Saturday, January 22, 2011

Catullus, Translated by Ryan Gallagher

The full title of this is: The Complete Poems of Gaius Valerius Catullus, published by Bootstrap Press (2008). Bootstrap’s website is currently under construction. I choose not to bury the lead: this is a worthy translation of a fascinating poet.

Ryan Gallagher is one of the founder’s of the press, which is located in Lowell. Chugging away in Lowell. I was given this book a couple years ago, and wrote about it here at Tributary. This book deserves greater notice.

Catullus wrote with such vigour that his writing retains great energy despite the centuries passed. What if Ted Berrigan were born in 84 BCE…? Or Wieners…?

I had a translation years ago that I found dreadful because of the translator’s attempt to sound contemporary. Alas, it merely sounded anachronistic. The slang, which, like with Villon, is part of the richness of the writing, was not that of the translator’s day (the 60s, I think), but more like the 20s and 30s. Anachronistic anachronisms, a layered misplay. Needless to say, I discarded the book and forgot the translator’s name.

The mistake is not in trying to capture the vitality of Catullus’ language, but that the translator used essentially another foreign language to bring Catullus to modern readers. It didn’t work. Perhaps for no reason, I am reminded of a book reviewed by Poe. The book was written in English but the footnotes (by the author) were unaccountably in French. It is a curious extra effort, and it seems like that translator likewise sweated more than necessary.

That identifies the charm of Gallagher’s versions. He doesn’t seem to be sweating it. He’s a poet, schooled at Naropa. He brings to mind Brian in Life of Brian, versus the centurion. The centurion (as you will recall) catches Brian writing inflammatory graffiti. The stern representative of Rome chastises Brian for poor declensions, forget Brian’s anti-imperialist message. One would think that Pound’s admonishments a century ago would have cleared things up in the world of translation, but too many ‘scholarly’ translations redeem themselves like a stick in the mud. They fail to transmit the energy.

The poems are coarse and lively and not fit for work. They are really fun to read. They breathe quite well in English. Gallagher clearly enjoys Catullus, didn’t just grab the first Latin poet handy.

I wish the Latin originals were set facing the translation just to see better what Gallagher translated from. One always wants to piece what one can from the original.

Gallagher devotes 40 pages to essays written on various aspects of Catullus. His review of previous translations—he does not seem to include the clunky one I first met Catullus with—not only gives a good sense of the field, but also clarifies Gallagher’s own attitude towards the poet and towards translation. This is a particularly fresh and useful document.

I wonder if this work did not spring from some college project, a masters thesis or such. Gallagher is curiously modest with this work. His name remains small on the cover and the title page. Not that he is meek, but he seems like an island of one against the continent of entrenched scholarship. He’s not satisfying some university press here, nor acting out of publish or die. His glowingest words go to the translation by the Zukofskys, which, tho well scholarshipped, as I understand, is certainly a wild experiment,.

You know the wisecrack: if you can’t play, coach. No less true, it seems: if you can’t write, translate. Gallagher cracks that one. This book is pissa, verging on wicked pissa.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Musing: Writing, Jason Bourne, and Stuff

Over the past while I have been more formal in my blog posting. What’s a blog posting? the children ask. Blogs are places where writing can go. A posting is just an attempt to make use of the Internet. Okay.

I turned to formality, as well as formality and I can suit each other, with the intention of upping the ante for the format. I do not begrudge my own loose wheels—blogs of yesteryear—and was entertained by the loose wheels of others, but since we have Facebook and Twitter to collect our junky side, I might as well just use the blog space to stretch my writing muscles. It is just a website.

So anyway, my review yesterday of Silk Egg by Eileen Tabios reveals something I might as well admit: It’s all about me. In the reviews that I have done, which have appeared either here or at Galatea Resurrects, I find myself declaring my own sense of poetry and the making. I think I have been kind enough not to play the Boolean card, this versus that, especially not undermining the reviewed work so that I could overmine my own. But the reviewed fairly can wonder of whom and what I write. The connections are mine, certainly.

When I first began reading poetry, I did so out of duty. I held strong resistance towards the poetry that I had met, the received wisdom of generations of bored English teachers. All poetry was magically mysterious to me in a disagreeable way. Mallarme or Norman Mailer (the poet) caused me equal consternation, in that I could not fathom the function or interest in poetry.

After much study involving the nature of my own resistance and a sense of possibility in my own work, I developed enough critical acumen to give me what I need. When I resist, I know I have to look at that. So my reviews are naught but peeks thru portals, that sort of thing.

Regarding Jason Bourne, watched his Ultimatum last night. I saw an earlier one, tho I cannot tell you which. Beth has read the books, which probably make more sense. Movie making often focuses on its strength, the blur of action. How plot and character might go together sometimes gets left behind.

Ultimatum seems like the same thing as the previous one I saw. Bourne races around, chasing and chased, and engages in blurry hand-to-hand. In the 1st Tim Burton Batman, Joker speaks of fighting mano against mano. But anyway.

Matt Damon’s efficiency in all things spy is fun to watch. He always has the drop on his enemy. The fight scenes explode in quick cut agitation. Apparently the camera operator gets a few licks in too. Bones should be breaking and arteries bursting but until Damon’s opponent wears down, it’s WWE. Damon ends up with a cut over his eye and a sore pinkie.

Previously, he had a woman with him, much different in the book. She’s outside the spy network, till she meets Bourne. She dies, perhaps in an episode that I missed. A woman briefly appears in this one, inside the network. She helps him a bit, tho not much in one of the fisticuffs. She doesn’t look like the one who died but seemed to be a ghost thereof. She is swept out of he story after much rooftop running by Bourne to save her. At the end, it looks like Bourne has been killed, tho at least the devious CIA black ops have been revelated. We see the second woman hearing the news, and smirking at the idea of Bourne dying. And then we discover that Jason has not drownded in the river after a 10-story fall. So maybe Bourne’s More Than Ultimatum awaits. It’s a fun action movie, relentless. Beth says the books are great.

And just to note, I’ve been reading William Manchester’s book about the Krupp family, the arms dealers. It is a lengthy and detailed book. For at least four generations, the company was run by one man each generation. The eldest heir got full control of the company. Brother, it’s a family of single-minded monomaniacs.

Alfred took the faltering steel company into the arms industry. This brought him in contact with Kaiser Wilhelm I. He wrote reams of letters, about steel, about weapons, about the business, and about nothing else.

Fritz was a better business person, and Krupp grew and grew. A scandal in Capri came to light, wild times with young men. I’m amazed that his monomania allowed him the time off. This was an Oscar Wildean situation. Fritz’s estranged wife went to the Kaiser, to get him to stop this embarrassment. The Kaiser threatened to lock her up in an asylum, because the arms supplier was that important. The scandal grew and Fritz killed himself. Like I say, I am amazed that a Krupp found time to do anything but study steel and build armament.

Fritz’s heirs were daughters, which would not do, so the eldest was married to Gustav von something, and thru legerdemain by Kaiser II, he legally inherited the business. And did so just like the previous two. Arms for both sides of WWI.

The company survived the interbellum period by utilizing its astonishing assets. Gustav attached to the Nazi movement. Once Germany began occupying countries, Gustav would race in and take over businesses. The story of Robert Rothschild shook me. Legalities, at this early stage of the war, were being observed, sort of. Rothschild tried to get his company into non-Jewish hands, but that legal trick was swept aside. He lost the company, but Gustav kept them pressing. Robert was chased down, and placed on a train to Auschwitz.

Gustav’s son Alfried became second in command as his father reached dotage. Slave labour, child labour, and Alfried as aristocratic as can be. It is an amazing story that is difficult to entail. It’s history, it’s a story, but it is too much.