Commentaries - October 2012

Transnational literacies
Pont d'archive

The body that translates, that reads, is a sited body. Folded and creased, stapled, sewn and décousu: it is both disenfranchised and enabled by its temporal and cultural location. No body escapes this. We are culturally and ideologically marked, and we read and translate the texts of others through these markings, altering the very texts that we read and translate to reflect our own intentionality. There is no innocent translation.

Yet there is always an ethics of translation: How do I respect “what Chus Pato has written,” for example, when I am physiologically not capable of reading exactly that? This question of respect has to be answered every time a text is before me.

One of the useful signs for considering ethics is that of “transnational literacies,” a term first used by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in the 1990s, and now considerably elaborated by thinkers such as Diana Brydon, who leads a project looking at transnational literacies between Canada and Brazil. “…literacy, as a form of social practice, is much more complex” that we once knew, she asserts. Although Brydon focuses on teaching English and in English across national boundaries and cultures, her elaborations are useful for translation.

 I as translator have to recognize my own privilege as an English speaker, a white person from “West” and “North,” a person formed by certain national and post-national discourses (to which I myself contributed in O Cidadán), a person with old allegiances and a settler history, all of which that can blind me to other discourses, impulses. In translating from one hemisphere to another, from South to North (or partly “North”), from East to West, I have to take care that the frames—cultural, economic, historical—which sustain my own literacy do not force themselves on the texts of others, which were uttered from and in a different frame or order, not always easily apparent at the moment of translation.

Body, frame. The mobility of the imaginary (formed by discourses that take place around and beyond us) and mobility of the socius (that acts to absorb or disarm the Other), make me disavow any claim of translational mastery. We need to learn to be literate in the speech and inscriptions of others, not just translate them into our way, overwriting the laws of their texts—which may be hills or trees—with ours (to paraphrase Peter Kulchyski quoting an Inuit elder on colonization in the Canadian North). To eavesdrop on Elisa Sampedrín in The Unmemntioable:

My intention was just to write at the desk in București, but this notebook paper turns into a plant again damp with sap and fibre and breaks the nib. Perfumes anarchic tendency and a way with words, fallen down on crested birds.

The smell of hay and the look of god." / the pen writes.


Three useful books for thinking, by Peter Kulchyski, Smaro Kamboureli, Diana Brydon:


Poems from Locomotrix: Selected Poetry and Prose of Amelia Rosselli, plus an excerpt from Jennifer Scappettone’s introduction.

Half a century after the searching start — across and between tongues — of her uncompromising poetic practice, the poet Amelia Rosselli has emerged in global literary discussions as exemplary: as both prophetic and crucially contemporary. She has come to occupy a prominent position in literary history as one of the twentieth century’s most significant and demanding poets of the Italian language and beyond, with a body of work that concretizes in its agitation the postwar era’s fallout and bequest. Her books of poetry and recently collected prose are testaments to a uniquely multiform sincerity, and to a fiendishly restless mind, synthesizing a literary tradition that stretches from the thirteenth-century dolce stil novo through Rimbaud, Campana, Kafka, Joyce, and Pasternak with the frankness of the news. The daughter of an assassinated hero of the Italian Resistance who spent her childhood and adolescence in exile between France, England, and the United States before settling in Rome, Rosselli is esteemed for the idiolect she forged to voice the aftermath of this experience while resisting both the confessional first person dominating mainstream poetry during the years of her production and the aesthetic conformities of vanguardist schools. Self-described “poeta della ricerca” (“poet of research”), she regarded poetry as a sphere of activity exceeding the narcissistic gamut of self-expression and constraint of genteel intellectualism: language in Rosselli’s handling is a site of innovation with imperative philosophical and political consequences. Never mere linguistic exercise, her writing launches explicit and implicit structural assaults on the authority of traditional poetic forms, as well as the social and cognitive forms that gave rise to them.

Read more of the introduction and a selection of Rosselli poems



“Larry Eigner, An Advertisement”: Bill Corbett on the Larry Eigner collected poems, edited by Robert Grenier and Curtis Faville.

Others will look at this book up close and write critical articles about Eigner’s poetry and what Grenier and Faville have given us. I feel no need to do that because their achievement seems an act living in the future. I have had these books for two months and still cannot measure how far I am “up” their height. Eigner for me has never been a poet I can spend hours of time with. I like to open these books at random and read until my head is filled with his poems, and I have enough to think about until I get the urge to open one of the books again. For me his poems read like one long poem, and Eigner is, with Philip Whalen, one of America’s supreme poets of consciousness. James Schuyler is another, but he did not, as Eigner and Whalen did, catch the pass Olson threw downfield. Eigner and Whalen did, and they are great in the open field.

Read more
Note also: feature article on Corbett in Boston Globe magazine.

Greeting card poems!

Poet Elaine Equi and her friend poet David Trinidad, with my wife Lyn at
Poet Elaine Equi and her friend poet David Trinidad, with my wife Lyn at left, in New York City, back in 1992.

A few years back New York poet and friend Elaine Equi suggested she compile a collection of poems like Holiday Cards, by various hands. I once almost applied for a job writing verse for Hallmark Cards in Sydney, back in the 1960s, so I said yes, please do!

Dozens of poets wrote in to Elaine with their poems, and many were supplied  with Collages by Kevin Riordan. They’re all in Jacket 32, here, a feast of quirky, light-hearted calendar verse. Take a look!

Above is a photo of Elaine and her friend poet David Trinidad, with my wife Lyn at left, in New York City, back in 1992. Cigarettes… ah, they were the days. Tell me it wasn’t twenty years ago! Photo by John Tranter.

Here’s Elaine’s Introduction:

Like many people, my first exposure to poetry was through the medium of greeting cards. Before I knew Lorca, Desnos, Stein, or Celan, I knew Hallmark. It was the habit of my mother and grandmother to save whatever cards had been sent throughout the year in order to know who should receive a reciprocal one, but to me poring over those ornate decks was a stimulating and rewarding pastime in and of itself. From them I deduced that brevity with words, sometimes arranged in shapes called stanzas, was often rewarded with a unique and lavish visual setting that included bouquets, cakes, hearts, and gilded lettering among other things. Being very young, I couldn’t quite figure out exactly what the relationship between word and image was in a poem, but I sensed it was important. Thus poetry was originally for me a kind of picture-writing  — and greeting cards, the hieroglyphic flashcards that taught me to read it.

Another idea I formed back then was that part of the very nature of poetry was to greet — i.e. to show up unannounced on someone’s doorstep in order to profess love, congratulate, and wish well. It was a portable, sociable type of writing. Later, of course, I became familiar with more serious poems, the kind that internalized their pictures and suppressed their desire to call out. But I’ve always retained something of these early ideas and thought it would be fun to create a context that allowed for both a literary and a more exuberant greeting-card aesthetic to co-exist.

Our calendar here has been entirely dictated by highly esteemed poets. Its holidays are a mix of tradition and invention — the sacred, the secular, the romantic, the ridiculous, and even thank goodness, the mildly profane. From John Ashbery to Columbo Day, to Holi: the Festival of Colors, Elvis Week and more, I hope you will refer to The Holiday Album often and that it keeps you in a meditative, celebratory, and poetic mood throughout the coming year!  [— Elaine Equi, New York City]

And here are the poets and their poems:
[»] Elaine Equi: Best Wishes (Introduction)
[»] Elaine Equi: Happy New Year
[»] David Lehman: Time Frame
[»] Wayne Koestenbaum: Short Subjects
[»] Rae Armantrout: Address
[»] Nick Piombino: Valentine’s Day
 — Valentine’s Day — Feb. 14th
[»] Kim Lyons: Red Couplets
 — Paper Lantern Festival (Chinese) — the 15th day of the first lunar month
[»] David Shapiro: Colorful Hands
 — Holi: The Festival of Colors (Indian) — first weekend in March
[»] Tom Clark: Equinox
 — March 21/22
[»] Vincent Katz: Back From The Dead
 — The Veneralia (Roman) — April 1st
[»] Eileen Tabios: Eggs: Pulp Fiction for Easter
[»] Jeanne Marie Beaumont: Fête of the Little Boats
 — (French) — April 6th
[»] Martine Bellen: On John Ashbery Day — A Cento
 — April 7th
[»] Cathy McArthur: At the Wildlife Center
 — Bird Day — May 4th
[»] Jerome Sala: Mother’s Day
[»] Jeanne Marie Beaumont: Flower & Camera
 — Flower & Camera Day — June 29th
[»] Patricia Spears Jones: The Perfect Lipstick
 — July 4th
[»] Chris Martin: Independence Day
[»] Mark Lamoureux: Bride of Frankenstein’s Birthday
 — July 9th
[»] Stacy Szymaszek: Hammock Day 
 — July 22nd
[»] Erica Kaufman: admit you’re happy day
 — Aug. 8th
[»] Erica Kaufman: elvis week
 — Aug. 8-16th
[»] Fanny Howe: Our Lady of Knock, August 21, 1879
[»] Joanna Fuhrman: At the Evil Boss Convention  — Labor Day
[»] Jerome Sala: Anniversary
[»] Gregory Crosby: Columbo Day
 — Oct. 12th
[»] Connie Deanovich: Happy Hamlet Day
 — Oct 15th
[»] Bruce Covey: Definitions
 — Dictionary Day–Oct. 16th
[»] Amy Gerstler: All Saints’ Day
 — Nov. 1st
[»] Joe Brainard: Thanksgiving
[»] David Trinidad: Doll Memorial Service
 — Doll Memorial Day — second Saturday in December
[»] David Shapiro: After Ryokan 
 — Winter Solstice — Dec. 21st
[»] Ron Padgett: Season’s Greetings
[»] Ryan Stechler: Pirate’s Christmas Carol: Dec. 25th

Tristele, Ovidiu
Ovidiu in Constanța, 2008

Each text tells us how it wishes to be translated, demands its “proper” translation. Points the translator to its own pulse and propulsions. And “I”—unha cousa sentida e sensíbel, a felt and feeling thing, already socially constructed and hard-wired, yet, a nervous being, with nervature—I have already sensed the text; I receive the text into myself.

I extend my hand to mark a letter, some letters. One language enters and another emerges. This möbius strip operation—for text remains text, letters remain letters—passes by way of a body. This body may be, at times, a machine (as in legal translation, often done by machine so as to stabilize the terminology before being corrected by a human being) or it may be human cells. It can’t be cells of trout. The difference between machine and body is that the body does unpredictable things, makes leaps… Though it chooses (or is blind to, but this body, as much as is possible, chooses) where to situate itself in relation to the socius of the book (as it perceives it) and the socius of the receiving language, this body can also absorb things that have never before been absorbed.

 Few things are lacking to this body at the moment when it adopts the position of a translating body. Human bodies are always translating things, images, light, darkness, the fungibles of this world which, once they have entered the body, are no longer fungible. They are contents, observed and regarded. By the very functioning of the cells.

 It is this light (excelsior) and this circulatory interruption and corporeal penetrability that, together, make translation possible. And condition it as well. The body responds to the text. Each time, the text also demands a comportment from the body.

The body responds, but cannot ever forget or avoid its cellular infarction, movement or life below conscious choice. Its response is different to different texts, and to the same text at different intervals. The text always demands something of the body seated in front of it; it urges something from that body.

As translator, I respond to the urge of the text, its urgency. This involves my mind, which, like any mind, is acculturated, constructed by the culture in which it lives. Tripwire. In the words of Giorgio Agamben, the process is one of subjectivization and of desubjectivization at the same time. It is a process that cannot be fully controlled by society, however, because it passes through a human body.

The homeopathic gesture that propels translation comes from the interior heat of a set of cells. Outside of any theory of translation, these cells function. They renew the fibres of their DNA. Proteins. In the moment of translation, there is no theory possible. Only this relation of light and cell which has a homeopathic influence on the language that results. 

All this was written, invented in the Galician language. You have just read it in translation.

from the annoucment by Ntamamo, the publisher, in Helsinki:

A seminal early work by the influential, innovative American poet, in English-Finnish bilingual edition, translated into Finnish by Leevi Lehto,  and with an interview with the author by Chinese scholar, Nie Zhenzhao, as an appendix.

"[the] publication is based on the insight that a work concentrating on dismantling the context(s) will itself deserve to be detached from its contexts – translated (...) Here the translator, in stead of risking to loose or inadvertently change the ”meaning” or ”sense”, must be careful not to create it where it does not exist (...)"

––Leevi Lehto, from the translator's foreword

"In this work I was interested in repetition as a form of reiteration, insistence in Gertrude Stein’s sense. There is also a relation to the minimalist music of Steve Reich and also his own interest in repetitive and highly rhythmical chanting. (...) I was interested in getting to a basic unit of speech and then using that to make rhythmic compositions. (...) A kind of collective plaint of despair or melancholy or disappointment or separation, which is something that threads through my work and connects it, perhaps unexpectedly, to fado, blues, mourning prayers, or other forms of lament that also use repetition. ...

"There are two sources for [the first section of Parsing] “Sentences,” both oral histories: Working by Studs Terkel and Yessir, I’ve Been Here a Long Time: Faces and Words of Americans by George Mitchell. ... The final poem, numbered 1 & 2 is all first lines of Emily Dickinson’s poems. ... “Roseland” has as its source some phrases from David Antin’s “the sociology of art” from talking at the boundaries, so it’s cut-up from Antin’s transcription of his original “spoken” talk."

––Charles Bernstein, from the interview by Nie Zhenzhao

This is the first publication on Nie Zhenzhao's interview in book form both in English and in Finnish

Parsing / Jäsentäen: 14,82x20,99 cm, 133 p., ISBN 978-952-215-081-3, Graphic Design Make Copies, Cover Art by Susan Bee.

Online U.S $/EUR c. 14 + maling costs EUR 20,00 + maling costs
Google books excerpt, including Forward 

Kirja kerrallaan, Mannerheimintie 22-24, 00100 Helsinki,, puh. +358-(0)9-612-7798, fax +358-(0)9-6126-5715). EUR 20,00

See also: Ecplise archival edition or the 1976 Asylum's Press book and an Italian translation

Excerpts from the Nie interview, proving some of the source texts for Parsing are on-line here: