Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Of Guinea Pigs and Furniture Stores

A few interesting events/links:

The Festival of New French Writing is taking place February 26-28. Always on the lookout for French-Senegalese writers, I was interested to discover Marie N’Diaye on the list. Unfortunately, only one of her books, Among Family, seems to be extant in English translation, and it may be out of print. Abdourahman Waberi also looks interesting, particularly his book Aux Etats-Unis d’Afrique.

A hot discussion of translation topics at Harriet, specifically, Martin Earl’s discussion of what “literary merit” means when it comes to translations. How do we judge poems in translation versus those written in “our” native language? He seems to feel we have to/should judge, while I think we have to shift our paradigm (to use his terminology) when reading translation, because we are losing the original language—its sound, its culture-specific nuances, its connotations, its multiple words for different kinds of snow—even as we gain in trying to understand the poetry’s larger history/origin/context. With translation, I often value process over product, particularly in that even the effort of translating alters the receiving language.

Plus I just hate judging anything “good.” It seems totally fallacious and a pretense that the ongoing sea-change in writing, reading, perception into wider, more experimental, communal activities is simply not happening. "Good" narrows your possibilities; "good" throws up barriers; "good" is an expired passport and you're stuck at the airport.

On another topic, I just returned from the AWP conference in Chicago. I shamefacedly admit that I only attended 1 panel and 2 readings, but it’s not often I get time alone in a hotel room to write, so I seized the day. BUT, one of the two readings I went to was a reading of translations. It was an interesting mix—from Rimbaud to Swedish poet Aase Berg. I enjoyed it all, but I particularly enjoyed Johannes Göransson’s translations of Berg. He prefaced his reading by saying that as a “southern hick” (from Sweden) he wasn’t fully able to capture Berg’s rough urban accent, an interesting reminder of the range of variation that exists within languages. He also dissed Cal Bedient’s notion, expressed at the American Hybrid panel (which I, duh, missed), that poetry should be about “compromise and moderation”—ha, ha! Right on. Anyway, I really, really loved the guinea pig poem, particularly as I just bought Ismael a stuffed guinea pig from Ikea. A coincidence, or is there something about guinea pigs and Sweden that I don't know about? Check out Göransson’s blog describing his book sales.

I was way too restrained with book buying—I was trying to be financially cautious, and make a circuit of the book fair to triage what I was going to buy, only to later realize that one does not complete a full tour at the AWP, due to the incredible amount of stopping and talking (i.e., schmoozing) one does. You got to grab the books while you can. Therefore, I missed the anthology of Western African women’s writings. Bah! However, I did get the long-coveted Sleep’s Powers, Jacqueline Risset translated by Jennifer Moxley.

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