First of three sections of Overject, very roughed out, on my dining room table. Fifty pages give or take. This baby’s going to be a monster. Next is to feed it some foliage. The little leaf impresses you can see there are oceanspray red osier dogwood and vine maple from my back garden. Quaking aspen to come (for some scary bits).
Conceptual poetry, not so good maybe at the lugubrious emotions, sundry melancholies, but sure good at giddy, it digs gid. I mean not a disease of sheep but the happy slippiness of speech.
To wit (to whit, to woo), early in the compost course, an exercise in homophonic translation, the full of which you can read here.
And bold preconceptionless forays by a new brave company (I like them! very much!) from which a few excerpts, and thoughts on them, forthwith.
This one drifts, as a number here do, some way from the sounds of its source. The title e.g.
La dulce boca
La Dual, Say Broke Up
A strength of this approach is that, as fidelity yields to association, some inspired phrases come to be.
Okay, a Jupiter minister elder zone dead
No turquoise sea quietly vetoes
Those are gems that could find a setting somewhere. A cost is, the limbo bar’s been raised to let the dancer get under. I laugh but also feel let down when I see aljofaradas y olorosas rendered as “hiatus seen multiple-sclerosis.”
To stay closer to the sound source, spurn the edges tween words. Com, that is, post them. A puritanical homophonic translation of
La dulce boca
Lad duel, Ché book, ah
One chose German, a grievous challenge. Fünfundzwanzig? OMG. Again a considerable drift from the sounds of the source – so that
Die Sonne ging um fünf
Season going on foot
rather than say the more rigid or rigorous “Die, son. Gingham? Pff!” But here I’ll touch on my other major notion about making a homophonic translation that will win fiends and influence poppies.
If one is, ignore and abuse the bounds between words in the source, the other is, imagine and impose all sorts of phrase articulations in your destination.
Here the student arrived at
Season going on foot or soon funds van zig off, also why men ought to through her all some dean stack …
and it feels, undifferentiated, an impenetrable thicket. A thing strong translations of this sort have in common, Zukofsky’s Catullus, Melnick’s Men in Aida, is very short sharp telegraphic phrasing. My own efforts have come pretty quick to the same strategery.
I could dilate why but I’d rather lay out more student work. Here it seems to me a little phrasal articulation would do a lot
Season going on foot. Or soon funds van zig off. Also, why men ought to through her all? Some Dean Stack …
This one made similar calls, and arrived at a nice refrain, from
Et il m’aime encore, et moi je t’aime un peu plus fort
Mais il m’aime encore, et moi je t’aime un peu plus fort
Ay eel lemon core aim-wash tem unpopular for
May eel lemon core aim-wash tem unpopular for
Again I was curious what a more puritanical adherence to sound – a recklesser disregard for word bounds in the source – and a fiercer phrase articulation in the target – might have got. From
Alors tu vois, comme tout se mêle
from which the student derived
Ah lore too voila come to so well
another possibility might have been
Ah, lore. Tuvak, om. Too, some ell.
Moving a bit quicklier or I’ll be here all night! This one feels caught in a between-world, somewhere on the way from its faux-Latin source to a mock-English target.
Dues Israel epp say true dare it virtue tem et
might for instance develop into
Dues? Israel up. Say true, dare it, virtue Tom et.
This one made v. bold w/ its source, bossed it, nor let it boss her, round. Never mind the author worked with’s Cervantes.
En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre
A noon Lou guard – day lemon.
“Shah Day cool, yo.”
Gnome bray Nokia …
Another fave moment from this one:
“Did your, uh, low stomach go consume Ian?”
Lost Stress Parties Day; halcyon.
This brings to the fore a core diff. Respect your source text wholly and let it shove you round not at all. From hacienda, “halcyon. / Duh.” Okay she added an ‘l’ sound. It’s still pretty tight.
Here’s one with loads of good language substrate, just in need of some of that phrase articulatin’, and maybe shiftin’ a few vowels accordin’
Layin’ trouble masquerade a ponder we a soup-up a gamier shoe heir Adele guy in square tone “lay, double add-in trough.”
Lay in trouble. Masquerade? Oh, ponder we a sou, poop. A gamier shoe heir, Adele, guy in square tone, lay double odd in trough.
This one stayed close to source sounds, so that
Tú para mi
Too paw raw me
but wanted perhaps again bolder rearticulations, so that for instance
A kay in may pray sent oh con me, sir
might have been remastered as
Okay. In May, pray send, oh con me, sir.
Or half a dozen other possibles. The thing is just to make it wholly your own.
This student hit on a tellingly brutal translation of love, one face of it, from
and a bit more articulation would have drawn all the potential in it out. From the source text,
Te amo mujer amo tu historia, amo tu vida, y amo tu paz
she got to
Tea ah mow moo hair
Awe mow to history ah
Awe mow to feed duh
He awe mow to pass,
And it strikes me that the insight in amo —> awe mow is not quite fully realized here. With a few tweaks you might get to
Day awe mow moo hair.
Awe mow to history. Awe,
awe mow to feed. Awe,
he awe mow to pass.
One of course of just a dozen ways it could go, a dozen dozen. (The change from “tea” to “day” seems slight to me, by the by, cuz it’s from unvoiced to voiced of the same mouth shape.)
The image by the way is a text I’ve yet to explore, I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips by Aaron Cassidy, who describes it as a product of Rimbaud’s “Voyelles,” Bök’s Eunioia, and a tangle of semantic and homophonic derivations of those. Look forward to getting to know it better.
Okay a few more. This student from
Si la vida es amor, bendita sea!
Seal feed a, is armor. Bend it as me.
Donde la mano
Don day, lamb an oh!
This one played fast and loose with phonemes but was also willing to compost words and impose word bounds the source author n’er had thought of, so that
Lejana y sola
Kurt, oh baa.
Leia, Han, huh? Pee Cola.
– laying the complicity between Lucas Studios and Coca Cola Corp. bare for once & all. Later the poet turns luna to tuna, fudging grapheme more than phoneme, but okay, hells, y not.
Here too though a bit more articulation? Exercise, where’s a good spot to put a period in this line? I can see at least four. Five if you strike an ‘l’ from “Llama.”
Llama ate a neigh is tough mirror and dough.
This student took on no less than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which en francais reads, article 26.3,
Les parents on, par priorité, le droit de choisir le genre d’éducation à donne à leurs enfants.
And perhaps as a comment on how much good it’s done, it becomes in translation, and I’ve articulated it just a little more,
Less parents on, pair parrots, Lee. Do it day chaser, Lee. Genre? Day education at diner allures infants.
Homophonic translation tends to draw out the unconscious of language, its polymorphic perversity, if you’ll let it. “Perversity” in a not bad sense, just etymologically, as in turnings off the straight and narrow path. This one makes bold to find such gists in an ordinary Spanish-language newspaper article –
Yo, no karaoke Margarita! Clod, dickhole! These interest, dear, scatter my pain. Yo, karaoke Lo Mein tie, never! OH! Penis? Okay. Meaty? Okay, sir. Arrow lad, a cone, laps are a toy. Lace: track her. EEK! You an asset, ran, sit. Oh? See affect area.
That seems to be about, whatever else also, its own activity, the queering of language this exercise seems ineluctably to go to.
This last one departs far from the sounds of its source text, and also comes to compelling lines in English, and I can only make out traces of Spanish, but have some feeling that the author has fell into Zukofsky’s own practice, of mingling homophonic and semantic translation at will. I’ll just give ya the first line –
Cuerpo de mujer, blancas colinas, muslos blancos
Aquarius day, new hair, blanket colonies – new blankets,
– and the last –
como una flecha en mi arco, como una piedra en mi honda.
Come oh one a fellatio in me on top.
And that there’s the unconscious of language, right there, remembering for us we’re in bodies, prideful, all.
A foolish notion. What would it be to translate not only for meaning, what we usually mean by “meaning,” reference, signification, the pointyends of words, but also for everything else about, within, around them: their loops and curls, textures of their paper, sleepiness of the scribe, slips in the book’s stitching, burn marks at the edges of pages, how a sequence of ascenders and descenders read as skyline or script for a roller coaster.
Crazy yeah. But if (1) you’ve come to feel translation’s originary no matter what, and (2) your semantic translation of a poem has sucked no matter what, and (3) you’re not done with said poem, and (4) you have a decorative itch – well, you might come round to a like crazy. You might start to wonder if þine heortan geþohtas, the force of your heart’s thought, might be most truly got not via narrowly focused semantic emissions, but through a sprawling heterogeneous relation of potentially everything in the nexus of poet poem scribe translator reader annotator and medium.
Semantic reference is a span of human meaning about as sliver as visible light is to the electromagnetic spectrum.
My guiding thought in Overject has become, assume you know nothing about what should or shouldn’t be translated. Feel like translating handwriting? Translate handwriting. Feel like transmitting hesitation? Transmit hesitation. Anything honest in the encounter between old damaged minor text and ignorant inexpert minor reader’s fair game.
Now if at every point everything is open to translation – how do you decide? I’ve found me guided by intuition and accident.
Gut, and happenstance. Who have led me to handwriting. My work with which in Dumuzi had drawn me to more exuberant organic loops and sweeps than the hell scraps there could suit. Into Overject went the overflow. And the self-indulgence of translating nothing but handwriting pushed up in me little spikelets of self-doubt. And one of those has made it to a post-it.
And the possibility of annotating my translations bloomed hard and fast in my head and the next flower was a notecard on which I found a bit of semantic translation wanted (musewise, it wasn’t I who wanted, but just who let it) to burst in. And these three – transcription, post-it, notecard – plus a ghost face who poked in from a later page, became assemblage.
The next major adventure is homophonic translation, of which I’ve written before. Here too annotation and anima. (The abrupt edge on the right is a scanner error. Not all accident is welcome.)
“D.P.” = Dramatis Personae. One way I hope to make this work a little less esoteric in the end is, draw names out of the sonic surround, faces out of the visual noise, and see what storylines they hint at (no more, dear hearts, than that).
Oh now the lure of semiosis. Not from the meanings of the “original poem.” Rather from the nexus formed when that poem’s meanings intersect with recent homophonic accidents and my momentary interior weather and demonic images yet to be actualized. An ambivalent compound arises.
Comes now a grave move. So much is lost in this moment! The haecceity, the suchness, of each t, each l, each g, unlike any other anywhere in existence, all now made to be of a same sameness.
I take the manuscript page and I type it up.
I try to make up the loss. I follow the leads of ascenders and descenders. After selecting some text, à la Phillips, I black out the remainder with a Sharpie. The thickness of the erasure line is governed by the heights and depths to which the line (or portion thereof) reaches. No ascender? It thins. No descender either? That thins it further. One et (⁊) and it goes down a long way. One thorn (þ) and it reaches both high and low.
The whole of the rest of the design, mouths and eyes, windows and doors, lions and tigers and heroes and hydras, or here a school bus climbing a hill, is begun from the thicks and thins of the bars, and the white slits left between.
The chosen text has the quality of a code. As if a minor character in Beowulf had got his hands on an Enigma machine. Crypto-crisis. So I put on my tinfoil Turing cap and coughed up this.
And when I got to that, I felt I was an inch or two closer, maybe not more, to a true translation of folio 88V of the Exeter Book.
Closer anyway than my semantic translation of that folio, which I did some years ago, and goes like this.
Ask me straight out. Don’t hide your whole life
what only you know. I won’t tell you what matters
if you hold the force of the heart of your thought back.
The wise work in riddles, praise God foremost,
our Father who said of His Creation we could
live here a while, a gift he’d remind us of.
In glory Measurer, on earth humankind,
young here is old, God is eternal with us,
events don’t touch Him, illness
You can hear the strain in it. Couldn’t care less about these pieties. Why’s the poem compel me at all? Nothing in its answers speaks to me. The pressure I hear in its questions – in the failure of its answers to relieve the pressure – that moves me.
Around here I realized two things. One, my epigraph, it spoke to me out of Job, “Where shall wisdom be found?” Is that what I’m translating, the Exeter poet asking it, into me asking it?
Other is, the work has to be in earnest. I can fuck around as much as I like, goof off, poke fun, mess shit up, that’s fine, but the asking has to be in earnest, otherwise this’ll be a dumb game I’m sick of real soon. Flip side, as long as it’s for heartfelt for me, it can be totally way goofball, and still live, short I and long.
My handwriting has always been execrable. Cramped, crabbed, sotted, befuggled. Never mattered how hard I tried – after the first few sentences, the forms collapsed into a grapheme porridge pretty much only I could read, and even I only mostly.
I always thought it was impatience – hand not keeping up with thought. I was just too smart for my own embodiment! is how my thinking went. My a’s lost their stems and decayed into c’s, my f’s forgot their cross strokes and masqueraded as long l’s, my p’s omitted to close their loops, all were just too keen to get on to, well, to whatever came next.
I open my journal at random for an example and come upon notes for the course that gave birth to this blog.
Egypt/n Book of the Dead
y is hell underground? b/c that’s where rot is
the ecological imperative – to make also highest the lowest on the foodchain – the microbes + maggots that discompose the corpse
Ex: invent a verbal decay process and enact it
Ex: build a poem out of recycled objects / objs in yr recycling bin. (e.g. collage of beer bottle labels; contrap/n of cut coop plastic)
Around the new year I revisited Dumuzi to overhaul and conclude him and made a discovery. In certain brief and to me potent inscriptions I found I wanted to drop my descender hard and strike my cross stroke fast.
Something, in those moments, that had been chained felt freed, an energy. The stroke could go as long hard far high fast wide as it wanted. As I wanted. As it in me wanted out of me. And what else happened was the rest of my hand began to clarify. The above is hardly beautiful but you don’t need my translation of it.
As if, in letting those flights of energy forth, the rest of my script could quiet down, take time to make the mark in the time given to make the mark. I felt I had felt Olson’s projective for the first time at the nerve ends – as matter in, of, motion.
I tried it out more general. And Dumuzi got altered lots by it – rather shockingly naked journal pages, and junk mail scraps inscribed with myth bits in a hand that feels a bit cuneiform a bit calligraphy a bit graffiti.
But my thought here isn’t to rehash that. It’s first to acknowledge just how bloody hard it is to work with handwriting – the deep habit our script is in us. And second, just quick, to give a few pics of how I’ve worked since with script, my scriptural breakthrough.
These are from Overject, a translation project I’ve recently brought back into the shop for smashdown and overhaul. The source text is a really rather minor poem from The Exeter Book, a miscellany of Old English poetry with a few real knockouts – “The Wanderer,” “The Seafarer,” “The Ruin” – and a lot of stuff not much translated.
The one I’m working with is often called “Maxims” or “Gnomic Verses” but I’ve called it “Proverbs.” There’s something about its mix of sententious piety and anxious disjunction that strikes me as prematurely postmodern.
Overject, from Proverbia Disjecta, tries to release the anxious poem from the pious poem by means of wayward translation methods.
The first method is diplomatic transcription. Usually that means going from manuscript to typescript, getting as best you can the peculiar individual features of inscription into the uniformity of typesetting. Like drugging clowns to dress them in army fatigues!
My approach is different. I translate the handwriting of the Exeter scribe into my own handwriting. Here’s the scribe’s version:
Takes me three passes to get to my version. On the first, I do the script I told you of, let all the energy into ascenders, descenders, cross strokes they want. And damn but don’t it feel nice to.
You’ll notice, three lines from the bottom, leftmost character, I’ve translated the scribe’s sleepiness. Not by translating some error directly, no slavish copying here, but by allowing my momentary inattention, my slip of a modern “w” where I should have writ the rune ƿ (wynn, “joy”), to stand and be overwrit, just as the scribe has done elsewhere (e for æ, say) when he’s drifted off.
How subtle this translation process gets. Best to go slow, not to assume anything, the least stroke might paralyze you.
Second pass is to set, roughly, the outlines of the characters.
Third fills them in. This is the fussy part. If at the start it’s quick expressive sweeps of the pen – I toss the sheet and start over if I’ve got too in my head (the Sharpie is a perfect compass) – at the end it’s meticulous distribution of microns of ink, glasses off, eyes a couple inches from the receptive surface (and still I eff it up in six places).
Not an improvement, nor deprovement, from dear anon’s, nor proof of no sort, but a difference. But a difference that makes a difference? Amn’t sure yet. I think it’s a base text, ground for sthg. more to grow upon, not sure what, annotation, emendation, error compounded upon error … well, stay tuned, if you wish.
Write a fragment, prose or verse, on an unconventional surface. In other words, what Emily Dickinson does in The Gorgeous Nothings, you do too, on some other inscribable surface.
For instance, you might take a paper bag and cut a shape from it. Triangle, rhombus, hourglass, angel wing? Make sure it has interesting surface features. Seams and ledges and creases.
Then to write on it a text that heeds the shapes available. Do you ride right over seams between paper zones? Or arrange your thought to accommodate ledges, flaps, secret corners? Does the form of the surface maybe inflect the words you set down there?
The distinction between prose and verse starts to decay here.
FOR ADVANCED USERS (that’s anyone). Pay attention also to your writing implement. Dickinson’s envelope poems leave traces of her process — for instance, some variants were surely pencilled in later, after the whole was composed, if the quality of pencil line (darker, slimmer) is any guide at all.
The word for it’s materiality — that the matter matters.
Etymologically, matter is mother.
Hebrew: Adam = “red earth.”
Haida: human = “ordinary surface bird.”
We’re earth children you and I. Squawk and g’night.
(Another of the exercises I’m giving my Art of Compost class.)
In a homophonic translation, you translate for sound, rather than for sense. For instance, this sentence in French
Je vais aujourd’hui à la maison de mon ami.
sounds roughly like
Juh vase oh zhour dwee a la may zon de moan am ee.
And so its homophonic translation might go
Juvie, so, sure, twee. Ah, lamb, he’s on demon, am ye?
Notice how a word in the French can become two in English, or the end of one word and the start of another, in the French, can fuse to form a single English word. In other words, don’t worry about preserving the boundaries between words.
Notice, too, that the translation isn’t exact—vowel sounds shift a little, and sometimes a voiced consonant (e.g., “d”) becomes unvoiced (“t”).
The exercise. Take a passage of 50-75 words, verse or prose, in a language other than English, and do a homophonic translation into English. It’s better to choose a language that you know how to pronounce, but if there aren’t any of those, just make your best guesses.
Examples follow. You might also check out David Melnick’s Men in Aida.
Louis and Celia Zukofsky, Catullus
Source Text (Latin)
Multus home es, Naso, neque tecum multus homost qui
descendit: Naso, multus es et pathicus.
Mool ’tis homos,’ Naso, ’n’ queer take ’im mool ’tis ho most he descended: Naso, mool ’tis – is it pathic, cuss.
Christopher Patton, Overject
Source Text (Old English)
Frige mec frodum wordum nelæt þinne ferð on
hælne degol þæt þu deopost cunne nelle icþe min
dyrne gesecgan gifþume þinne hyge cræft hy
lest ⁊þine heortan geþohtas ∙ gleawe men sceolon gieddū
wrixlan god sceal mon ærest hergan fægre fæder user
ne forþon þehe us ætfymþe geteode lif ⁊lænne
willan heusic wile þara leana gemonian ∙ meotud sceal
inwuldre mon sceal oneorþan geong ealdian god us ece
biþ ne wendað hine wyrda nehine wiht dreceþ adl
Fridge me, Frodo. Um, word. Um, nail a thin firth on
hell. Ned—eagle that thou deepest can. Uh, Nellie—itch the mine,
dear. Now you sedge, an’ if thou math in how ye craft, how
lost and thin a heart an you thought as. Glue we men shall on yet. Um,
were Ixlan god, shall man arrest her gain? Fare a fader user.
Knife or than the hay us at fume. The yet ode, life and lane, uh,
will an hay us itch, while, o’there, Alan a’ye money on. Meow. Dude shall
in weld, remand shall on earth, an’ yon gulled Ian, god us each, uh,
both new. Endeth he new word. An’ a he new wicked dreck i’th’addle.
Still working out how to get notifications to those who want them! (Facebook, thy name is frenemy.) I think I have the blog now set to post automatically to the associated FB page. This is a test of that.
This is a big fat post because wordpress doesn’t wish to import my very first early tumblr posts. So I’m piling ’em in here. Maybe I should just let it go but I’m not good at that. This blog, and rotting things generally, cuz I’m not, here come to teach me.
Archaeologists unearthing clay tablets (Gilgamesh) and mummies wrapped in strips of recycled papyrus (Sappho) have developed a robust minor vocabulary for what’s gone missing.
Ellipses. Italics. Round brackets, square brackets, curly brackets, angle brackets, half square brackets. Each to mark a different sort of goneness.
Armand Schwerner had some fun with that vocabulary and in the process turned marks of absences to presences in their own right. This page from his Tablets takes it to one extreme.
And, at that extreme, beyond the last palm of the mind, something winks at Stevens, his “Man on the Dump”: “The the.” Hee hee. Schwerner probably also had in mind Pound’s “Papyrus”:
Spring . . . . . . .
Too long . . . . . .
Gongula . . . . . .
The Bible is a huge gorgeous reeking compost pile. Take Genesis. Three or more authors have their hands in it. The earliest is known as J, the Yahwist, and his God is fierce, dangerous, fallible, embodied. He likes to walk in the shade on a hot day. Then there’s P, the Priestly writer, his God’s detached and magisterial, his words are pure act, no dirtying of the hands, just let there be light. And E, the Elohist, his name for God Elohim, inconveniently plural.
Drawing it all together, somewhat skilled and somewhat hapless, R, the Redactor, trying to get a coherent account out of it all. He could cut and paste but couldn’t alter much the texts he received as sacred.
He succeeded insofar as we have a single thing called “The Bible.” He failed gorgeously insofar as we have two overlapping Creation accounts, glaring contradictions in the story of the Flood, and not one, not two, but three iterations of the “Hey, Pharaoh, that’s no sister, that’s my wife” gag.
Writings are readings. Readings are restlessly multiple. Thank God for which.