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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Pure Prose

June 9, 2015 | by

Translating Jon Fosse from Norwegian.

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From the cover of Aliss at the Fire.

Norwegian is a language that English-language writers and translators seem willing to pick up: James Joyce learned it to read Ibsen; Lydia Davis is learning it to read, and solely by reading, Dag Solstad; and I learned it to read Jon Fosse. It helps that grammar is simple, with few tenses and word endings; the vocabulary is small; the language is one of the deep cores of English, so reading it feels eerily familiar, like a song you half know. After being asked to read Fosse’s novel Melancholy in German, I decided to cotranslate it with a native Norwegian-speaker friend, and I have since translated, on my own, two more of Fosse’s novels—Aliss at the Fire and Morning and Evening—two stories, and a libretto.

Jon Fosse is less well-known in America than some other Norwegian novelists, but revered in Norway—winner of every prize, a leading Nobel contender. I think of the four elder statesmen of Norwegian letters as a bit like the Beatles: Per Petterson is the solid, always dependable Ringo; Dag Solstad is John, the experimentalist, the ideas man; Karl Ove Knausgaard is Paul, the cute one; and Fosse is George, the quiet one, mystical, spiritual, probably the best craftsman of them all. Harrison’s titles—Something (aka Something in the Way She Moves), Here Comes the Sun, While My Guitar Gently Weeps—could even be Fosse’s: Someone Is Going To Come, Closed Guitar, The Name, Night Sings Its Songs, Angel with Tears in Its Eyes. But it’s harder to show what makes his music work. Prose doesn’t have hooks, and Fosse’s incantations are as unexcerptable as Philip Glass symphonies or Béla Tarr tracking shots. Here is an opening, a fraction of the first sentence of Aliss at the Fire: Read More »

A Surly Clang

June 1, 2015 | by

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Laurits Andersen Ring, In the Month of June, 1899.

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten ...
―James Russell Lowell

Even people who don’t know poetry—and who certainly don’t know much about James Russell Lowell—have often heard the June line from “The Vision of Sir Launfal.” This is probably a bit of oral tradition at work; pick up any school primer from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century and you’re likely to find an excerpt from the poem. Generations of American schoolkids probably recited it and, in the way of recitations, remembered it instead of much more important things all their lives. (“What is so rare as a day in June,” my grandfather would sometimes say, in June. That was all he remembered—that and “hie me away to a woodland scene,” which I’ve never managed to place. But in those moments, it was 1920s Arkansas.)

Lowell—Boston Brahmin, poet, satirist, Atlantic editor, abolitionist, and diplomat—was a major cultural figure in intellectual circles of his day. And a popular writer, too. Like the other Fireside Poets (Whittier, Longfellow, Bryant, and Holmes) his themes were frequently romantic or heroic, and “The Vision of Sir Launfal” is both. Here’s how Lowell describes it in the poem’s 1848 preface: Read More »

Relax—It’s Our Summer Issue

June 1, 2015 | by

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Our new Summer issue features work in and about translation. There’s a story from Andrés Neuman and a sneak peek at Michel Houellebecq’s controversial novel, Submission, plus poems by Coral Bracho, Xi Chuan, Radmila Lazić, and Iman Mersal. At its center are two interviews in our Art of Translation series—first with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, who have been married for thirty-three years and whose thirty-odd translations include The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and Chekhov’s Selected Stories. “Very naive readers think you take the Russian and you put it in English, and then you’re done,” Pevear says. Read More »

Sing It, Walt! and Other News

May 19, 2015 | by

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Whitman at age twenty-eight, 1848.

  • After seventeen years, Judy Blume is publishing a new novel—for adults. “In so many of Blume’s books, her main characters’ bodies insist on their inherent, primal messiness; they crave, they ooze, break out in rashes as strange and humiliating as desire itself. The body is reckless, but telling.”
  • Walt Whitman, pop-music critic: in 1845, the poet published a brief review in Broadway Journal, where he pays a hearty compliment to a family of singers: “The sight of them, as they are, puts one in mind of health and fresh air in the country, at sunrise—the dewy, earthy fragrance that comes up then in the moisture, and touches the nostrils more gratefully than all the perfumes of the most ingenious chemist.”
  • Herman Wouk turns one hundred this month. Give the guy a break. “Readers under forty know Wouk, if they know him at all, as a name on the spine of a paperback shoved into a cottage bookshelf at the end of someone else’s summer vacation—or perhaps as the supplier of the raw material for Humphrey Bogart’s epic performance as Captain Queeg of the USS Caine. What they don’t know is that Herman Wouk has a fair claim to stand among the greatest American war novelists of them all.”
  • “Often when I’m home alone, only the thought of how my dead body might be found helps me act proper … I thought of this while going to the local deli to buy a carrot and a couple of onions. A long time ago, when I started living by myself, before my wife-to-be and I moved in together, I used to be very careful when I went to the grocer’s for a carrot or a courgette to buy more than one—for who, when cooking for one, ever needs more than one carrot?—in case the grocer thought I had improper designs on the vegetable … These days, I do not give a damn. I am too busy palpating my solitude, as the tongue probes a gap in the teeth.”
  • Paul Ford on “No Manifesto for Poetry Readings and Listservs and Magazines and ‘Open Versatile Spaces Where Cultural Production Flourishes,’ ” a new collaborative poem: “My own opinion of whether the poem is good or bad doesn’t matter. The poem makes me squirm; it makes me roll my eyes; it makes me angry at the world; and it makes me tired. I keep coming back to it. This poem indicates a lot of things at once about how cultural work is done now, in form, content, and means of production.”

Our Latest Pushcart Prize Winners

May 12, 2015 | by

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We’re delighted to announce that three of our contributors have won Pushcart Prizes this year: Zadie Smith, for “Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets,” a story from issue 208; Dorothea Lasky, for her poem “Porn,” also from issue 208; and Jane Hirshfield, for “A Cottony Fate,” a poem from issue 209. All three pieces will appear this November in Pushcart Prize XL: Best of the Small Presses, an anthology of this year’s winning writing. The book’s XL means “forty,” not “extra large,” though at 650 pages it could mean that, too.

Congratulations to Zadie, Dorothea, and Jane!

Queen o’ the May

May 1, 2015 | by

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The Elfin May-Pole, a Mardi Gras float design for Krewe of Proteus, New Orleans, 1887.

The other day, I received the sweetest note from an old neighbor of my family’s commenting on the beauty of spring in the town where I grew up. She recalled something I’d done many years ago: “The first year I lived here, you walked up and down the street, perhaps alone, perhaps with a friend, on May 1, to celebrate May Day. Perhaps you left a little bunch of flowers by my door?”

Perhaps I did. In any case, I’m going to guess that I was alone. I can’t imagine anyone joining me in this practice. I’d like to say it was rooted in some precocious notion of workers’ solidarity, but in fact my touchstone was more Kate Greenaway than International Socialism. (Especially given the maypole and hurdy-gurdy I requested for my eighth birthday.) Read More »