05 September 2014

Rilke's Blue Hydrangea, in the William Gass translation and my own

I wanted to present my own translation of Rilke's Blue Hydrangea / Blaue Hortensie side by side with Rilke's original and William Gass's, not to cast doubt on Gass's work, but rather to question the dominance of the Michael Hofmann canon of 20th century German Poems (2005) and their translators, in which Gass's translation appears. Rilke's reception in the English speaking world has spawned to such proportions that there's many a mini ~ and a fair share maxi ~ careers to me made in translating and writing about him. I belong, on the other hand, to the much larger group who will probably never make a cent from their Rilke translations: and it's a relief for me to no longer want to. Many of these translations can stand tall when set against the Hofmann canon. Let us see more examples in blogs, in magazines and in print of them doing so.

BLAUE HORTENSIE                                                 BLUE HYDRANGEA (Holland)                                                  BLUE HYDRANGEA (Gass)

So wie das letzte Grün in Farbentiegeln                    So like that last bit green in artists' paint-pots                 Like the green that cakes in a pot of paint
sind diese Blätter, trocken, stumpf und rauh                   are these here leaves, dry and coarse and raw                    these leaves are dry, dull and rough
hinter den Blüttendolden, die ein Blau                        behind the flowers' umbels, whose blueness                      behind this billow of blooms whose blue
nicht auf sich tragen, nur von ferne spiegeln                isn't from the petals but's reflected from afar.                is not their own but reflected from far away

Sie spiegeln es verweint und ungenau,                          Reflected inexact and washed with tears                          in a mirror dimmed by tears and vague,
als wollten sie es wiederum verlieren,                        as if it wants to lose it in its turn,                           as if it wished them to disappear again
und wie in alten blauen Briefpapieren                         and like in writing paper, old and blue,                         the way, in old blue writing paper
ist Gelb in ihnen, Violett und Grau;                           violet is in them, and grey and yellow too.                       yellow show, then violet and gray;

Verwaschnes wie an einer Kinderschürze                 Washed out as if from out a child's apron                   a washed-out color as in children's clothes
Nichtmehrgetragnes, dem nichts mehr geschiet:       with which nothing more will happen, no longer worn:        which, no longer worn, no more can happen to:
wie füllt man eines kleinen Lebens Kürze.                    how we feel the shortness of one small life.                    how it makes you feel a small life's brevity.

Doch plötzlich scheint das Blau sich zu verneuen                    But suddenly the blue seems to renew                    But suddenly the blue shines quite renewed
in einer von den Dolden, und man sieht                     itself among the umbels, and then you see                    within one cluster, and we can see
ein rührend Blaues sich vor Grünem freuen.                     a touching blueness cheer before the green.                a touching blue rejoice before the green.

Gass's translation was published in  Michael Hofmann (editor). The Faber Book of 20th Century German Poems. London: Faber and Faber, 2005. 6.

In citing Gass's translation in full, I refer to the stipulations regarding citation in German copyright law. Gass actually chooses to divide his poem into an 8-line opening stanza and a 6-line closing stanza, a way of presenting sonnets which has strong precedent. I've changed Gass's two stanzas into four stanzas ~ but have not altered his line-breaks, or anything else in his poem ~ to make it easier for the reader to compare it to my own, or Rilke's original, which presents this sonnet in two opening stanzas of four lines and two concluding stanzas of three lines, as I have done above.
Readers should query all translations, and if any reader wants to know more about my word choices in this translation, they can look at one of my earlier blog posts. Laying out translations side by side might change the consciousness of translators and readers: when reading and/or translating a single poem, the translation is no stand alone exhibit but rather a single patch in the mammoth quilt of Rilke translation, stitched away at since the early 1900s.

06 June 2014

Uwe Tellkamp, Rosa Luxemburg and Peter Rühmkorf: would you go to that party?

I finally got round to collating the translations I've been doing over the last three years, the work already published and what is forthcoming. Looking back on them, the writers I've translated appear to me like guests invited to a rather odd party, where people often don't know what to say to each other, but where the guests are still determined to linger. Long after courtesy has called to say that it is time that they were fetching their coats.

Here's the list:
* A sample translation, commissioned by Suhrkamp, from Uwe Tellkamp's award winning novel The Tower. My translation can be read at the Suhrkamp website, here. This is the scene where the young doctors from different wards of an early 1980s East German hospital are fiercely competing for the Socialist Challenge Cup: Who's got the best Christmas tree? Dressed in Father Christmas outfits, they break into The Party's private plantation, at dead of night, where each tree is hung with the name of a leading city functionary, and nick one of the finest evergreens.

 Interestingly, it is only since Suhrkamp published this sample translation at the start of 2012 that they've gone on to sell English world rights digital for this book to Frisch & Co., and to sell English world rights print to Penguin Press, both sales happening a full five years after the novel was published, and after the rights had already been sold for all other major world languages.

* A translation of Michael Buselmeier, German novelist and poet. My translation of an excerpt of his novel The Fall of Heidelberg was published in the magazine No Man's Land, edited by Isabel Fargo Cole, Katy Derbyshire and Cathrine Hales, in 2013. Full text plus me reading an audio version of the translation are available in the online edition of the magazine, here.

28 May 2014

Maßvoll ist das nicht: Der 17. Juni 1953 und die LINKE

Ob die überhaupt in der Öffentlichkeit wahrgenommen wird ist eine andere Frage, dass diese Menschengruppe tätig sind ist eine Tatsache: In August 2007, zwei Monaten nach Entstehung der Linkspartei, hat diese Partei eine Historische Kommission gebildet. Die Historische Kommission (HK) arbeitet heute noch auf Grundlage von einem Beschluss des Parteivorstands der damaligen PDS aus dem Jahr 2001. Aus 27 Mitglieder insgesamt gibt es vier weibliche Mitglieder.

Ich stehe die Linkspartei nah, vor allem wegen ihrer Gerechtigkeitspolitik und ihrer Bekämpfung von Waffenexporten, bin aber kein aktives Mitglied. Eine tiefer gehende, offene Gesprächskultur, über die Vergangenheit aller Mitglieder der Partei, fehlt es mir, gänzlich. Ich hatte gehofft, dass die HK neuer Arten von Gesprächen in der Partei ermöglichen könnte. Neue Stellungnahmen zu wichtigen historischen Ereignisse könnten zu neuen Beziehungen mit der Vergangenheit führen: Hatte ich mir gewünscht. In der Stellungnahme vom Sprecherrat der H.K. 'Der 17. Juni 1953 im Bannkreis politischer Interessen' (veröffentlicht Mai 2013) wird diesen Aufklärungsauftrag nicht vollbracht. 

15 May 2014

Yahya Hassan: who needs a new poetry of hate?

An 18 year old Palestinian immigrant growing up in Denmark, Yahya Hassan, publishes last October his first book of poems. Thanks to a interview in the Danish daily newspaper Politiken at the start of November, subtlely titled I F***ing Hate My Parents’ Generation, sales of the book caught fire. By Christmas, the book has sold 100 000 copies, which, as the German journalist Jörg Lau correctly points out, is the equivalent of a poetry debut selling one million in a country like Germany or the UK, if you compare the size of the German or UK population with that of Denmark. By April this year the German translation was out, published by Ullstein, and translated by Annette Hellmut and Michel Schleh. Unsurprisingly, there's no English language translation out yet; and I'd be very surprised if any English language poet with any name whatsoever would be willing to touch it. It's the kind of poetry that could very quickly loose you a name:


(I've quoted here in my own translation from A. Hellmut's and M. Schleh's German translation, as quoted in Die Zeit newspaper of 16.04.2014. I refer to the German law of quotation (Zitatsrecht) for my right to quote this poem.)

Those capital letters are Hassan's, not mine: he only writes in capitals. Jörg Lau didn't quote this passage in capitals, but in a poetically conservative mixture of lower and upper case, and that makes me suspicious: did Ullstein chicken out of publishing a fully capitalised version, because they thought that would be one can of beery-rage too much for the German audience? I certainly won't be buying this book, but I will be making what for me is an exceptional trip to a German book shop, to get an answer to this capital question.
If all of this sounds like bad satire, it isn't sadly. Stranger than the book itself is, I find, the rapturous reception of the book by the German establishment critics. Jörg Lau writes, for example, 'This book has strains of a lyrical Bildungsroman, it reads like the story of a self becoming itself, through the medium of poetry.' If the type of Bildung Yahya Hassan went through means you come out writing poetry like this then I wonder how we can cut back on that type of education in Europe.

06 May 2014

Sails made of Salt. New Scottish Writing this Friday, 9th May, Hamburg.

I'm going to be doing this event – 'Sails Made of Salt' – this Friday in Hamburg: all about new Scottish poetry, prose and song on the eve of (possible) independence. It's going to be a multilingual evening, with readings of the English and Scots original texts, and the High German and North German translations. I'll be reading reciting together with my Writers' Room colleague Andreas Greve, who the Hamburger Abendblatt dubbed "The Everyday Poet from Altona" – Andreas remains coy as to whether that bit of praise really pleased him or not.

We'll be reading poems and prose by Tom Leonard, Iain Crichton Smith, Lewis Grassic Gibbons: and of course things that Andreas and I have written ourselves.

Come along! There are bound to be some other ex-pats hanging around, looking for the free drinks.... Place: Alte Dosenfabrik, Stresemannstraße 374, 2nd Floor, Haus B, Hamburg.
Time: this Friday, 9th May, 7 pm
Entrance: €7 (€5 concessions).

Segel aus Salz. Neue schottische Literatur. Freitag 9.5.

Mit großem Dank an Falk Zirkel von Zirkeldesign für die Entwicklung des Story Boat Logos, oben, in 2011. Und an Jerry Knispel, der die Entwicklung des Logos stark unterstützt hat. 'Segel aus Salz' ist der Titel von Iain Crichton Smiths Gedichte, in Elmar Schenkels deutschsprachiger Übersetzung, die 2008 in der Edition Rugerup erschien. Ich bin Elmar Schenkel sehr dankbar, dass er mir seinen Erlaubnis erteilt hat, von seiner Übersetzung diesen Freitag zu lesen.

Freitag, 9. Mai 2014, 19 Uhr
Segel aus Salz: Neue schottische Literatur am Vorabend der Unabhängigkeit
Performance-Lesung mit Henry Holland und Andreas Greve
Ort: Alte Dosenfabrik, Stresemannstraße 374, Haus B, 2. Stock
Wird der schottische Nationalismus so tolerant und international bleiben, wie er sich zurzeit gern präsentiert? Wie haben schottische Schriftsteller in den letzten Jahren zu den nationalen Bestrebungen beigetragen oder sich vom Politikgeschäft distanziert? Im Herbst stimmt Schottland über seine Unabhängigkeit ab – höchste Zeit für den schottischen Übersetzer und Autor Henry Holland, der Sache mit den Schotten und der Nation auf den Grund zu gehen.
Stimmen auf Norddeutsch
​wird ​
von Andreas Greve
​, "Alltagsdichter aus Altona" (Hamburger Abendblatt)
​ beigetragen​
Mit seinem satirischen Grußwort „Meine Ernennung zum schottischen Honorarkonsul zu Hamburg“ stimmt Henry Holland auf den Abend ein, bevor er sich der Lyrik von Iain Crichton Smith zuwendet: „Segel aus Salz“, ins Deutsche übertragen von Elmar Schenkel, erschien 2008 in der Edition Rugerup. Holland liest außerdem aus Lewis Grassic Gibbons Romantrilogie „Sunset Song“, Burleske und Teil der klassischen Moderne zugleich, deren deutsche Erstübersetzung in den 1970er Jahren in der DDR veröffentlicht wurde. Textausschnitte werden sowohl in der deutschsprachigen Übersetzung als auch in der Originalfassung vorgetragen. Da kein schottischer Literat die Bühne betreten kann, ohne sie musikalisch wieder zu verlassen, wird Holland den Abend mit zwei Liedern von Hamish Henderson beschließen. Nach der Veranstaltung ist das Publikum herzlich eingeladen, die Diskussion mit Henry Holland bei einem Getränk informell fortzusetzen. Veranstalter: writers' room. Ort: Alte Dosenfabrik, Stresemannstraße 374, Haus B, 2. Stock, 19 Uhr. Eintritt: 7.-/5.-Euro.

21 March 2014

Vera Burlak and Marija Martysevych: Belarus stars at Leipzig

Photo of Vera Burlak, courtesy of belaruslitteratur.blogspot.com
Are there many visitors to Germany's second largest book fair who really know what they're looking for? When I drove down last week with two colleagues from Hamburg for the day for my first ever Leipzig, the conversation in the car was full of what we know but also what we do not know about our own aspirations.