13 May 2010

Ur-times


Busy times ahead. 2010 is turning out to be quite a year. An ur-year. I'll explain.


I'm working on translations of Leopoldo María Panero's poetry at the moment. I am also working on a piece about said poet for brand new on-line literary endeavour New Linear Perspectives, whose website looks amazing, and has, amongst other things, just published some poems by bewitching wordsmith Zoe Green.


Leopoldo María Panero resides in a manicomio on the Canary Islands. He writes dark poetry from the other side of sanity with horror-laden images reminsicent of the work of Poe and Ambrose Bierce. But you can read about him at NLP in a few weeks. I've actually just been reading the Devil's Dictionary by nineteenth century American writer Ambrose Bierce and it is unaccountably hilarious. Also known as 'the wickedest man in San Francisco', 'Bitter' Bierce redefined language in his satirical manner, with various targets - here are some of them beginning with A:


Academe (n.): An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught.


Academy (n.): A modern school where football is taught.


Admonition (n.): Gentle reproof, as with a meat-axe.


Affianced (pp.): Fitted with an ankle-ring for the ball-and-chain.


African (n.): A nigger that votes our way.


Clearly, his pot-shots at education, social mores, the sanctity of marriage and race relations were somewhat shocking for genteel 19th century San Fransiscans. What interests me is his gloomy, fetid foray into the horror genre, or the beginnings of it, alongside Edgar Allan Poe, a true sociopath - which brings us circularly back to Panero, a socio-psychopath who declaims the world from his self-imposed exile in a lunatic asylum.


Interesting times.


I am also trying to get my head around Mallarmé and Mallarmian theory, not a happy time for me as Mallarmé's poetry can be as dense as a hedge and the feeling of connecting eye to word is like being pulled through said bush thicket, backwards. And that's just reading the English translation.


Otherwise, trying to hone my translation skills by reading Ezra Pound, according to some "the greatest translator of modern times". Cambridge scholar Clive Wilmer writes interestingly on the journey of a translator through their subject - something he calls the 'search for an ur-language' - especially on the genius of this blog's favourite Ted Hughes, who has translated Ovid's Tales to great success. Ted Hughes knew how to dig deep, exacavate, rebuild, transform. I love that man and his big earthy words. You can read Wilmer's article here, very interesting.


Incidentally, the use of the prefix ur is hilarious and beguiling. I always laughed in German class at school whenever we were forced to mention our great-grandparents. Surprisingly frequently, actually. Maybe the teacher was a gerontophile. He was certainly a minor pervert, but that is another story. He wasn't an ur-pervert, which is the key thing. Anyway, your grandfather and your grandmother are your Urgrossmutter and Urgrossvater in German. I think it should replace the overused uber (you can add your own umlaut as my computer certainly won't do it for you) as a catch-all hyperbolic ephithet.


Go and check out New Linear Perspectives, it is beyond excellent. Urxcellent. Oh yes.
You can buy the rocking Ambrose Bierce t-shirt here.


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