Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Geese are back!!!!!!!!!

"Canadian geese knife their way north, racing for summer"

This single line at the bottom of a posting on Paul Martin's* blog last week reminded me they would be coming back soon, and sure enough, today while out walking the dog, there they were, crossing the sky--a small band of them--happily honking away, to announce that Spring is finally here! (Well, ALMOST here, anyway.) *I join with the others in wishing Mr. Martin good health and
the time needed for writing, as he said, the stories he has yet to tell and ideas to explore.

If you ever get a chance to see the film made by Jacques Perrin, called
"Le Peuple Migrateur" ("Winged Migration"), I guarantee you will not be able to tear yourself away from it, not even for a second. Filmed over the course of four years, in 40 countries on all seven continents, involving more than 450 people, including 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers, it followed these creatures' amazing odyssey.[1] [You can hear samples of the soundtrack here.]

If I remember correctly from last year, the returning geese came flying past my house between 6:30 and 7:15 in the mornings, the largest number of them. A sky full of undulating, fluttering V's--barking a song one never, ever, tires of.

They're back!!!!!!! :)

Noted Recently

"Patient, time consuming, mudraking investigative journalism is not a commodity like any other. It is not a beer, or a car, or even a collateralised debt obligation. It is an irreducible public good. Without it, the powers get away with whatever they want." [Ian Dunt's article Friday re: the death of newspapers, 3/27/2009]

Jain PharmaBioTech, in 2007: "In eight years, the world market for antiviral drugs, excluding vaccines, will be approximately $60 billion." [1].

Biolex: "Hepatitis C is a $5 billion market." [Independent market research predicts that total interferon sales for the treatment of hepatitis C will exceed $5 billion by 2014. [2]

"Codex Alimentarius has brought back 7 of the 9 forbidden persistant organic pollutants banned by 176 countries." [Dr. Rima Laibow in video re: Nutricide].

"The bourgeois women are stupid and insignificant, and the nouveaux riche are boring, but the paintings I do of them are masterpieces." [plaque seen 2 weeks ago at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts quoting artist Kees van Dongen]

"I am a vulgar man. But my music, I assure you, is not." [Mozart, as played by Tom Hulce, in the film, Amadeus].

"Be like a postage stamp. Stick to it until you get there." -- Harvey Mackay

"Il n'est jamais trop tard pour apprendre!" [my French teacher, last week, in her kitchen].

Friday, March 27, 2009

Love of Words: Guilty!

[Photo by awyn]

Continuing the theme of my last post--the difficulty of translating poetry--here's an original poem written in words no longer commonly used, and a playful attempt to "translate" it. (I get to say it's a definitive translation 'cuz I'm both the author and the translator.)

I'm conducting this little exercise because I love working with words--and because it gives me new insights, both into poetry and into word meanings. I must include a disclaimer, however, that this in no way pretends to be good poetry. It does, however, communicate certain personal reflections gleaned from several mental journeys, walking amongst words stuffed in my head, lining my pocket, floating in the air--itching to just jump out, joggle the pencil perched in my ear, crying "Pick me! Say me! Let us out!"

Walking with Words

Vicambulating through life
squiriferously, not like a foppotee,
I am a sparsile in a universe of vacivity.

Despite my pigritude, I emerge from my latibule.
Ever the inveteratist lover of serantique utterances,
I adimpleate on locupletative pleasantries.
Neither graviloquence, nor kexy tortiloquy this.
Historiasters will tudiculate me. I obstrigillate
their moriscant, cynicocratical obaceration to pessundate my blateration.

Hymnicides prevail:
theirs, mine.
But not our sodalitiousocity.


Strolling through life
graciously, not as a simpleton,
I am unknown in a universe of emptiness.

Despite my languidness, I've come out of my shell,
championing forgotten words.
I replenish myself with these enriching pleasantries.
Neither serious talk, nor stuffy elusiveness, this.

I shall resist the squawking word pickers!
Their caustic pricking, intended to silence me,
to obliterate my humble verse, will fail.

Words can be killed by tweaking, twisting, changing.
We are word people joined at the hip
watching the massacre,
or evolving, magnificent creations
that emerge.

So delicious!!

--Annie Wyndham

Okay, calling my blaterations "hymns" may be going a bit far but it's not meant in the churchy sense. More like a general song of ... joy. Or if not joy exactly, then appreciation. (For words, that they just are.)

Notice I added words that were not in the original. Translators sometimes do this for clarification, although one must be careful not to overdue it. (As for reciting this poem out loud, forget it. I found I could barely READ it without cracking up laughing (or cursing, stumbling over the words. The word "torture" comes to mind, ha ha) .

Glossary of Word Meanings for words used in the "poem":

vicambulate = to walk about in the streets.
squiriferous = having the character or qualities of a gentleman.
foppotee = a simple-minded person.
sparsile = a star, not included in any constellation.
vacivity = emptiness.
pigritude = laziness.
latibule = hiding place.
inveteratist = one who resists reform, one who holds to tradition.
austerulous = slightly brutal.
serantique = very old or ancient.
adimpleate = to fill up.
locupletative = tending to enrich.
graviloquence = grave speech.
kexy = brittle,withered.
tortiloquy = dishonest or immoral speech.
historiaster = a contemptible historian.
tudiculate = to bruise or pound.
obstrigillate = to oppose, resist.
moriscant = producing the sensation of repeated biting or pricking.
Cynicocratical = pertaining to rule by cynics.
obaceration = the act of stopping one's mouth.
pessundate = to cast down or destroy.
blateration = (n.) act of blabbering, chattering.
hymnicide = killing of hymns through alterations.
sodalitious = belonging to society or fellowship. [Note: This is an adjective, but I made a noun out of it. Writers are allowed to make up new words.]

If you're wondering where I got these wonderful old words, go to Save the Words, where you can "adopt" a word, to ensure it does not remain an orphan and gets a new life.

And for more word galleries, check out Victorian Humor: Modern Meaning to Old Words. I especially liked the one for housewifery.

Synchronicity: Found a poem by William and asked to put it on my website/ looked at William's website / Found a link to Silliman's Blog/ read Silliman's blog this morning / found a link to Save the Words/ it's the words' fault/ They simply can't contain themselves/no matter what/ Never have/ What is one to do?/.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Translating Basho

Thanks to Stephen Kohl of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Oregon for putting online five different English translations (as well as the original, in Japanese) of Basho’s travel journal in 1689: The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Here are five different translations of his haiku poem, "Monokaite" (Farewell, my old fan), in the chapter entitled Station 39: Maruoka:

Farewell, my old fan.
Having scribbled on it,
What could I do but tear it
At the end of summer?
(Translator: Yuasa) [1]

I'll scribble something on it
And tear up my faithful summer fan:
Just a farewell sonnet! (Translator: Britton) [2]

What was composed
on the fan wrenched apart
subsides together. (Translator: Corman) [3]

Hard to say good-bye
To tear apart the old fan
Covered with scribbles. (Translator: McCullough) [4]

Scribbled all over,
The summer fan might be rejected now,
But for its memories. (Translator: Miner) [5]

Now, the word "scribble" and and the word "compose" conjure up entirely different images for me.
I found that each translation elicited a completely different reaction.

While the chapter''s Discussion section enabled me to understand the poem a little better, it made my choice of which translated version to choose to follow infinitely more difficult. (And the words "some have suggested", "other documents suggest", and "what seems most likely is .." tells me maybe nobody really knows for sure what actually took place and they are making educated guesses.)

Where the translations differ is in what each chooses to emphasize. What was it about each version that caught my interest more? Was it (1) the fan as a cherished object? (2) the significance of the scribbling on the fan? (3) the reason for discarding the fan? or (4) the emotion(s) connected with the event?

There are those who agonize (or delight) in analyzing and rating which translation of a particular work is the "more definitive". Assuming someone has the inclination (and time!) to plow through all existing translations of a work and meticulously compare them, I'd be curious to know what the criteria for selection/rejection were
. But too much explanation in translating can be disastrous, for while it would probably be instructive, I could also foresee it's overwhelming me with even more threads to unravel, more sources to read, more historical and cultural trails to investigate, taking me away from the pleasure of sitting down and just reading any version. (Here, for example, are NINE different translations of the opening paragraph of this book, and here are THIRTY-ONE different translations of Basho's "Frog Haiku". Which version would you pick--and why?)

Even if one were able to read and fully understand both languages—the original and its translation--why does the translated text sometimes resonate more deeply with some of us than the original? (And by extension, X's translation of Basho more so than Y's?) Is it that the words seem richer or more expressive (or in some cases, less superfluous) that makes it more meaningful? Do we see the meaning of the words more clearly in one version than in another (regardless of what Basho may or may not have intended in the original poem)?

What fascinates me here though, is the process that seems to be unfolding when one act of creativity (the original poem) reappears, in a somewhat altered fashion, as another act of creativity, in another language). I’m phrasing this badly. But translations are not merely creative interpretations whereby one’s "song" is sung by someone else in a different language . Something else is taking place.

Words in the process of translation become two voices—that of the poet and that of the translator. The work
that results is a combination of the joined voices of the two, but there's a third voice, that of Poetry itself. ( I remember reading somewhere once that Petrarch considered that translation of a poem is to the original poem as a son is to his father, i.e., they share the same blood but each has his own distinct soul. Poetry, like blood in one's veins, flows like a creative force connecting the poet, the translator, and the reader, as it pulsates, spreads, changes and renews itself. Perhaps it's not so much a "voice" as it is an invitation to participate in its unfolding. I sense this happening; I only wish my clumsy attempt at explanation weren't so ... clumsy.

Can it be that the meaning of a poem doesn't actually come from the poet but from the words themselves? Poetry has many meanings, and translating/rearranging/reworking words of a poem in order to share them with a wider group of readers is kind of like poetry spreading itself. The translator, besides facilitating that flow, also recreates new meanings.

I came to the surprising realization that it is not Basho’s poems per se, as wonderful as they are—nor even the visual delight of viewing the gallery of images evoked by the several translations--that intrigued me so much as the unintended observation of what seems to me to be the evolution of that third element, brought forth in the creative process generally, and its extraordinary manifestation not only in words, but in art and music as well.

Kenneth Rexroth said that many of Basho's haiku "are as puzzling to Japanese as they are to Western scholars," that "they"resemble Zen mondos; but lurking behind their mystery is not the ultimate empirical religious experience of Zenism but Basho's own very odd and very refined personality. The translator of Basho sets himself the task of solving a whole set of telescoping conundrums, like Chinese boxes, in intercultural transmission." He also notes that, "the prosody of haiku is totally unknown to almost all haiku devotees in the West and bears exhaustive study, especially by those amateurs who think all you have to do is string together an imagist whimsy in seventeen syllables." [6].

I wish I were more familiar with the Japanese language and culture. Despite the many ways of singing Basho, I think his original voice still comes through sometimes, loud and clear.

Translations referenced:
From The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, trans. Nobuyuki Yuasa, Penguin Books, 1966.
The Narrow Road to the Interior, in Classical Japanese Prose: An Anthology, trans. Helen Craig McCullough, 1990.
Back Roads to Far Towns, trans. Cid Corman and Kamaike Susume, Grossman Publishers, 1968.
Haiku Journey: Basho's Narrow Road to a Far Province, trans. Dorothy Britton, Kodansha International, 1974.
From The Narrow Road Through the Provinces, in Japanese Poetic Diaries, trans. Earl Miner, University of California, 1969.

Other translations:
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, trans. Tim Chilcott (2004) online here. (Japanese text alongside English translation)

Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings. trans. Sam Hamill. Boston: Shambhala, 2000.
The Narrow Road to Oku. trans. Donald Keene, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1997.
Bashô’s Narrow Road, trans. Hiroaki Sato, 1996.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Apocalyptic Haiku Dream

Overweight, her cupboards bare
Mother Earth implodes.
News at eleven.

-- Annie Wyndham

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chinese Government: Shut Up or Else

Late in the evening of December 8, 2008, two days before the 60th anniversary of the UN General Assembly's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Liu Xiaobo was taken away from his home by police. Another dissident and scholar, Zhang Zuhua, was also taken away by police at that time. According to Zhang, the two were detained on suspicion of gathering signatures to a charter appealing for greater respect of human rights in China. [1]

A literary critic and former professor of literature, Liu Xiaobo has been held in incommunicado detention since December 8, 2008. Human Rights Watch has pointed out that the detention of Liu Xiaobo is arbitrary and violates the minimum procedural guarantees specified under Chinese law. Over 30 signatories of Charter 08 have been questioned, summoned by the police, or put under surveillance since Liu's arrest. [2]

Liu Xiaobo has been arrested repeatedly since he spent 20 months in detention after the 1989 protests. He was jailed for three years in the 1990s but remains among the most outspoken and irrepressible critics of the system. [3]

Write but
don't rock the boat

Fear of writers. Fear of criticism.
Fear of the truth.
You can wash away the blood from Tiananmin Square--
but not words.
You can't kill their words.
There is no net big enough
to catch all the words.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I don’t ever remember you
tapping your foot
in time to music.

Not even

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I Didn't Know ...

Recently learned that:

Chocolate is toxic to dogs -- it can kill them.

High school students in Finland must have studied FOUR languages before graduating.

More than 90% of the soy, and most of the corn, canola, papaya, white rice and cotton crops in the U.S. have been genetically manipulated, with government approval.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

another war casualty

Spc. Simone Robinson, age 21. Died Sunday at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas of severe burn injuries sustained in Kabul, Afghanistan when attacked by a suicide bomber while providing security for a fuel truck outside the base. It was her first time in a war zone. She had only been there a few weeks. She leaves behind a two-year old daughter.[1]