Note: Kirill Medvedev’s brief, shocking “On the Day of My Thirty-Seventh Birthday” details what happens to a revolutionary who has just been involved in killing the president. After acting as a lookout and messenger during the assassination, he mistakenly shoots and kills a fan, whom he mistakes for the secret services but who simply wanted an autograph. Facing this revelation, the poet thinks to himself, “Shit … what a missfire. / A tragic missfire, a mistake, / which means the good-for-nothing president / is still alive.”
What makes me interested in the question of how poems travel is the very difficulty of capturing the actual experience of reading poems, especially as it varies from culture to culture, language to language. I don’t mean some abstract ‘impact’ or ‘effect’ of poems on individuals or societies. I mean those experiences of reading that can be demonstrated or documented, especially in the form of writing. “Transpositions” is an umbrella term for such material evidence of reception: it comprises different kinds of translation, different kinds of criticism, and more.
Before turning to my first example of transposition, I want to consider two models of poetic circulation that complement the one elucidated by Matt Cohen in Whitman’s Drift, the subject of my last post.