Commentaries - January 2016

Welcoming the étrangère


Chado, by way of Kakuzo Okakura's 1906 The Book of Tea.
Chado, by way of Kakuzo Okakura's 1906 The Book of Tea

Wise navigator of translation, Paul Ricoeur identifies the experience of crossing over languages as both challenge and source of happiness. Equipoise and equanimity arrive via linguistic hospitality, that sheltered inlet "where the pleasure of dwelling in the other's language is balanced by the pleasure of receiving the foreign word at home, in one's own welcoming house." We set anchor there. Low tide, walk through shallow waters to shore. We arrive someplace entirely new — and also strangely familiar.

Stephen Ross: 'Question Answers Question: On Ariel Resnikoff's 'Between Shades'' & other matters

Ariel Resnikoff’s poems are wide open steps sunk in whiteness: their imprints lead far beyond themselves. They lead to Krasnystaw and Tel Aviv, Philadelphia and Montreal, antiquity and modernity, and back again. This openness, this generous range, makes Between Shades an unusually companionable book of poems. “I wanted to meet you / to tell you / you didn’t know me” reads the epigraph, summing up the ethics and poetics of this  remarkable debut.

Twenty-six items from Special Collections (j)

Exhibit 'J': Medieval Icelandic.

Exhibit 'J': medieval Icelandic. (Anonymous, excerpt from 'Hávamál' ['The Sayings of the High One'], from 'The Poetic Edda,' manuscript circa 1270 CE, stanzas 111–137)

Bibliography: The Poetic Edda, translated with an Introduction and Notes by Carolyne Larrington (Oxford University Press, 1996). A few words from Larrington's Introduction: "The Codex Regius, the manuscript in which the Poetic Edda is preserved, is an unprepossessing-looking codex the size of a fat paperback, bound in brown with brownish vellum pages; it is now kept in the Arnamagnæan Institute in Reykjavik. Most of the mythological and heroic poems it contains are only in this single manuscript....

Twenty-six items from Special Collections (k)

Exhibit ‘K’: Somali.

Exhibit ‘K’: Somali. (Anonymous, [“Like a she-camel with a large bell…”])

Bibliography: Somali Poetry: An Introduction, B.W. Andrzejewski and I.M. Lewis (Oxford, 1964). The poem below appears on pages 142 (English) and 143 (Somali).

Thoughts on Osip Mandelstam's birthday

A birthday that happened 125 years ago today... & still I can't find an English translation that satisfies me completely. Most of them feel more or less flat, with Mandelstam turned into a most salon-fähig lyrical poet of medium to low intensity. (Oddly enough this is true especially of those translations extolled by Joseph Brodsky, someone who should have know, as he was a native Russian who wound up writing in English, but I guess my judgment here may be tainted as I find Brodsky's English work très fade...) Clarence Brown's versions may still be the least proble