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  • Translating as Living Variously!
  • Mary Ann Caws (bio)

Ah, for so many years now, I have tried, with a great Belgian and brilliant friend, Michel Delville, to publish something like this: (1) either a prose poem anthology, with great prose poems from a few European languages (because these are the ones we are familiar with, but would extend if the case warranted it) in several renditions, as in interpretations, from long ago and, nearer by, or (2) a plain-old collection of new iconic poems beloved by many, even an abbreviated collection, ditto, in various renderings…

But then: every time, some publisher (with whom we have or have not worked) will say, great idea, but then the price of translations makes them go all unwelcoming, and "ah, well, you know, perhaps some other press," etc., etc. We have gone that way or those ways, narrowing it to French poems or French prose poems, etc., and the larger way, from Sappho in great translations etc. But so far, nix. A few suggestions about publishers and possibilities, all of which we listen to warily … Distribution? Publicity? Recompense for the called-upon translators? Etc.? Many have ideas on this topic, and we are far from through.1 Are we discouraged? No, but time moves more swiftly than ourselves often, and here am I, in New York, happily still involved in our beloved graduate school of CUNY.

Yes, it is definitely about the variousness of it all. No matter how many "languages" or "tongues" or "styles" one/we/I use happily or strenuously, the point is, as I/we/one see(s) it, that this project goes way beyond the self and goes to the other side of selfies. (I well remember Q's sharing the "selfie" discussion with us not so very, very long ago, in the Skylight Room [End Page 132] of the Graduate Center.) And for me, the point is sharing, not that creepy and I suppose sometimes witty "thanks for sharing," but the real way I truly believe we can live in our several and radically differing worlds: academic, professional, personal, publicational, private, domestic, and national and international ones: I won't wax so romantic/sentimental as to call it a generous way, but, okay, I was and am tempted to do so. Like this: instead of "oh, have you seen perchance the elegant review of my latest … etc., etc.," but rather, could we look at this together some time? No rush, but reading and looking along with someone is way, way on the other side of a selfie.

Why, then, is translation of something or other so inordinately passion-inducing? Now, I am really not speaking of professional work only, and that is a Good Thing, for I am really committed mostly to dealing with poetry—René Char, Mallarmé, Reverdy, Tzara, that kind of poet. My feeble attempts (I made just one) at rendering a fictional piece way back when was undeniably dreadfully nowhere, and I can just manage poetic essays and so on, about at the level required, but when it is a matter of something or someone I greatly admire, then comes the Radical Excitement. Try (I did it twice) Tristan Tzara's (you know, Sami Rosenstock's) Approximate Man, now there I loved every single attempt, and published two separate versions. To say nothing of anything of René Char's or Mallarmé's.

Which is in no way unlike trying to deal with, render, think about someone as infinitely complicated as late Henry James's Golden Bowl, which I essayed upon ten years apart three times. Was each time different? Yes. Indeed, like translating a great and complex text over many years. Was I ever going to become Charlotte in that major writing? No, I was always Maggie, for I do not believe, even in rendering or translating a piece of music or verbal or visual encounter, that you will or that I can change character or, perhaps, style.

No matter. Translating and interpreting and caring about something is desperately important in our living and loving and being. And teaching, which is really and ultimately about sharing what we most value.

Interesting to me is...


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pp. 132-134
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