Monday, February 08, 2010

PATERSON IN TRANSLATION: HUGO GARCIA MANRIQUEZ

At long last. Hugo García Manríquez's translation of Paterson has arrived. In excess of 500 pages the book is a wonderfully austere tome that gives the poem all the material gravity of a Gutenberg Bible — a bilingual edition introduced by co-director of the Contemporary Poetics Research Centre at Birkbeck Will Rowe and published late last year by independent Mexican publisher Aldus.

In the summer of 2005, now nearly five years ago, Manríquez arrived in Buffalo with his soon-to-be-wife Zaidee Stavely. He was in his mid-twenties then and had already by that time carefully translated all five books of Paterson. An astounding accomplishment at any age. He also had with him the introduction by Rowe that appears in the Aldus edition. There were publishers available to him at that time but all were located in Spain rather than Mexico. This was compounded, if I recall, by legal and economic constraints that had been in place for decades giving Spain almost total control over book publishing in Mexico. But it was essential to Manríquez for the book to appear through a Mexican publisher rather than subordinate the cross-cultural labor of translation to a system of mediation that reproduced the routes of cultural and economic conquest. So he waited.

While he waited he continued thinking through Williams and by early 2007 produced a thesis addressing crucial but less traveled territory: Yes, Mrs. Williams (1959). Published just four years before Williams' death, the book is an assemblage of notes and scraps of dialogue between he and his mother Williams gathered across the years. Manríquez's abstract:

This book [Yes, Mrs. Williams] embodies a number of elements rarely noticed in scholarly work on Williams. Sayings, anecdotes, and songs in Spanish, French, Caribbean Patois and English share space in the book and create a movement of migratory languages and memories. In this sense Williams translates — in the sense of “bearing across” — the memory of the other. The arrangement of every fragment takes us back and forth along the years of conversation, acting as passages, bearing the languages and the uniqueness of experience across time.

The bilingual edition of Manríquez's Paterson seems to perform the same "bearing across" he locates in Yes, Mrs. Williams. The Spanish translation does not appear en face against the English from page to page (two languages encountering one another across the gutter with the turn of each page) but appears whole and as a whole the Spanish traduction precedes the "original" English. The English — what the poem was before the crossing — appears as a sort of afterimage, a faint vestige left in the wake of the Spanish like a cryptic, distant, vaguely familiar inscription. And reading the translation in conversation with Manríquez's work on Yes, Mrs. Williams, it's as if the translation itself performs a circumabulatory return, a homecoming. As the typography on the cover of the volume seems to suggest, this translation carries the work of a son across territory back to a father by way of the mother's tongue. PA / TER / SON. And perhaps, as Manríquez's thesis now suggests to me, the throat of the mother moves through the work unnamed, the ground upon which the city is built, without the privilege of visibility the pater enjoys but the ground that makes the city's living nonetheless possible.