Poetry News

At Music & Literature, an Uncharted Review of Uljana Wolf's i mean i dislike that fate that i was made to where

By Harriet Staff


At the lovely journal Music & Literature, a review of Uljana Wolf's i mean i dislike that fate that i was made to where, translated by Sophie Seita and published by Wonder this past year. As Joshua Daniel Edwin notes, Wolf is a poet working between German and English. "As translators work to express parts of one universe in the words of another, they often find themselves laboring between the languages, in an uncharted space of linguistic surplus that is deeply uncertain but also full of possibility." More:

In her translator’s afterword at the end of Uljana Wolf’s i mean i dislike that fate that i was made to where, Sophie Seita mentions Rosmarie Waldrop and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha as exemplars of literary artists working inter-lingually, using multiple languages in a single text to draw maps of worlds between linguistic worlds. To these I would add such contemporary writer-translators as Christian Hawkey and Dagmara Kraus (whose poetry I have translated), as well as Birgit Kempker and Robert Kelly’s fabulous collaboration in German and English, Scham/Shame. In their work, these artists create spaces for languages to interplay and for readers to experience the thrill of simultaneous alienation and familiarity, disconnection and reconnection—in essence, spaces where being between languages is a source of enchanting uplift.

This willingness to create between languages is an approach to addressing the Babel problem [our link] and it is also the space that Wolf and Seita’s work occupies: the dizzying and transformative space the reader enters upon approaching this book. Although i mean i dislike that fate that i was made to where is Seita’s English translation of Wolf’s German poetry, this simple binary does justice to neither side of what it describes. Both texts, the original and the translation, are inter-lingual. They rely on linguistic multiplicity: they work in it; they are made of it.

Wolf has been working in this territory for several years, notably in her text, Falsche Freunde (False Friends in Susan Bernofsky’s ingenious translation). False Friends presents English and German as sisters who are not quite twins but who can sometimes wear one another’s clothing—with discomfiting and humorous results. Each language remains a universe unto itself, but in False Friends Wolf demonstrates how words that appear in two languages can act uncannily as wormholes, letting us step quickly into and back out of another world.

In i mean i dislike that fate that i was made to where Wolf returns to and expands upon this tendency to explore the space between languages. English and German seem to overflow their respective edges, oversaturating the text and giving it both buoyancy and depth. The linguistic overflow assumes several guises, linking them all as sublime moments in which people have access to a language that can overwhelm and supersede sense...

Oh this is so good. Please read the full review at Music & Literature.

At top: Uljana Wolf and translator Sophie Seita reading at Book Culture last spring.