Miettes of Pam (or… Dis-INTER)

"Dear Book, you were never a book..." (Michael Palmer, from Baudelaire Series)

A couple of weeks ago, I was translating a poem-text coaxed out of Montréal poet Steve Savage, for the San Francisco based journal Eleven Eleven (if they like it, or for someone else if they don’t!). I knew on receiving “Miettes de Pam” that Steve had deftly slipped me a bit of, or an arrangement of, part of his own translation from English into French of NY poet Mina Pam Dick’s (who is also Traver Pam Dick and others) Delinquent. In effect, I was going to translate Steve’s translation of Pam into English as Steve’s French poem. So I looked at it as Steve’s poem. He, after all, wrote all the words before my eyes! I didn’t take Delinquent off the shelf beside me but accepted Steve’s delinquency as emblematic of Pam’s shape-shifting. So I translated, creating a work in my words in English, a faithful—but commented—translation of Steve’s words in French which started as a translation of Pam’s.

Steve said when he read my translation, “Bits of Pam”: I see you, Erín, with Pam lurking behind you! Mina Pam Dick was of course contacted too, and delinquently allows my perverse versions of Steve’s translation to lurk in front of her, as she lurks behind.

All in all, it was a delight with three laughters, one of those signal gestures that passes between the USA and Quebec, between English and French and back again at times. Poetry changes languages among friends and people who admire each other’s work.

The experience reminded me of my discovery of the American language-poets in the mid 90s in Paris in the 1991 French anthology 49 + 1 nouveaux poètes américains edited by Emmanuel Hocquard  and Claude Royet-Journoud. I’d read scattered bits of that poetry before then, yes, but this anthology gave me a whole community of poets at once (except Rae Armantrout, drat it) in a huge and beautiful volume. I was enthralled with the language and walked around reciting American poems in French to myself as I worked.

At one point, I’d so inhabited Michael Palmer’s “Suite Baudelaire” in French and so wanted to read the work in English that, unable to find the original Palmer in Montreal, I translated a few of his poems from French myself. When later I did find "Baudelaire Series" in a book called Sun, I laughed, and perversely (because I’d been reciting it for so long) liked my version better. I guess I was just more used to it!

Since then, I’ve lost my translations of Palmer from Hocquard's French translation of Palmer’s English, and I do love the work in its original, can’t imagine it any other way.

A funny thing in the midst of these pleasures: the doubling of a back-and-forth translation like the Erín-Steve-Pam text really does, again, point to translation as writing, and to the fact that a multiplicity of translations is essential to a poem (if there is an essence at all), as one translation never serves a poem completely. Its resonances need that second, third, fourth translation: inter aerias fagos again—up there in the air of branches, between branches, where branches branch out and also touch, sharing fresh air.