Sitting down to write my first “reading” of Basil Bunting’s 1977 performance of Sir Thomas Wyatt’ssixteenth-century poem “Blame Not My Lute,” I realize that I rarely read firstly anymore, properly speaking. That is, if I know I will be writing about a text of any kind, I research it before beginning. Were I to be writing an interpretation of the Bunting, for example, I would spend some time perusing relevant scholarship.
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.”
Readers interested in contemplating the value of effort of attention toward art may not need much persuasion, but it is nonetheless important to assert some principles on which the thinking is founded. I begin with some fundamentals from Iris Murdoch, which lead her to contemplation of moral concerns. “Art is not a diversion or a side-issue, it is the most educational of all human activities and a place in which the nature of morality can be seen. Art gives a clear sense to many ideas which seem more puzzling when we meet with them elsewhere, and it is a clue to what happens elsewhere” (85).
Several of the poems in Gary Snyder’s The Back Country (1967) were written in an oil tanker, one of his methods of transpacific travel as he was writing poems melding Far Eastern philosophies to his native Pacific Northwest realities in the late 1950s.
[The excerpts that follow are from a work in progress, A Field on Mars: Poems 2000-2015, scheduled for publication next year by Presses Universitaires de Rouen et du Havre (Jusqu’a/To Books) in simultaneous English & French editions. The note below explains whatever else needs explanation. (J.R.)]