Kathleen Fraser and Teresa Villa-Ignacio
Sounding Translation episode 1
Bridget Ryan: Hi, everyone! You’re listening to Sounding Translation, a podcast featuring interviews with translators of contemporary poetry. I’m Bridget Ryan, Stonehill class of 2023, and the producer of this podcast episode. In this interview, poet Kathleen Fraser shares with Teresa Villa-Ignacio the origins of her 1980s and early 1990s newsletter, entitled HOW(ever), which celebrated innovative women poets in what was then a predominantly male field. Fraser reads some of her poems, poems that impacted her writing, and poems that she translated from the Italian. She shares her inspirations and what outcomes she wanted from each of her works, in addition to those who were influential, who helped her along her career in literature. This interview was recorded on October 14, 2013, in San Francisco.
Kathleen Fraser: Translation was not something that was on my list of things that I was planning to do in life. I think when I lived in Spain, long ago, I probably did a small amount then, just as a part of studying. But once we decided to live in Rome and not just be tourists, I then began to look at the language differently. And, well, the culture wasn’t a decision — I mean it just was there, and I was doing it. And I was very taken by the arts and the whole culture and the talking — how much people talked all the time. But I didn’t want to become a part of a poetry community. It’s really not like Paris, where there is this kind of international community. I think that some of that is beginning to happen, but Rome is not organized in that way. People are … I don’t know how to compare it to Paris really, except in my small experience. But it doesn’t — the people that I have met and had really valuable contact with regarding poetry are very much in the university. They have come and looked for me, because when I first came there, people knew me because of HOW(ever). I don’t know if you know about HOW(ever)?
I started it because there was no place at the time — I started it in early, about 1984 — there was no place for women who were working outside of the academic tradition, you know? The New Yorker, kind of, is a model of journals that were around. There was nothing that was edited by women, and I kind of was observing this without even realizing I was observing it. Because I was a poet, and whenever I sent out work, it was to magazines that were there. Always male editors. And I just slowly began to gather that information.
When I went to teach at Reed College, which is where I was teaching before I came to San Francisco, some women from Oregon — I think it was called Portland State or Oregon State; Portland State — called me and wanted to … I’m trying to think if I … I hadn’t started anything yet. Anyway, they called me because I was female, and I was teaching there, and I was a poet, that’s why they called me. And they invited me, they wanted to know if I’d like to come, they got together now and then. Most of them were teaching at that school. And they — I don’t know why they thought I’d be interested exactly; I don’t think I was out there in any way that someone could identify. But I was thrilled because I didn’t know anyone, and I said I would love to come to your meetings. And people presented work and stuff. So that was a kind of beginning place, and there were different things that were adding in. I hadn’t characterized myself as a feminist yet because I was just me and noticing things.
So, time goes on: by the time I started teaching at San Francisco State, I had taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Reed, and I guess San Francisco State was the third one, but also at some summer programs. And I noticed, again, that the men were for sure the majority. Very few women teaching. There would be students there. But in terms of sitting in a classroom … I remember once, I went back after I had already taught at Iowa — I think I had to give a reading that night. I was invited to give a reading, and so I visited Norman Dubie’s class, and he was very much a very fine teacher and poet. But the women weren’t talking, and the men, obviously, felt thatwasn’t a problem. And this was part of the thing, too, this finding voice. And slowly this began to eat at me.
When Arthur and I went away, when I got my Guggenheim, we went away to Europe for six months. And I walked a lot, spent a lot of time walking and thinking, “I’ve got to do something about this.” I was in a women’s writing group with Francis Jaffer and Beverly Dahlen, and they didn’t want to do it. I brought it up, and they said they just didn’t have time, or really they didn’t have the push that I had inside me that this had to be done. I was the one that was working full time; by then I was teaching at San Francisco State. But that somehow didn’t get in the way because my necessity was so strong.
So what I did was, while I was away, I figured out, I got an idea together of what I wanted to do. I wanted it to be readable and not something that was so thick and important that you would just never get to it, especially if you had a family life at all or a full-time job. And I had seen Carla Harryman had a little something like this; it was not designed like this at all, but it was this size. It was called Cue, I think, and then she gave numbers on it. And it would usually be devoted to one person’s work, and it wasn’t gendered at all. So I thought, I like that size, that readable package that comes that you can possibly really look at the same night you get it, you know?
So that was my first thing, and I wanted to introduce work by women who were not known, either by people giving me ideas or … I can’t remember how I got the — I guess I had a few ideas of some new people that I had seen around that weren’t known, that I thought … And it was to be for women. Women writing about women, writing critically as well as presenting their work. And the most important thing was that each person whose work was presented, and there would only be — [shuffling papers] this is Norma [Cole], she wasn’t known then — the only thing I wanted to do, that was most important — not the only thing, but the thing that I wanted with their work, with the two people that were presented, I wanted them to write something called “Working Notes.” That’s where the idea of “Working Notes” came. I noticed a few people have picked up on that since, and it’s a really great idea. Once it started, that was it. Because when I talked to my women friends who were scholars, I said, “Why is it that women aren’t being — women who are doing innovative work and coming out of the modernist tradition — why aren’t they being published or paid attention to? Men are!” And I listed all the different people. Sort of when we get to Marianne Moore, that’s [it], and there are a few people right in there, and then it just stops. And then it goes to Adrienne Rich, blah blah blah. That was a really big question for me.
There [were] the “Working Notes,” there were two people with maybe two poems each, maybe four pages each, and then there was a place where people could write informally about something they were interested in: a book they were reading or someone whose work … And here, I see that there are “Working Notes.” Ah, here are the “Working Notes!” I put them at the back, at the beginning — oh, good! Because I ended up, probably by this issue, you’ll see how I did it. Here. So you could have the person’s “Working Notes” at the beginning. So it was always in progress. And also, a thing that became very important was the visual: to start out with something that would really, you know, really telegraph in all kinds of ways poetry and the visual type — what’s being done with the complexity of that medium. Because that’s one way to kind of shovel yourself out of the usual and see it in a new way.
So there were those things, and then, what else did we do? At the back, I always put a very interesting quote at the back. It could be from, oh, just any number of people. This woman, Diane Glancy, is [from an] American Indian Tribe. I got a chant from her at that point.
Teresa Villa-Ignacio: So that’s a translation, too, probably. Right?
Fraser: Well, maybe if it was her translation. Because she was American and completely fluent, but I asked her for something, and this is what she gave me, so I’m sure it must be. Postcards, people wanted to send in something that they wanted to tell you about, alerts.
Villa-Ignacio: So did you always have translation? From the very beginning?
Fraser: No, no.
Fraser: No, no, no. The reason I chose this one — and there’s, I think the other one here has another Italian in it — that’s why I was looking for the ones that had something in Italian. Giovanna Sandri. Anyway, she’s dead now, but she was alive then, and she was … All these are translated; someone had translated them. Well, Julia [Vose]’s are visual, so no one has to translate them. This one’s called “poema” — you know it means a poem. She calls them tautological poems.
Villa-Ignacio: And did you know them personally?
Fraser: No, but I —
Villa-Ignacio: You just found them.
Fraser: I found them. And there was a guy named Paul Vangelisti. He still exists; he’s down in the L.A. area. Very nice fellow, and he’s completely bilingual. He’s American, but Italo Americano. And he was doing a newspaper called Red Hill Press or Red Hill Review — something like that. [Directing Villa-Ignacio] Fold like that. And I saw it, I found it at City Lights or over at Berkeley somewhere, and I brought home a copy, and I was already going to Italy by then. And I was really interested in it. So I saw Julia’s name there — I saw her work, and I was very intrigued by it. All these things were just gathering.
Way before the plan, I decided it had to have a “Working Note” because scholars had to understand what was in the minds of women who wanted to break into something new, linguistically, or structurally, or however you want to say it. Something that wasn’t completely, utterly recognizable, though [a] beautiful repetition of what we know. And something that would really be expressing the minds and experience of women right now. And I wanted more and more to try to get it whenever I could. There wasn’t a lot of space, but, I wanted American women, but I wanted slowly to work into multilingual now and then, multiethnic, multi-, multi-, multi-, whatever, so it wouldn’t be predictable. And you know, I just had to wait and kind of find them slowly. Because people hadn’t been encouraged. Women were writing. When I was in school, I remember wondering why women don’t write poetry. Can you imagine?
Fraser: I mean, the jump is so huge. So that was my first experience with doing anything that was Italian, anything that was in another language, that I felt involved with. That’s why I pulled these out.
Villa-Ignacio: Can I ask you, why did you decide to go live in Rome? You said you’d been there several times as a tourist.
Fraser: I got a Guggenheim. I had never been there; Arthur had been there with his first family for a short amount of time and liked it, but he — they ended up going to Greece. I’ve never been to Greece.
Villa-Ignacio: Still! [Laughs.]
Fraser: We went to Italy, and that was one of the places that we wanted to go. Because I was doing this — I had this project that I had written for a Guggenheim because you have to have a project, and it was the Leda and the Swan myth. I woke up one Sunday after a nap, and I had been reading Yeats, who I loved, and I read this poem, “Leda and the Swan,” which I knew very well. And I was furious. It ended — in a way, I had never understood what it was. It was communicating something completely different to me now. And it was at that point that that turned me, at that point. If I could say it perfectly to you, I would; I can’t. But it’s something about him putting on her — her knowledge, his knowledge, with his power: “once the indifferent beak had let her drop.” And it was that “indifferent”:
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
How can those terrified, vague fingers, push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
That’s what it was right there, those two last lines.
Villa-Ignacio: The “helpless” isn’t very helpful either.
Fraser: No. That’s right, yeah. That got me started. That was before I did HOW(ever).
Fraser: Yeah, because that was the half a year I took to be alone with … you know, apart from teaching, because I was at a huge teaching load at San Francisco State.
Villa-Ignacio: You had to find a place, outside of teaching, where you could think, and that’s what you were doing.
Fraser: Yeah, and during that time, I pulled that HOW(ever) thing — it wasn’t called HOW(ever) yet — I pulled the idea together, and I made my determination [that] that’s what I was going to do. So when Frances and Bev came for the meeting, we talked about it, and Frances was pretty interested, pretty excited. She came from a wealthy family: she didn’t have to work, and she’d raised her children, and she had some time. Bev, well, she was interested, but she was very unsure of what she might … and how much time and all that. But it worked out, and she eventually decided she wanted to do it. And I believe that it was at that meeting that we had talked about a title, and we came up with all these very silly things and some good things. And then we thought of the — is it Marianne Moore? Something about disliking poetry. “I too dislike it” —
Villa-Ignacio and Fraser: “However.”
Fraser: “There is a place for it.”
Fraser: Yeah. So that came up into the conversation. And we said, “However, yeah!” So that’s how we started.
Fraser: And various people came in as associate editors at different times. So it had some life to it. It wasn’t, you know … I had had a lot of experience editing, and I knew how to kind of make things happen — come together on deadlines and stuff and not be too mean about it. And I liked doing that; I was a journalist before I started writing creatively, so that was a good thing for me to do.
Villa-Ignacio: How long did HOW(ever) last?
Fraser: Well, since we’re not going to talk anymore about it. It lasted … It started in spring of ’83, I believe [that] was the first issue. It had two end points, because I decided after about the fifth complete grouping of four issues that I needed to get back to my own work. I wasn’t spending enough time between my teaching, my mothering, and my, you know, doing this, I wasn’t getting enough of my own work done. So I determined that I needed to do that now, and I wrote a little goodbye thing at the end and said … and I may have left — in the message — I may have left a little space open, just in case someone would be interested. Well, Myung Mi Kim, who had been a great lover of the journal, and Meredith Stricker, who was also in Iowa — they both went to Iowa for their master’s, but they were one year apart. They had met each other in one class; they weren’t really close, but they both lived in that area, and they were both big fans. However, Meredith was much more visual; Myung was more … her mind was more like a scholarly mind. But they both had a lot of valuable thinking to bring to the journal.
So, they each wrote me separately and said — called me, both of them — was there anything they could do. They just were both really upset that it was coming to an end. Myung, I think, was the one that said she used to bring the issue under her stuff, and she’d bring it into class. And she’d just have it there with her to give her courage because it was so hard, at that time, at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, for women. So I suggested that they consider, since they had met each other, and Myung was now teaching in the north at a little place in Iowa, up north, and Meredith was remaining in Iowa City, and I suggested that they think about coediting, and if they were interested, they would have to get me a reading, which would pay my fare there and back because I didn’t have money to go jaunting around. But if they could work that out, I would be happy to come and give a reading at each of the two places, and I would bring a box with everything in it that they would need. And I would sit and talk with them about it and, you know, help them think through their first issues. So they wanted to by then, and they were really excited — they wanted to. And it worked pretty well. They did the last volume and so completed six volumes, which is very important to complete.
Villa-Ignacio: That’s huge!
Fraser: To complete something.
Villa-Ignacio: Yeah, yeah.
Fraser: So that was that, and they went on to their own lives. And I remained friends, colleagues with both of them.
I was asked by someone — I don’t, I can’t remember if they asked me or if someone who knew me knew about that and they knew me in Rome. I had two translators eventually, both named Marina. And I think it was Marina Cambone who had introduced me to some of her friends who were poets there. And my Italian was minimal at the beginning. I had never had any Italian: I studied Spanish in school — that was my main second language. But there was a lot of motivation, and I was learning as fast as I could. Fortunately, I have a good ear.
Villa-Ignacio: So Chrysalis, is that where you did the six women poets?
Fraser: I did the six women, and that was really hard for me. That was a very big project, and I was not … I was not adept. I had to work very, very hard at it — maybe that’s why I don’t have it here to show you. Maybe I didn’t save the journal. I mean, I think it was good: I had all my friends check it, to be sure that it was correct. But my love of translation wasn’t there yet. It was duty. There’s a big difference. But maybe you have to go through duty to get to the love in translation — I don’t know, but that’s what happened to me. So I did it, and it came out, and it was okay, but I wasn’t particularly proud of it or excited or anything. And it happened, and it’s there. I sent a note to the librarian at the San Francisco Public Library because they have all the issues of this journal, along with lots of other things. And she can tell me what issue it’s in, in case you ever want to know, they’ll have it for you.
Villa-Ignacio: Yeah, great.
Fraser: So then time went by, and you know, I would only be there … The first three, the first four years we went there we only went … at first, you know, I was there for the Guggenheim, and I was just focusing on my life there and working on my project. At the end of the fourth year, Arthur and I got married in Italy, and he, being an only child of a farmer who had five farms who died on the same day as the mother died, and he was the only child, so he inherited these farms. So he immediately sold one to have money so that we could get a place in Rome. We had never ever had an idea of doing this, okay, he was … loved it. So that’s what we ended up doing. And that’s why I was motivated to — since I was going to be there and have — and I had a wonderful, in a place that we lucked out, once again — I can tell you about that later. But it had a wonderful study, the most wonderful study I’ve ever had because of the light, the proportions, high ceilings. I don’t know. It just [was] magical. It was the first time I had ever had a study that wasn’t the back porch looking over the … they were all wonderful, but this was magic.
Villa-Ignacio: That’s when you decided you still had more duty —
Villa-Ignacio: — to translate more Italian poets since you were living there.
Fraser: Well, no, I wouldn’t say that I had that feeling yet. But I definitely had more desire to learn Italian, and I was listening all the time, and fortunately I learn by ear. I mean, so, I was picking up when I didn’t even know I was picking up. And that eventually began to feed into my interest in translation. So the next thing I did was when Norma asked me to do [the] translation of Maria Obina — I have it marked here with a blue paper clip. Maria Obina. Now, she was living in France, but she was Italian, and she wrote in Italian. So Norma, who had read her in French, wanted me to translate —
Villa-Ignacio: The Italian original into English.
Fraser: The Italian into English. And I did.
Villa-Ignacio: And you’re going to read it for us, yes?
Fraser: What? Well, if you want — it’s somewhat long.
Villa-Ignacio: Well, you can read an excerpt!
Fraser: Okay, they’re very short lines. I’ll just start, and we’ll see. It’s from her long work, Lampi e acqua (Light and Water). And it has a little quote from Maria Tsvetaeva:“Each time I give up I feel an earthquake inside me, petrified combat.”
Struck by the same fire, two glances.
This thirst, day after day, giddiness
I have, made a step into bright force
Moment collected, the bodies’ cries
To bring us close, like a tug
The glance thickens
Pulls like water
Thirsty, hands, flames
Touched the deepest
Mirroring me in the washed stones
I saw the same thirst
I dared approach myself to speak face to face to
lightning and water
Light travels, the veil ripped off.
I think that the writing, the discretionary quality of the lines and the language, was something that so appealed to me at that point — that I was pulled towards that. The motivation was even stronger to be very exact and to be sure that I had the sense and the exactness. And it just occurred to me that lampi may be the word for lightning. I haven’t looked at this for a long time. When I saw “to lightning and water,” I’ll bet that that’s what that is.
Villa-Ignacio: Well the line, the poem itself is this vertical column, and yeah, you’re right — the lines are very short. Even the spacing is very precise.
Villa-Ignacio: Was that difficult? That must have felt very constraining.
Fraser: It wasn’t for me. It was very constrained. Because I began as a high lyric poet, and I always had that lyric quality in my work. It comes out in different kinds of pushings-around now and then. Once I read George Oppen and other people, a few other poets that were coming out of that way of thinking about language, I was deeply attracted to that, and it was a corrective to me. It wasn’t that I wanted to write like George Oppen, but I wanted to be more discretionary. And I loved what happened when I started learning more about how much a small amount could hold a line. So it was a lesson to me about a way of using the line, and also a way of talking about extremely difficult experience. Because I came from the sixties. I started writing in the sixties, when confessional poetry was, I mean, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. And Plath was very profound for me at the beginning. I never did believe Sexton; felt too much theater to me. I didn’t teach it to my women students because I thought it was too much, too tempting, too self-pity and self-aggrandizement, or theatricalness about the self, or whatever. So I felt wary of it. But Plath has such great qualities in spite of all the theater as well, that it was very different for me.
So anyway, I began, when I went to New York, which was right out of school, I went as a lyric poet. I mean, I loved Wallace Stevens — I still do, just as much. I mean, I could name you just some of the great lyric poets, and they were just my soul, but in terms of me writing from my own experience, I needed to avoid that temptation to tell how sad and difficult it was. I wanted to get more to outside of my own psyche and to what I was seeing and what I was looking at out there, okay. And so I was prepared for Maria Obina.
Fraser: I loved being a part of this project. This was a poem that I wrote. I have two translators in Rome. One is named Marina Cambone, who is an Americanist, and she’s perfect in English, and she’s from Sardinia, and she’s a translator of mine, has been for years. And the other one is Marina Morbiducci; I met her later. She came to something that I was doing, and we just hit it off wonderfully. And she wanted to — she heard me read this poem, it’s called “Pagine etrusci” [Etruscan Pages]. And it’s a somewhat long poem, and in sections, and it came out of just a profound experience I had of visiting some Etruscan sites.
I was with a couple friends, but I went off alone, and I would say I had as close to an out-of-body experience for a little while in that place. And it was very … I just was very struck by it. It wasn’t a tourist place; it was a hidden place that someone knew about it. A friend of Arthur’s had told him about it. He had been up there with some friends looking for land for a university possibly, and he said, “There’s this wonderful place you have to see.” So we went up.
Anyway, my friend JoAnn Ugolini, who has a cover on several of my things and [who] I’ve worked with, she did the drawings for this book. And you can see that I put in Etruscan words and Etruscan writing inside it. And the reason that I wanted to tell you about this is that Marina translated it. She loved it; she wanted to translate it. But we sat for many sessions and sort of collaborated. She did the really serious, important, quick to the language thing, and then we would go through it, and we would discuss. It was a fascinating experience. Discuss the nuance of a word, which would be better, this or that, because I still didn’t know Italian enough — and I don’t even now — but to know which would be the most precise use, the most precise word. So we would talk about it and say, “Well, tell me the difference here, because I don’t think that’s quite what I meant.” So we would have this kind of conversation. There’s a wonderful bonding experience; we became very good friends through this. It took about a year, maybe more, because she was busy: she was teaching, and she lived in another town at the time, so we did it when we could. And then my friend, Don Cushman, who is the husband of JoAnn Ugolini who did these drawings — they would come to Rome in the spring, usually for a month or so. And they had this place that they rented, and they had a kitchen in it, and Don had his printer, and he printed this book in his kitchen.
Fraser: And including the drawings by JoAnn, which are beautiful drawings. And that’s how this was made. So it’s a form of translation and collaboration at the same time.
Villa-Ignacio: Wow, amazing.
Fraser: And then the last one is the most recent. And I consider this a very fine translation, I have to say. It was exciting for me: it was Omar [Berrada] and Sarah [Riggs]’s project. They invited me to do it. It was the only year that they didn’t do all French. It was this one year — the year must be on here. ’07. I went, they invited me, they invited me because I could do Italian. They thought, they believed. And it turns out I could!
Fraser: But I had learned a lot since the last translation. I didn’t even realize I learned a lot. I jumped in! They invited me; I was thrilled. I’d always been envious of people who could go to that, but they were all doing French, and I didn’t have French. So it was wonderful, and there were a number of languages that year: there was Japanese, there was … what else?
Fraser: I don’t know if there was Arabic. You would think so.
Villa-Ignacio: There was this year.
Fraser: There was this year. Oh, that’s interesting. So they’re branching out again.
Villa-Ignacio: Well, they translated from the Thousand and One Nights.
Fraser: Everyone did that?
Villa-Ignacio: No, it was Sarah and Omar’s project.
Fraser: Oh, okay.
Villa-Ignacio: Well, that’s cool.
Fraser: So, anyway.
Villa-Ignacio: So whom did you translate?
Fraser: So I was assigned to this person. I had never read him. I hadn’t heard of him. But I arrived there the morning of the first day with what they told you to bring: your dictionary, and your whatever. And luckily, I knew about a memory stick — some people call it other things, the drive that you put in a USB. I knew about that. I don’t know what I would have done without that because we sat there and worked together, having never met. Everyone there — some of them knew each other, and some didn’t. And we sat side by side with this work, and I worked on his for some of the time, and he worked on mine for some of the time. And then we would take what we had, and we could take it home on that stick and then read it at home and then work on it some more, refine.
And I found it to be an amazing poem. This was deeply thrilling for me to translate, but I would never write this way. I mean, I really felt completely engaged by language, by searching for the exact right word. It was so, so dramatic! I mean, the Italians are dramatic, you know? It’s one thing in the way the French never are, not in this way. But they are so physical! And if you let it, if you allow that to come in, if you look at their culture, I mean, they are so involved in food and talking! Which is, you know … it’s not conceptual when they’re talking. They might be if they’re two people who are philosophers and logicianstalking about conceptual structures, but they’re just … And they love the sea, and they love the mountains. They’re just so physical! And this comes out in his work. And he’s from the North. But —
Villa-Ignacio: What’s his name?
Fraser: His name is Andrea Raos, R-A-O-S. And the name of the book is Le api migratori.
Villa-Ignacio: The Migrating Bees!
Fraser: The Migrating Bees. Which doesn’t sound all so promising in an American translation —
Villa-Ignacio: Well, it’s a really important thing that’s going on right now.
Villa-Ignacio: The bees, their migration patterns are changing, right? So.
Fraser: I know! But that hadn’t started — this was in ’07!
Fraser: So, he’d been reading or something because I didn’t know about this, but he made it into a terrifying thing. I have two sections, which I have printed out.
Fraser: And I have more if you ever want to see it, but I thought I could read one of them if you want.
Villa-Ignacio: Please, yes!
Fraser: Okay! I don’t know … I don’t have on here in what order they come in. Well, one is part nine; this comes earlier.
Outside the lab
Earth, earth, earth’s shivering alkaline
Earth, river tower, groundling
Earth, tug, grip, squeezed
Earth detected tracery of old swamps, error
Sand, news of crime, black was Earth
Ground exploding again another time
River after river
Crater by crater
The snow got rid of what remained
The ground dividing
The ice stretched blue
In dirty rifts between open crevices agape
Shattered, earth dim with fever
Lava whirling, sucking air
Keeps fossils from exploding
Meanwhile rushing from flames, the bee swarm transforms
Erupting, pouring into the world
Its genetic code shredded for destruction
Bees exercised, military bees
Hunger becomes anger
Crazed slashing the air with a scythe
Cutting through air and leaves
Moving against mangled tree trunks
Swept away from the mother lab
Hungry and dead
They can’t make hive homes
It’s ice outside
For this reason they lie down
In corners, hammered from flame
Like wasps without the beating of their wings
Without wings one is carried from the swarm that reproduces it serially
They leave tonight
Without sleep they detach themselves from a smeared thicket of locust trees
Night falls, it continues falling the flat ground seems like a sea that sleeps
The moon is so transparent on the grass
Again rediscovered by the white shallow light
Then suddenly it grows dark
No more snow
But rustling, flickering, bit by bit
It is swallowed
One attempts speech
Cries out, speaks finally
I was born single celled, I was designed as a destination
an accelerated procreation
A birth for cells programmed for hives
Devouring, They dive through indentations of air
Where food was hidden
Is this life? Is life not meant to be known
Flinging themselves on other animals
In flight mangled, now not to get it
To remember memory’s door
Moved from nothing?
Cut to the right towards where rocks protect a very small bear
A month old possibly
Meanwhile breaking bodies in the desire to eat me
Just attacked the little muzzle
its human snout
most painful and fragile
Not to know of anything of birth barely born
Whose sharpened yelps: gee gee gee
No more birth, no exit, unborn
The shakes, a dog’s life
Even if it goes well, grows
Is it good for you to be born?
I sting you meanwhile screams
Meanwhile I sting dogs trembling
The frenetic paw on the muzzle already bleeding from the eyes
Half exploded not stopped
Poisonous I suck you with my stinger
From my stinger landslide
from the bloody slimy mouth
Surrenders its sewage
Lets loose its sphincter
Insinuates itself into us
Nor do they chew the red meat of breathing
They blacken the veins in shock
Villa-Ignacio: Thank you.
Fraser: That’s pretty big, huh?
Villa-Ignacio: That’s pretty intense.
Fraser: I know.
Villa-Ignacio: Did, at any point, you start to feel that you had overtaken the bees’ point of view? [Laughs.]
Fraser: No, no! [Laughs.] But I was … The experience of translating it, you see, I thought, “My God, I’ve grown so much as a translator,” because I was able to … I mean, he gave me the material, you know? I would have never thought of this on my own; it’s not my kind of material. But it was thrilling to work on it. I think it’s a great poem. I could speculate — I don’t know anything for sure. My experience of living in Italy is that they feel very one-down in terms of being taken seriously. Not as artists because art is … The visual is major there. And their history is important, but when it comes to poetry — and I think it’s about community that evolved, and I’m not quite sure why — probably has partly to do with First-and-Second-World-War histories and how people began to connect or not. I mean, reading it, when I looked at it today, I thought, “Ooh.” I started remembering how wonderful it was to work on it. And it was hard. I mean it was, really, really. But it was a wonderful labor, and it was the first time in all that time that I had felt that I really did a really good job of entering the language and making it real in English. I mean, exciting, you know? It is very exciting work. But I happen to like a lot of different kinds of work. I like the very discrete, delicate thing, too, so. But I did feel, I wished —I have his book somewhere, and I have maybe four other long sections like these, and I would like to finish it. I read you a two-page section. Look how intense that was! This page, this section, it has little bees going through it all the way down!
Fraser: I worked as hard on that, getting the exact position right!
Villa-Ignacio: Oh! [Laughs.]
Fraser: [Makes bee noises.]
Villa-Ignacio: That’s wonderful.
Fraser: Yeah, he has it going all the way through. I don’t know of any American writing that’s quite like that — everything is so cool!
Ryan: Thank you for listening to this interview of Kathleen Fraser, conducted by Teresa Villa-Ignacio. This is Bridget Ryan, signing off of this episode of Sounding Translation.