Poetic Likeness: Modern American Poets

courtesy of NPR.orgI am incredibly jealous of anyone who lives or will be visiting Washington D.C. in the near future (up to 28 April 2013 to be exact). The National Portrait Gallery is having an exhibition that “is putting faces to lines like, I sing the body electric.” According to NPR,

Poets are not the world’s most visible celebrities. Their fame is tied to their verbal achievements, not the way they look… that, in fact, 20th century poets were public figures with vivid visual personas.

If you’re like me and won’t have the opportunity to see this in person, the National Portrait Gallery has supplied some of the photographs and further information on their website.

a poem by August von Platen-Hallermünde

August_von_Platen_by_Moritz_RugendasIt has been almost a year since I posted a translation. This is a poem by August von Platen-Hallermünde, an early 19th Century German writer. I dare say that I know very little about him but apparently his slim volumes of poetry caught the eye of even greats like Goethe. I don’t know if he is available in English (or in any other language besides the original German) but I hope you enjoy.
Specks of colors dust the wings
of summer butterflies.

They are fleeting and ephemeral,
Like the gifts that I bring,
Like the wreaths that I weave,
Like the songs that I sing.

Swiftly hovering above all,
Your time is scarce,
Like foam on a swaying wave,
Like a breath on a bare blade.

I do not desire immortality,
Death is the fate of all things,
My tones are as fragile
As the glass which I ring.

Farbenstäubchen auf der Schwinge
Sommerlicher Schmetterlinge.

Flüchtig sind sie, sind vergänglich,
Wie die Gaben, die ich bringe,
Wie die Kränze, die ich flechte,
Wie die Lieder, die ich singe.

Schnell vorüber schweben alle,
Ihre Dauer ist geringe,
Wie ein Schaum auf schwanker Welle,
Wie ein Hauch auf blanker Klinge.

Nicht Unsterblichkeit verlang ich,
Sterben ist das Los der Dinge.
Meine Töne sind zerbrechlich
Wie das Glas, an das ich klinge.

A Toast to Robert Burns


It is poet Robert Burns’ 254 birthday today and what better way to celebrate than with a Burns SupperAccording to Huffington Post UK, the “tradition began in 1801, five years after the Scottish bard’s death when a group of his close friends decided to commemorate his memory by hosting a dinner.”

To get in the spirit, you can take a gander at The Scotsman’s list of Five Whiskies to Celebrate Burns Night With. Never one to shy away from a drink or two himself, Burns penned the poem, “Scotch Drink.”

Thou clears the head o’doited Lear;
Thou cheers ahe heart o’ drooping Care;
Thou strings the nerves o’ Labour sair,
At’s weary toil;
Though even brightens dark Despair
Wi’ gloomy smile.

There is much show for a Burns Supper: reading his poetry, piping, singing, toasting, and don’t forget, the Address to a Haggis. And for the more intense Burns aficionados, head over to Project Gutenberg to read George Combe’s Phrenological Development of Robert Burns From a Cast of His Skull Moulded at Dumfries, the 31st Day of March 1834 complete with illustrations! Apparently, “Burns’ skull was bigger than the average man’s. After he died and was buried in St. Michael’s Churchyard in Dumfries in 1796, Rabbie’s body was exhumed in 1815 to be placed in a new mausoleum in the town. While the body was above ground, a plaster cast was taken of his skull for study and measured.”

So, eat, drink and be merry!

Argos Books at The Oracle Club

This weekend, I had the pleasure of catching Argos Books‘ celebration of their most recently released chapbooks. The lovely and talented editors held their little shindig at the The Oracle Club which deserves its own post all together. Four readers read from the new books and each had such engaging poems. Two of the chapbooks also were in collaboration with visual artists that offered stunning images to accompany the words. Argos always produces lovely books; besides the words and images, the books themselves are outstanding pieces of art. They are hand-sewn and whenever I pick one up, I just want to touch every inch of the cover and pages. The reading itself was brief which was perfect. The poets kept the audience engaged and each one of them brought a different aesthetic to the event.

Another aspect of Argos that I love is that they take a special interest in publishing works-in-translation. They have a side by side series that offers both the original text and the new translation. They are working hard to bring writers that haven’t been published before in English to a wider audience. The editors at Argos are especially interested in this because of their own personal translation endeavors (one of the lovely Argos ladies works on translating from Swedish!).

Hearing them introduce each poet just showed how passionate they are about their writers and why they chose to publish them. They have a real appreciation and regard for the texts and I hope this small presse can continue producing big things.

Circumference is back!

After a two year hiatus, the once-defunct journal is back in action. On Friday night, the editors of Circumference held a re-launch party in Brooklyn at A Public Space. Circumference is a bi-annual journal of poetry in translation. The fantastic readers that evening included Stefania Heim, Idra Novey, Matthew Rohrer, and Eliot Weinberger.

It was exciting to hear this lively group of translators/writers and it was also equally, if not exceedingly, exciting to see the enthusiasm of the new editorial team. The re-launch party was also held to celebrate their new website which offers great information about the journal and upcoming events, as well as articles, podcasts, etc. concerneing translation. The new Circumference is headed up by two of the founding editors of the literary press, Argos Books.

The quality of writing in Circumference is tip-top. An annual subscription in the US is $10 and an international subscription is $15. You can’t beat that.

Victorian corpse language

Pardon my lack of engagement with my blog lately (I’ve been really busy this week with the release of a book I was involved with AND also feeling slightly unwell) but I can’t help but share these few paragraphs about translation from the beginning of one of the two essays found in Deformation Zone. I just started reading it and it’s proving to be quite interesting.

As contemporary American critic Daniel Tiffany notes in his recent study of Pound, discussions surrounding translations seem to rack up corpses. Dryden for example compares a poet in “dull translation” to a “carcass.” Tiffany argues that the accumulation of these corpses comes out of the “impossibility” of translation; we can only imagine such impossibility as death.

According to Tiffany, Pound was obsessed with the attempt to rid poetry of “Victorian corpse language.” But he also saw translation as a kind of reanimation of the corpse of the original. About translating Guido Cavalcanti, Pound wrote: “My job was to bring a dead man to life” (189).

Pound sought to reanimate this “corpse” by abusing the “meaning” of the original through extreme literalism. Pound used radically materialistic forms of translation such as homophonic translations or the use of deliberately exotic or archaic words. The “meaning” may have been “lost” but the materiality of the text is brought to life.

The Writer as a Poetry Student

I was recently asked if I write poetry. Normally, I answer no to this question and just avoid the embarrassment all together but this time I went digging through my external hard drive. I only remember writing a few poems in college around the ages of 19 and 20 but somehow, I had buried the memory of the other poems deep down inside my mind.

Well! Let me tell you. This is not the case. I found my “portfolio” of about sixteen poems from that time period. I had a good laugh. How much my writing has changed but also, I don’t know if I am still up to the task of penning a poem. Here are a couple of samples from my younger days.

The Hounds

Those ill-fated hounds;
Butchered, mangled, and bashed
by their master

He swallowed their lively flesh;
Rabid, bloodied at the mouth

Howling for chaste Artemis
To save them; she merely watches—
A bystander resting with her stags

The last whelp could be heard
But not saved

The Alligator

The blade is smooth and ideal
as it snuggles in his back pocket

waiting for the moment when it will
pounce willingly onto its next victim

slashing it coolly: throat, belly, etc.

Kicking the cracked limestone across
his path, his step leading into a hasty trot

and then he comes to it, left hand
shaking as he reaches for his smooth

blade snuggled in his back pocket and
then he guts it

Sitting in a Windowless Room, Talking About Books

That’s how I will sum up the past two days. A few friends and acquaintances organized an annual conference this year. The topic was broad and it took me some time to figure out what the thesis of it all was but for the most part, the papers presented and the panels held were interesting. The participants consisted of PhD students from the US and Europe.


Of course, when you’re in a room of academics, you’re mostly thinking about how obvious your seat-squirming is and when will they be done talking so you can head over to the coffee and cookie spread. This did happen the first day, however, there was some fascinating papers presented. The one that stood out to me was about Gerard Manley Hopkins. The speaker was clear and concise, and was clearly passionate about his topic and engaged with the audience. He discussed how a writer becomes popular and/or canonical. He stated that Manley Hopkins was not popular in his own lifetime for various reasons, 1) he only sent his poems to Catholic publications, 2) his publisher barely publicized the book, 3) the book was printed by a private printer which made the book look archaic and was not able to be marketed to a larger audience because of the price tag. Thus, resulting in a lack of awareness by critics and readers. It wasn’t until the first half of the Twentieth century when the poet entered into the public conscious. A second printing in 1930 resulted in 2000+ sales of his book over the following few months.


I didn’t attend much of day 2, only making it to the final presentation/panel (my mind was definitely tired and needed to rejuvenate by watching hulu and eating tacos). The non-native English speakers were a bit hard to follow but a graduate student from Vanderbilt presented a paper on the notebooks of Nietzsche and Brecht. She touched upon the actual entries of the notebooks but focused more on the work as a physical entity. A back-and-forth broke out in the audience during the panel Q&A about whether books should be preserved only in archives or facsimiles should be available to the public even though they are pale omparisons to the original text. That was finally squashed and then it was onto the chitting and chatting.

a poem [anonymous]


Here is another translation I did of a small medieval German poem from my old verse book. I’m becoming a little more comfortable reading and understanding this type of German. The words are either identical or nearly identical to high German and when read aloud, sound a lot like English. There was no information about the writer of this poem.


Dû bist mîn, ich dîn:
des solt dû gewis sîn.
Dû bist besloʐʐen
in mînem herzen;
verlorn ist daʐ slüʐʐelîn:
dû muost immer drinne sîn.
Wær diu werlt alliu mîn
von dem mere unz an den Rîn,
des wolt ih mih darben,
daʐ diu künegîn von Engellant
læge an mînem arme.


You are mine, I am yours:
you must be sure.
You are locked away
in my heart;
the key mislaid:
and you are inside of it always.
If I owned the world
from the ocean to the Rhine,
if I could have
the Queen of England
resting in my arms.

a poem by Heinrich von Veldeke

I really know nothing about Heinrich von Veldeke. Apparently, he popularized courtly love poetry in the troubadour style.

I haven’t translated anything since January and have decided to try my hand at something new. Granted, I’m not an expert on any kind of poetry but I figured I would attempt something short from a book of German verse that I have. Bare with me. I’ve never translated poetry nor have I translated from medieval German (which I have no concept of!).

Tristrant mûste âne sinen danc

Tristrant mûste âne sinen danc
stâde sîn der koninginnen,
want poisûn heme dâ tû dwanc
mêre dan dî cracht der minnen.
Des sal mich dî gûde danc
weten dat ich nîne gedranc
sulic piment ende ich sî minne
bat dan hê, ende mach dat sîn.
Wale gedâne,
valsches âne,
lât mich wesen dîn
ende wis dû min.
Tristan was unwaveringly
loyal to the queen,
by reason of poison
rather than the virtue of love.
My Lady! Be grateful
that I did not drink such a blend
and my love exceeds his.
Fair and honest one,
let me be yours and you be mine.