Tuesday, May 02, 2006


JH: Certainly. I do like Jeff Koons' sculpture, which I think is called "Puppy" - over 40-feet tall and made of living flowers - something like a more whimsical instance of Ian Hamilton Finlay. Speaking of the essence of poetry, and, going back a bit, of translation, what are your thoughts on prose translations of lineated poems? I don't know how far back this goes - but Nerval was doing it in the middle of the 19th century in his translations of Goethe and Heine. Nerval writes (I'm getting all this from the Penguin selected writings of Nerval, edited by Richard Sieburth) that the essence of poetry is what can be transmitted via prose (prose translation, and paraphrase could be a synonym for translation, yes?)! This I found a bit alarming - poetry as not what survives translation but as what can be translated, and into prose at that. To me, poetry is in the order of the words as much as the words themselves, with punctuation playing a crucial part. If the poetry is lineated, I feel the translation should preserve the lines, in number and enjambment. Always having the original text next to the translation is indispensable to the reading of a translated poem, as it shows where the translator has added or removed words, punctuation, and lines. But this remark of Nerval suggests that poetry is ideally an earlier draft for prose. And indeed, poetry/song comes before prose in the development of a civilization - could it be that poetry stops before prose? Poetry plus more time would always be prose? Why then does a poem refuse to be prose to begin with? Why the halt? I'm using prose here in the simplest sense, as in the newspaper, this blog entry, and not in the sense of a string of words that fail to have a rhythm or quiddity of poetry. Is prose only a shape, or, more accurately, a lack of shape? The words are the thing?

AHB: Seem like Nerval got it bass ackwards, and I'd say that to his face. For one thing, you lose the music that the poet heard. Which'll pretty much happen with any translation. Lineated poetry admits to different strictures than does prose, so there's a serious skew there. I too would take the prose (or any) translation if I also get the original, with which I might also tussle. And you're right, Nerval's idea suggests that poetry is a draft of prose. That prose being, I guess, what you would explain to your therapist. That's like so Harold Bloom. There is something about the shape of poetry, that it gets to play about the page differently than prose. Which almost says that prose indeed is about just the words. When I committed to prose myself (it was a solemn rite), it was something about not always being convinced by poetic form. You can think of a sonnet, that the poet is forcing the words into that box. I wondered long ago why so many poems by Robert Bly were made of numbered sections, usually three sections. I don't think he considered his form (the dope), it was some bland necessity, like voting the Republican ticket. So I allowed myself to write my poems in prose. And while I try to Strunk and White that prose, I also accept disjunction and “errors in good English” as poetic means. And yes, the words are the thing. Still, in prose, you pass over words. You don't stop at the word of and wonder what the heck it means. Whereas in poetry... Zukofsky's poem “The” (“the desire of towing”) forces (or suggests to) the reader to look at the determiner. Poetry has no alluvials. But you tell me: why does poetry refuse to be prose?


Post a Comment

<< Home