Bref, I read a lot of poetry translated from German and a lot of nonfiction translated from French. This is not very shocking. Much of my non-book reading happened at Asymptote: this reading (plus editing) is far more diverse and includes work by poets like Vicente Huidobro (Chile), Jan Dammu (Iraq), and writers who push at the limits of what translation means (the Special Feature in our January issue). One of my favorite pieces of this latter sort is Bronwyn Haslam’s anagrammatic translations of Nicole Brossard’s poetry (“Soft Links” becomes “Silk Fonts,” for example):
It’s nouns that gulp fire and life, one can’t tell if they’re Latin, French, Urdu, Veda, Cree, Mandarin, Aleut, Creole, Basque, English, secrete a number, deed, quorum, animal or accelerate old anxieties eddying before us in doubled somber contours full of luster and immense legends.
I also got to collaborate with my friend Michael Joseph Walsh to put together a different sort of experimental translation portfolio for Denver Quarterly 50.4 I have a few extra copies and would be happy to mail them to anyone interested (or you can subscribe). Joshua Ware’s visual translations of Celan appear as an online supplement to this portfolio here.
For some years now I’ve been obsessed with a film by Yvon Marciano called Le cri de la soie (1996), which fictionalizes the life of pioneer psychiatrist Gaëtan Gatian de Clérambault. This year I read two texts relevant to this film, de Clérambault’s case studies of women who developed an unusual sexual “passion” for silk and other textiles: Passion érotique des étoffes chez la femme (1908) and its suite (1910). If you read French, these are easy to find online. De Clérambault’s examination of these women is often read, unfairly or not, in the context of own passion for textiles and the art of draping: he taught classes on the latter and his photographs of North African clothing are housed, I believed, in the Musée de l’homme.
The small amount of poetry I wrote this year came about primarily in response to these texts and in conversation with my own love of silk and of cinema.
I was so disappointed in poetry last year that, as I began to compile this list, I was amazed at how much extraordinary poetry I did actually read. It made me realize that my disappointment is due primarily to my own frustrations—at not being able to write a certain kind of poetry or at being able to write only a certain a kind of poetry (hard to tell), and partly to a seeming chasm between the sort of poetry I’ve been reading the past couple of years and the sort that social media keeps directing my way. Translated poetry excepting, I seem to be woefully out of touch.
The three main poets I read were Paul Celan, Ernst Meister, and Geoffrey Hill. With Hill’s passing this year, that makes for three dead men. I finally properly introduced myself to Mei-mei Berssenbrugge by reading a whole book (Empathy); I know I will read it again, many times over. I also returned to Etel Adnan and Lisa Robertson, two of my favorite poets, whose thinking always energizes me. I read The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins and discovered that he wrote many embarrassing things alongside his extraordinary things, and that he wrote some accomplished poems in Latin and Welsh, and also translated from those languages. And from Greek. Right?
Among the “younger” (whatever that means) poets I read were the astonishing Lily Brown, Tim Earley, and Zhou Sivan. I will keep reading their books, even if it means I have to buy them, store them for a really long time, and read them after everyone else has read them. In 2017 I aim to be OK with being slow. I’m slow!
All right, here is my l i s t, just a touch organized:
(1) Celan & Meister
These two are together because of the very last class/tutorial I took, taught by Graham Foust. We read three Celan and three Meister collections, and it was especially great to do so with someone who not only reads German but is one of Meister’s translators.
Paul Celan. from Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry. Translated from the German by Pierre Joris. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.
Ernst Meister. Translated from the German by Graham Foust and Samuel Frederick. Wave Books, 2015, 2012, & 2014.
Of Entirety Say the Sentence. 1972.
In Time’s Rift. 1976.
Wallless Space. 1979.
I read a lot of Hill that I hadn’t before, and I list all of it even though what I really loved was The Triumph of Love and re-reading the Mercian Hymns. I should also mention Ann Hassan’s Annotations to Geoffrey Hill’s Speech! Speech! from Punctum, without which I would have struggled embarrassingly.
For the Unfallen. 1959. [New & Collected Poems 1952–1992]. Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
Tenebrae. 1978. [New & Collected Poems 1952–1992]. Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy. 1983. [New & Collected Poems 1952–1992]. Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
The Triumph of Love. 1998. Mariner, 2000.
Speech! Speech! Counterpoint, 2000.
(3) Everything Else
I have been obsessed by these two lines from Ray Ragosta for the better part of the year: “A kind of malignant mind creeps through the earth, lit only by the light of the movies.” I mean, that’s me, right? I also love:
Chronic sense of presence
and every other
(I am not thrilled by the way my blog template/theme/whatever automatically italicizes anything I block-quote. Oh well.)
Etel Adnan. L’apocalpyse arabe. 1980. Éditions L’Harmattan, 2006.
Alireza Taheri Araghi. I Am a Face Sympathizing with Your Grief: Seven Younger Iranian Poets. Translated from the Farsi by Alireza Taheri Araghi. co.im.press, 2015.
Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. Empathy. Station Hill Press, 1988.
Lily Brown. The Haptic Cold. Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013.
Aimé Césaire. Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. 1939. Translated from the French by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith. Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Robert Duncan. The Opening of the Field. 1960. New Directions, 1973.
Tim Earley. Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery. Horse Less Press, 2014.
Cathy Park Hong. Dance Dance Revolution. W. W. Norton, 2007.
Gerard Manley Hopkins. The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Fourth ed. Oxford University Press, 1970.
Hiromi Itō. Wild Grass on the Riverbank. 2005. Translated from the Japanese by Jeffrey Angles. Action Books, 2014.
C. J. Martin. City. Vigilance Society, 2007.
George Oppen. Seascape: Needle’s Eye. 1972. [New Collected Poems]. New Directions, 2002.
Alice Oswald. Dart. 2002. Faber & Faber, 2010.
Ray Ragosta. Varieties of Religious Experience. Burning Deck, 1993.
Adrienne Rich. Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971–1972. W. W. Norton, 1973.
Lisa Robertson. Cinema of the Present. Coach House Books, 2014.
Zhou Sivan. Zero Copula. Delete Press, 2015.
Georg Takl. Autumn Sonata. Translated from the German by Daniel Simko. Moyer Bell, 1989.
George Eliot. Middlemarch. 1811–1812. W. W. Norton, 1999.
Renée French. The Ticking. TopShelf, 2005.
Liliane Giraudon. « La Nuit ». Éditions P.O.L, 1986.
Carla Harryman. Gardener of Stars. Atelos, 2001.
I don’t remember who recommended the Carla Harryman book, which is “an experimental novel that explores the paradise and wastelands of utopian desire.” Here’s a gorgeous bit from it:
This was about ten years ago, in a time when I thought the world belonged to me or that I ought to be appreciated for no reason, as if this blown-out post-plague world had been hurled into a mother’s tireless arms and I, a charming greedy infant, illuminated by her unbiased love and appreciation, was a privileged delegate in its reviving story — my little erotic dream under the control of the jargonistic peculiarities of language riding the currents of a semi-sleepy babbling or exhaustion one won’t give up for more lucrative reflection. In such a domain, pleasure sub-vocalizes her trivia making shadow plays within her silly babble.
I read a fair bit of D&G this year (and D & G separately). They are so groan-inducingly ubiquitous, not to mention poorly requisitioned to all manner of dubious writings, that I’m not quite sure what I’m doing with them: am I, for instance, among the population of dubious requisitioners? There were large chunks of The Fold I couldn’t follow, particularly anything that had to do with math, but the chapters I did follow were pretty useful.
A professor of mine said that D&G are on their way out and that the next big trend is Giorgio Agamben (in the sense that Europe is already having its way with him and North America is woefully behind). I’ve only read bits and pieces, and here is a bit I like, from an essay called “What Is the Contemporary” (trans. Kishik and Pedatella):
The time of fashion, therefore, constitutively anticipates itself and consequently is also always too late . . . So, being in fashion, like contemporariness, entails a certain “ease,” a certain quality of being out-of-phase or out-of-date, in which one’s relevance includes within itself a small part of what lies outside of itself, a shade of démodé, of being out of fashion.
This is what I would use as an epigraph if in some hilarious alter-universe I were made editor of a fashion magazine.
Roland Barthes. The Pleasure of the Text. 1973. Translated from the French by Richard Miller. Hill & Wang, 1975.
Martine Beugnet. Cinema and Sensation: French Film and the Art of Transgression. Southern Illinois University Press, 2007.
Michel de Certeau. The Practice of Everyday Life. 1980. Translated from the French by Steven Randall. University of California Press, 1988.
Gilles Deleuze. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. 1988. Translated from the French by Tom Conley. University of Minnesota Press, 1992.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. 1975. Translated from the French by Dana Polan. University of Minnesota Press, 1986.
Frantz Fanon. The Wretched of the Earth. 1961. Translated from the French by Richard Philcox. Grove Press, 2004.
Félix Guattari. The Three Ecologies. 1989. Translated from the French by Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton. Continuum, 2005.
Maggie Nelson. The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning. W. W. Norton, 2011.
James Pate. Flowers Among the Carrion: Essays on the Gothic in Contemporary Poetry. Action Books, 2016.
James Scully. Linebreak: Poetry as Social Practice. 1988. Curbstone Press, 2004.
Roger Shattuck. Proust’s Way: A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time. 2000. W. W. Norton, 2001.
Am I Allowed to Do This?
It’s just, I’m incredibly proud of this book and chapbook. The book is Farid Tali’s, and mine because I translated it. I don’t have any hesitation recommending it. Even if you think my translation is flawed, the book will come through. And if you support it, you will also be supporting the fierceness that is Action Books.
And the chapbook is mine, so well, take it or leave it. But the gorgeous cover is by C. J. Martin, co-editor of another favorite press, Further Other Book Works. They’re bringing out a selected volume of Beverly Dahlen’s essays that I’m especially looking forward to.
(Purchase link: Further Other Book Works)