Castle would bundle his works and hide them away in walls and outbuildings, and even in holes.
Not included in a Castle exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery of Manhattan are “… his drawn reproductions of product packaging, his handmade books and calendar-like constructions, as well as his experiments with hand-drawn typography.”
It’s not about intelligence. Lots of very smart people have a tough time learning how to read. G. Reid Lyon, a former chief of child health and human development at the National Institutes of Health, told Congress in 1998 that learning to read is a “formidable challenge” for about 60 percent of children. They need direct and explicit instruction. Lots of children weren’t getting that kind of instruction in 1998. And they’re still not getting it. (Emily Hanford. My bolding)
“And they’re still not getting it” is the direst phrase in the article. Everything in this America is difficult.
In 1997, Henry Reese and his wife, Diane Samuels, founded Pittsburgh: City of Asylum, which provides a safe haven for persecuted writers, artists and journalists. Their program includes: “a rent-free home for two years or more if necessary, a stipend, legal counsel, medical benefits and access to professional development opportunities.”
Ghareeb Iskander is an Iraqi writer who lives in London. HIs book of poems in Arabic, “Gilgamesh’s Snake and Other Poems,” was published by Syracuse University Press in 2016. The English translations are the work of Scottish poet John Glenday and Iskander himself. Their versions command distinct authority, of course. Mine are dictionary-driven and meant to be literal for study purposes (akin to a trot).
Here’s a snippet reflecting the dialog I hope to have with the book. It’s from “Song,” the book’s first poem (my bolding):
My reading in English and Spanish: … He sang the spring — / the flowers that grow / after a long night. / Sang the streets, / did not sing the walls. [Cantaba la primavera — / las flores que crecen / después de una noche larga. / Cantaba las calles, / no cantaba las murallas.]
Published text: … He sang springtime — / the flowers that open themselves / after a long night. / He sang the streets / but he wouldn’t sing the hindering walls.
Amplification flows from the instincts and cultural grounding of the translators. It may capture a nuance of the Arabic that escapes me, or that’s missed by my dictionary. Is that the case with open themselves versus grow?
In other cases, certain phrasing may be deemed better suited to English cadence, or else to express what’s tacit in the Arabic. Consider “but he wouldn’t sing the hindering walls.” “Wouldn’t” injects a hint of willfulness into the Arabic’s unmodulated past tense. A wall can protect as well as hinder. Perhaps the connotation contributed by “hindering” foreshadows a context that lies ahead.
David Remnick has written that comparing two translations of The Brothers Karamazov “is to alight on hundreds of subtle differences in tone, word choice, word order, and rhythm.” (“The Translation Wars,” The New Yorker, 10-30-05). What’s worthy of sharing here, now and in future, is the unexpected, where a tyro’s cluelessness collides with inborn savvy. When the poet collaborates in the translation, he serves as a native informant validating shadings and phrasings whose justification may not be immediately discernible, and which readily hold up to sturdy query.
The comment about the unsmiling lion is attributed to the 10th-century Arabic poet al-Mutanabbi (915 – 965). I heard it on a podcast called “Arabic Qahwa.” The line has a zesty zing to it that marks it as an old saying to be handed down indefinitely on the tongues of hoary elders, delivered with narrowed eyes and sagacious nods.
Old “Chinese” sayings abound in English. I’m not sure they’re all Chinese, or old, or even much said, but I have a favorite:
Whatever its origin, the saying bucks me up by validating a penchant for being ruled by grammar. The fewest words that are right can say enough barely, and leave the rest clearly understood. Excepting poetry, that’s good speech.
I wonder if a translation of a poem can be compared to a sketch of a painting? The sketcher recreates aspects of an original art work in a different medium, say pencil. Words are the translator’s medium. She uses those of one language to depict an object made with those of a different language. Both sketcher and translator do something akin to copying. The outcome may do a certain justice to the original, or not, but won’t be confused with it. We’re not talking about forgery or plagiarism.
What’s the point of sketching another art work? Take your answer to that question, I’ll take mine, and let’s see if they apply to translation: What’s the point of it?
Suppose the sketches were made from a painting that has disappeared? Whatever inspired it, say the rape of the Sabine women, is known to us only via the exertions of a sketcher. Pursuing the analogy, a poem may as well not exist for the reader who doesn’t know the language it’s written in. When a translator says, It looks somewhat like this, the reader gains a modicum of access to it, an awareness of it.
Scrupulous fidelity isn’t in the cards in either case. Both actions, sketching and translating, are drenched in subjectivity, contingent on the eye, the tastes, the skill of the renderer. Each is a form of imitation; an homage, perhaps; or an exercise; or an exploration; even an idle amusement. Secondary and derivative, yes, but each possessing a life of its own.
Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest, describes a recent baptismal service:
An old hymn’s chorus goes like this: “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before….”
Warren’s essay exalts something different: piety nurtured by a radiant inwardness around two poles of behavior: affirmation, in the form of trust, and renunciation of… something or other. The “sinful desires” quandary is rotten fruit of the patristic tree. Humans can renounce harmful acts; thoughts, not so much. Warren’s strategic quote-marking of the phrase not only sets it off as liturgical cant, but lets her finesse the clash of theology with human nature by limelighting a joyful and forbearing style of devotion.
Warren’s oasis of psalmody shades us for a moment from truculent evangelism and religionist politics. For the last word of her refreshing homily, she quotes an ancient Christian soldier, Diadochos, the fifth-century bishop of Photiki: “… The soul, in its desire to say many things, dissipates its remembrance of God through the door of speech.”
Those are stay-big-picture days: paint, write, read, think about language. If gender is fluent, so are the other language markers which assert us. What if I don’t always identify as a first person? I may feel like a you, for example, besotted with empathy for us. How many I am can also be in flux, neither singular nor plural quite doing the job, leaving me like a numberless child, forsaken by the grammar that traps me.
This isn’t one of those days. I flaunt a tenuous Scottish heritage today because of this news: Period products are now free in that country to anyone who needs them. My mother’s husband’s forebears’ home was Scotland, saving contrary evidence. If men in skirts be fable as some claim, / long live of fabled men in skirts the fame! (It’s hard to talk of Scotland without metre.)
Northern Ireland is considering a similar measure; New Zealand and South Korea offer free menstrual products in schools. I was deprived of a girlhood by the fact of my birth, but if I could have one, I know where I would choose to be born: Edinburgh, Belfast, Wellington or Seoul.