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Translation as Transhumance by Mireille Gansel

2 Aug

Translation as Transhumance by Mireille GanselOn WA-20 west toward the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, Michael and I found a Spanish radio broadcast with news relayed at a curiously slow pace, so that even we, with our limited Spanish, could understand. It was a multicultural station based in Vancouver. We got news of sex trafficking in Buenos Aires, corruption in Brazil, and an interview about traditional foods in a certain town in Mexico whose name eluded me: horchata tamarindo, pavo, taquitos fritos, plus socializing at church. There was mariachi music, then a pan flute.

In the next hour, the language switched to something I couldn’t recognize. Something Scandinavian? South Asian? I had no clue. But then bhangra music came on, so maybe it was Punjabi?

At the ferry checkpoint (we were on our way to Victoria, British Columbia), I lowered the radio, as if customs would find foreign sounds questionable. Once we were on the boat, I switched my phone to airplane mode and concentrated on Mirielle Gansel’s Translation as Transhumance (trans. Ros Schwartz), which Michael found at Alley Cat Books in San Francisco, when I was there on book tour in April.

It seemed appropriate to read a memoir and philosophical treatise on the act of translation while crossing into Canadian waters. Gansel’s family survived the Holocaust; she grew up in France and remembers the special occasions when a letter would arrive from Budapest and her father would solemnly translate it aloud. Some of her memories remind me of visiting Freiburg, Germany with my grandmother, who spoke a mishmash of Romanian and Hungarian with her cousin and uncle (they saved Hungarian for dirty jokes), and where the cousin’s husband spoke German and their children spoke English to me. Here is the lovely excerpt which prompted my reverie:

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In the 1960s and ’70s, Gansel went on to translate poets from East Berlin and Vietnam. Something she touches upon which I would like to research further is the “de-Nazification” of German and the attempt to translate Vietnamese poetry without exoticization. She mentions Bertolt Brecht de-Nazified Hölderlin’s translation of Antigone without comparing examples. But she does offer this translation of poet To Huu (translated into English, in turn, by Ros Schwartz–oh, the layers!):

Casuarina forests,

Groves of green coconuts,

The shimmering of the white dunes

where the sun trembles,

garden of watermelons with red honey!

Gansel quotes Nguyen Khac Vien, who invited her work to on an anthology of Vietnamese poetry in translation: “Exoticism arouses simply a sense of foreignness, without being able to communicate the emotions, the deeper feelings that inspire a work.”

On that notion of digging for deeper feelings, Gansel shares her approach to translating the entire oevre of Nelly Sachs, a Jewish German-language poet who lived in exile in Sweden. She ended up rewriting the work four times, using the Bible’s four levels of meaning, according to the Jewish tradition of exegesis: Peshat (literal meaning), Remez (allusive meaning), Drush (deeper meaning), and Sod (secret, esoteric meaning).

I could go on and on and on about how much I love this slender volume about exile and empathy.  This book has opened so many doors for me.

Notes From #AWP18, Part 2: “Sound Makes Sense: Reading the Lyric Sentence” and Various & Sundries (Gonzo Links Edition)

16 Mar
Sunrise view from my hotel room

Sunrise from our hotel room

The Friday of AWP is always the best day. The nervous energy of Thursday has dissipated, and the inevitable Saturday flu epidemic has not yet emerged. I woke early to respond to student stories and breakfasted on a leftover Cuban sandwich, wondering if it would make me barf later. Reader, it did not! A fortifying start.

Alan Sincic, the fantastic Orlando-based writer who was The Furnace’s Writer-in-Residence, was on a 9 am panel on the lyric sentence. I’m a fan of Sincic’s prose *and* mad presentation skills, so the early start was well worth it. The moderator, Pearl Abraham, kicked off the discussion with this advice: “If the voice doesn’t work, write better sentences.” 

Then Sincic woke up the crowd with a call-and-response activity, that gradually built up to us chanting together: “I am an individual and will not surrender my voice to the crowd.” He said, “A sentence is less like the beam of a house and more like the branch of a tree,” that a sentence has ghost limbs lost in the editing process. He proceeded to take apart this Mark Twain sentence, examining each word choice and its placement as a way of generating suspense and delight: “Is a tail absolutely necessary to the comfort and convenience of a dog?”

Baylea Jones analyzed a sentence from Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, graphing sounds and letters, including patterns of consonant use, and internal rhymes: “Black walnut trees dropped their green-black fuzzy bulbs on Aunt Ruth’s matted lawn, past where their knotty roots rose up out of the ground like the elbows and knees of dirty children suntanned dark and covered with scars.” Wow! I had fun retyping that.

AuthorSigningI ducked out early to get to my book signing at the Lanternfish Press table, where I got to hang out with my editor Christine Neulieb and publisher Amanda Thomas,  and connect with new readers and old friends, including Julia Mascoli, who was in my Tin House workshop in 2013 and who is Deputy Director of Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop doing great work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in Washington, D.C. (Seattle-area folks, you can donate books to prisons and other under-served communities via Seattle7Writers Pocket Libraries program.)

Later, I chilled at the Cambridge Writer’s Workshop table, celebrating the release of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing, which includes my “Summer-Inspired Writing Prompts.” Co-editor Rita Banerjee was there with her mythic poetry collection Echo in Four Beats, as was Maya Sonenberg, whose new chapbook After the Death of Shostakovich Père is out from PANK Books.

That night, the celebration continued at the Helen Gordon Davis Center for Women, a beautiful old mansion a mile away from the convention center. There were many, many readings. One was from Women in the Literary Landscape; crowds whooped in appreciation for Anne Bradstreet, Virginia Kirkus, and the biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt. (I am a rube for not remember which biographer was mentioned, so here are five of them!)  Nell Painter, author of A History of White People, read from her forthcoming memoir Old in Art School, Diana Norma Szokolayi read her poem “Sarajevo,” Sonenberg read an anti-plot manifesto, and I read an excerpt from Daughters of the Air in which Pluta has committed arson in Brooklyn and found refuge in an abandoned Times Square theater. Fun! There is so much more to write…! I’ll wrap things up in one more post. Sneak preview: there will be blood.

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Reading at Strange Theater: A Menagerie of Fabulists. Photo courtesy of Daniel A. Hoyt. I swear, there were more people here. We agreed the line up was so good we’ll do it again in Portland, but weirder!

Made at Hugo House: More Like Home Than Home

31 Oct

Sunday night, I had the pleasure of reading a short story that takes place in Pike Place Market right in Pike Place Market, at the Can Can. The event, a literary cabaret produced by Sailor St. Claire, was called The Naked Bunch, and its theme played off of William S. Burroughs Naked Lunch, asking: what’s your fix? So I read a short story called “Sugar,” the first story I’ve set in Seattle since moving here that I actually like.  What I really loved about the event was how eclectic and yet cohesive it was – fiction, poetry, strip tease, and music all coming at that what’s-your-fix question from differently kinky angles. The night before that was also a treat. I read another new story called “The Zoo” at the Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues reading series hosted by Zachary Watterson at Liberty Bar. Zachary named the series after a novel by Ron Sukenick that is comprised of one extraordinarily long sentence, which lends a certain urgency to the series that I really like.  That’s two nights of readings with wonderful, talented writers – not to mention burlesque dancers and musicians! I feel really lucky.

There’s another reason I’m feeling really lucky these days. I’ve been awarded a Made at Hugo House Fellowship! This new fellowship provides funding, space, and resources to four to six writers age 35 and younger in King County. During my fellowship, I’ll be completing my short story collection “More Like Home Than Home,” which explores themes of migration, place, and home in settings like Bucharest, New York, and Seattle, and several places in between. So there was something extra sweet about reading “Sugar,” a story set in Seattle that I’m finally happy about after three years of living here,  at such a great venue like The Can Can. Hooray!

Reading at The Can Can. Photo by Kristen Young.

I needed a high-res photo for the fellowship webpage, so I asked my friend Sayed Alamy at GuyEatsOctopus to take a few shots. He did a super job!

Photo by Sayed Alamy.

Lit Galore

26 Sep

October in Seattle will be brimming with literary events. Between Arts CrushCity Arts Fest and a whole slew of other goodies, I’ll be glad I went back to drinking coffee and taking my multivitamins! Here are a few events I’m involved with, one way or another:

  • Wed. Oct. 3, 6-7 pm. The Furnace Reading Series Presents “The Last Night at Manuela’s” .What happens when a stage play is adapted for radio? That’s what Buffy Aakaash has done with his award-winning play, which is set in Mexico on the Day of the Dead. Come watch it live as it’s broadcast on Hollow Earth Radio! We’ll have hot chocolate on hand (just sayin’). This is a free and featured Arts Crush event made possible with support from the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs. Hosted by Corinne Manning. (Nb: I kicked off this free quarterly series in August and now help to coordinate it.) Facebook Twitter
  • Sun. Oct. 6, 6-7 pm. Sunset Reading on the Melrose Promenade. An evening of poetry and sunset-gazing featuring the fabulously talented poets Brian McGuigan, Elizabeth Cooperman, and Katherine Ogle, plus one of the best views in Seattle.  One of a string of events promoting the Melrose Promenade project, which is working toward making Melrose Avenue Seattle’s next great open space.
  • Sat. Oct. 27, 1-5 pm. Found Stories at Richard Hugo HouseI’m teaching a one-day class using found objects as generative material for new fiction. Fun! And then, right afterwards…
  • Sat. Oct. 27, 6 pm. Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues reading series at Liberty Bar in Capitol Hill. I’m thrilled to be reading with Eugene Cross, Jane Wong, Katherine DeBlassie, Matthew Nienow, and Suzanne Morrison. Hosted by Zachary Watterson.

Then of course, there’s the marathon Seattle Lit Crawl on Thursday, October 18, meandering from First Hill to Capitol Hill from 5 to 10 pm at which many of my talented writer friends will be reading.

Whew! I think in November I might need a nap.

Northwest Spring

17 Mar

It came early this year. Earlier than the East, but also a month earlier than normal for Seattle. Cherry blossoms budding in late January and bursting in February. Then dogwoods. Then magnolias. The storm clouds were consistently inconsistent, but in them now instead of grays and blues there was also the reflected pink. On my birthday a tsunami warning. Then the fluffy white blossoms turned streets bridal. In early March, it was sunny and warm. M and I rented a canoe and paddled about Portage Bay, lightly buzzed from margaritas shared with friends earlier in the afternoon. We diligently avoided the Montlake shipping canal, the only instructions given by the boat rental place. Of course, even with my life vest on I was nervous of toppling over, every time a motor boat or yacht made waves and we bounced and I heard a faint trickling of water (was there a hole in the canoe?). Eventually I relaxed and we paddled proficiently and enjoyed the near-crisp views of the Cascades and Mount Rainier and contemplated life in Laurelhurst and Sandpoint across the water.

Driving to Portland this past weekend we caught even more spring. So much pink with occasional bursts of yellow forsythia. I couldn’t remember a time I’d seen so many blossoms along the highway. Wandering the neighborhoods of Portland, we didn’t need to stoop to smell the flowers, their fragrances wafted up to us. The friend we were visiting rasped with seasonal allergies. All the pollen, he explained, was stuck in Portland. The geography did not allow it to blow away. He told us it used to be called the sick place. Too much spring. I was relieved my own eyes weren’t bursting with stinging moisture. We saw a play there at the Imago Theater, an “opera beyond words” about an authoratarian typing school, in which the task master (a bit like a business-y, malevolent bride of Frankenstein) skewered out one eye from each typist and hung the ball from its red cords above that typist as he or she sullenly tapped away. We brunched at Screen Door, where M spotted Catherine O’Hara, and then took the streetcar from Nob Hill to the waterfront. Of course we stopped at Powell’s; M picked up Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends and I finally got Irene Nemirovksy’s Suite Francaise, which I’ve been meaning to read for a long time.

Now spring break is upon us. We’re heading back East to visit friends and family, where their own spring should be just emerging.

Chekhov

12 Feb

For my birthday, M. is taking me to see Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Last year, we saw the Classic Stage Company’s rendition of The Seagull (not to be confused with the production that was on Broadway, which I also wanted to see). Sometimes I still walk around the house imitating Dianne Wiest as Arkadina bellowing, god-like, “I am not Jove.”

If you’re into the Chekhov, apparently CSC’s Uncle Vanya (with that handsome Brooklyn couple Maggie Gyllenhaall and Peter Sarsgaard) has been extended until March 8.

Tock Tick

29 Jan

My friend Tim‘s musical Tock Tick is opening at the Prospect Theater on February 5. The enticing blurb promises dragons, seagulls, and interstellar gondoliers, among other things. I am very much looking forward to this show.

Enter Autumn

6 Sep

I’m excited for fall. Aside from the end of wretched, bludgeoning-sun summer, aside from the fresh breezes, crisp air and crunchy leaves and all that good stuff, I’m going to two fun shows at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo.

First, for Halloween I’m seeing the Tiger Lillies, who I first saw in Shockheaded Peter last year (the song “Snip Snip” is still in my head).

Then I’m going on a double date with M and my parents to see the world premier of Lou Reed’s Berlin, in December. It’s going to be depressing. Hooray!

Even sooner than that, I’m going to the Brooklyn Book Festival (yow!) and my friend Andre’s play. Fun will be had.

A Love Like Damien’s

22 Aug

My friend Andre Lancaster is making his directorial debut this September with A Love Like Damien’s at the WOW Cafe Theater in the Village. I saw a staged reading of the play (by Andrea Davis) this past spring; it was quite strong on the bare stage, so I’m looking forward to the full production.

For the clowns

30 Mar

Spoke the Hub is now offering a clowning workshop! I wish I had the time and/or money to partake.

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