To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

George Economou: “Rough Trade Inside the Cello,” Three Poems & Translations with Comments & Notes

                                         Photograph by Andrea Augé


“In representing more adequately what translation does, and in raising awareness even among translators of the implications of textual instability for their task, this book may encourage us to translate differently––to expand our notion of what translation can do, and to imagine modes of translating that break the mold in which the reigning (if often disguised) discourse of originality and derivation seems to have trapped us.”––Karen Emmerich, Literary Translation and the Making of Originals (Bloomsbury, 2017), p.31.

Having explored the possibilities off and on for several years of translating poems from ancient Greek in stages I thought of as rough, rougher, and roughest, I made a firm commitment in the early spring of 2017 to the effort by formalizing it in two sets of translations following this three-way paradigm entitled “Theocritus: Rough, Rougher, Roughest Trade and Commentary” for a special issue of Golden Handcuffs Review: “Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee! Thou Art Translated” (Vol. 11, #23, 2017). Put directly, the idea behind doing what I have come to call the “rough stuff” involves starting with a rendition that presents a version that is as faithful to the content and form of the original as I can make, followed by two more versions guided by the comparative and superlative degrees of “rough,” levels conceived and executed with the intention of exploring new and unexpected contexts and textures for the poem rather than by a wish to produce a more finished adaptation or do-over of the level of “rough.” As the respective “roughest” versions in the two latest additions to this project from Nossis and Cavafy (my first attempt beyond ancient Greek) presented here beg, these final renditions could hypothetically be read as independent poems if removed from their original contexts. My urge to reiterate––to tell again and again but with a difference––the poem in translation mirrors in its own way the very textual condition of variance of the original that Karen Emmerich so brilliantly explores in her rich and important new book Literary Translation and the Making of Originals. Though arriving a year later, it comes in good time for me to enjoy a sense of confirmation and newfound inspiration for this work in progress.
In retrospect, it comes as no surprise that work on the poem “Inside the Cello” was going on at the same time as work on “Theocritus: Rough, Rougher, Roughest Trade and Commentary” with its focus on a combination of experiments in poetic translation and relevant propositional remarks. The poem, with its numerous references to the mythical, thematic and topographical conventions that define the Greek poet’s book of Idylls and its legacy, appropriates as a pivotal element the tragic death of the foundational pastoral poet Daphnis as a point of origin for its pervasive and unifying elegiac voicings, articulations that recapitulate the historical reception in literary and artistic traditions of pastoral elegy. However, more than a few of the poem’s other allusions and citations do not enter it as straightforwardly as Daphins and depend upon compositional maneuvers such as translation, paraphrase, juxtaposition, and syntactic modification, more akin, perhaps, to some of the ways at work in “the rough stuff.”


                   TWO MORE ROUGH TRADES

NOSSIS (third century BC)
The Greek Anthology 5, 170
“Nothing’s sweeter than love. All life’s other gifts
come in second. I’ve even spat out honey.”
Nossis says so, but if there’s one Kypris has not kissed,
she’s one who won’t know what roses her flowers are.

Though love’s life’s big winner, there’s no dearth of losers.
So I, Nossis, decree that any she who’s missed
the kiss of Kypris never breathes its rosy scent.

(Note: Kypris is a name for Aphrodite, after the island of Cyprus, her birthplace.)

Because Aphrodite’s boy
set down his bow and arrow
to melt the wax
                             the deep red wax
for her writing tablets
Nossis knows who’s hot and not
who shall and shan’t
share and sing
                          la vie en rose.

(Note: The first five lines of this poem are based on the remark by the poet and anthologist, Meleager, in the Proem to his Garland, which constitutes Book IV of The Greek Anthology, that the wax for Nossis writing tablets was melted by Love himself.)

C. P. CAVAFY (1863-1933)

DAYS OF 1903

I never found them again––that were so quickly lost ….
the poetic eyes, the pallid
face …. in the street’s nightfall ….

I never found them again––what I came by wholly through 
and so easily gave up,
then later longed for in anguish.
The poetic eyes, the pale face,
those lips I never found again.                  
Found and lost––lost so fast…
those eyes, that face…
flashed in the darkened street…

Lost for good––gift of pure luck
so easily given up
then yearned for in grief.
Lost, lost for good at last.

Lost and Found? ––
I’m looking for the voice
that moaned, “Oh, Dad!”
as I sipped my Jameson
at a sidewalk table
in downtown Athens, GA.
I barely got out an “Oh, Girl!”
before the boyfriend tugged
her back into the crowded street.
––So can you help? 
Yeah, I know.



Stavros, i’ vorrei che tu e Luis ed io
could find ourselves enchanted
together inside an enormous cello
immersed in its numinous music
to sustain us against the pinch of sorrow
to come in Poussin’s shepherds’ quizzing
the tomb that’s signed Et in Arcadia ego.
Read right “Even in Arcady am I
or wrong “I lived in Arcady also” 
it sets a fine modulation from one key
of grief to another from memento
to remembrance in a final conflation
of how brief it is and so long tomorrow.

Ξέρεις τί άτιμο είναι το κρίκ αυτό                                                                                  
a treacherous creek my father called it
the one named Hound for its driving flow
that could have drowned and haled away
Daphnis down the cascading undertow
of Love into Hades in time uncontained
and place omnipresent because long ago
has nowhere to go but the here and now.
So the Fates still snip the threads of a callow
boy or girl as readily as of one the Muses love
and Hound will drag them down into zero
again and again from any and everywhere  
we leaf and then leave incommunicado.


Now the Seine’s flow sous le pont Mirabeau
floods out of control dimly unveiling
a sign for this time Maxime in Aleppo ego
read in splayed infant bodies washed ashore
read right reads wrong right down to its marrow.
An idyll whatever that is this isn’t
but a short sweet spot a fateful sparrow
flies through from one dark night into another
only one fleet spot of light just one though
cures for this inborn incongruous term
have been prescribed through divine placebo.
Better this patchy light of Arcady
our intermezzo inside the cello.

                      NOTES ON THE FIRST LINES

The first line of “Inside the Cello” borrows that of Dante’s Rime 52, “Guido, i’vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io,” in which he wishes that he and his poet friends, Guido Cavalcanti and Lapo Gianni, could be magically carried off with their respective ladies to speak of love forever. I have substituted the names of two friends of my own for whose presence with me I once wished at a performance of the Philadelphia Orchestra in Verizon Hall, whose design emulates the interior of a cello.

The first line (in Greek) of the second part, explained in the following line, is a recalled remark by my father after one of his fishing trips, literally, “You know what a treacherous creek that is,” referring to Hound Creek in Cascade Country, Montana, a new world addition to the waters of the underworld of antiquity and their guardian hound Cerberus.

And the first line of the third part, in which the order of the two halves of the first line of Guillaume Apollinaire’s “chanson triste,” Le pont Mirabeau, have been switched in order to maintain the controlling signature rhyme of lament.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Jerome Rothenberg: Five Translations/Versions of Poland/1931 “The Wedding”

                                                                                  Photo-collage for Poland/1931 by Eleanor Antin

[The opening poem of Poland/1931 has been translated into a number of languages, in some of which I’ve been able to read or perform during various travels. The availability of Poems and Poetics gives me a chance to bring a few of these translations together – in the present instance, from Spanish, from French, from German, & most particularly from Yiddish.  Others – from Polish, Swedish, Chinese, Gergian, & Dutch – may follow in the near future. Performances in English and Yiddish can be found on PennSound at (J.R.)]

“The Wedding”

my mind is stuffed with tablecloths
& with rings but my mind
is dreaming of poland stuffed with poland
brought in the imagination
to a black wedding
a naked bridegroom hovering above
his naked bride mad poland
how terrible thy jews at weddings
thy synagogues with camphor smells & almonds
thy thermos bottles thy electric fogs
thy braided armpits
thy underwear alive with roots o poland
poland poland poland poland poland
how thy bells wrapped in their flowers toll
how they do offer up their tongues to kiss the moon
old moon old mother stuck in thy sky thyself
an old bell with no tongue a lost udder
o poland thy beer is ever made of rotting bread
thy silks are linens merely thy tradesmen
dance at weddings where fanatic grooms
still dream of bridesmaids still are screaming
past their red moustaches poland
we have lain awake in thy soft arms forever
thy feathers have been balm to us
thy pillows capture us like sickly wombs & guard us
let us sail through thy fierce weddings poland
let us tread thy markets where thy sausages grow 

     ripe & full
let us bite thy peppercorns let thy oxen's dung be 

     sugar to thy dying jews
o poland o sweet resourceful restless poland
o poland of the saints unbuttoned poland repeating 

the triple names of mary
poland poland poland poland poland
have we not tired of thee poland no for thy cheeses
shall never tire us nor the honey of thy goats
thy grooms shall work ferociously upon their looming 

shall bring forth executioners
shall stand like kings inside thy doorways
shall throw their arms around thy lintels poland
& begin to crow

“La Boda”

mi mente está retacada de servilletas
y de anillos pero mi mente
sueña con polonia retacada de polonia
en la imaginación trayendo
a una boda negra
un novio desnudo que sobrevuela
a su novia encuerada loca polonia
qué terribles tus judíos en las bodas
tus sinagogas con aromas de alcanfor y almendras
tus termos tus eléctricas neblinas
tus manos metidas en los sóbacos
tus calzones vivos y enraizados oh polonia
polonia polonia polonia polonia polonia
la manera en que repican las campanas de tus flores
la manera en que se elevan sus lenguas ofreciéndose 

     besar a la luna
vieja luna vieja madre clavada nada menos que en tu 

     mismísimo cielo
una vieja campana sin lengua una ubre perdida
oh polonia tu cerveza es siempre hecha con pan pudriente
tus sedas son apenas lino tus comerciantes
bailan en las bodas en las que fanáticos novios
todavía sueñan con las damas de la novia todavía gritan
desde sus mostachones rojos polonia
siempre nos hemos despertado en tus suaves brazos
tus plumas han sido nuestro bálsamo
tus almohadas nos capturan como vientres enfermizos 

     y nos.cuidan
déjanos atravesar tus fieras bodas polonia
déjanos caminar tus mercados donde las salchichas 

     están maduras y regordetas
déjanos morder tus granos de pimientón deja que la 

     cagada de tus bueyes sea azúcar para tus judíos 
oh polonia oh polonia dulce habilidosa y sin descanso
oh polonia de los santos desabotonada polonia 

interminablemente los triples nombres de maría
polonia polonia polonia polonia polonia
no nos hemos cansado de ti polonia pues tus quesos
nunca nos cansarán ni el nectar de tus cabras
tus novios trabajarán empeñosamente sobre sus 

     aparecidas novias
traerán verdugos
se pararán como reyes en tus portales
arrojarán sus brazos alrededor de tus dinteles 

y comenzarán a cacarear

[Translated into Spanish by Heriberto Yépez]

“La Noce”

ma tête est bourrée de serviettes
et de baues mais ma tête
rêve de la pologne est bourrée de pologne
conduite en imagination
à une noce noire
le marié tout nu plane au-dessus
de la mariée nue pologne folle
terribles sont tes juifs pendant les noces
tes synagogues sentent le camphre et les amandes
tes bouteilles thermos tes brouillards électriques
les tresses de tes aissellles
tes dessous de racines vivantes o pologne
pologne pologne pologne pologne pologne
comme tes cloches enveloppées de fleurs sonnent
elles offrent leur langue pour embrasser la lune
vieille lune vieille mère collée au ciel toi-même
vieille cloche san langue tétine perdue
o pologne ta bière pour toujours sera faite de 

     pain pourrissant
tes vêtements de soie ne sont que toiles tes 

dancent aux noces où les mariés fanatiques
rêvent encore aux demoiselles d’honneur 

      continuent à crier
à travers leurs moustaches rousses pologne
nous sommes restés éveillés dans tes bras 

tes plumes ont été un baume pour nous
tes oreillers nous capturent ventres maladifs 

     ils nous protègent
voguons à travers tes noces féroces pologne
piétinons tes marchés où tes saucisses murissent 

mordons tes grains de poivre que tes bouses soient 

     du sucre pour tes juifs mourants
o pologne o douce pologne pleine d’agitation et de 

o pologne de tous les saints déboutonnée pologne 

     répétant sans fin les triples noms de marie
pologne pologne pologne pologne pologne
sommes-nous fatigués de toi pologne non puisque 

     tes fromages
ne nous lasseront jamais ni le miel de tes chèvres
puisque tes mariés ne cesseront jamais de travailler

     férocement les mariées vagues
ils feront venir les exécuteurs
ils se tiendront comme des rois dan l’encadrement 

     de tes portes
et embrassant tes linteaux de leurs bras pologne
se mettront à chanter

[Translated into French by Jacques Roubaud]

Polen / 1931. Die Hochzeit

Mein Geist ist gestopft mit Tischtüchern
& mit Ringen doch mein Geist
träumt sich nach Polen gestopft mit Polen
dorthin gebracht in der Vorstellung
zu einer schwarzen Hochzeit
ein nackter Bräutigam schwebt darüber
seine nackte Braut          irres Polen
wie gräßlich deine Juden auf Hochzeiten
deine Synagogen mit Gerüchen nach Kampfer & 
deine Thermoskannen deine elektrischen Nebel
deine bezopften Achselhöhlen
deine Unterhosen wimmelnd voller Wurzeln oh Polen
Polen Polen Polen Polen Polen
wie deine Glocken klingen in einem Bett aus Blumen
wie sie ihre Zungen anbieten um geküßt zu werden 
     vom Mond
alter Mond alte Mutter du steckst in deinem Himmel 
eine alte Glocke ohne Zunge ein verlorener Euter
oh Polen dein Bier sei auf ewig gebraut aus fauligem 
deine Seiden sind Laken nur deine Geschäftsleute
tanzen auf Hochzeiten wo fanatische Bräutigame
noch träumen von Brautjungfern die noch immer 
zwischen ihren roten Schnurrbärten Polen
wir lagen wach in deiner weichen Umarmung in 
deine Federn waren Balsam für uns
deine Kissen umfangen uns wie der Mütter kranker 
     Schoß & wachen
laß uns gleiten zwischen deine wütenden Hochzeiten 
laß uns stolzieren über deine Märkte wo deine 
     Würstchen reif & prall werden
laß uns hineinbeißen in deine Pfefferkörner laß die 
     Scheiße deiner Ochsen
Zucker werden für deine sterbenden Juden
oh Polen süße findige unruhige Polen
oh Polen der Heiligen des offenen Hosenstalls Polen 
     die Marias dreifachen
    Namen spricht in alle Ewigkeit
wurden wir deiner nicht überdrüssig oh Polen nicht 
     doch dein Käse
soll uns nie verdrießen noch der Honig deiner Ziegen
deine Bräutigame mögen wütend ans Werk gehen auf 
     ihren Bräuten
mögen sie Folterknechten Leben schenken 
mögen sie wie Könige in der Tür deines Hauses stehen
mögen sie mit ihren Armen deinen Türsturz 
     umschlingen Polen
& beginnen zu krähen

(Translated into German by Norbert Lange)

“Di Khaseneh”

mayn miyakh iz ongeshtopt mit tishtekher
un mit fingerlekh ober mayn miyakh
kholemt fun poyln ongeshtopt mit poyln
in dimiyen gebrakht
tsu a shvartseh khaseneh
a naketer khosn shvebt iber
zayn naketeh kaleh metirifdikeh poyln
vi shreklekh dayneh yidn oyf khasenehs
dayneh shulen mit kamfer reykhehs un mandlen
dayneh termosen dayneh elektrishe tumanen
dayneh untervesh lebedik mit vurtseln oy poyln
poyln poyln poyln poyln poyln
vi dayneh glocken ayngevikelt mit blumen klingen
vi zey offenen zeyreh tsungen tsu kushen di levoneh
alteh levoneh alteh mameh gebliben shteken in dayn himel 

     du aleyn
an alte glock on ah tsung ah farloyrener eyter
oy poyln dayn bier iz tomid gemakht fun farfoylteh broyt
dayneh zayden iz layvent bloiz dayneh sokherim
tantsen oyf khasenehs vu khasonim kanoyim
fantazieren nokh veygen kalehs shrayendik nokh
durkh zeyereh royteh vontsehs poyln
mir zaynen gebliben vakh in dayneh veykheh arems oyf 

dayneh federen zaynen geven far unz balzam
dayneh kishns fangen unz vi krenklikheh trakhten un 

     hiten unz
lomir durkhzegeln dayneh vildeh khasenehs poyln
lomir treten dayneh merkten vu dayneh vurshten 

     vaksen rayf un ful
lomir baysen dayneh feferkorns zol dayn oksenmist 

     zayn tsuker far dayneh gosysesdike yidn
oy poyln oy ziseh umtsukhedikeh unruikeh poyln
oy poyln fun di heylikeh unknepeldikeh poyln 
     khazendik on oyfher di drayikeh nemen fun mariya
poyln poyln poyln poyln poyln
zaynen mir nit mid gevoren fun dir poyln neyn vayl 

     dayneh keyzen
velen unz keynmol nit mid makhen un nit di honik 

     fun dayneh tsigen
dayneh khosens velen arbeten umtsukhedik iber 

     zeyereh shvebedikeh kalehs
velen kindlen mit henker
velen shtenden vi kenigen in dayneh tiren
velen arumnemen dayneh bayshtidlekh poyln
un onheyben kreyen

[Translated into Yiddish by Amos Schauss with transliteration into Roman letters by Jerome Rothenberg]

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Susan Suntree: from “Sacred Sites, The Secret History of Southern California” with a foreword by Gary Snyder

Book Two: The Origins of Southern California: Indigenous Myths and Songs
Part 1: Universe, World, People


                        there is


            Only solitude

                                       like an empty house          (no house)

Kvish Atakvish

                        Kvish: Vacant

                        Atakvish: Empty

                                    These two are man and woman, brother and sister.

Then Kvish Atakvish


Omai Yamai

                        Omai: Not Alive

                        Yamai: Not in Existence

When these two discover themselves,
they talk with one another:
            Brother, who are you?
            Sister, who are you?
                                                            (Desire stirs the man,
                                                            so he never again calls her sister.)

            She asks again: Who are you?

            He says:


                                                            I am     Empty


            He blows out his spirit breath:    Hannnn!

            She answers:



                                                            I am     Vacant



            She blows out her spirit breath:   Hannnn!

            She asks again: Who are you?

            He answers:


                                                            I am     Not Alive

                                                                        Not Alive

                                                                        Not Alive

            He blows out his spirit breath:     Hannnn!

            He asks again: Who are you?

            She answers:


                                                             I am    Not in Existence

                                                                        Not in Existence

                                                                        Not in Existence

            She blows out her spirit breath:    Hannnn!

                                     Not Alive-Not in Existence

                                    Whaikut Piwkut  Harurai Chatuta

                        Whaikut Piwkut: Pale Gray   The Milky Way    

                        Harurai Chatutai: Changing   Descending Deep into the Heart     

                                                These two become

                        Tukmit: Dark Sky                       Tomaiyowit: Earth.

(Clearly it is not
            male and female                       
            sky and earth,
                        but of another nature.)

These two:

Tukmit   Tomaiyowit    Dark Sky  Earth

                                                come forth from what came before
not as children
but as themselves:
                        a Continuing Being.

                        It is very dark
                                                without stars, sun, moon.

The woman lies with her feet to the north.

The man sits by her right side.

In the darkness
                        they talk with one another again,
                        and what they name
                        they become:

                                                            The First World.

[NOTE & FOREWORD.  The full range of Suntree’s work (University of Nebraska Press, 2010), not shown here, is in fact an epic including both indigenous & scientific/geological views of myth & history in an unprecedented way.  This is no small accomplishment – in fact a really great one – to which attention is called here.  
            Of her book’s major status, unless we miss it, Gary Snyder writes by way of Foreword:
            ”A work of great spirit accomplished with patience and vision, Susan Suntree’s epic poem is a lovely weaving of science and myth. It is a work that sings. Like all good stories it reads like the storyteller is right there, speaking to the reader, shaping the universe one song at a time.
           “Suntree’s book is about impermanence. From the very beginning, the landscape known as Southern California has reshaped itself dramatically and often. Learning how a place comes into being acquaints us with forces of life that are large and intimately interconnected. For the indigenous people, the creation and transformation of the world is an account of the First People. In this way of looking at it, the land is alive and working out its own story. 
           “Conditions are always changing. Something always upsets the balance. Suntree recounts a pivotal moment in one of the creation myths when Frog Woman and her cronies curse the great leader Wiyot, bringing death into the world. The First People respond by sitting together and talking things over until they find ways to accommodate changed conditions and rebalance the world. The common good is at stake. Everybody participates: trees, animals, weather, and eventually the human beings.  So this is a book about maintaining balance. We can only do this by carefully listening to our non-human neighbors and relatives.
           “But people resist letting the world in. We tend to think of the natural, the sacred, the wild as happening outside our neighborhoods and far away. Suntree brings us home. Every day in Los Angeles, tectonic plates, weather blown in from thousands of miles away, and the work of Raven and Coyote are always at play. Don’t miss it!
           “Suntree’s many years of writing, performing, and activism inform her work. So it is in part her cumulative wisdom and insight that makes this book so strong. Here we have a model for a much larger project: indigenous and Western poets and scientists swapping stories, singing their best songs around the same fire, working hard to keep the world in balance. That is going to take every song we’ve got.”]