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Tranvestisizing, Post-Total Translation, & a Parable

By Craig Santos Perez

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johannes goransson, in a recent blogpost, wrote: “Translation transvestisizes the “original.””

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have you ever heard the parable “The Translating Twins”? twin sisters separated at birth, adopted, major in literature & italian (let’s say) at dif universities. they both translate the same italian poet–who had not yet been translated into english but had published two books of poems. the sisters travel to italy to meet the author and secure permission to publish their translations. they show up at the author’s house (who lives right on the Arno) at the same time! so what do they do?

no, they don’t agree that one sister publish her translation of the first book and the other sister the second book. instead the older sister pushes her long lost twin into the Arno and secures the rights to both books!

the lesson: DON’T TRUST TRANSLATORS! they’re ruthless. and if you think poets are good at talking sh!t about other poets and poems…omg you should hear translators talk sh!t about other translators & translations. brutal. it’s even worse if a particular translator has the market cornered on a specific poet or language. we all know it’s tru: translators are territorial. once they piss on a certain ‘foreign language’ poet, that poet belongs to them. and if they piss on a whole language or country, beware of their multilingual bark!

Qs: do you have Terrifying Translator Tales to share? You don’t have to use names, I just love hearing about all the vicious things translators do.

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i confess: i’ve also written & published experimental translations. here’s the intro i wrote for the ‘translations,’ and here’s a sample ‘translation’. when submitting these poems, i was up front about the fact that these were ‘experimental translations’–part of the reason was because i know many translators and respect the work they do and i don’t want anyone to think that what i’m doing is in any way ‘equivalent’ to what they’re doing. after submitting my experiments to various translation journals, some were accepted and some were rejected. but what really pissed me off was that one editor from a journal that shall remain unnamed sent me a nasty email about how i can’t even call these ‘experimental translations’ cuz there’s no such thing; that i should look up what translation means in the english dictionary; that i should stop wasting his and my time! wtf!

Q: i’m sure there’s a lesson here, but i’m not sure what it is?

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this reminds of the debate in native american literary criticism about translation. the formation of ‘native american literature’ began with 19th century ehnologists translating and transcribing oral stories, chants, and songs—of course to present the art of a dying culture and to preserve this art for native children that would be reared in english. these translations were published and archived thru the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE).

around the beginning of the 20th cent, the literati (with a hunger for all things Other) began to mine the BAE archives, translating the translations into what they called ‘literary translations’ (as opposed to the ethnologists’ ‘literal translations’). by 1917, the fervor around native lit compelled a special “Aboriginal Issue” of….Poetry Magazine. in an editorial note, Harriet Monroe thanks ethnologists who have “done something to preserve the fast disappearing folk-lore of the tribes.” interestingly, Monroe describes the work as “interpretations”. Monroe suggest that these interpretations created a freer translation practice because they weren’t tied to the ‘merely’ literal, but also because they were written in vers libre. in another editorial note, Alice Henderson Corbin critiques previous translators who “Europeanized” aboriginal songs by translating them into a European style of diction, syntax, form, and rhythm. By using free verse forms, Corbin “tried to keep strictly within the spirit of [aboriginal songs]”. that’s right, free verse forms were being racialized as aboriginal!

this trend continued. Mary Austin–in her 1923 text THE AMERICAN RHYTHM–described her translation practice as “re-expressions.” she would saturate herself “in the poem, in the life that produced it and the environment that cradled that life, so that when the point of crystallization is reached, [she herself] give[s] forth a poem which bears […] a genetic resemblance to the Amerind song.” She also highlighted the importance of translating and transcribing melody: “melody had to do all the work for the primitive that is done now with print, with punctuation and capitals and italics, with visual arrangement of line and stanza.” she was pretty influential in what some call ‘modernist ethnopoetics.’

fast forward to the post-modern: enter jerome rothemberg and his idea of ‘total translation’. in his essay “Total Translation: An Experiment in the Presentation of American Indian Poetry” (1969), he writes: “I don’t want to set English words to Indian music, but to respond poem-for-poem in the attempt to work out a ‘total’ translation—not only of the words but of all sounds connected with the poem, including finally the music itself.”

A total translation includes the translation of the aural and performative aspects of the original song: “[e]verything in those song-poems is finally translatable: words, sounds, voice, melody, gesture, event, etc., in the reconstitution of a unity that would be shattered by approaching each element in isolation.” Rothenberg “present[s] analogues to the full range of vocal sound” through adding translated elements and typographical innovations. His translations create a “highly individualized singing” and “leads to an actual indeterminacy of performance.” He claims that those “who can’t follow the words at all may make up their own vocal sounds—anything, in effect, for the sake of participation.”

Q: interesting, huh? i’m not sure if this relates in any way to the previous discussion on translation? post-total translation? …anything, in effect, for the sake of participating in the practice, joy, frustrations, and capital of ‘translation’? i havent even mentioned homophonic translations…what do folks think of that translation practice?

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Comments (50)

  • On February 10, 2010 at 4:45 am john wrote:

    Thanks for this, Craig —

    The “total translations” of Rothenberg are fascinating to see — chants, repeated phrases, nonsense syllables — pages of stuff whose lexical content could sometimes be edited down to a few lines.

    I enjoy reading transcriptions of Dizzy Gillespie’s scat singing too. (In fact, didn’t Rothenberg include one such in one of his anthologies? I could be remembering wrong . . . )

    Intriguing parallel: Rothenberg was doing total translation in the ’60s, when rock criticism was happening too, with a parallel interest in altering states by incantation, and an early book of rockcrit, Richard Meltzer’s “The Aesthetics of Rock,” begins with a transcription of “Surfin’ Bird” by the Trashmen, and it’s pure incantation! “well the bird bird bird, the bird’s the word, a-well the bird bird bird, the bird’s the word . . . ” — and on like that for a few pages! With a few other phrases thrown in. (I love that song.)

    How much did Frances Densmore (for example) edit when she made her translations of Native American poetry? Was it the right thing to do? Was recording the songs the right thing to do at all? I’m glad she recorded what she recorded, and translated what she translated; and it seems to me that her redactions, her elimination of repetition, had a parallel in the production of “reading copies” of opera librettos, which eliminated the sung repetitions. But I would understand people from the “recorded” cultures objecting to the object-ification and decontextualization of living cultural practices. It’s a chronic problem in ethnography of any sort — the graphocentric assumption that a performance aims for a definitive state, and that styles in oral traditions remain static over time. (I have a recording of a Mississippi drum & fife band from the ’40s playing the early 20th century Tin Pan Alley song “Sidewalks of New York” — talk about decontextualization! Point being, it can go in any direction.)

    I do wish that musically literate people had transcribed folk songs in Europe starting hundreds of years ago — I’d love to read (approximations of) how people sang the Border Ballads, for example.

    Rothenberg included the early 20th century translators in his anthologies of Native American poetry. One poem translated by Frances Densmore from a Papago woman named Juana Manwell (Owl Woman) had the title “Death Song.” I looked up the BAE issue where it first appeared. Densmore described the song as a healing song! I later came across an anthology of “American Indian” prose and poetry called “The Winged Serpent,” and that gave Juana Manwell (Owl Woman)’s song lyric as “Death Song” too. How did that editor come up with the title? Who knows? that must be where Rothenberg got the title.

    Translation always decontextualizes. And recontextualizes. I enjoy reading the Rothenberg total translations, but I suspect I’d be embarrassed to hear a reading of them. And while Frances Densmore’s haiku-like translations of Native American poetry can be very beautiful, I suspect that they are quite unlike the originals in total effect. But then, history constantly decontextualizes and recontextualizes too. Pound (for example!) can’t mean to us what he meant in his own time — no poet can.

    I think it’s time to recontextualize myself into bed. Sorry to go on so long — this is a rich topic! Thanks!

  • On February 10, 2010 at 10:22 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    pues el pájaro pájaro pájaro el pájaro es la palabra
    pues el pájaro pájaro pájaro el pájaro es la palabra
    pues el pájaro pájaro pájaro el pájaro es la palabra

  • On February 10, 2010 at 12:41 pm Thom Donovan wrote:

    now that’s what I call a comment John…

  • On February 10, 2010 at 12:47 pm Thom Donovan wrote:

    I like the suggestion at the beginning of your post Craig (a la Goransson’s “transvestism”) that translation is about passing. here here!–Thom

  • On February 10, 2010 at 12:58 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    The bird is the word, Thom.

  • On February 10, 2010 at 1:03 pm Amy Catanzano wrote:

    I’m the managing editor of Naropa’s Bombay Gin, and just last week we published Rothenberg’s essay on total translation along with five translations from “The 17 Horse Songs of Frank Mitchell” (Navajo), which informed the essay. My understanding is that the essay and the translations have never appeared together before except in a limited artist edition. Rothenberg’s work is featured in a Translation Portfolio with other translations from Spanish, North African French, Finnish, Sanskrit, and Japanese. Also included are typographical translations of Basho and from computer languages in Hindi. Check it out on SPD or the Bombay Gin website.

    Does anyone know anything about PERL Poetry? A friend was telling me that these PERL computer programmers get together and make poem-translations in yearly contests. Same friend uses RUBY to program SONY’s Playstation-Million. Anyone translate poems to/from PERL or RUBY? One could construct an entire (glittering…) Royal Crown!

  • On February 10, 2010 at 1:33 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I hate to disappoint you, Craig, but wearing both my translator and poet hats I can tell you that poets are far more vicious, envious and given to scurrilous put-downs than are translators. It’s as if there is not enough praise and fame to go around, so that in order to get my share I have to dis your work. I mean, come on, you call that work?

    Translators, in contrast, are in service of another and tend to speak in reasonably respectful tones about colleagues and competitors.

    One example: a couple of years ago, I found myself drawn, not for the first time, to the work of the great contemporary Mexican poet David Huerta. I found that Mark Schafer was already withing David, and that a Copper Canyon edition was in the offing (Before Saying Any of the Great Words). I emailed both Mark and David, and everyone was very generous as we worked out permission for me to publish the work I was doing from one book as long as it didn’t duplicate the poems in the Copper Canyon selected.

  • On February 10, 2010 at 1:36 pm Rachel wrote:

    I am not a translator, so my interest in translations is as a reader, and as a reader, I’d like the opportunity to read multiple translations. I like the introduction and translation you linked to, Craig. I’ve seen a few people here recently talk about the relationship between poetry and the body. I haven’t paid close enough attention (a factor of time) to know exactly what they mean, but when I read your intro and translation, I could feel it in my body. Content came through intellectually and viscerally. “Bored during mass, I read the psalms in the English language Bibles.” I used to have to go to church every Sunday too. Presbyterian church, a big one with a large congregation and services that were broadcast over the local radio station. Bored during the sermons, I used to read the hymnal and Christ’s red letter words in the NT. I could hear the rhythms of those hymnal songs in your translation. If I could jump into the way-back machine, I’d take your translations along and give them to my younger self to read during those Sunday morning sojourns, which, when I think about it now, may be where my love of poetry began.

    I never really thought about the ruthlessness of translators, their need to mark territory (silly me). When things like publication, reputation, money, tenure and ego are involved, I can see how that happens. Still, I don’t think the passion expressed by translators is always a pissing contest. I think the passion is often born of genuine love for the original poet/ry, which isn’t to say that possessiveness couldn’t be a byproduct of such love. Kenyon’s translations of Akhmatova and Hirshfield’s translations in “Women in Praise of the Sacred” are ones I particularly value. Although I think both had to be ruthless in terms of the decisions they made while translating, I’m not sure they would fall into the category of ruthless translators you’ve described. But who knows: Maybe somebody has a terrifying translator tale to tell on (one of) them.

    Despite the fact that I am not a translator, I enjoyed reading Hirshfield’s ‘The World is Large and Full of Noises: Thoughts on Translation’ in her book “Nine Gates.” The essay helped me understand in some small measure the trials and tribulations of translation:

    “Translated works are Trojan horses, carriers of secret invasion. They open the imagination to new images and beliefs, new modes of thought, new sounds. Mistrust of translation is part of the instinctive immune reaction by which every community attempts to preserve its particular heritage and flavor: to control language is to control thought. That realization lends an extra dimension to the well-known Italian saying, ‘Traduttore, traditore’ (Translator, traitor).”

    At the end her introduction to “Women in Praise of the Sacred,” Hirshfield writes, “I like to imagine the kind of conversation that might take place among the women included in this book, could they meet. Despite the varying expressions and frames of their understanding . . . I believe each one might recognize in the others something she knew to be close to her own life.” I wonder if something similar could not be said about most translators. As a non-translator, I don’t know. If it was possible though, that’s one conversation I’d like to eavesdrop on.

  • On February 10, 2010 at 2:59 pm CAConrad wrote:

    To double your transvestisizing pleasure, I’m working with Steve Dolph (of CALQUE Magazine) on translating a book of poems by Nerstor Perlongher, who was a drag queen. I am loving the subcultural idioms, as odd and confounding as the idioms from queens I’ve known in Philadelphia since I was a teen.

    PUT YOUR POOT TO THIS MACHINE!

    What the fuck did you say? Okay, so long as it doesn’t HURT!

    Nice poet Craig!
    CAConrad

  • On February 10, 2010 at 3:00 pm CAConrad wrote:

    Oh, I meant to say “Nice post Craig!”

    But “Nice poet Craig!” is nice too!

  • On February 10, 2010 at 3:01 pm csperez wrote:

    Now listen! I’m no fool. I know that in daily life we don’t go around saying ‘a blank blank blank is the word’. Yes, I’m no fool; but I think that in that line the bird is a word for the first time in English poetry for a hundred years.

    and, now, spanish poetry too!

  • On February 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm csperez wrote:

    hey thom, yes johannes statement is quite interesting. not sure yet if i agree…i guess it begs the question: what kind of translation transvestisizes? and what are the implications in terms of sexualizing translational practices?

  • On February 10, 2010 at 3:05 pm csperez wrote:

    @ thom again: i am curious–do you see a connection between rothenberg’s total translation & the work of LRSN & Brown (neither of which i’ve read yet)?

  • On February 10, 2010 at 3:16 pm csperez wrote:

    hello amy–great to hear from you! how serendipitous! it seems like many folks who have commented are open & interested in the varieties of translational practices so it’s cool to see Bombay Gin put an issue together that explores this diversity. i will def get a copy the next time i’m at SPD (it’s pretty close to where i live).

    unfortunately, i don’t know about PERL or RUBY–but sounds intriguing–hopefully someone here does.

  • On February 10, 2010 at 3:20 pm Thom Donovan wrote:

    why the disagreement Craig? curious. oh yeah, and “begs the question.” what do you mean by this?

  • On February 10, 2010 at 3:21 pm csperez wrote:

    @ john oliver simon: i hate being disappointed :( i was really hoping you’d have some juicy translator tales for us. yes, i know poets can be vicious & envious, but come on now, let’s not translate the translator as some kind of saintly, selfless, & respectful creature. agreed, some translators (even most–like yourself) are nice & delicious, but others are downright dogs.

    and thank you for sharing your example. that does sound like a pleasant exchange.

    did you ever hear the dark fable called “copper canyon and the vietnamese poetess”…it’ll give you nightmares.

  • On February 10, 2010 at 3:25 pm csperez wrote:

    hey thom…yeah, not sure yet about the disagreement/agreement. will think on it. part of that is that your post on translation really draws out the idea that there are many kinds of translations–with their own values & limits. so that’s why that question was begging me…oops, i think i meant to write “bugs the question”, cuz it was bugging around in my head. like, what kind of translation transvestisizes…if at all.

  • On February 10, 2010 at 3:27 pm Thom Donovan wrote:

    well, I think they’re very different, tho I’m not that familiar with “total translation.” but the ways Brandon is foregrounding embodiment–that seems very much in the spirit of Rothenberg’s work, which recognizes, a la John’s comment, the performative dimension of
    translation, and that oral performance enacts translation non-graphemically… also, re: LRSN, there is a certain procedural spirit at work in Rothenberg, his gematria for instance. were I to research the correspondence more, that’s how I might go about it… –Thom

  • On February 10, 2010 at 3:38 pm csperez wrote:

    CA! great to hear from you & i def look forward to your translations. serendipity: some of my ‘experiments in translation were published in calque a while back! i love that journal–one of the best for new translations, imho. & steve is a rock star. as are you–loved The Book of Frank.

  • On February 10, 2010 at 4:00 pm jarvis wrote:

    @Amy, I noticed Rothenberg in the issue of Bombay Gin and also Shy Mukerjee who did a type of Spanish-English -via- program language translation; i liked it very much. And in Omnia Vanitas Review more there too. Out of curiosity I asked the internet about PERL poetry and also other computer languages like Python and Lisp poetry. Much of it looked to be from the programer’s side, so for instance, the code would produce a poem on the screen. Others were more creative mutations. Royal Crown with Perl? Curious why? as I have an active interest in computery things.

    There is a strange mysticism that surrounds computers. In college I made a program that generated cross sections of urban activity, I will never forget when the professor asked, “If it runs long enough will it make a perfect city”. This seems to me about the same as translation (transformation). There is no perfect city, at some point the human mind comes and causes effects. Which makes it too bad that some publishers are afraid of experimental translations. For a perfect city there needs be perfect rules, but according to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection perfect rules run contrary to evolution; e.g., when he noted that female birds choose their mates by preference, not survival of the fittest.

  • On February 10, 2010 at 4:25 pm Anji wrote:

    didn’t they choose the “least objectionable” mate?

  • On February 10, 2010 at 5:01 pm jarvis wrote:

    lol. that might be the more direct quote. point being, however, that life, opposed to computers, makes chooses that don’t always make logical sense: perhaps the irrational (imaginative) makes translation possible.

  • On February 10, 2010 at 6:06 pm Francisco Aragón wrote:

    Hi Craig:

    I think I have to echo John Oliver Simon’s take on the prevalent ethos among translators—at least my experience of them, and contrasting it with what I’ve witnessed among poets
    (particularly thos who don’t translate :) I’ve also heard, but I haven’t experienced it myself yet, that the folks who attend the ALTA conference are exceedingly generous and cordial, especially with newbies to the conference.

    Having said that, I lament that you got that response from the editor of that translation journal. I love the notion of “experimental translation.” My sense is that–despite what I just said in the first paragraph–there is a whole spectrum of thought among literary translators: from “purists” (perhaps that editor who mistreated you was one) to literary creators who view “translation” as a very elastic term.

    One of the most enriching—perhaps the most enriching—“workshop” experience was one with John Matthias at Notre Dame: the entire term was devoted to the notion of “translation” as literary apprenticeship and we did all sorts of types of “translations” including homophonic translations. It was a very very liberating experience. Up until then, my experience with translation (from Spanish to English) was fairly conventional. But Matthias workshop opened many doors for me personally—above all the work I’ve been doing with Darío these past few years.

    Great post.

  • On February 10, 2010 at 6:09 pm Colin Ward wrote:

    @Amy:

    Does anyone know anything about PERL Poetry? A friend was telling me that these PERL computer programmers get together and make poem-translations in yearly contests.

    Jon Orwant’s “Perl Poetry Contest” gives a definition in its Conditions, including an example, “asylum.pl” by “Harl”, here:

    http://www.foo.be/docs/tpj/issues/vol4_4/tpj0404-0015.html

    PERL poems have to work as PERL programs: formatted English text that the computer’s interpreter must retranslate into machine code every time the program/poem is run.

    HTH,

    Colin

  • On February 11, 2010 at 2:44 am john wrote:

    “did you ever hear the dark fable called ‘copper canyon and the vietnamese poetess'”

    I have heard that fable — on Harriet!

    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2008/05/h%E1%BB%93-xuan-h%C6%B0%C6%A1ng/#more-833

    People have criticized Rothenberg for hubris. With reason.

    Here are two bullet points from the STATEMENT OF INTENTION in the first issue of Alcheringa, Fall 1970, the journal Rothenberg founded to promote ethnopoetics (“the first magazine of the world’s tribal poetries”):

    ” – to emphasize by example & commentary the relevance of tribal poetry to where we are today: thus, in Gary Snyder’s words, ‘to master the archaic & the primitive as models of basic nature-related cultures . . . knowing that we are the first human beings in history to have all of man’s culture available to our study, & being free enough of the weight of traditional cultures to seek out a larger identity’

    – to assist the free development of ethnic self-awareness among young Indians & others so concerned, by encouraging a knowledgeable, loving respect among them & all people for the world’s tribal past & present”

    Well, nobody will ever have all of human culture available to study. Pride goeth, pride goeth. And, that bit about “being free enough” — unlike the actual tribals we’re studying, apparently — we’re in culture shopping mode here — much like Cafeteria Catholicism!

    And the paternalism of the last bullet point is bummer.

    The same issue of Alcheringa first presented “The First Horse-Song of Frank Mitchell,” along with a note about total translation. Total translation doesn’t include a dating of the poem, though, or anything about its original performance context, including the title — Frank Mitchell was the author/performer; did he include his name when he talked about his songs? No telling from what JR tells us.

    The so-called total translation de-contextualizes the original to too great a degree for my comfort. “The First Horse-Song of Frank Mitchell” — Mitchell being 3 years dead at the time of publication, having lived into his mid-80s — sounds like an appropriation, not the title of a poem/song/performance. Slightly more context given for the 10th, 12th, & 13th Horse-Songs in SHAKING THE PUMPKIN and TECHNICIANS OF THE SACRED, but not much. Maybe Frank Mitchell *did* number his Horse-Songs like Beethoven did his piano sonatas, and maybe he included his name in the titles. But I see no reason not to be skeptical. Did Mitchell’s family get paid when their late relative’s work got published?

  • On February 11, 2010 at 3:07 am john wrote:

    Just to clarify: I find Rothenberg’s reworkings of David McAllester’s translations of the Horse-Songs (Rothenberg knows no Navajo and did not witness any of the performances) to be fascinating and valuable. It’s the lack of contextual information, as well as some of Rothenberg’s theoretical approach, that discomfort me.

  • On February 11, 2010 at 10:23 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Nestor Perlongher (Argentina, 1949 – died of AIDS 1993) truly rocks. He’s the near end of a transmission from Góngora through Lezama Lima that produced the Neobarroco, the largest & most energetic poetry tendency in Latin America: layers and layers of verbiage and meaning, with an explicitly camp sensibility. Here’s some of “Like a Dying Queen,” in my rather accurate translation (can’t guarantee how Harriet will do with the long-line lineation):

    Like a queen wandering through the fields where lie the remains
    of an army and who anoints the seams of her ratty ermine
    with blood or thick lips or the mixture of bards and
    horses which birthed her gelid realm

    that’s the reek of sperm, already rancid, yellow, which dazzled
    its blonde detonation or dribble – like an abdicating queen –
    and lit its tits like lighthouses in a hurricane,
    interminable, like sargassos wreathed in reeds

    as if it were the wreck of tattered hauling rafts
    or drinking birds of prey, but in whose trill
    burns along with pain foreknowledge of extinction
    of pain, or a vain hope, or lying, or even more
    the certainty

    of extinction of extinction like a holocaust

  • On February 11, 2010 at 10:24 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Each stanza above should be a single line with indents.

  • On February 11, 2010 at 10:36 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    Easy criticism by hindsight, John, flogging dead horse songs. Jerome Rothenberg, with unacknowledged colonialist baggage intact, went to the Navajo in the late 60’s while John Balaban was wandering Vietnam collecting poetry (attacked inaccurately in the Copper Canyon thread by Linh Dinh and defended, under a psuedonym apparently, by Le Pham Le) at a time when the spiritual ancestors of today’s conceptualists were still worshipping at the tit of Eliot and Mallarme, estimable as they are. Pablo Neruda treated a number of women badly. Some of Abraham Lincoln’s attitudes on race were pretty strange. We know so much better now.

  • On February 11, 2010 at 11:33 am john wrote:

    I have faith — or, rather, hope — that many of our beliefs will look strange and stupid to our descendants as well. “unacknowledged colonialist baggage intact” is an apt phrase, I think; would you rather that we not acknowledge it now when responding to the work? I love Rothenberg’s anthologies despite my qualms.

  • On February 11, 2010 at 11:42 am John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I agree.

  • On February 11, 2010 at 2:11 pm Amy Catanzano wrote:

    Thank you, Craig!

    A quick clarification: the computer language translations I mention above are from Spanish to English, not Hindi.

  • On February 11, 2010 at 2:32 pm Amy Catanzano wrote:

    Jarvis, so glad you enjoyed the issue. Thanks for looking into the PERL poetry-scape. Basically I was thinking that with so many gem-named computer languages one could make a crown…flimsy, I know. I enjoy what you say about preference, which is what–desire?

    On computer mysticism–I developed this writing exercise in a recent course I taught on quantum poetics: Invent the code to the world’s first quantum supercomputer. Do not use a binary language. Do question the motive for speed.

    If it runs long enough will it make a city? (I certainly hope so.)

  • On February 11, 2010 at 2:46 pm Amy Catanzano wrote:

    Colin, thank you for the link. What do make of the 2000 date? Are these contests still happening?

    By interpreter, do you mean the programmer or a program interpreting? And can the formatted text exist in a language besides English?

    I like when, on that link, the programmer writes: “True poets bridle at constraints, so we won’t restrict entries to any particular style or genre of poem; mail us anything you like. However, please use discretion. We don’t find large binary files poetic.”

    ha ha

    Also: “All poems must run without error under Perl 5.005, and entries will receive extra credit for running under the -w flag. Don’t worry about whitespace, and don’t try anything cheap like using comments excessively. We’ll be watching. Extra points will be awarded for particular poetic styles, like iambic pentameter or internal rhyme. Whether your poem employs the pronunciations of non-alphanumeric characters (for instance, $bill as “dollar bill”) is up to you.”

    Don’t worry about whitespace, and don’t try anything cheap…I find this so entertaining!

  • On February 11, 2010 at 3:33 pm UHM wrote:

    The rare times I’ve been with groups of translators we’ve all been too busy doing last-minute work imposed on us by the poets to get into any cage-matches with each other. I remember a conference where my poor colleague was imprisoned in his hotel room, trying to translate in a few hours several poems that the poets had handed him as they got off the plane. And as for those translators of dead poets (luckies!), again, it seems a rather solitary occupation. I mean, what non-anglo poets are really so popular here that translators get into shoving matches over them?

    Anyway, my philosophy is that any kind of translation is good translation, being as there’s so little of it in the first place due to poor language instruction in the U.S., lack of interest, lack of money, lack of time, lack of publishers, etc. BUT the original MUST be published WITH the translation! Even if one’s not fluent in the language, at least the shape and sound of the original should be seen!

  • On February 11, 2010 at 5:04 pm Colin Ward wrote:

    @Amy:

    Colin, thank you for the link. What do make of the 2000 date? Are these contests still happening?

    I don’t know. Most that I’ve seen are small, personal initiatives or challenges.

    By interpreter, do you mean the programmer or a program interpreting?

    The latter. Imagine translating “The Iliad” from Greek to English. If you do it orally you’ll have to repeat it for each audience. Write it down and your work is more or less done.

    Similarly, a computer can use its interpreter every time it runs a program from the source code or the programmer can translate–“compile”–the program once and for all into machine code. The latter is a little faster but less versatile and secure than the former. That is, to change an interpreted program you (or a hacker) just edit the source file. To change a compiled one you (or a hacker) have to change the source and recompile it.

    FWIW, if the URL ends in “.php” or “.pl” it is running from a “high language” (e.g. English) source file through an interpreter. If a file ends in “.exe” or “.cgi” it is compiled machine code, which looks like gibberish to us.

    And can the formatted text exist in a language besides English?

    Yes, but as a practical matter most programmers do so in English, even if they don’t speak the language.

    -o-

  • On February 11, 2010 at 7:52 pm csperez wrote:

    @thom: yeah, i think they’re quite different too. but i’m interested to read lrsn & brandon’s work now to get a better handle on that difference. also, lrsn is sending me his conceptual translation essay–so i may post again about all this after i read it. thx!

  • On February 11, 2010 at 7:55 pm csperez wrote:

    hey francisco,

    ok–perhaps you & john are right–perhaps i did make up that parable and maybe–just maybe–the whole myth of the evil translator is all in my head. you know, many people told me at awp that ALTA is an amazing conference–will have to check it out someday.

    those crazy purists. but i really love the class you describe! such a wonderful pedagogy to explore the full range of translation practice.

    thx!

  • On February 11, 2010 at 8:04 pm csperez wrote:

    hey rachel–i enjoy multiple translations as well…tho i must admit i do become quite easily attached to certain translations. moncrief’s proust, mitchell’s rilke, peaver & volokonsky’s dostoevsky. i dont really know why.

    and thx for your kind words about my work! it’s funny–i bet many people came to poetry thru the church–def part of my poetic upbringing.

    i agree re: translators passions–i was just exaggerating about the ruthlessness of translators–most of the ones i know are really kind.

    i love hirshfield’s essays in Nine Gates. she was a very important writer to me when i was an undergraduate (i also really liked hass & jack gilbert).

    this seems def tru: “They open the imagination to new images and beliefs, new modes of thought, new sounds.”

    what a conversation that would be to eavesdrop on!

    thx for your generous comment!

  • On February 11, 2010 at 8:11 pm csperez wrote:

    @ john: omg, i totally thot that story was made up! i didnt know it was on harriet. thx for pointing to it.

    and thx for quoting from alcheringa–fascinating as i had not yet checked out the archive on that.

    & def agree that the hubris & paternalism is a bummer. esp since i enjoy how interesting rothenberg’s ‘translations’ are (visually & prosodically).

    and i agree that the issues of decontextualizing & appropriation very much problematize rothenberg’s overall project. many of the earlier ‘translators’ also have similar problems, as you know.

    thx again & i have not forgotten about your first comment, which i will respond to soon.

  • On February 11, 2010 at 8:17 pm csperez wrote:

    dear uhm, thanks for bringing up the relationship between translators and their translatees! i imagine most have a nice relationship…i’d be curious to hear stories from the translators out there re: their translatees. good? bad?

    i agree that the original MUST be published with the translation. i imagine it doesnt always happen because of cost? any publishers out there have thoughts on this? what about everyone else? is it important to have a bilingual edition?

    also, what about novels UHM? should translated novels also be in bilingual editions?

  • On February 11, 2010 at 8:46 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    I have a poem dedicated to the late great neglected poet Donald Schenker, with a line and a half that goes

    “and the part of it that’s a poem could fall out
    between the word and the bird”

    and I probably was channeling the Trashmen song, but the New Jersey/Mexican poet Sandro Cohen translated the last phrase as

    “entre el verbo y el vuelo”

    which recoups some alternate wordplay anyhow

  • On February 11, 2010 at 9:13 pm james stotts wrote:

    i thrive on bilingual editions whenever i can’t get back to russia for what i need, and this sort of translator’s experience has to be almost universal. we are sort of spoiled here, w/things like e-bay and fantastic internet inventories. but in other countries that haven’t jumped on the e-bandwagon, it can be very hard to track down particular books. think about all the neglected writers–and how hard it is just to get the right manuscripts, esp. if you’re not affiliated with any institutions. i get bogged down in goose-chases all the time. and even when i’m in russia, i can’t just go into a bookstore and ask for them to order things for me. it’s like stepping into a time machine, which helps me to appreciate old-school scholarship–i mean, it required real footwork. well, it still does.

    about competition in translation, i know i sometimes wish it were there. there are poets who rule their home turf but can’t get a shake in america. russia’s biggest thing, and i mean bolano big, is boris ryzhii. and europe is on the ball, they have a big, commercial documentary out of holland (i think) that’s been making all the art-cinema rounds, there are plenty of translators working on his stuff and publishing in british publications (even american translators), but the whole avant-e.european-lit-mafia that holds ground here in america won’t even touch him. part of it is legit politics (he was an unstable mo-fo, with all sorts of xenophobic anti-semite ideas, but was also a seriously messed up bi-polar narconaut), and part of it is his problematically formal/romantic style (which should be an interesting contradiction in terms, but is totally dismissed by avants everywhere). last time i checked, i was the only one even trying to publish my translations of ryzhii stateside, which is a shame. there are a handful of important russian writers who know what’s up, that he’s the real thing, but it’s no use. like i said, i wish i had some competition, in some cases.
    then there are those cases where i just stick to public domain and/or don’t even try to publish. translation, in my view, is best when it lets itself be an intensive form of reading-in-lento, and then turns into a competition with the alien canon.

  • On February 12, 2010 at 3:56 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    ALTA is far more cozy and congenial than AWP.

    AWP stands for All American Writers Want to get Published.

    There is no excuse in Spanish, and probably not much anymore in any language, for not publishing a bilingual edition.

    Also, ye editors: Translators should be listed both in the TAble of Contents and on the back cover.

    John

  • On February 13, 2010 at 7:52 pm Chloe Joan Lopez wrote:

    Maybe it’s all too familiar to me, but I have a hard time getting excited about Perl poetry. Perl lends itself to writing (what computer scientists think of as) poetry more than most computer languages because it is a language with a lot of flexibility and whose semantics are highly contextual. If you “leave things out” there are defaults that the interpreter infers in their place. It also uses as reserved words English words that are maybe more evocative than usual. The result is that you can write things that look (more or less) like ordinary English, that even make sense, that aren’t flagged as syntax errors by the interpreter. That’s kind of a novelty for a programming language.

    As a poetic constraint, it could be interesting. But for me the problem is that it’s hard to write a Perl poem that does anything but run successfully, never mind something that does something (whose Perl meaning is) somehow related to the English meaning of the source code. A program that merely runs is the least meaningful program of all. (For computer scientists, this is literally true.) Then again, maybe it’s just that the aesthetic possibilities have gone undiscovered.

  • On February 15, 2010 at 5:20 pm jarvis wrote:

    As exactness it could be a bit silly to write poetry in computer code, just as it would be to use only numbers, but in the abstract it seems inescapable. What interests me is how the words apply meaning to each other. so if it is wrote: “the sky fills with clouds”, that is, added to the sky are clouds; the sky contains them. We can compare that concept with a more object oriented line: Sky.clouds(fill) or a function: Fill(Sky Clouds), which to me leaves a bit more imagination in how the clouds actually interact with the sky. Considering just how much we use computers to communicate it would appear that the applied use of this influence is justifiable. In fact, after seeing a few good writers use code in their text I find the lack thereof a bit boring.

  • On February 16, 2010 at 11:22 am UHM wrote:

    Cost–and space. Including the originals in an anthology of, say, contemporary Danish poetry containing 50 poets with three poems each would result in a book probably too heavy to lift (altho this weekend I did see an edition of Les Miserables that was an inspiringly thick square all around–book as box!). There’s also the halfway measure of printing the originals in an index of sorts, in very tiny font.

    As for novels, maybe they could be sold as boxed duos, one side translation, other original. I’m sure this would only increase sales (sarcasm).

  • On February 16, 2010 at 10:24 pm Amy Catanzano wrote:

    Yes, like, the sky could be inside the clouds. Breathing them out.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 12:23 am John Pluecker wrote:

    Just one addition. I’d push the editors a little further: put the translator’s name on the cover. A number of translation prizes now require this in order for the book to even be considered for their award: ALTA comes to mind.

  • On February 18, 2010 at 12:24 am John Pluecker wrote:

    Thanks for this great post Craig. I found your translation from the Chamorro Salmos and the intro to it really insightful. Just wanted to say thanks.


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 by Craig Santos Perez.