Duel in translation

Because of blogging on geek feminism, BlogHer, and Hack Ability, and doing a bunch of things at work, I haven’t said much here. It’s been weeks of verbal, verbal verbal, blogging and coding and talking. The feeling of too much looking at code is a lot like the feeling of having my head in poetry. It’s hard to come out of it and be articulate like a conversational human being again. It’s divine madness hanging out with the muses.

Have some poems with my translations!

From Cortejo y Epinicio
David Rosenmann-Taub (b. 1927)
1949

XXXVII
El Combate

"¿Hacer?", me retorcía el Poderosos:
"autodefé de trámites lacayos,
amolando cilicios,
acuso la nostalgia del bozal."

"¡Hacer!", blandí, de pie. Larvas... Rivales
nieblas — andamios — en los yermos: una
luz rededora decisivamente
nutría y desmigaba.

Rosenman-Taub compacts these poems with precision – but with precise attention to ambiguities and broad meanings. I interpret this poem as an internal and external battle, a response to power, a battle about action. To make, to act, to do. Action? or Action! All came to mind to translate “Hacer!” In one mood, the poem comes out like this:

Duel

“To do?” Power wrung from me:
“Auto de fé of bootlicking bureacracy,
itching prickle of hair shirts;
I blame nostalgia for the leash.”

“To do!” I blare, standing tall.
Mists – scaffoldings – in the wastelands, one
encompassing light critically
nurtured and eroded.

If you grant that is a possible interpretation of the poem, what would you say it means? What is its feeling? What is opposed to what? What relationship do those two verses, those two stances, have to each other? Are they either/or? Are they one in response to another?

Rosenman-Taub’s poems are puzzles, cryptograms, circular ruins. They itch at me. The language sticks into itself, words interfacing uncomfortably with each other, like burrs. The language of a mad philosopher-poet. It’s a How to Think manual, but not for Dummies. As some difficult novels function to teach the reader how to read (suspiciously, and circularly) these difficult short poems teach the poet all that difficulty in an alchemical crucible. Playfully – but dead serious.

Here are two more translations of a single poem by him, “Jerarquía”. They’re fun!

It is a mistake when translators translate an obscure word in one language to make it easier to understand in a new. I try to go with my judgement of how awkward, hard, stuck up, dusty, a word is. caliginous for example. I let it stand in this bullfight poem.

VIII

En el poniente de pardos vallados,
de sobaquillo y verónica de oro,
juegan el hombre y la parca: embrocados,
derivan: cuadran faena. El tesoro,

caliginoso cabestre, se oculta
de la destreza de tules solares:
risco de fauces de jade: sepulta
los quioscos gilvos. La parca ¡No pares!

hace ondular sobre los inmolados
novillos. Cómplice de acantilados
cuernos, ¡No pares! se trasvina, sigue

y sigue… El hombre a las landas del cielo
ha escudriñado con garfio gemelo.
Ya no se sabe quién es quien persigue.

Like I said, a metaphysical bullfight. What a poem, interrupting itself!

VIII

In the west wind of corralled dun bulls,
of cape-sweep and stylish lance-stab, golden,
man and fate are playing: horn-tangled,
they shift meaning: dance formal faena. The best,

caliginous maverick, half-hidden
from the dexterity of sunlight lace:
rock-crag jade jaws: he entombs
the gilted grandstands. Fate – Don’t stop! -

ripples waving over the sacrificial
yearling bulls. Conspirator of cliff-edge
horns – Don’t stop! – transcending, on

and on… The man come to heaven’s prairies
has skewered all with twinned horn;
Now who knows who’s chasing who?

It’s impossible to translate a poem like this literally and not screw it up. You have to know that it means something, settle on a meaning, on meanings battling, and hover over those meanings. “Don’t stop!” set off from the action and repeated I think here is perfectly timed, an abruption of what the poem means and who is speaking or thinking. Who is saying don’t stop? to who? We feel the audience – we are the audience of the bullfight and the dance, the fight is between the poet and the text, or the poet and the poem. Or the author exhorts us, familiarly – go on! Don’t stop! Or any number of any other beautiful air-castles of meaning. The poem turns midway through from a poem about a bullfight to a poem about ways of thinking and reasoning.

Related posts:
This entry was posted in Composite: Tech & Poetics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>