Friday 5 January 2024

Form un function

Private Eye summarized the recent UK Coronation: Man in Hat Sits on Chair. I was lamenting how samey and genre'd so much nature writing is: Person (usually bloke) shrugs self into rain-gear and walks somewhere, talks inconsequentially to random people along the way, takes notes, sees birbs, takes bus occasionally because is weak not purist, flies home, writes up, job done. 

There are some exceptions: go deep with Louis Agassiz: talk to nobody but beetles and worms and work your way slowly over your back yard over the summer. Or you can take a small mountain range as your back garden like Nan Shepherd: talk to nobody and keep going back and be quiet in place until the birbs come and talk to you. But having an agenda / trope / theme, even if added post-hoc: that doesn't count as being true to your own-self voice. It is rather a construct: Round Ireland with a fridge; Dervlaing thru Ethiopia on a mule; In the Footsteps of Stevenson: A Journey Through the Cevennes; or 11 Wild Atlantic Way Women . . . those are marketing gimmicks. y'have to quiet the monkey mind if you want to hear the truth.

I was stalking one of the more thoughtful MeFi Regulars who is an Icelandic poet living in Finland: immersed in minority languages but fluent in Englanninkielinen. His interconnect with nature falls far outside my peevish complaining. Watchunder, I sample the title and a single stanza, but please please take the full immersion plunge of "Entropic Nature": it's an experience. On the left the original by Karí Tulinius  the right translated by Larissa Kyzer. Be sure to open the "translator's note" window where Larissa sets out the task.

loft loft fugl loft      blue blue bird blue
sjór sjór sjór svif      wave wave wave fish
botn þang botn botn      seab edse awee dsea
eðja eðja flak eðja      silt silt hull silt

You don't have to know Icelandic to see that the translation is not a dogged word for word by Google Translate but work by a poet who is determined to be true to the constraints of English while respecting the different constraints of Icelandic and catch the poet's peculiar particular voice.

There was a little tinkle of resonance with that four word only poem. In my I'm so a poet days as a teenager, I developed a neat fast cursive hand but I also had my mother's old Olivetti portable typewriter. Remember them? The font many not have been Courier but it was defo fixed-width. It didn't take me long to see that I could make blocks of text of a defined shape - better with CAPS ONLY - which provided a constraint on the verse. Similar to obeying the rhythm and rhyme scheme of a Petrachan sonnet: ABBAABBA+CDCCDC although I did them too. I figured IF Sir Philip Sidney could knock off a verse or two while dying from his wounds in Gelderland in 1586, THEN I could try hammer one out in my garrett the caravan at the bottom of our garden. All that pretentious tosh went up in flames after I sent them to RS "Real Poet" Thomas: and he found them wanting. 

On the subject of pleasing but unnecessary constraints, for the last several years, every Blob gets at least a thumbnail to leaven the relentless text. It would be yer havin' a larf disrespect to attempt to illustrate Karí's blocky voice so I'll go full-metal non sequitur. Over the last tuthree years, I've taken to doing Guardian Sudoku with my custom-made spreadsheet grid; in colour trying to ensure that neither adjacent cells nor their neighbours are the same hue. Monochrome? Sonnet? sooo boring.

Poet prev: Antonio Machado -- Jan Celliers -- Dickinson -- e.e. cummings -- Ferlinghetti

1 comment:

  1. Nice to see your mention of Larissa Kyser, she was one of my blog-pals that I regularly interacted with ten/twelve years ago. She was a student then, now she is a first-call translator.