Sunday, March 14, 2010

Free Translation

I subscribe to Chicago's venerable Poetry magazine. My initial reason was that it was a way into the complex and hard to navigate pathways of American poetry, but it's probably only fitfully good at this task; rather its got more of a world view, which I've found particularly useful. I first read Bolano in translation in Poetry, for instance, and even though I'd not heard of him at the time, was immediately bowled over by his work. Their poetry selection is far from remarkable, but at least it is pluralistic. For instance, in the latest issue, I'm perplexed why they'd give 9 pages to Dorothea Grossman. It's not that the poetry is necessarily bad (though read "Love Poem", which comes close enough), but that it has so little character to it. Yet a few pages on we have some lovely translations of German poet Giselda Kraft, that demand to be re-read.

Unlike our own Poetry Review, which you cannot read online, except for a few extracts, Poetry is online in its entirety, yet I like the slim little volumes that come through the door every month (far more portable for that matter than either PN Review or Poetry Review) enough to continue subscribing to what I could just read free online. There's a fascinating "conversation" between my favourite essayist Adam Kirsch and poet/translator/anthologist Ilya Kaminsky, that makes me want to pick up the latter's Ecco Anthology of International Poetry. The question of whether poetry can be translated is a very good one. But as Kaminsky indicates, both the King James' Version and Chapman's Homer are translations. The conversation seemed an appropriate follow on to some of the conversations we had in Norwich last June, particularly from the English-language Indian writers who were there.

I also found Chen Li's essay on translation particularly fascinating. The poetry examples given are readable by a western reader because of their visual nature, a sort of Taiwanese concrete poetry. Finally, its odd that the first time I should read of Jasmine Donahaye's "Self-portrait as Ruth" is here, in an American magazine, given that she's Welsh-based and published by Cambridge's Salt. On the short extracts given here, and on the Salt website, she seems a remarkably original poet.

And since I'm talking about poetry, it's worth mentioning that there's a launch for a number of new poetry pamphlets from Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, next Tuesday at The Crescent, Salford.  Well worth attending if you've any interested in hearing new and original work.

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