Willis Barnstone speaks disapprovingly of literal translation as like a “xerox machine.” This derogatory use of the word xerox in relation to translation is a little unfair, especially since the xerox is a much better metaphor for translation pushed to its creative extremes than is the more typical technological reference to the game of “telephone.”
OK, let’s keep this moving. I want to discuss the traditions of visual poetry with Karl Jirgens as well as his own work, and his poem, Heraclitus, seems a perfect place to start. Everything flows.
What is here? How should we read? Let’s start from the top.
I + I = H
Visually, two I’s joined together with a plus sign become an H. The ‘I,’ the subjective self, becomes H, the Heraclitean changeable self. I is another: I is a river and the self is the ever-flowing water. Or vice versa: The self is a river and “I” i-dentifies with the flow. “I me a river.” Eau-de-vie.
But language shifts. Signs shift. The flow of the name: Heraclitus and the French form of this Greek, Heraclite, skid through time, down the page, become liquid: rivers which are both I’s (I-lands) and the vertical arms of H. The H which begins Heraclitus. The movement of names Mesmer I’s our two eyes. Motion on the page is time. Time is a blur of objects, names, or signs.