Friday, October 30, 2015
response to request to know more about Gibbons/Mandelstam
Don Share, editor responded to my letter to the poem "from 'dark honey' that appeared in the October 2015 issue of Poetry.
"It was actually slated for a translation issue, so you’re quite onto something. But really, it’s a version, or what Robert Lowell (and Dryden) might call an “imitation.” An homage, really, tho’ a close and (I’d say) deep one." He shared these notes from Gibbons.
I understand how hard it must be to determine which poem has the podcasts "Poetry" makes available each month. It would have been helpful!
"I have been reading Osip Mandelshtam’s poems in every available English-language translation for many years, and also have returned to his essays, especially the “Conversation about Dante.” I have learned from working on translations with Russian poet Ilya Kutik that the movement of Mandelshtam’s poems (as in some other poets of his generation, such as Marina Tsevetaeva and Boris Pasternak, and in certain later poets, including Kutik himself) is a repeated opening, within a poem, of what seems to the reader (and was for the poet also) an unforeseen way to what poetic thinking can discover and foresee. “The poet begins from a point far away—and then goes further,” to paraphrase Tsvetaeva. What I have tried to do in the sequence to which these poems belong is to move my poems in something like the way such Russian poems move—on the basis of the sound or morphology of a word, or on the back of a metaphor that produces another metaphor (see below), and to throw some of my poems, too, off what might have seemed to be the courses they had chosen and into new ones, the real ones, the ones that make the discoveries, and from within the new course do this again.
In Mandelshtam’s “Conversation about Dante” (1933), he writes that “Dante’s thinking in images” creates what Mandelshtam calls “convertibility or transmutability… [J]ust imagine an airplane (ignoring the technical impossibility) which in full flight constructs and launches another machine. Furthermore, in the same way, this flying machine, while fully absorbed in its own flight, still manages to assemble and launch yet a third machine. To make my proposed comparison more precise and helpful, I will add that the production and launching of these technically unthinkable new machines which are tossed off in mid-flight are not secondary or extraneous functions of the plane which is in motion, but rather comprise a most essential attribute and part of the flight itself, while assuring its feasibility and safety to no less a degree than its properly operating rudder or the regular functioning of the engine” (translated by Jane Garry Harris and Constance Link).
Neither my purpose, in my homage to Mandelshtam, nor his conception of the “flight” of the image (and of metaphor) and then the subsequent flight of the image (or metaphor) that it produces out of itself, may matter, finally, to an English-language reader, unless, as I hope, my poems in homage to Mandelshtam move in a way that’s interesting in English. But out of my sense of gratitude to the Russian poets whom I can’t read in their own language, I offer this explanation, as well as the poems, in these pages of Poetry. In some of the poems in this sequence, I have used or adapted a few images, phrases, and figures from Mandelshtam’s poems, and the last poem in my sequence, “For your sweet joy, take,” is a translation of a complete poem, albeit altered in format."