy bar, one of the members of Elvis’ entourage is insulted in Spanish by the gangster-proprietors. Elvis and one of the gangsters square off, “[t]heir inability to understand each other ... enraging them.” Stuck between the angry men, the translator slightly embellishes the initial insult when relaying it to Elvis (he wants to insult the... Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
“Les jugements sur la poésie ont plus de valeur que la poésie.” (“Judgments on poetry are more valuable than poetry.”) —Comte de Lautréamont “It is easy to treat poetry as if it were engaged in the language-game of giving information and thus to assume that what is important about a poem is what it tells us about the external world.” —Veronica Forrest-Thomson “The ambiguity of poetic language answers to the ambiguity of human life as a whole, and therein lies its unique value. All interpretations of poetic language only interpret what the poetry has already interpreted.” —Hans-Georg Gadamer Poetry criticism... Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
“The translator invades, extracts, and brings home.” —George Steiner, After Babel “Nothing takes us faster to the heart of matters linguistic and metaphysical than translation.” —Nikolai Popov, “The Literal and the Literary” Translators of poetry, like poets, often agonize over single words. One word might convey the meaning of the original more accurately, while another might be less precise but seems more faithful to the music of the original or more sonically effective in the target language. Sometimes ambiguity in the original can push a translator to attempt to clarify. Even with a long poem (such as Pablo Neruda’s Alturas... Continue reading
Posted Jul 28, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Yesterday I wrote about how chance can influence how we respond to a poet’s work—specifically, how the first book we read by a poet in translation can become our favorite even though there are more authoritative, thorough, or exacting translations out there. Of course, the opposite can happen, too, as with my experience reading the Slovenian poet Srečko Kosovel (1904-1926). In part because he died at 22 (of meningitis), Kosovel has been compared to Rimbaud, who stopped writing poetry at around the same age. (And Rimbaud has his Drunken Boat, Kosovel his Golden Boat.) Kosovel also has been compared to... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
I wonder if this is true for others: the first book I read by a non-English-language poet often remains my favorite, even if the book is not his or her most popular, most acclaimed, or most widely available. This is true for me with Yannis Ritsos, whose work I first encountered in Late Into the Night, published by Oberlin College Press and translated by Martin McKinsey, not Edmund Keeley / Princeton UP / Ecco. And with Paul Celan, whom I first read in Breathturn, published by Sun & Moon and translated by Pierre Joris, not Michael Hamburger / John Felstiner... Continue reading
Posted Jul 25, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
For Monday and Tuesday, I'll be writing about the Slovenian poets Edvard Kocbek and Srečko Kosovel. But for today, here's the video for the instrumental song “Srečko Kosovel” by the Štefan Kovač Marko band: And here’s a punk version of Kosovel’s poem “Ecstasy of Death” by G.u.B.: Continue reading
Posted Jul 25, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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Jul 25, 2010