Piotr Gwiazda

Transpositions

When poems change

Carla Harryman’s Artifact of Hope (Kenning Editions, 2017) is a creative/critical encounter with the work of the German philosopher Ernst Bloch. Through a variety of forms — daydreams, letters, meditations, quotations, classroom assignments, and even a conference paper — she engages with Bloch’s key concept of “hope.” These too are transpositions, insofar as they expand the meaning of translation beyond issues of linguistic or cultural equivalence.

Dear beloved humans

A still from "Grzegorz Wróblewski do ludzkości." (c) Krzysztof Jaworski.

For eight years now I have been translating the poetry of Grzegorz Wróblewski, a Polish writer and visual artist based in Copenhagen. So far we have published two volumes: Kopenhaga (Zephyr Press, 2013) and Zero Visibility (Phoneme Media, 2017). We are now working on our third project, Dear Beloved Humans: New and Selected Poems. The title poem offers a good example of transposition.

Nomad life

Desperate Literature International Bookshop, Madrid, Spain.

Marcus Slease’s new book Play Yr Kardz Right (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2017) collects poems written in the last several years, almost all of them featuring an unusual technique: pronunciation spelling. The particular variety he employs is called “eye dialect,” because it is meant to appeal to the eye rather than the ear. You can’t detect it from simply listening to the poems, for example at Slease’s book launch reading in Madrid last September.

What is a translingual poem?

In The Translingual Imagination Steven G. Kellman applies the term “translingualism” to writing in more than one language or a language other than one’s primary one. The translingual author, he states, is “an author whose linguistic medium is a matter of option.” Not surprisingly, he limits himself to novelists, including well-known examples like Joseph Conrad, Vladimir Nabokov, and Samuel Beckett. It appears that a translingual poem, while possible, is not very common — and even then seriously compromised as a poem. I suggest another way of understanding the term “translingualism.” It doesn’t signify writing in more than one language or a language other than one’s primary one. It has nothing to do with switching languages, replacing one language with another for practical reasons.

In The Translingual Imagination Steven G. Kellman applies the term “translingualism” to writing in more than one language or a language other than one’s primary one. The translingual author, he states, is “an author whose linguistic medium is a matter of option.” Not surprisingly, he limits himself to novelists, including well-known examples like Joseph Conrad, Vladimir Nabokov, and Samuel Beckett. As he notes,

Reading and playing

cholars and critics too initiate “transpositions.” Even a casual observation can make a familiar poem appear in a new light, for example when Helen Vendler wonders, in her review of Wallace Stevens’s Selected Poems, what we would make of “The Snow Man” if it had been called “Stoicism in a Failed Marriage.” Sometimes such interventions go further, transforming our ideas about not only what a poem means but what it does and even what it is. This happened to me many times when I was reading Don Bialostosky’s How to Play a Poem, recently published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. An experienced scholar and teacher of poetry, Bialostosky appreciates the importance of close reading, a strenuous yet rewarding exercise that focuses on elements of structure and language.