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Translations by American Poets

18/05/2010

Translations by American Poets
Edited by Jean Garrigue
Ohio University Press
(1970)

Without a doubt, one of the essential pleasures of the reading life is discovering writers in other languages. Do you remember the first time you read Neruda, Celan, Rimbaud, Amichai, Homer? Longinus spoke of the Sublime in terms of “transport,” and certainly there’s no better avenue to literary budget travel than by way of poetry in translation. What, after all, captures the complexities of a culture better than its poetic tradition?

Garrigue’s Translations by American Poets is an exciting and wonderfully diverse collection of, well, translations by American Poets. Perhaps Garrigue decided that a book with such a rich table of contents didn’t need to be dressed up with a fancy title. And make no doubt, the table of contents is rich. What’s most refreshing about this anthology is its assortment of odd bedfellows. Here are the Americans: Ben Belitt, Elizabeth Bishop, Paul Blackburn, Roberty Bly, Louise Bogan, Philip Booth, John Malcolm Brinnin, Stanley Burnshaw, Hayden Carruth, Babette Deutsch, James Dickey, Robert Duncan, Richard Eberhart, Dudley Fitts, Isabella Gardner, Jean Garrigue, Barbara Gibbs Golffing, Francis Golffing, Arthur Gregor, Donald Hall, Anthony Hecht, Ruth Herschberger, Edwin Honig, Barbara Howes, Galway Kinnell, Stanley Kunitz, Richmond Lattimore, Lynne Lawner, Denise Levertov, John Logan, Robert Lowell, James Merrill, W.S. Merwin, Stanley Moss, Kenneth Rexroth, Adrienne Rich, May Sarton, Louis Simpson, W.D. Snodgrass, Gary Snyder, William Stafford, Stephen Stepanchev, May Swenson, Allen Tate, Theodore Weiss, and Richard Wilbur. These poets translate numerous poets, both popular and obscure, from several language, including Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.

One aspect we at The Olives of Oblivion find particularly compelling about Translations by American Poets is that it’s organized by American poet, not translated poet, language, geography, or era. In Richard Wilbur’s section, for example, Andrei Voznesensky is followed by Anna Akhmatova, who in turn is followed by Francois Villon, Joachim Du Bellay, and Giuseppe Ungaretti. This makes for a constantly surprising and very readable anthology.

To make matters better, there are several inexpensive copies of Translations by American Poets on abebooks. We found about 30 copies listed from between 1 and 20 dollars. The copy shown here is particularly interesting because it’s signed by Garrigue not once, not twice, but three times. All the better for us.

Yvon Goll (translated by Galway Kinnell)

WHERE ARE THESE SHIPS TAKING ALL OUR SILENCE?

Where are these ships taking all our silence?
Where will they discharge the charcoal of our midnights?
The wild gold of our dreams?
Will they dump it into the trench of oceans
Into the human eye of storms?

I was the longshoreman who lugged the black evil
The oil of vice on his back
Bent under the tons of his destiny
Bowed down by the weight of his ridiculous flesh

I drank my sweat in long gulps
I chewed the crust of misery
I had to wash it all down with the fatal liquor
Schnapps made from death-root

*

The Olives of Oblivion was  an anonymous site dedicated to contemporary poetry that ran during 2008. The critics have permitted The Owls to revisit the essays.

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