Greenbaum, Collins and Dolin, et. al.

Greenbaum, Collins and Dolin, et. al.
October 27, 2020 Plume

Jessica Greenbaum on “Why I Started Writing a Novel”:
One of the voices in my poems might be the abandoned lecturer, walking alone in the house, explaining theories and mounting an argument through the echoing hallways and empty kitchen, adding up complaints that have been banging around like odd appliance parts in the reverberating cookie tin of the brain. This voice is hoping, perhaps against hope, that it can configure those gleanings—if set at certain angles in a particular order— into the small machine of a working poem which might elucidate a nagging repair needed by society, and somehow, merely by elucidating it, feel it has, in some mini inch-worm way, contributed a stitch to that problem’s repair. Such is the self-deception of expression! Regardless, a bit of temporary peace sets in and it was fun to name-drop this heroine of journalism, Kathryn Joyce, who does, in fact, mend great big gashes of civil rights through her investigative work.
Martha Collins on “Lamentations”: 
“Lamentations” was written for TRIGGER, an interdisciplinary project curated by John Lane and Nick Lantz for which poets, composers, and visual artists were invited to produce original works responding to guns and gun violence. The five-part structure is based very loosely on the Biblical book of Lamentations, which includes five chapters, four of which are what we would call abecedarian poems and the last of which begins “Remember”; the italicized words in the first section of the poem are taken from the first chapter of the Biblical Lamentations. All of the incidents described in section 4 are, like the more detailed incidents referenced in sections 2 and 3, based on actual accounts. An earlier version of section 2 was published in Washington Square as “Instance.”


Sharon Dolin on translating “Embryo” by Gemma Gorga:

Like my experience of translating so much of Gemma Gorga’s poetry, “Embryo” strikes me as a poem about poetry as much as it is a recounting of a childhood memory. Here we have an origin myth about the young poet: The apricot pit the girl rubs against the wall to create a kind of music strikes me as a metaphor for the creation of poetry. It might begin in nature, but it is in the poet’s supple use of language that the poem is born. And in the final phrases of the poem: “years to come, / years to become,” it is as though the “languid whistle” of the apricot pit is a harbinger of the very poem that is written about it years later. Thus, my act of translation is just one more in a chain of translations beginning with memory and the wordless whistle the young girl makes.

Kristina Andersson Bicher on “Communion”:

I was at a fundraising committee meeting and two snarky women were dissing the bread on the table and were happy to toss it out, along with various lovely cheeses. Anyway at the time, a beloved was in a very dark place. And might well enjoy that bread. So I treated it like a precious thing and with my hands tried to restore its dignity and make it worthy as a gift.  I put myself into that bread.

Alex de Voogt on translating “Poor Man’s Chicken and Driving into Dry Ground” by Muyaka bin Haji:

The first time I read The poor man’s chicken, I had to smile. The strict syllabics and frequent end-rhymes had an added comic effect to the lively image of a chicken. Then the vultures, thieves and the suffering quickly changed my mind. The chicken as a poor man’s plight became a painful sight. Muyaka is a master of the mashairi verse form, which, despite or perhaps because of its restrictions and repeating refrain, creates surprising poetry.
His poem Diving into dry ground made a rather different impression on me. The metaphor was somewhat obscure while the poem reads like a reproach. An additional image of elephants frightening little ones is found between two stanzas that are explicitly warning or instructing the reader. The repetition of the refrain, the rhyme and rhythm emphasize his message. Each stanza adds understanding to the refrain making its image increasingly intriguing to me.
Translating Muyaka adds puzzles to intrigue and surprise. He enjoys using obscure words, double meanings and additional sonic poetic effects. Once a first translation captures at least some of these elements, it is possible to consider form. Syllabics are perhaps the least difficult to implement even when a poem is translated from Swahili. Whether you like to rhyme a poem or not, it forces a translator to look further even when a first translation seems to capture the main meaning effectively. Rhyme should not distract but add to the reading of the poem. Even Muyaka sometimes struggled adhering to the mashairi form but famously made this verse form his own. With each translation, the versatility of Muyaka’s mastership makes you smile at your own limitations.

Steve Kronen on Apollinaire’s “Zone,” and on Rilke’s “Before Summer Rain”:
On Apollinaire’s “Zone”:
The great Guillaume Apollinaire coined the term surrealism. While surrealism is an historical necessity, its products, for me, are often excruciating – like having to listen to someone re-tell me their dream from last night. But Apollinaire’s “Zone,” from his 1913 Alcools (“alcohols,” but often translated as the more meaningful “spirits,”) is none of that. It’s literally, and emotionally moving, a vivacious, sharp-eyed, punctuation-abandoned, line-rhyming, word-playing, person-jumping (sometimes 1st, sometimes 2nd), airplane-flying, Duchamp-descending, Joycean-meander through a Paris (and elsewhere) that’s busy sloughing off the old world for modernity. The first lines set the tone:
A la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien
Bergère ô tour Eiffel le troupeau des ponts bêle ce matin
Tu en as assez de vivre dans l’antiquité grecque et romaine
Here, for comparison (and fun), are nine translations of those lines:

      1. In the end you’ve had enough of the ancient world
        O Eiffel Tower shepherdess today your bridges are a bleating flock
        You’ve had it up to here with the Greeks and Romans
                                                                                 (David Lehman)
      2. You are tired at last of this old world
        O shepherd Eiffel Tower the flock of bridges bleats at the morning
        You have had enough of life in this Greek and Roman antiquity
        (Roger Shattuck)
      1. In the end you’re weary of this ancient world
        Shepherdess o Eiffel Tower the flock of bridges is bleating this morning
        You’ve lived long enough amongst ancient Romans and Greeks
           (Jack Hayes)
      1. In the end you are weary of this ancient world
        This morning the bridges are bleating Eiffel Tower oh herd
        Weary of living in Roman antiquity and Greek
        (Samuel Beckett)
      1. At last you’re tired of this elderly world
Shepherdess O Eiffel Tower this morning the bridges are bleating
You’re fed up living with antiquity
(Donald Revell)
      1. In the end you are tired of this ancient world
        Shepherd oh Eiffel Tower the herd of bridges is bleating this morning
You’ve had enough of living in Greek and Roman antiquity
(Charlotte Mandell)
      1. You’ve grown weary of this ancient world
        The Eiffel Tower shepherds her morning flock of bleating bridges
        This Greek and Roman chant has grown a bore
        (Pamela Erens)
      2. You are weary at last of this ancient world
Shepherdess O Eiffel tower whose flock of bridges bleats at the morning
You have lived long enough with Greek and Roman antiquity
(Anne Hyde Greet)
      1. You’re tired of this old world at last
        The flock of bridges is bleating this morning O shepherdess Eiffel Tower
You’ve had enough of living in the Greek and Roman past
(Ron Padgett)
A paean to the struggles, glories, and wonders of a new century, the poem, sadly, in its way, reflects our own age. Apollinaire, weakened from a WWI shrapnel wound to the head, died at 38 on November 9, 1918 from the flu pandemic.
My version of “Zone” (I emphasize version – I speak no French) is rendered from the nine translations of the poem mentioned above, and from various commentaries. I kept Apollinaire’s rhyming (not always line to line), and much wordplay, and tried my best to match his pacing and zest.

On Rilke’s “Before Summer Rain”:

Because Rilke usually anchors his ideas (moods, angels, intimations, the unspoken) in palpable Rodinesque things (corpses, a nearly blind person holding a cup, a black cat), his poems easily lend themselves to other-language versions. And the very thingness of the sonnet – 14 lines, a rhyme scheme, a quick followable rhetoric – allows for an opening and approach to “Before Summer Rain.”

As was done with “Zone,” my version of “Before Summer Rain” was rendered by laying out a number of translations before me and digging in. (I likewise speak no German.) I kept to Rilke’s rhyme scheme (except for a switch in stanza two) and placed the generalized childhood afternoon fears spoken of in the poem’s ending more specifically into those amorphous, un-nerving Sunday afternoons we’ve all experienced, and located the fear in the body itself.

Both “Before Summer Rain,” and “Zone,” are included in a new manuscript, After Words – 52 Versions from Sappho to Claribel Alegría.
Christina Pugh on three poems from THE RIGHT HAND:
 For many years, I have received frequent alternative-medicine treatments for chronic pain.  While this hands-on bodywork has been a substantial part of my life — and has influenced my thinking about pain, the body, and even thinking itself — it was not something I had ever written about in a sustained way.
The Right Hand, a collection of poems I’ve recently finished, interrogates this gap by considering the relationship between practitioner(s) and patient, including in modalities like acupuncture and massage therapy.  I thought harder about the role of wounding (needling) in support of healing, which eventually led me to particular moments in art, including Maya Lin’s river of pins in the Hudson River Museum and Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture of St. Teresa’s Ecstasy in Rome.
Why The Right Hand?  One of my practitioners suggested that I practice handwriting with my non-dominant hand, to try to interrupt the residual patterns of pain response in the brain. For a left-handed person, the right hand is what’s hidden.  In part, this is where the book began.
R.T. Smith undressing “Undressing Flannery”:
Why would anyone write a voyeuristic fantasy about a serious Catholic artist who suffered much and died early?
Clearly mischief is involved, and Ralph Emerson’s recommendation that we carve whim above our the lintel plays no small part, but it all begins with an abiding interest in O’Connor’s stories, their blend of cracker vernacular and superficially mannerly (as in “bless her heart”) Southern breeding.  Regina O’Connor frequently remarked that she couldn’t imagine where her daughter got “those people.”  Such speculation can become unruly curiosity about how her life and imagination differed (and perhaps how they didn’t).
I salute Billy Collins here.  Had he not so tastefully undressed Miss Emily in a poetic manner befitting her persona, it might not have occurred me to transgress, in my own fashion.  Flannery had fire and humor, though, both given short shrift in the current frenzy to reckon what sort of Georgia racist she was.  I wanted to give her a do-over, an alternative history.
My male narrator has some snide Manley Pointer in him, till the high cards are played.  I also offer a wink to other fictional rakes, angels and salt of the earth, along with a nod to real folk cited in Sally Fitzgerald’s biography and editions of the letters, as well as X’s bio.
Let me not say, “Y’all come see us,” without mentioning that O’Connor was quick as a whip and inclined to see both sides of any coin. If I felt her wit aimed at me, I’d turn tail and run like a scalded dog.

Frances Richey on “St. Bonaventure,”:
My poem, “St. Bonaventure,” came from a visit to Allegheny, New York, shortly
after the publication of my poetry collection, “The Warrior.” I was invited to give
a reading for students at St. Bonaventure University.  Thomas Merton taught
English at St. Bonaventure for a year, just at the start of World War II.
It was while at St. Bonaventure that Merton decided to join the Trappists.
One of the professors told me stories about Merton, and mentioned how he loved flowers.
I had long been an admirer of Merton’s writings, and it was lovely to be in a place
where he had lived and taught.
However, the highlight of that trip was a visit to the library to see their collection of 15th century
illuminated choir books. I remember the books were kept in drawers, out of the light,
and the temperature was  modulated for their preservation. The pages were made of vellum
and the librarian showed me how one side of the page was the hair side and one side of the page
was the flesh side. Each page was gilded and written by hand. Seeing one of those books opened,
the gold leaf shining like what I imagine celestial light might be if it were real, was thrilling
and other-worldly.  To be with those bright books in 2009, books made, written and
illustrated by hand by artists in the Middle Ages, 600-700 years ago, still alive in the shadows
of that library, is something I will never forget.


M.L. Williams on “Winter Morning” and “Ceci n’est pas un pot”:
I first encountered Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations in John Searle’s introduction to philosophy class when I was a freshman at Berkeley, and fondly remember him drawing a duckrabbit on the chalkboard. Of all the readings for that class, Wittgenstein’s remained with me even as time softened its nuances and revelations. Much later, I presented a paper on the Tractatus, arguing that Wittgenstein had more than subsidized poets, most famously Ranier Maria Rilke, and in fact had carefully hidden a poem in that book. I had exposed myself to two very different trains of his thinking, but I set it all aside to pursue other projects.
Years later, I signed up to participate in Ross White’s Grind, for which I committed to writing a poem each day for a month. This was daunting. The second time I participated, desperate for ideas toward the end of the month, I happened upon a pdf file of Philosophical Investigations online and reacquainted myself with it, its relation of language to game, of meaning to “its use in the language.”  But instead of rereading it in sequence, I pored through it randomly for sentences and phrases that were interesting, and I would put one at the top of the blank page and let it play in my mind until language emerged—two poems that first year. I had made a writing game of it. When I signed up again the next year, I turned to Wittgenstein and played again, and more poems came, and the next year, and the next. I also learned more about his life, particularly his loss of three brothers to suicide, a tragedy that I shared in the loss of my younger brother. So what started as a game, as play, became more serious, more personal.
The two poems here emerged later in the project. “Winter Morning” is set in Utah, where I attended graduate school, and the quote pushed me into confronting the abyss of each day, a quiet crisis of gathering before action, of going out into the world, the threshold signaling both Georg Trakl (one of Wittgenstein’s subsidees) and Larry Levis. “Ceci n’est pas un pot” perhaps unsurprisingly finds Magritte in Wittgenstein’s quote, though Magritte’s painting anticipated Wittgenstein’s rumination. The search for new ways of thinking coexists with desire, with tragedy, and I can only wonder if this is the essence of survival, all this invisible boiling inside.