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Spaces for Sappho by Kat Peddie (Oystercatcher Press)

Spaces for Sappho by Kat Peddie (Oystercatcher Press)

Post-Poundian-Ppppsappoppo

The fourth chapter of Hugh Kenner’s masterful The Pound Era is titled ‘The Muse in Tatters’ and it focuses on fragments of Sappho as presented through the mid-Victorian bluster of Swinburne, the Georgian tushery of Richard Aldington (via Prof. Edmonds) and the Poundian engraving of ‘Papyrus’:

‘Spring………
Too long……
Gongula……’

When Pound wrote to Iris Barry in the summer of 1916 he complained of the ‘soft mushy edges’ of British poetry (‘We’ve been flooded with sham Celticism’) and suggested that the whole art could be divided into:

a. concision, or style, or saying what you mean in the fewest and clearest words.
b. the actual necessity for creating or constructing something; of presenting an image, or enough images of concrete things arranged to stir the reader.

Kat Peddie’s poems leave spaces on the page and only the clearest of words are left as stone markers, memorials, echoing the words that Walter Pater (former pupil of King’s School, Canterbury) wrote about lyricism and loss:

‘Who, in some such perfect moment…has not felt the desire to perpetuate all that, just so, to suspend it in every particular circumstance, with the portrait of just that one spray of leaves lifted just so high against the sky, above the well, forever?’

In Peddie’s ‘105a [for Page duBois]’ this idea becomes ‘The poem is the absence of an apple / anakatoria’.

To place greater emphasis upon this fragmentary world of concision one might turn up Swinburne’s early poem ‘Anactoria’ with its epigraph of lines from Sappho. My copy of this poem covers ten pages and the opening lines sound hollow some twenty years after Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’:

‘My life is bitter with thy love; thine eyes
Blind me, thy tresses burn me, thy sharp sighs
Divide my flesh and spirit with soft sound,
And my blood strengthens, and my veins abound.
I pray thee sigh not, speak not, draw not breath;
Let life burn down, and dream it is not death.’

Lines from Kat Peddie’s fragment ‘6’ are worth considering here:

‘Consider Helen [whose beauty outshone all]
sailed from country
husband
parents
children to
follow hers

some men say
without a thought I think
of Anaktoria gone
her walk
her face outshines armour’

The echo of Eliot’s echo of Dante is there immediately with the dramatic command ‘Consider’. Eliot used the word to remind the reader of Phlebas ‘who was once handsome and tall as you’ while Odysseus, in Inferno XXVI, used the word ‘Considerate’ as a reminder to his ill-fated crew that they owed it to themselves and their heritage to pursue the paths across the ocean. Kat Peddie’s Spaces for Sappho are dedicated ‘for & from Anne Carson’ and the Canadian poet’s rendering of the Sappho fragment reads

‘For she who overcame everyone
in beauty (Helen)
left her fine husband

behind and went sailing to Troy.’

Peddie’s Helen ‘outshone’ all others rather than ‘overcame’ them and this is woven seamlessly into the reference to Anaktoria whose ‘face outshines armour’ as amor vincit omnia. The sense of loss in Peddie’s poem is held, for a moment, with that pause between ‘I think’ and the new line’s opening ‘of Anaktoria gone’. Swinburne wouldn’t have been able to resist a capital letter for that little word ‘of’. With a recall of the absent figure of Anaktoria what is remembered first is ‘her walk’ (after all that is what takes her away) and then her face, presumably turned away, which ‘outshines’ the clothing she wears, leaving a glimmering behind her for the reader to ‘Consider’.
At the beginning of this handsome new Oystercatcher Peddie gives a short lesson on pronunciation:

‘Today, in English, she [is] all soft sibilants and faded f’s, but in fact she is ‘Psappho’. In ancient Greek—and indeed in modern Greek—if you hear a native speaker say her name, she comes across spitting and popping hard p’s. Ppppsappoppo. We have eased off her name, made her docile and sliding, where she is really difficult, diffuse, many-syllabled, many-minded, vigorous and hard’.

Kat Peddie’s versions of Sappho are both hard-edged and personal; they are full of meetings, as are Eliot’s poems, and partings as both poet and reader ‘seem to our / selves in two / minds’.

Ian Brinton 6th January 2016

SNOW 3 Spring 2015, edited by Anthony Barnett & Ian Brinton

SNOW 3 Spring 2015, edited by Anthony Barnett & Ian Brinton

SNOW 3 is a cornucopia of international delights and quite unlike any other UK literary review. There are translations, musical scores, drawings, writing paintings, original poetry and prose, essays, extracts and stills from Rei Hayama’s film, The Focus, based upon a Nathaniel Hawthorne story, extracts from the correspondence between the Dutch writer, Cees Nooteboom, and Anthony Barnett, sketches by Harold Lehman, and a photographic essay on the artists and musicians at the Grand Terrace Cafe, Chicago, in early 1941.

The poetry translations include Simon Smith’s Catallus, Emilia Telese’s Erika Dagnino, and Barry Schwabsky’s Pierre Reverdy. Anthony Barnett translates the poetry and prose of Gunnar Ekelöf. Christina Chalmers and Concetta Scozzaro translate Andrea Zanzotto’s essay ‘Infancies, Poetries, Nursery’, Ian Brinton translates Philippe Jaccottet on Francis Ponge, Jørn H. Sværen translates his own prose from the Norwegian. Konrad Nowakowski writes on Busoni’s Letter to Verdi and Bridget Penney writes about the literary and artistic connections of Abney Park Cemetery, north London. The original poetry, less than usual, comes from Caroline Clark, Dorothy Lehane, Yamuph Piklé, Alexandra Sashe and John Seed.

This extraordinary mix is beautifully designed and presented by Allardyce, Barnett, Publishers. 14 Mount Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1HL.

http://www.abar.net

David Caddy 3rd March 2015

Ingrid Jonker’s ‘Die Kind’ / ‘The Child’

Ingrid Jonker’s ‘Die Kind’ / ‘The Child’

Nelson Mandela began his inaugural Presidential address to Parliament on 24 May 1994, speaking about the poet, Ingrid Jonker (1933-1965), as someone who ‘gave us the right to assert with pride that we are South Africans, that we are Africans and that we are citizens of the world.’ He continued in his measured voice and manner that ‘In the midst of despair, she celebrated hope. Confronted with death, she asserted the beauty of life. In the dark days when all seemed hopeless in our country, when many refused to hear her resonant voice, she took her own life. To her and others like her, we owe a debt to life itself. To her and others like her, we owe a commitment to the poor, the oppressed, the wretched and the despised.’ This extraordinary recognition of an Afrikaner poet was followed by a recitation of her poem ‘The child who was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga’, written in the aftermath of the massacre at the anti-pass demonstration in Sharpeville on 21 March 1960. Violence erupted throughout South Africa. When a black baby was shot dead in her mother’s arms by police in the black township of Nyanga, Cape Town, Jonker was outraged and went to the Philippi police station to see the body. Mandela’s reading, which differs from the 1968 Jack Cope and William Plomer and 2007 André Brink and Antjie Krog translations, manages to get to the poem’s core without embellishment. I have to say that I prefer his version. It is starker and to the point. I suspect that he memorised the poem and deeply felt its impact throughout his legal struggles and subsequent imprisonment.

The child is not dead…
the child lifts his fists against his mother
who
shouts Africa!…

The child is not dead
Not at Langa nor at Nyanga
nor at Orlando nor at
Sharpeville
nor at the police post at Philippi
where he lies with a bullet
through his brain…

The André Brink and Antijie Krog version in Black Butterflies: Selected Poems (Human & Rousseau) is quite different, far more flowery and wordy. The lack of firmness in their version is in stark contrast to Mandela’s more direct and blunt account. Jonker’s audio recordings of this and other poems display a cadenced and musical voice, which Mandela’s English recitation captures more closely in simpler language. It is in the final stanzas that Mandela’s radically different translation hits home hardest. Whereas Brink & Krog translate the original:

Die kind is die skaduwee van die soldate
op wag met gewere sarasene en knuppels
die kind is teenwoordig by alle vergaderings en wetgewings
die kind loer deur die vensters van huise en in die harte van moeders
die kind wat net wou speel in die son by Nyanga is orals

‘The child is the shadow of the soldiers / On guard with guns Saracens and batons / the child is present at all meeting and legislations / the child peeps through the windows of houses and into the / hearts of mothers / the child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is / everywhere’

Mandela said

the child is present at all assemblies and law-giving
the child peers
through the windows of houses
and into the hearts of mothers
this child
who only wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga
is everywhere

I am happy with Mandela’s omission of a whole line. His version, much closer to Cope and Plomer, cuts to the core and uses the word ‘assemblies’ in terms of both protest and parliamentary gatherings. The poem ends powerfully with the child not needing a pass to be a South African, and it is this that aligned her with the banned Africa National Congress and Pan-Africanist Congress.

The full address is at http://www.sahistory.org.za/article/state-nation-address-president-south-africa-nelson-mandela

Ingrid Jonker, a central figure in the Sestigers group of bohemian poets and writers, petitioned the National Party government in 1963 protesting against its increasing censorship defying her father who was the chief censor. When her volume of poetry, Rook en Oker (Smoke and Ochre) was published in October 1963, Jonker offered to visit her father and bring him a signed copy. He told her to post it, adding that he had no wish to be seen with her in public. Her poem, ‘The child was shot dead by soldiers in Nyanga’, had an immediate galvanising impact. She was indefatigable in her opposition to censorship, the pass laws of apartheid, and decision not to change a word of her poem. She never compromised her thinking.

David Caddy 14th December 2014

Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations translated by Robert Yates

Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations translated by Robert Yates

(Brimstone Press, 2014) brings the work alive in a handy edition complete with extensive notes and commentary.

 

Arthur Rimbaud’s Les Illuminations first published in La Vogue literary journal in Paris in 1886 more than a decade after they were written continue to beguile and surprise. Consisting of forty self-contained prose poems and two poems of free verse the collection was a work of protest designed to shock. It abandoned the storytelling elements of the prose poem found in Baudelaire for a non-linear hallucinatory, dream-like, visionary poetry based more upon sound than meaning and seemingly futuristic mystical journey.

 

Written between 1873 and 1875 critics have sought to find connections between Rimbaud’s travels and the poems in an effort to situate them more securely. This may be a forlorn hope as first and foremost this is a work of acute imagination, informed by the occult and alchemical symbolism. Illumination here is a mystical term, which refers to a stage in the progress towards union with God. Built into its occult meaning and purpose is the necessity to find a new language on the way to becoming an illuminé, who achieves oneness through self-annihilation. Les Illuminations has an extraordinary flow of shifting connections and disjunctions, with figures appearing and reappearing in transformed states, building narrative structures that work cumulatively to produce a magic theatre. It is a difficult work to translate. Of recent translations, John Ashbery’s (Carcanet 2011) successfully captured some its gothic and sonic nature within the idioms of American English. This new translation into English by Robert Yates certainly has a distinctive quality and captures the hallucinatory nature of the original.

 

As soon as the idea of the Flood abated,

A hare stopped amid the trembling sainfoin and harebells

and said his prayer to the rainbow through the spider’s web.

Oh! The precious stones hiding, the flowers already

In the dirty main road stalls were set up, and boats were

drawn to the sea, which rose in stages as in engravings.

Blood flowed, at Bluebeard’s, – in the abattoirs, – in the

circuses, where the seal of God made the windows pale. Blood and

milk ran together.

Beavers built. Smoke from ‘mazagrans’ filled the taverns.

 

 

There are plenty of subtle differences between Yates and Ashbery and, for example, Martin Sorrell’s versions in The Collected Poems (Oxford, 2001). Ashbery has slaughterhouses instead of abattoirs, and later Witch rather than Sorceress. I would select Sorceress as it has more magical connotations for me. This is where the added value of this translation is to be found. The editor, Sebastian Hayes, himself an accomplished Rimbaud translator, provides a preface, detailed commentary and notes on Les Illuminations followed by comments on each poem. Hayes also offers an extensive and informative essay ‘A Random Walk through Illuminations’. Additionally there is an Afterword by Keith Walton ‘Rimbaud: A Point of View’. These features considerably enhance the value of this edition. The book has a great tempestuous cover, ‘The Great Day of his Wrath by John Martin (1789-1854) and is great value at £6 from

http://www.brimstonepress.co.uk

 

David Caddy 5th April 2014

 

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