Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Looking through the (reasonably) new number of David Hadbawnik's Kadar Koli, I found myself immediately struck by Daniel C. Remein's translation of Spicer's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Landscape" into Old English. The growing interest among certain poets in medievalism and contemporary poetry would seem, among the tendencies presently in circulation, a fascinating one that points back toward any number of earlier poetry formations from the Pre-Raphaelites forward, i.e. the Pound circle, the Berkeley Renaissance, the post-war Bunting circle extending outward, if obliquely, to Bill Griffiths, Geraldine Monk and others. Hadbawnik, a poet who has strong ties to Bay Area poets' theater work and now occasionally teaches Chaucer in Buffalo, has pulled together a remarkable if lamentably incomplete issue of Kadar Koli. Incomplete if only because I find myself wanting to engage his thoughts on (dys)translation, contemporary poetry and, if not too far afield from the more general question of translation,  medievalism. But there is no editorial framing in the number; what we have instead is writing built around the question of translation from an astounding constellation of poets: Chris Piuma, Caroline Bergvall, Robert Kelly, Jonatahn Hsy, Jonathan Larson, Julian T. Brolaski, Erin Moure, Peter Buchanan, Roger Sedarat, Jen Hofer, Remein, Anne Gorrick, Anthony Easton, Gary Barwin, Jonathan Karpinos, Jackson Mac Low, James Yeary, E. Tracy Grinnell, Eric Gelsinger, and Anna and Leo Deadalus. In any case, here's Remein's translation of Spicer into Old English:            
Remein's otherwise mystifying transmogrification of Spicer, is, on the terrain of prosody, an interesting one to puzzle over. It can tell us, if nothing else, how Remein is reading the movement of Spicer's poem at the level of phrase and line. Where are the caesuras installed in the Anglo-Saxon text? Between which particular phrases? How, if at all, do they direct a reading of the poem that compels us to think it differently? What species of negative commentary resides in the space between settled feet? I don't have the facility needed with Anglo-Saxon to offer a useful appraisal of the decisions made in terms of phrasing, diction and so forth, but this translation of Spicer somewhat obviously leads us back to Bunting, his 1932 transmission of Zukofsky through the semantic wires of a similarly dead language:
It's difficult to surmise Remein's motivation for recasting Spicer in Old English, but there is a sense in which, as in the case of Bunting's treatment of Zukofsky, our disconcerting unfamiliarity, as readers, with the dead target language is perhaps the whole point. Such a gesture redirects our attentions almost exclusively to sound, to the sonic architecture of the poem. Looking at Bunting's "Verse and Version" in his essay "Earwork," Cid Corman speculates that Bunting's decision to cast Zukofsky in Latin was much more than a whimsical compliment or mere writing exercise: "Characteristic of Bunting is the fact that nothing committed to print fails to reveal excellence of musical detail—clarity and care." For Bunting clarity of sound, in this case a fidelity to sound, takes precedence over clarity of meaning. For Bunting, meaning inheres in sound, and the sound of an object offers a means of engaging that object, viz. this passage from a September 1932 letter to Zukofsky discussing "Verse and Version":
[S]ince Latin is in some ways more precise than our own lingo, there were places where I was in doubt and may have got your meaning a few shades out, shades not delicate as the difference of pale pink and paler, but properly Cimmerian catastrophic indigoes. In the second stanza, what tense is put? I have made it present, rejecting past or perfect not from any ability to penetrate the ambiguity in English, but because superimponut sounds better than superimponebant or superimposuerunt. And in the last line of the poem is every kindness object or subject? Before happening for every kindness happens? I have made it nominative (qtd. Victoria Forde).
Whether Remein's concerns are comparable to those of Bunting's or not, it's difficult to think his treatment of Spicer apart from Bunting's treatment of Zukofsky, and it's interesting to consider why alterations to the prosody of a poem, through its transmission into a dead and seemingly useless language, might have been made—that is, what thinking compelled specific decisions and how do these decisions encourage if not demand a particular reading of a poem.