I was away this weekend in Burgundy spending a few days doing (a much-needed) nothing, just walking about with my family and visiting small villages, some wine tasting, and plenty of good food. While on this small trip, I read Anne Carson’s short essay “Nay Rather.” Then I read it again. And this morning, I’ve read it a third time. Such a beautiful essay (and the accompanying poems are a treat as well). It’s about translation and so speaks to much of what I love to think about—untranslatability, how language works to create pause (in thought, in communication, in understanding), how language attempts (and/or fails) to replicate experience. Carson uses several examples to talk around these ideas—the trial transcripts of Joan of Arc, Francis Bacon’s artwork and how he rejected narrative, and Friedrich Hölderlin’s extremely literal translations of Antigone.
I read parts of “Nay Rather” to my daughter on Saturday when none of us could sleep while a very bad musician played LOUDLY on the street corner outside of our hotel, and she loved hearing about Joan of Arc because last year we stayed with friends in a place where Joan was supposed to have spent a night once (and my daughter first heard a version of Joan‘s story from a friend who is an inveterate storyteller). My daughter absolutely loved this line, “The light comes in the name of the voice,” as well as many of the lines from Carson’s poem “By Chance the Cycladic People”—her favorite being, “Clouds every one of them smell different, so do ocean currents.” It is such a joy that children do not mind this kind of language. None of it struck her as odd, she just loved how it all sounded.
So today I am happily focused on this idea of Carson’s of writing/language that “stops itself.” I think that Clarice Lispector does a lot of this, which is why some people may find her difficult to read. And I think that Hélène Bessette does this in her 1954 novel maternA (which hasn’t yet been translated, alas). Poetic language does this more than non-lyrical writing—it is so often about disrupting thought or creating heavy silences—but one of Carson’s examples is as non-lyrical as you can get. I’m quite certain there are thousands of examples, and I’d love to hear from anyone else. What other writers and works do this?
A quick aside: In our meandering visits, we passed very close to the small village near Yonne where Colette was born. There is a small museum in her former childhood home, but we didn’t get there. I was thinking about Colette recently, reminding myself to read more of her work, but also because she is one of the writers on my list of “women who have yet to be (completely) translated.” Much of her work, thankfully, is available in English, but not all of it.
I’ve had a few pieces come out lately that I haven’t point to here. The first two are reviews, of Jonas T. Bengtsson’s A Fairy Tale (tr. Charlotte Barslund) and Ethel Rohan’s short memoir Out of Dublin. I really enjoyed both books, although they are very different from each other—both are unique love stories, both play with language (in very different ways), and both are about the effects of childhood on an adult.
And while I was away this weekend, Issue 9 – “The Disappearance Issue” – of Spolia came out, which includes one section of a forthcoming chapbook of mine called “Elemental: Variations.” There are many wonderful pieces in this issue, plenty of reasons besides my little contribution to download and support Spolia.
While I’m reporting on publications, I have a small poem—“nightjars”—in the latest issue of The Ann Arbor Review.
I have the immense pleasure of reading through the Readux catalogue at the moment, and getting ready to write about these charming little books. If you don’t know Readux, take a moment to see what they’re about.
Here are some of the other books floating about my life at the moment: three different Anne Carson are supposed to grace my postbox today or tomorrow: Glass, Irony & God; Men in the Off Hours; and Red Doc>. I cannot wait for these. And then a friend has pointed me in the direction of Monique Roffey’s Archipelago and The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng. So that’s me, what are you reading?