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Translator's Note: Fruit Don't Fall Far

Because I am hardly a Dada aficionada, I was entirely unaware that such a creature as Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven existed until I heard the writer Rene Steinke read from her novel Holy Skirts, a National Book Award finalist based on the Baroness’s eccentric and compelling life. Since then, I’ve learned simply this: Nothing of the Baroness isn’t fascinating.

I was pointed to this poem by Irene Gammel, a Dada and Modern-ism scholar as well as the editor of the forthcoming book Body Sweats: The Uncensored Writings of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. I was drawn particularly to this poem because it is—at least in its form—decidedly un-Dada; it more closely matches my own aesthetical preferences than do many of the Baroness’s other poems. Gammel’s translation of an alternate draft of this poem was published in a 2003 issue of the Literary Review.
My rendition of “Tühü” is more interpretive than faithful to its source. For example, the Baroness’s poem is nineteen lines of varying meter. I have translated it as a strict sonnet, lopping off a few images in the process. Too, my version is coarser than the first. While this stylistic decision perhaps led me further away from Elsa’s poem, it was a choice that brought me nearer to Elsa herself, icon of bawdy irreverence that she was.
I take my title from the poem’s Gammel-translated variant draft “Analytische Chemie der Frucht,” interpreted by Gammel as “Analytical Chemistry of Progeny.” My title veers widely; “Tühü” vaguely translates as “Ta-da” or “Hurrah” or any number of exclamations difficult to render.  

The first two lines (my version collapses into one) are my favorites: “Der Hang zur Zote ist mir eingeboren—/Von meinem Papa hab ich ihn geerbt—.” For years I’ve pleaded my own case to parents, pastors, and exceptionally prudish friends. Not only is this the perfect comeback, hereafter it shall be my only comeback. Danke, Baroness.jae


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This poem originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2011

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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