Friday, June 05, 2009

Get Under the New Umbrella!

Kate Benedict and guest editor Robert Schechter have created a superb new double issue of Umbrella, the eminently readable zine, and Bumbershoot, the annual of light verse published by Umbrella.

The new issue of Bumbershoot is a collection of light verse unequalled, I daresay, anywhere in print or online. I make this claim on the basis of Bob Schechter's able editing and a guest feature of children's verse by -- drumroll, please -- distinguished poet Richard Wilbur. I won't cite his many, many honors such as being Chancellor Emeritus of the Academy of American Poets, but I will say I have several of his booktoday and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Translation and Where to Find the General Audience


A poet friend recently offered to translate my poetry, and it made me thoughtful about the whole process of translation. Some years ago I attempted translations - really they'd have to be called renderings - of Rilke's sequence of poems in French, "Les Roses." I showed them to another poet friend fluent in French. She verified my suspicion. My process had carried Rilke's poems quite far from what you might term translations. I had wanted to give voice to Rilke's vision, not just the words, in my language. I thought his intent had been to give equal weight to the music as the meaning, and to honor the almost childlike simplicity of the poems, a dimension difficult to bring from one language into another.

My friend and I agreed I should call these "renderings" or even consider them new poems. I've never published them as I've never decided which to call them or how to think about the misty realm between translation and invention.

When I read Don Paterson's comments on translation today on Aditi Machado's blog, the complexity of these issues again sprang to life. Especially this: "a poem can no more be translated than a piece of music." The interdependence of form and content is what, for me, makes poetry. So I will hang up my translator's hat, finding the bar dauntingly high. Writing one's own poetry is hard enough!

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Annie Finch has written a thought-provoking and timely article over at Harriet, "Where Are You, General Audience?" The most appealing idea is that poetry can be of service, satisfying a basic human need. That we can as poets serve our communities large and small by giving voice to our common experience. One may or may not aim to write for such audiences - I don't - but the fact of being able to sometimes reach a general audience speaks to the centrality of the poetic impulse in any society.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Music and the line

I wonder how many poets have been influenced by rock and roll and the Sixties-Seventies' impact on language. I've been listening to vintage rock, appreciating its new rhythms and language, how much of a formative era it was. At the same time, I've been reading poetry by people who came of age then or not long after. They seem to have made a major shift in the handling of the line, using forceful new rhythms, and imagistic rummaging and reveling in pop-cultural detritus. I think of explosive language, . I think of poets like Brenda Hillman, Alice Fulton, Denise Duhamel, Nin Andrews and Joy Harjo (a rocker as well as a poet). I think of the idealism, hope and sense of personal freedom that emerged from that time.

And it's not just a bygone era. There's a vibrant new production of Hair on Broadway. The new film Every Little Step documents reviving the iconic musical A Chorus Line. Remember Love-Rock? Anti-war protests? Those time are with us again in mini skirts, boots, Beatles cuts and fringe. Some kind of celebration of the classic rock era is underway. Feeling its effects, I began to listen to the music and think about how embedded that cultural influence is in my sense of language as music and as a cultural force. That era gave us the power of new media, thanks to the defense industry and its missiles (huge irony). Those deadly instruments morphed into our favorite gadgets, the personal computer and all its spawn. Thus blossomed individual control of media. I give you blogging, Facebook and Twitter. I give you the cell phone (Star Trek's communicator come to earth) and Skype.

The poetic line can't be the same post-Hendrix. You don't have to have lived through the Sixties to have their rhythms in your ear. I think I'll go and listen to some Jimi Hendrix and see what happens to my next poem. Any listening suggestions? I'm all ears.

I'm adding Coconut to this blogroll. I checked it out after reading Sandra Beasley's excellent article about online poetry in Poets & Writers, From Page to Pixels.

Also adding a link to 10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know. Thanks, Jerry C., for pointing us to this important resource. Now where's the list of things every Twittering poet should know?