Reviews

Attention paid

The forty-eight poems collected in this volume are the sum total completed by R. F. Langley during his seventy-two-year lifespan, but they contain an outsize vibrancy that intensifies on rereading. They are not well known on this side of the Atlantic, but hopefully this book will start to change that. Their range is not wide — indeed, it is consciously circumscribed (recurring subjects include insects and arachnids, Italian Renaissance art, the Suffolk countryside, church interiors, looking, and writing about looking) — but the attention and thinking they condense is considerable.

The lives that include us

A review of ‘Trickster’ by Randall Potts
Photo of Randall Potts (left) by Emily Dulla.

Our review-dialogue grew out of a conversation on Randall Potts’s work. After sharing topics of interest with each other — including Trickster’s treatment of animal imagery, the preservation of the natural world, Buddhist precepts, and the place of incantation or song in Potts’s imaginary — we developed our conversation into a book review. Although we covered many more topics than there is room to include in this space, we hope that this collaboration begins a larger discussion of Potts’s visionary work.

Translating difficulty

Ouyang Jianghe’s poetry presents to any translator the difficult decision of whether or not to pursue his work as a language artifact to be translated as close to literally as possible, or whether to amplify its implicit beliefs, and its abstractions — through a historical lens, or otherwise. But since he is said by translator Austin Woerner to be known as the “most hermetic of the Chinese hermetic poets,” we can expect a pronounced “cryptic language” that doesn’t easily yield access to, as Woerner describes it, “the poem’s mystery.”[2] In such a case, translating in a straightforward manner may be an unproductive task. So, in Woerner’s case, he decides to “show only enough [of the original] to tempt the imagination, inviting the reader to see in it what she wishes,” using the poem as “a tool for contemplation, a mandala or maze among whose many turnings the reader can pick her own path” (23).

[I]f there are strong ambiguities in the original poem, there’s no need to select only one possible sense and then translate that: instead, translate one ambiguity into another! Don’t try to solve the problem: translate it! — J. H. Prynne[1] 

Unregulated glamor

Last week I was walking through the UC Berkeley campus with a friend who is a birth/care worker. We were on our way to hear Bernadette Mayer read — “our grand-auntie,” we said. We were talking about aspirations, the work my friend aspires to most, and my friend was speaking about helping women decide when and how they want to give birth. She was telling me about all sorts of care methods that I, at thirty years old, knew nothing about.

'the pleasure of / companionship'

To understand a poet’s work it is necessary to understand a poet’s life; this is particularly the case with poet George Oppen, whose work, in Michael Heller’s estimation, frequently demonstrates “an urge toward psychic depths” and “take[s] account of contingency, of the life that impinges on us, whether it involves meeting other poets, car wrecks” — referring to Oppen’s poem “Route” (1968) — “or the wrecks of the self and world.”[1] The publication in 1990 of the invaluable Selected Letters, a superb collection of Oppen’s correspondence edited by noted Oppen sc