VOLUME 12 number 1
If you’re near Ezra (Rhodes Island) you can see a translation—and some translation theory!— on stage: Uncle Vanya at the Gamm Theater. Curt Columbus addresses drama in translation this way: “Translation is a living art. It’s never really finished because the language is always changing so contemporary audiences can understand it [and Ezra has argued in this space that there are other reasons why it’s never finished]. There is no one-to-one way to translate things. You only know what the music is supposed to be if you can hear the original music.”
Of course, Columbus started in by not talking so much about linguistic (Russian-to-English) difficulties as the task of updating an older work. But you can see from his words (he’s the practicing translator of this Chekhov) that he has a full and dynamic understanding of the various translations that operate in culture. Updating is a kind of translation. Russian-to-English is another. Columbus, spending his life in theater, obviously knows another: translating the written play into physical action. This is no less interpretive, fraught, uncertain and exploratory than translating a Russian poem into English—or making a painting out of that poem. [In the same newspaper interview, Providence Journal, 1/14/18, he suggests Chekhov is “a painter.”] Look how idiosyncratic is his result in Uncle Vanya: he makes Chekhov “funnier and heartier,” and the central character less of a “forgettable sad-sack,” than usual.
You wonder if Curt Columbus is a better theater director for being a translator, or a better translator for being a director. At any rate, he is “hearing the original music.”
Please remember the Ezra Residency program (summers). Click on Residencies, above. This year we’ll print the work of last summer’s Resident, Jonathan Wlodarski.
Our Winter feature is Nancy Carlson. She, like our Board member David Ball, translates Abdourahman Waberi.
There is a review in this issue.
In addition to an NEA grant, Nancy Carlson has received grants from the Maryland State Arts Commission and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County. Her most recent book, a translation of René Char’s Hammer with No Master (Tupelo Press), was a finalist for the 2017 CLMP Firecracker Award for poetry. Calazaza’s Delicious Dereliction, translations of Suzanne Dracius (from Martinique), was published by Tupelo Press in 2015. Her translations have appeared in such journals as AGNI, The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, FIELD, Kenyon Review Online, Massachusetts Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her non-translated poems have appeared in such journals as The Georgia Review, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, and Shenandoah. The collection of poetry, Kings Highway, won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House competition, and Complications of the Heart won the Texas Review Press’ Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize. Imperfect Seal of Lips was selected for the Tennessee Chapbook Prize. Ms. Carlson is a senior translation editor for Tupelo Quarterly.
in my memory
my mother went to put on her white mourning dress
I’ve stashed this image away
in the drawer of timeworn things
my mouth on fire
I limped from a wrenched hip
for having crossed swords with the angel
elbowed my way through when I saw the ford
the sandglass is launched, course set for the motherwort sea,
mother, you’re no longer here
except in the yesterday and tears of my song
none will restore your life’s salt
your smile’s gold
your line’s blood
if not for my murmur’s touch
riddles written in sand
soaring syllables sprung from the oldest of times
imprinted on everyone’s lips
parable helping you see the present day’s texture
beyond the mob and its thousand backs of necks
the believer bent in half by prayer is infused
by the mineral signs of intoned words of praise
like the treasures brought to life
by the mighty Euphrates and Tigris rivers
words sprinkle down
into the ear’s retreat
it’s true, to follow the winged steed
five times across the mountains
once you conquer your fear
you may catch in mid-air the prayers
that fervent pilgrims fling to the sky
for themselves but expressly for others
go pray with them
shoulder to shoulder
and not row by row
like comrades in arms in the muck
you’ll rid your mind of both the fay
and her brother the djinn
escaped from their flask
who feed on random effluvia
unite firebrand with eaglewood
the evil eye will keep away
trembling more than a reed
tormented more than the robber repenting at death’s door
when he doesn’t know if he’ll be swept away by the last sudden downpour
wild as can be
or struck down on the spot
bludgeoned to death from the judgment of peers
Translator’s note: Dikr refers to an Islamic form of devotion whereby the worshiper repeats short utterances glorifying God. The “winged steed,” associated with celestial ascension, refers to Buraq, the mythical horse of the Prophet Muhammad.
the color of water takes on the shade of its vessel
the shade of dawn is the same as the call
the first day of Lent the small forehead cross
invites us to fast on the Ember Days
want is not a lack but ineffable surfeit
poking big holes in consumption’s short coat
confining to bed
the totem tuckered out from a stroll in the mall
the color of water is not the same as the latest cosmetic trick
or the prod of my spoken words
approaching a stranger
on days of silence
to help evoke an absent One
with my eagle eye open wide
I track the autumn or summer leaf
curled into itself
torn from its native tree
parading its solitude along the sidewalk across the street
teasing it rests a while then resumes its rush
a young woman carrying half a baguette under her arm
leaves the baker’s shop with small measured steps
drunk on wind
the leaf flings itself at her shinbone
blind to the passerby’s muscular strength
it appears, as my eagle eye makes known,
that all is settled on the spot
that the leaf is born into the world
to display its secret to you
but lo and behold it gives
the passerby’s leg the slip
with clear-cut determination, opens the path
for it’s sacrilege
counters my eagle eye
to keep to the beaten track
even when you’re a small leaf
engulfed by vacuity’s vast sea
Patrick Barron (Gezim Hajdari) Will Cordeiro (Fernando Pessoa)
Sophia Lecker (Max Jacob) James Richie (Antonia Pozzi)
Ranald Barnicot (Catullus) Rafael Newman (Horace)
Becca Menon (Isolde Kurz) John de Sa (Giacomo Leopardi)
Ross Weissman (Elhanan Nir)
~~translated by Patrick Barron
Skies closed by stones
where you reappear and fade out.
where there germinates
the shadow of your body.
Over the threshed field,
enveloped in bloodstained autumn
rests the old ox.
On his curved horns sings a goldfinch.
He falls still, then moves his back,
gazing at the crest of the hill
where young bulls plow the dim earth.
Then he returns to ruminating
over the field threshed by goldfinches
scorched by strikes of autumn lighting.
Even in the afterlife I will hear
the ring of dawn’s curse:
“You will never be lucky—
may you die like a dog!”
I will remember with fear
my cruel god,
the pomegranate split open
under the full moon.
The duck that dove into the lake,
the bloodied bulls.
Like a grim sign
the call of the fox in the dark.
The starlings that dug into the rock
as if they were crazed,
the black spines that I hunted with a needle
in the feet of my mother.
Good morning Albania.
I am your singer
from dawn to dusk.
Be proud stony and fertile womb, Medea,
I am the poet who dreamed of you
in a single night of lunacy.
Good morning Albania:
black double-headed eagle
you devour me every day
in front of passersby,
eyes and liver.
(Oh, that god forgives your cruelty).
Good morning Albania,
GEZIM HAJDARI (Albania)
Fickleness, Uselessness, and a Classical Education
~~translated by Sophia Lecker
He plunked the thirty-year-old spoiled child down in a baby’s high chair. The brother was making his speech: “An employee in a trade shouldn’t have too much education because then he won’t take orders. What have all of you done with Marcel? I hear the relatives moaning and groaning and I hear plenty of others groaning too. Do you know that Joseph Dumain knows a thousand poems by heart and even Bousset’s sermons?” “Just the titles!” said the mother. “Huh? What’s that? Just the titles? Hmm, well, the name Joseph is another word for uselessness!” The thirty-year-old spoiled child climbed up in his high chair, weeping for himself; the father was weeping too. A moment later the spoiled child was in the hallway, saying as he laughed: “What he says is half-true, but only half.” The brother added: “But you, just look at yourself!”—“After this war everything will change.” “But why more after than during.”
The Demon’s Tricks to Recapture His Prey
The somber quay, at an angle from the dungeon, bristling with plane trees in winter, too-pretty skeletons against the serrated sky. An attractive woman was staying at the inn with us but she was flat, she hid her hair beneath a wig or black satin. One day on the shingled beach I saw her in full sunlight. She was too tall—-like the nearby rocks—-she was putting on her shirt, I saw this was a man and I said so. That night on a kind of London quay I was punished for it. Dodging a knife thrust in the face! Getting my thumb smashed! Retaliating with a dagger in the chest, at the scapula. The Hermaphrodite was not dead. Help! Help! They came…some men, and what do you know, my mother! And again I saw the room at the inn without locks on the doors. There were, thank God, hooks but such cruelty toward the hermaphrodite. An opening in the attic, a white shutter moves and the hermaphrodite comes down from there.
We were separating, my older brothers and I, near the ditches. “Watch out! Take your knife!”
We were underneath the pine trees; everything was grass and flowers. “Ah, be careful near the water!”
Sometimes we approached one another, a plant in our hands: “That’s pink hemlock!”
But when we had to go home and look for a pot to hold our harvest, that was another matter.
The naval officer was asleep in his bed, his back to the door.
The cousin was doing housework, the sheets draped over chairs. My sisters were singing underneath the eaves, and as for me, I sat like a little child with my flowers in my hands on the steps of the staircase that leads nowhere.
MAX JACOB (from Cornet à dès)
Saepe tibi studioso (CXVI)
~~translated by Ranald Barnicot
Often with studious, questing mind I sought some way
To turn Callimachus for you, and so deflect
The missiles of your spite, with verse allay
Your enmity. My pleas had no effect,
As I see now and all my toil was waste.
Your arrogance, Gellius, is misplaced.
To parry your missiles my cloak’s sufficient shield,
But you, pierced through by mine, will on the field
Lie punished, vanquished, abject and disgraced.
~~translated by Becca Menon
Day sinks down. Dark gates above the earth
Open, giving star-eyed night its birth.
From levies of the land, now manumit,
Spirits hover through the infinite.
Blessed as souls redeemed from former plight,
Dream-thoughts welter in the skiff of night.
On a ship, an albatross, making itself a guest,
Spreads its snowy wings across the mast.
Are these traces of clouds the winds have caused to spume?
Or are they mountains fixed in Dreamland that loom?
Through broken haze there blinks a faint report
Of coral branches seeming wondrous port.
All sails are in, the breezes drop and stall.
Softly, softly now the sleepflakes fall.
ISOLDE KURZ (1853-1944)
~~ Three poems translated by Will Cordeiro
Like wax which by
a stroke of luck
chills on a glass
as it’s growing late,
this pear, this pome,
is a burnt sacrifice
to life—much like
a saggy breast
bananas and ruddy
apples tickled pink.
Think, poor pear:
after VINICIUS DE MORAES (Portuguese)
Sonnet of Separation
As suddenly all laughter’s wiped to sobs,
And mouths united and became like spume
As silent and as white as fog—
The fingers interweaving past their doom,
As suddenly the calm before the storm
Undoes the eye and its last flame—all fate;
All passion’s omens are forlorn,
And that still moment turns a masquerade.
As suddenly—no more than suddenly!—
A sadness wavers in a lover’s plea,
And he who’d been content is now alone.
The friend most close becomes a distant foe,
And life was lost and tossed upon the seas,
As sudden was no more. —As suddenly!
after VINICIUS DE MORAES
The poet is a fake
Whose fakes are so complete
He nearly feigns the ache
Of pain he feels indeed.
Who undertakes the task
To read his writing won’t
Feel both the pains he has
But only one they don’t.
He’s strung along by words
And trains of thought—toy cart
With sympathetic cords
We’ve named the human heart.
“My New Face”
~~translated by James Richie
That I might someday have
In the spring – it is certain;
Not only did you see it, you mirrored it
In your joy.
I, without seeing it, sensed
That laugh of mine
Like a warm light
On my face.
Then it was night,
And I had to be outside.
In the storm,
The light of my laugh
Dawn found me
Like a burnt out lamp.
Things amazed me
My chilled face.
They wanted to give me
A new face.
As if in front of a church painting
That has mutated
No old woman wants
To kneel and pray anymore
Because she does not recognize
The dear appearances of the Virgin,
And it almost seems to her
A lost woman –
This is how my heart is today
Before my new
ANTONIA POZZI (Italy, 1912-38)
A Pyrrhic Defeat
~~translated by Rafael Newman
Who’s loving you now, Hot Pants: what slender-hipped
Boy drenched in aftershave is making googly eyes
Outside the latest club?
Who’d you do your golden hair up for tonight
In that meticulously artless quiff? Damn, but he’ll be cursing
Your faith and gasping goggle-eyed
As black winds whip the ocean wave
Engendered by a fickle deity!
He who now weighs your worth in bullion,
Who thinks you’ll always be available, always in the mood,
All ignorant of the fool’s gold
Under his hands. The more fools they
Who’ll fall for anything that glitters! As for myself,
I’ve hung my dripping glad rags up to dry
As an offering to the Mighty God of Storms
And in sacred token of my thanks.
~~translated by John de Sa
Atop the old tower, solitary sparrow,
You sing as long as day lasts to the land;
Harmony drifts through the valley, all around
Spring lights the air, swells through the fields,
And softens hearts to wonder.
To sounds of lowing, bleating, flocks and herds,
Happily other birds join in contention,
Wheeling a thousandfold in open sky,
Rejoice so in their own lives’ flourishing.
Thoughtfully apart and looking on,
You join with none, fly nowhere,
Nothing moved to exult, shy of delight;
You sing, so find your way
Through this, your days’ best sweetness and the year’s.
And see! How nearly like
Are my own ways to yours! Diversion, laughter,
The gentle company of first fresh youth,
And you, youth’s property and lifeblood, love,
Sharp regret of seasoned years,
Mean nothing to me, knowing nothing why;
As though I hid away from them,
As though a hermit, and a stranger here,
Here, where my life began,
I pass the spring days of my given time.
This day now turning evening
Our village custom marks for celebration.
Bells rung sound through the sky,
A thunder sounds of shot succeeding shot,
Echoing out from farm to distant farm.
And all here who are young,
All dressed for holiday,
Head out of doors, unfolding through the streets,
Quickened at heart in looking, drawing looks.
Withdrawing to the fields,
This solitary place,
I tell myself that this is not my time
For games and pleasures: meanwhile as I look
Across the lit-up sky
The sun beats through me, setting out of sight
Beyond the mountains, ending tranquil day,
And seems to tell, departing,
That youth and blessedness do not remain.
Lonely little bird, for that same twilight
Whose time must come to close your numbered days
The path you follow now
Can sow no bitterness; nature endows
Your smallest motion.
What if my dear prayer
Never to attain to hateful Age
Be never granted?
When no heart’s answer wakens to my eyes
Which see a world of nothing, a tomorrow
Still darker, still more heavy than today,
What can I hope to make of what I chose?
What of these years of mine, what of myself?
Oh, I will know remorse, ever again,
To where no comfort offers, looking back.
The night is fine and bright, no breezes stir;
The calm moon touches rooftops, fills the tracts
Of open tended gardens, softly lights
The still far-ranging mountains. Love of my life,
The ways are quiet now, the parapets
Show only here and there late-burning lights:
And now you rest, received by easy sleep
In your untroubled rooms; unpreyed upon
By any sorrow; no less unaware
How grievously you tore into my heart.
You rest, and I must turn to confrontation
With heaven’s face, that seems so sheltering,
And immemorial all-ordaining Nature,
Who made me to be racked. That you should hope
I will not grant, She said, Not even hope;
The brightness of your eyes must come from tears.
This was a holy day, now you relax
From entertainment; now, perhaps, in dreams
You see again whoever found your favour,
All those who favoured you: I cannot hope
That you might think of me. Meanwhile I wonder
How much of life remains me, topple down
And moan, cry out. Dire, unrelenting days
For my expectant years! And passing close
I hear the singing of a journeyman
Bound back from merriment to his bare home;
And savagely my heart shrinks from this world,
Conceiving motion in its every aspect,
Scarce traces left behind. Already finished,
This holiday, and after holiday
Another day, and time comes to dispose
Of all contingency. What now the rumour
Of ancient peoples? What now the report
Of our grand forbears, and the far command
Of Rome itself, the warriors, the thunder
Of their progression over land and sea?
All come to rest and silence, they are stilled,
Of no consideration in this world.
When life was new to me, the holiday
Anticipated longingly, this time,
When all was quieted, I lay awake
In melancholy; then, in the deep night,
To hear a song departing though the streets,
In its progression dwindling to nothing,
Already, just this way, clutched at my heart.
The Last Piousness
~~translated by Ross Weissman
During those nights, our blood bubbled up toward the Holy One
as we yelled with clenched fists
Show yourself, God,
They’ve since all been taken up by the wind—
some of them are busy
some feel betrayed,
most of them are exhausted.
(there are also a few engineer-philosopher types at the corner,
their fearful sweat drops into my throat and I can’t stop coughing).
Now I walk through these smoky nights,
into the great books, where the ox still gores the cow
then one or two, tired, knock at the door,
wanting to discuss despondency.
I seal the windows
cover the secret of the generations in one wrap, and then another,
shouting to them: Just a minute,
just a minute.
ELHANAN NIR (Israel)
THE VORTEX, by José Eustasio Rivera. Translated by John Charles Chasteen. Duke University Press, 2018. 219 pp.
The first thing to say about this dense and explosive tale is that it is wonderful—and a bit of a wonder—that it finds itself translated. The sad story of its first publication is recounted in Chasteen’s very helpful preface. Some of the themes, vocabulary and geography are usefully backed up by Chasteen, who has an obvious admiration for Eustasio Rivera’s extensive research on the rubber trade. “In sum,” as Chasteen says, “beyond its famous poetic descriptions and its indubitable storytelling verve, The Vortex offers a sweeping and accurate view of dramatic events in the Colombian backlands (and beyond), circa 1900-1920.” Duke University Press has done well to honor the altruistic drive behind this book: an exposé of exploitation in the Amazon region.
This is the same subject that is treated in the second half of Vargas Llosa’s The Dream of The Celt (Edith Grossman, translator)—the story of Roger Casement’s life. Without having read Casement’s report to his government, but relying on Llosa’s account, we imagine that the official investigation of the rubber trade can hardly have been more exhaustive than Rivera’s book. The book is especially valuable (or was, or could have been if he had succeeded with an English-language publication) because Rivera, unlike Llosa, was writing contemporaneously with the Amazon rubber trade.
It is difficult to separate the reader’s stimulation by these horrors from the stimulation of novelistic expertise. The modern reader will find some passages masterful, especially the rich physical descriptions. At times these will seem over-written. The level of detail in flora and fauna, indigenous languages and riverine geography is impressive. The plot is another story, as it were. Driven by passions, by love and jealousy, it failed to engage this reader, who found it difficult to follow. More important, the characters are more likely to show motive by posturing and expostulating than through extended psychological exposition. It is somewhat hard to care about them.
The theme of the jungle’s mystery, the idea that it is itself an evil force, is magnificent. In the end, though, this reviewer finds that it detracts from the obvious center of this book, man’s evil—and his role in destroying the jungle.
In the end, passages of background exposition may be the best material in the book. This one, perfectly rendered by Chasteen, is an example:
Even in the jungle, however, “civilized” man is the most destructive protagonist of all. There is a certain piratical magnificence in the struggle of a few renegade businessmen to exploit the Indians and bend the jungle to their will. Having failed to make their fortunes in the cities, they plunge into the wilderness seeking some kind, any kind, of denouement to their life stories. Delirious with malaria, they put aside whatever conscience they might have brought with them and, armed with only Winchesters and machetes, oriented toward only pleasure and abundance, confront physical privations so severe that their clothing rots away to nothing on their emaciated bodies. (154)
There are dramatic expressions which don’t work for this reviewer, and are not Chasteen’s fault: “I stood spasmodically, then collapsed with a howl, clawing my head bloody.” Then there are utterances that, in the translation, come off a little old-fashioned (though sometimes stilted only because of Rivera’s dramatic style): “Scat! Blasted birds won’t let anyone sleep.” The problem—the only real problem with this translation, which must have been arduous—is the opposite tendency to modernize with a jarring slang: “Total bullshit!” “Totally” used as a response meaning “I agree completely.” “Bottom line” used adverbially: “Bottom line, do you think Cayenne is coming back here?” The dialogue is neither consistently old-fashioned nor slangy-modern. As to the latter choice, Chasteen does well to use contractions (not available in Spanish) to make speech flow naturally, but the attempt to make speech 2018 United States seems misguided. This is often a legitimate choice in translating, but it is often jarring, and likely so for more than one reason. The main one should be mentioned here: some of the most recent slang is not likely to last. We will leave the Ezra reader to imagine the choices available, but they include ways to make the English roughly consonant with the historical period and yet still fluid and natural.
The cover art, map, notes and preface of the pre-publication printing are all excellent.