Commentaries - September 2011

The bridge of transtranslation

“Transtranslation is an excavation of sorts: we brush away the layers of meaning deposited onto a text through time, to reveal the poem beneath the poem – that rift between rising and falling… groundlessness itself.” (Mark Goldstein) Engaging in what he calls transtranslation, Mark Goldstein bridges several methodologies, including homophonic and homolinguistic play, and lexical word-for-word translations, mapping the sound and sense of the languages with which he works. Through this deep engagement with another voice and with his own voices, Goldstein produces poems that are both translated and written, that are both the other’s breath and his own breath.

Kac, Cayley, and Kargl on translation

on translation || Michael Kargl
on translation || Michael Kargl

If you are reading this text in a browser window, you are reading it in translation. Right click right here. View Page Source. This is the original text, composed in and of the internet’s native languages. Note the head/body page division, a convention carried over from print. The < head > is primarily preoccupied with the text's contextual issues. It tells the browser what its title is, offers the search engines clues as to its contents, provides a required reading list of other texts it refers to, and outlines instructions on what to do in the unfortunate event of IE. The < body > is more concerned with appearances. It tells the browser what the contents of the text are and how best to present them. Why HyperText Markup Language continues to textually embody the Cartesian mind-body split I do not know.

Walter Benjamin objected to the binary nature of traditional translation methods, advocating for transparency between an original and its translation. In his influential 1923 essay The Task of the Translator, he wrote: “It [the translation] does not cover the original, does not black its light, but allows the pure language, as though reinforced by its own medium, to shine upon the original all the more fully.” The creators of following three works take the task of translation beyond the binary by creating transparencies between the original language and its original medium through intermediation and the application of what I am calling triple language systems, in reference to the translator of all translators, the Rosetta Stone.

Rhapsodes, Griots, and modes of performance

The Kora, a twenty-one-stringed harp-lute or bridge-harp,

“On the basis of available evidence,” writes Gregory Nagy, “it appears that rhapsodes did not sing the compositions that they performed but rather recited them without the accompaniment of the lyre” (6). Performers of the Homeric epic, rhapsodes recited epics as a group during festivals, taking turns to perform each part. Neither did rhapsodes compose epics for such occasions; rather, they recited learned poems from memory. Furthermore, rhapsodes did not sing the epics at all; the mode of performance was recitation.

9/11 remembrance

Martha Rhodes, Lawrence Joseph, Cornelius Eady, J. Chester Johnson, Major Jackson, Marie Howe, Mark Doty, Lee Briccetti (center, at the dais) and The Rev. Canon Anne Mallonee, Vicar (fourth from left) at yesterday’s Poets House event at Trinity Wall St.: “Ten Years After September 11, 2001, Remembrance and Reconciliation Through Poetry.” Photograph by Lawrence Schwartzwald.

Poem going down the drain (PoemTalk #45)

Eileen Myles, "Snakes"

Eileen Myles in October 2008. Photo by Annemarie Poyo Furlong.


Eileen Myles wrote “Snakes” just as she was assigning children in a friend’s Provincetown poetry workshop to write a poem with the following not-so-constraining-seeming constraint: “Be any age and go down the drain with it.” Her poem, then, is something of a pedagogical model, an exercise in teaching by participation. Or perhaps the assignment she gave the students simply felt so alluring to her — befit her own aesthetic so well — that she couldn’t help but try it herself, regardless of her role as young writers’ guide.  This was in 1997 or so. By January 1998 she was reading the poem at the Ear Inn in New York. It was published in The Massachusetts Review also in 1998.