A few days ago my old friend Jean-Pierre Sertin made me an offer I can’t refuse (though I daresay he may withdraw it when he next sobers up). He agreed to transcribe the remaining chapters of my mesmerising memoirs, Conversations with Speyer.
This has come as something as a relief: not only had I feared that the notebooks containing my original text were lost, but I was concerned that my wife would not have the time to copy any of it out, engaged as she is on rather more diverting tasks. Not that I blame her. I am, of course, incredibly proud of her achievements in the field of contemporary poetry. She is six and a half times the writer I shall ever be (and at least forty times the poet). All the same, I shall miss the patient service she supplied. If she wasn’t the most conscientious editor in the world (bearing in mind the fact that English is her third language) she was at least a kind one. Not once did she tell me that the words she was typing up were a worthless stream of driveling nonsense.
I know not whether Jean-Pierre Sertin will be quite so forgiving. His track record suggests not. Nonetheless I do hope that he will lay his criticisms on lightly. Being an editor myself has been scant preparation for being edited, just as being a reader does not prepare one for being read.
My wife has never been a big Brszny Derydaripov fan. Or, to put that another way: she thinks his poetry stinks. ‘Poorly constructed, insincere, brainless and just… just… bad‘ was her succinct review of his most recent collection, When Doth (first mentioned here). This represents something of a progression. His previous work (Mark of the Moth) was simply thrown across the floor and trampled on, repeatedly.
Her reaction, therefore, to my intention to offer Derydaripov a deal to re-publish When Doth was not what I would call positive. ‘Upside-Down-Then-Backwards has published some silly things in its time,’ she said, rather cruelly, ‘but this is a step too far!’
Is she right? A perusal of one of the poems in question may go some way to settling this thorny headed question. So here, for your poetry-reading pleasure, is the full text of When Doth the Icy Apple?
When doth the icy apple fall?
In autumn, when a cake of dead leaves
breaks beneath a swollen foot
and fierce winds blow your sweet cheeks sore?
Or winter when it blows some more
and wraps you in its wicked robe
of snow that bites the whitest skin
kept closet cold and tender raw?
Or does the apple fall in spring?
As daytime sinks, mists gather in
and hug the evening orchard tight
’til blossoms burst from buds and sing
Sing for the coming summer when
the grasses grow above the heads
of children playing, praising days
when nature muscles up to men
The seasons spin, the question stays
and we in wonder thus remain
too small to scale those orchard walls:
I know not when that apple falls.
(Brszny Derydaripov, 2009)
More on this later.
My wife sits at the breakfast table in a rumpled dress. She has been looking for her slippers. They have gone missing. Again.
‘Did you put up that vomit quote?’
I prod my slice of watermelon with the back end of a teaspoon. I think it’s a long way past its best. ‘Vomit quote?’
‘You know. The Leo Barnard vomit quote?’
‘Oh. I see. The one about the historical process.’
‘But mostly the historical process.’
‘Any excuse to use the word vomit.’
‘Not in the slightest. The word vomit is merely employed to make a point. No excuses are needed.’
She takes a glass out of the cupboard. ‘You men and your vomit,’ she sighs – ‘you just can’t get enough of it, can you?’
I push the melon to one side and wonder whether it is worth boiling an egg. I smile. ‘I must say,’ I say, ‘I can’t say I’ve ever had any especial fondness for the word vomit.’
‘And yet you’re always using it.’
‘I think not.’
‘I think so. Your journal is full of it. Vomit everywhere.’
‘Not in my articles. I can’t vouch for my contributors. I’m only a lowly editor.’
‘Any good editor would have wiped all that vomit up long ago.’
I shrug my shoulders.
‘What’s more, this pepperpot is empty.’
‘Look in the cupboard.’
‘Also empty. More pineapple juice?’
She pours me another glass of pineapple juice, before returning with a vengeance to the subject of vomit, on which she dwells for at least another four minutes. When she is done, I go to the cupboard and look for peppercorns. I find none. I return to the breakfast table.
‘I must say, this is incredible stuff coming from a woman writing a story called Hieronymous Bosch and the Holy Bottom Conspiracy.’
That’s the last glass of pineapple juice I’m offered for a while.
‘Poetry? Translated? You must be joking! Poetry can’t be translated. A great poem consists of a particular line-up of words in a particular order. This it can only be. Those words alone. Translated?! Never. It goes against the spirit of the entire thing. You are quite, quite mad’ (Doris Boshchov)
So said my wife, many years ago. And so she repeats today, bravely going in the face of, well, a large part of my career. And I’d be a fool to suggest that she isn’t right. On the other hand, have you ever tried to read Lithuanian?
Translation is, perhaps, the wrong word. It’s altogether too confident. Its meaning has been saturated by decades of ignorance. ‘Version’, maybe, might suit the situation a little better. A translator presents us with their ‘version’ of events. Make no bones about it. This is not the original.
Whilst we’re sailing on the warm seas of this subject, it will have come to some of your attentions that the British Broadcasting Corporation are having some sort of poetry season at present. Bless them. Unfortunately, the frowning hawk of rumour informs me that a one hour programme on the Bulgarian Farm Poets Movement, presented by the red-haired girl from musical combo ‘Girl’s Aloud’ (some sort of skiffle group, if my memory serves me correctly) has been cancelled. Very sad news that. If there’s one thing that Britain needs at the moment, it is to hear more about Tomas Lurgsy and the gang. Maybe those musical girls could bring some of their poetry into their songs?
What with Star Trek pornography, and the rather more intellectually engaging work of this man, these are heady days for erotic science fiction – which turns out to be good news for this blog, which has been able to net a few of these sexy alien fanciers as they flock across the web in their thousands. ‘Erotic science-fiction’ has been far and away the most popular search-term or tag this last week, comfortably outscoring ‘Bulgarian Farm Poetry’, ‘ Tangerines in Portuguese Painting’ and – believe it or not – ‘Georgy Riecke errors’.
The bait? Ciambhal O’Droningham, of course: Ireland’s best erotic science-fiction writer of the last decade or more, whose latest novel Half-past Twelve at the Intergalactic Candy-Shop was published only weeks ago – and continues the adventures of Seamus O’Solly, the wise-cracking hero of The Dead Priest (reviewed here).
I’ve already covered the book here, but may yet take advantage of the current boom in ero-sc-fi to add another word or two later in the week, just as soon as I can wrestle my copy of the book off my wife, whose penchant for libidinous literature has often embarrassed me.
A satisfied smile crept over my face after pointing out the dash-related problems in different editions of Turgidovsky’s new novel, Delicious Air of Life (or the Ugly God[-]damned Wife). ‘There,’ I thought, ‘I’ve put that straight’. Perhaps I could have written more on the subject, perhaps I could have quoted my source (the translator) at a little more length. Or, as my wife was to point out in another one of her supreme smile-grabbing statements: ‘perhaps you should have written about this weeks ago’.
Why so? Well, although I announced the dash in, dash out situation earlier this week, the evidence had, in fact, been in front of me for a fortnight. After all, had I not admitted here that I own both the English and American editions of the book? I even went so far as to describe their covers, failing to notice as they did that that they have quite different titles: one with a dash, one without. An oversight on my part, I fear: a frightening oversight. As for my wife: she is, as ever, drenched in correctness.
Whilst we’re on the subject of strangely translated titles, I was only yesterday informed that Oa Aayorta’s novel, The Endless Winter Night, has made its Stateside appearance under the moniker A Night in the Kitchen. I know there is more discrepancy between titles than we care to imagine – and I’m aware that neither title is exactly right (a translation is always an approximation; a gesture toward the truth). Still, A Night in the Kitchen?
Ever the one to follow the advice of pretty Norwegian literary critics (see below) I have – with the help of my dear wife – messily backstroked my way through the last two or three copies of that inimitable fishing and literature journal, Majfisk.
When I say ‘with the help of my wife’, of course, I do not mean to suggest – as some have hinted – that I am too lazy to pick up a magazine by myself. Reports that my wife reads everything out loud to me are, I insist, grossly exaggerated. In fact the only occasions on which I do enlist her help are those in which I find my trial blocked by the inevitable brick wall of language. I don’t mind admitting it: my knowledge of European languages is not as extensive as it might be, whilst my wife’s is, well, vastly superior. Without her assistance, a Swedish text (such as Majfisk) would be almost impenetrable. I could, perhaps, poke a small hole or two in that wall – but that would be all. And why struggle on like so when someone in the same house owns a bulldozer?
As to the aforementioned articles in Majfisk– those in which the ‘true nature’ of Kesserman’s Black Hair is revealed – I hope you will permit me at present to take a seat on the fence. It’s true, there is something spurious about the tale, but I’m not yet convinced that it was intended as a weapon of mass propaganda.