Saturday, August 13, 2016

Poems for July 27

Act by León Salvatierra translated from the Spanish by Javier O. Huerta

Charaxos and Larichos by Sappho translated from the Greek by William Logan
East African Proverbs by Anonymous translated from the Oromo by A.M. Juster

@ the Crossroads—A Sudden
American Poem by Juan Felipe Herrera

The Shrinking Lonesome Sestina by Miller Williams

The July issue of Poetry has many interesting translations. Like the poem “Script”, even though we do not have the original, they are well worth reading. To me, it is rather like reading a palimpsest where we have a hint of the original, over which a new text has been written.You might enjoy reading this site.


I don't have many notes about the first poem, but would have liked to compare the original Spanish to the English translation. Perhaps that would have clarified the title... What is meant by "Act" -- it could be verb, or noun, as a part of a play or what we do when play a part in public which does not necessarily correspond to who we are.

I love the opening stanza: "I’m going to say what love signifies" --
what authority! We know, the I is only one person, but the statement challenges us to join in, to think about what love signifies to us. The search by an I for another I... but is the "you" love in general, or the I the speaker has found? By the third stanza, indeed it seems to be both. How does a "seven cipher a life" and what does that mean? ( "I looked for you in each seven that ciphered my life".) The poem is enigmatic, and leaves me with a sense that much more more lies in the original.
Subjectivity of self... relationship and a sense of multiplicity of what "love" signifies.

The second poem inspired by a Sappho fragment is difficult not just because of translation, but also, because it is a fragment, and the modern reader does not have the background information of the brothers or situation. This article gives a bit more background --

If we compare the Logan translation with that of Meryl Altman, "Two Brothers" , there is quite a different tone again. Who are these two brothers? Why the reproach, the sarcasm?

There are no notes on the East African proverbs either. The feeling was that we are reading words of translators, and wonder what the original speakers were thinking.

Poetry in translation reminds us of our limited connection to another culture.

The penultimate poem relates to what is lost...the urgency to try to get to know others... The title is truncated on both ends on the first line: it starts as if finishing an email address "@ the crossroads", then an M dash and "A sudden" // American poem, with the epigraph "RIP Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police
officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith,
Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa—and all
their families. And to all those injured."

In this poem of witness, Herrera connects a view of America and the urgency of keeping alive the stories of individuals, "let us find //
The beauty in their lives in the midst of their sudden & never imagined vanishing".
The reader is allowed hang on to the tone of repeating “celebrate” – to look beyond the horror of mindless killing to the urgency of imagining the "leap
into a new way of living with each other?".
His comments in "about this poem": "“To write, but what? How? After a feverish penciled attempt with deep ideas, a poem-agenda of sorts, I stood up and walked away. What about the actual people shot dead? To know them, this was the key—I wanted to know them, the poem longed to know them. Too often we forget them in a rush to ‘say something.' All of them? Yes, yes. I had to include all of them, otherwise the poem could not be attained, humanity, the core of the poem, had to be the inner goal. After a new draft and new lens, a larger question came into view, ‘Can we take a leap into a new way of living with each other?' First, and most necessary, still, was to take a full moment and truly acknowledge the people on their last day.”
—Juan Felipe Herrera

The poem by Patricia Smith : 34
came up in discussion. There, she divides the poem into 34 stanzas, for the 34 victims who perished because they were not evacuated from a nursing home in the 2008 Hurricane Katrina. A skillful blending of the Lord's Prayer,
the repeated "leave them", which are the final words.

The last poem, gives a rather tedious form, "the Sestina" a chance to speak -- and already in the title,
we understand it is lonely and shrinking... in the process of transformation... The emotionally elusive form uses the repeating words to allows us to think about their meaning as the effusive lines shorten. If read "vertically" the end words go from a sense of disconnect to the last sestet of one word lines: "Time goes too fast. Come home."

It took 6 stanzas to re-arrange "home / time / come / goes / fast / to"
and of course the sounds of to / too/ two... fast preceded by "hold" and "break" as in breakfast.

The final stanza reveals more of the story.
Forgive me that. One time it wasn't fast.
A myth goes that when the years come
then you will, too. Me, I'll still be home.
Some thought the title too telling -- but I believe it captures a tone of tenderness. We read afterwards his poem, "Love Poem on Toast" -- which sounds humorous, but also has an appealing eccentricity about it.

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