Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Alice Walker Returns from Gaza

At an Oakland event entitled, "The Siege of Gaza is an Attack on the Common Heart," Alice Walker, author of THE COLOR PURPLE and other books, gave a grim account of the horrendous injuries and devastation resulting from Israel's 22-day bombing and invasion of Gaza. "An old woman sitting in the ruins said to me, 'May God protect you from the Jews.' I answered, 'It's too late. I married one.' You've got to keep it real." Ms. Walker suggested that Israel is "like a big Ponzi scheme" -- so many investing so much for so long in something, expecting esteemed values to result, only to end with the legacy left from "grinding a people into dust."
Medea Benjamin, founder of Code Pink and Global Exchange, spoke after Ms. Walker. She said that people in Gaza would bring them the shells that had destroyed their houses, the shells all marked "Made in the USA"

Robert Haas, Poet, Translator, U.S. Poet Laureate

At the Center for the Art of Translation on 14 April 2009, poet, translator, and U.S. Poet Laureate from 1995 to 1997, Robert Haas, who has a sweet and amiable presence, recited some of his translations. Learning Japanese in order to translate haiku, Haas discovered greater details about the haiku form. It is generally known that every haiku refers to a season, but Haas learned a more detailed code; for example, that a reference to plum blossoms suggests the end of winter; cherry blossoms indicate the fullness of spring; etc. -- information is detailed in his book, The Essential Haiku. He recited several of the published haiku with interesting commentary on most of them, or sometimes an ironic pause or a twinkle in his eye was commentary enough. He also recounted the decades-long personal relationship that has facilitated his translations of the work of Czeslaw Milosz.

I intend to write an account of the journey one takes beginning with an original verse in a language other than English and ending with the final version in English. For the artist, and others perhaps, art in the highest sense is in the process of making what ends up as a "piece of art." On the exploration that takes place In the art of translation, you will often find that you have taken the wrong path and have ended in some cul-de-sacs; you must retrace your steps and take a more likely path. In the process of not finding the right way to express the verse in English, you see that forest of that verse from many angles, and some of them are true shadings of the original verse that you would not have discovered without going through the process of translation. Yet you cannot include every shading in the final verse. With the final translation, you have accumulated a personal subtext that contains the multiple layers that cannot be included in the final choices in the final lines. For the translator, the journey of the translation is a three-dimensional structure. The better the verse, the more you are able to walk into it and walk around in it. It can be maddening at first to realize that your true experience of the verse must be truncated, remain a private experience. There is at least one verse where I regret that I did not keep every failed translation of the verse as they record that journey. For that verse, I wished I could make a sculpture of it. I suspect that some of the Mayan stella may reflect that wish – Perhaps after you read each flat surface, you can also read through from one side to the other. If not true of Mayan stella, it is certainly a possibility for some artist.

Tai chi on the pier…
Cormorant drying its wings,
the first position.