Disruption of the text

Had thought to take a break from Overject, I really had. Bundled up 60 pages of it, handed them to my two most trusted readers, and I told me, This would be the time to take a breather, get some distance, reapproach in a little while with some new perspective.

Not.

What’s to tell? I just couldn’t get happy till I was back at it with the Sharpies.

So here I am, embarked on part II, and am at a perilous juncture, because I can’t just keep doing what I done, that would be dull and dumb, but my sense of what’s next and vital is dim as yet.

The danger – making it new, not out of a sense of fresh energy, but just for to be newfangled. Oldest tiredest play in the book. (Old as books themselves are, and maybe, I’m not sure, not much older.)

So this is where I maybe ask for help. (Oh my recent students, I know a few of you are reading, here’s your chance to have at it.) This morning I wrote out a homophonic translation of the lower half of folio 90V of the Exeter Book. Here’s what it looks like unaltered.

90R HT unaltered

Same approach as I took in the first section of the ms. How to make it new? As I did the scripting I found me thinking about the place of violence in the text at hand. The violence of the patriarchal warrior culture it arose in. The violence time did to the work as it made its way from anciency to now. (Dude. Can you believe anciency really is a word?) The violence of my disruptive translation, me carrying on as if sound itself bore sense across intact.

Meanwhile asters in my back yard, recently in bloom, were blowing this way and that. On a whim I went and cut five or six and scattered the petals on my scanner. That image, overlaid on the first, got me this.

90R HT astered

Asters, named for stars, whose fallen petals look like sword gashes. While the most common masculine case ending in Old English, -an, has become the work’s heroine, Anne.


I teach, by the way, a course called Poetics of Peace and War, because I’m very interested in this question, how acts that look destructive when brought to bear on language, may be nourishing when the results are offered to persons.


Also a redtailed hawk just perched in the pine tree outside my study window.


So the petals resisted the eye but lightly. I wanted for what reason I know not something more savage-taloned. So I tore it in pieces then laid the pieces down as shingles or come to think of it feathers. (“Complicate,” from plicare, fold, layer.)

90R HT collaged

I am in love BTW with scanner noise. I could eat a whole big bowl of it.

The last one I want to show you roughs the text up most – tears and asters it both. Roughs it up most, and is least considerate of your wish for a sensible meaning. And yet it’s the one I think I’m fondest of! Am I just a big meanie?

90R HT collaged and astered

The ask for help part. What do you think? Do any of these move, please, tickle, amuse, intrigue you? Any sense what about them does? Send a comment, do!


If you’re curious, here’s the actual Old English text –

Forst sceal freosan fyr wudu meltan eorþe
growan is brycgian   wæter helm wegan wundrū lucan
eorþan ciþas   ansceal inbindan forstes fetre
fela meahtig god ∙ winter sceal geweorpan   weder eft cu
man sumor swegle hat sund unstille deop d eada wæg
dyrne bið lengest holen sceal inæled ẏrfe gedæled deades
monnes dōm biþ selast ∙ Cyning sceal mid ceape cwene ge
bicgan bunum ⁊beagum bu sceolon   ærest geofum gōd
wesan ∙ guð sceal ineorle wig geweaxan ⁊wif geþeon lof mid
hyre leodum leoht mod wesan rune healdan rum heort
beon mearum ⁊maþmum ∙ meodo rædenne forge sið
mægen symle æghwær eodor æþelinge ærest gegretan

(The ⁊ is a medieval &.) And here’s what normal people would call a translation –

1.

Frost freezes, fire eats wood,
earth springs out, ice houses,
water sheathes.
                               A wonder
there’s one to snap frost’s fetters,
break seed earth, mighty God.

 2.

Winter turns, comes warm unstill
weather, summer skysound.
Deep dead ways are secret longest,
holly burning, cattle shared out.
Dead men’s laws are the best laws.

3.

A king can buy a queen with cattle.
That they give lots away is the main thing.

4.

War forces him
to be brave.
                        She grows dear
to her people, her shining mind
hoards whispers, her spacious heart
holds treasures.

            5.

Moving among the company,
everywhere always, house throughout,
greeting her lord, she pours his cup first;

 Now I can’t see the hawk but I can hear her high cries.

Overdraft

First of three sections of Overject, very roughed out, on my dining room table.
Overject draftFifty pages give or take. This baby’s going to be a monster. Next is to feed it some foliage. The little leaf impresses you can see there are oceanspray red osier dogwood and vine maple from my back garden. Quaking aspen to come (for some scary bits).

Student work: Homophonic translation

Conceptual poetry, not so good maybe at the lugubrious emotions, sundry melancholies, but sure good at giddy, it digs gid. I mean not a disease of sheep but the happy slippiness of speech.

To wit (to whit, to woo), early in the compost course, an exercise in homophonic translation, the full of which you can read here.

And bold preconceptionless forays by a new brave company (I like them! very much!) from which a few excerpts, and thoughts on them, forthwith.


This one drifts, as a number here do, some way from the sounds of its source. The title e.g.

La dulce boca

becomes

La Dual, Say Broke Up

A strength of this approach is that, as fidelity yields to association, some inspired phrases come to be.

Okay, a Jupiter minister elder zone dead

No turquoise sea quietly vetoes

Those are gems that could find a setting somewhere. A cost is, the limbo bar’s been raised to let the dancer get under. I laugh but also feel let down when I see aljofaradas y olorosas rendered as “hiatus seen multiple-sclerosis.”

To stay closer to the sound source, spurn the edges tween words. Com, that is, post them. A puritanical homophonic translation of

La dulce boca

might be

Lad duel, Ché book, ah


One chose German, a grievous challenge. Fünfundzwanzig? OMG. Again a considerable drift from the sounds of the source – so that

Die Sonne ging um fünf 

becomes

Season going on foot

rather than say the more rigid or rigorous “Die, son. Gingham? Pff!” But here I’ll touch on my other major notion about making a homophonic translation that will win fiends and influence poppies.

If one is, ignore and abuse the bounds between words in the source, the other is, imagine and impose all sorts of phrase articulations in your destination.

Here the student arrived at

Season going on foot or soon funds van zig off, also why men ought to through her all some dean stack …

and it feels, undifferentiated, an impenetrable thicket. A thing strong translations of this sort have in common, Zukofsky’s Catullus, Melnick’s Men in Aida, is very short sharp telegraphic phrasing. My own efforts have come pretty quick to the same strategery.

I could dilate why but I’d rather lay out more student work. Here it seems to me a little phrasal articulation would do a lot

Season going on foot. Or soon funds van zig off. Also, why men ought to through her all? Some Dean Stack …


This one made similar calls, and arrived at a nice refrain, from

Et il m’aime encore, et moi je t’aime un peu plus fort
Mais il m’aime encore, et moi je t’aime un peu plus fort

getting to

Ay eel lemon core aim-wash tem unpopular for
May eel lemon core aim-wash tem unpopular for

Again I was curious what a more puritanical adherence to sound – a recklesser disregard for word bounds in the source – and a fiercer phrase articulation in the target – might have got. From

Alors tu vois, comme tout se mêle

from which the student derived

Ah lore too voila come to so well

another possibility might have been

Ah, lore. Tuvak, om. Too, some ell.


Moving a bit quicklier or I’ll be here all night! This one feels caught in a between-world, somewhere on the way from its faux-Latin source to a mock-English target.

Dues Israel epp say true dare it virtue tem et

might for instance develop into

Dues? Israel up. Say true, dare it, virtue Tom et.


This one made v. bold w/ its source, bossed it, nor let it boss her, round. Never mind the author worked with’s Cervantes.

En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre

becomes

A noon Lou guard – day lemon.
“Shah Day cool, yo.”

Gnome bray Nokia …

Another fave moment from this one:

“Did your, uh, low stomach go consume Ian?”

Lost Stress Parties Day; halcyon.
Duh.

This brings to the fore a core diff. Respect your source text wholly and let it shove you round not at all. From hacienda, “halcyon. / Duh.” Okay she added an ‘l’ sound. It’s still pretty tight.


Here’s one with loads of good language substrate, just in need of some of that phrase articulatin’, and maybe shiftin’ a few vowels accordin’

Layin’ trouble masquerade a ponder we a soup-up a gamier shoe heir Adele guy in square tone “lay, double add-in trough.”

might become

Lay in trouble. Masquerade? Oh, ponder we a sou, poop. A gamier shoe heir, Adele, guy in square tone, lay double odd in trough.


This one stayed close to source sounds, so that

Tú para mi

became

Too paw raw me

but wanted perhaps again bolder rearticulations, so that for instance

A kay in may pray sent oh con me, sir

might have been remastered as

Okay. In May, pray send, oh con me, sir.

Or half a dozen other possibles. The thing is just to make it wholly your own.


This student hit on a tellingly brutal translation of love, one face of it, from

amo

to

Awe mow

and a bit more articulation would have drawn all the potential in it out. From the source text,

Te amo mujer
amo tu historia,
amo tu vida,
y amo tu paz

she got to

Tea ah mow moo hair
Awe mow to history ah
Awe mow to feed duh
He awe mow to pass,

And it strikes me that the insight in amo —> awe mow is not quite fully realized here. With a few tweaks you might get to

Day awe mow moo hair.
Awe mow to history. Awe,
awe mow to feed. Awe,
he awe mow to pass.

One of course of just a dozen ways it could go, a dozen dozen. (The change from “tea” to “day” seems slight to me, by the by, cuz it’s from unvoiced to voiced of the same mouth shape.)


The image by the way is a text I’ve yet to explore, I, purples, spat blood, laugh of beautiful lips by Aaron Cassidy, who describes it as a product of Rimbaud’s “Voyelles,” Bök’s Eunioia, and a tangle of semantic and homophonic derivations of those. Look forward to getting to know it better.

purples
Click on me for some mathematical sublime

Okay a few more. This student from

Si la vida es amor, bendita sea!

got

Seal feed a, is armor. Bend it as me.

And from

Donde la mano

got

Don day, lamb an oh!


This one played fast and loose with phonemes but was also willing to compost words and impose word bounds the source author n’er had thought of, so that

Cordoba
Lejana y sola

becomes

Kurt, oh baa.
Leia, Han, huh? Pee Cola.

– laying the complicity between Lucas Studios and Coca Cola Corp. bare for once & all. Later the poet turns luna to tuna, fudging grapheme more than phoneme, but okay, hells, y not.

Here too though a bit more articulation? Exercise, where’s a good spot to put a period in this line? I can see at least four. Five if you strike an ‘l’ from “Llama.”

Llama ate a neigh is tough mirror and dough.


This student took on no less than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which en francais reads, article 26.3,

Les parents on, par priorité, le droit de choisir le genre d’éducation à donne à leurs enfants.

And perhaps as a comment on how much good it’s done, it becomes in translation, and I’ve articulated it just a little more,

Less parents on, pair parrots, Lee. Do it day chaser, Lee. Genre? Day education at diner allures infants.


Homophonic translation tends to draw out the unconscious of language, its polymorphic perversity, if you’ll let it. “Perversity” in a not bad sense, just etymologically, as in turnings off the straight and narrow path. This one makes bold to find such gists in an ordinary Spanish-language newspaper article –

Yo, no karaoke Margarita! Clod, dickhole! These interest, dear, scatter my pain. Yo, karaoke Lo Mein tie, never! OH! Penis? Okay. Meaty? Okay, sir. Arrow lad, a cone, laps are a toy. Lace: track her. EEK! You an asset, ran, sit. Oh? See affect area.

That seems to be about, whatever else also, its own activity, the queering of language this exercise seems ineluctably to go to.


This last one departs far from the sounds of its source text, and also comes to compelling lines in English, and I can only make out traces of Spanish, but have some feeling that the author has fell into Zukofsky’s own practice, of mingling homophonic and semantic translation at will. I’ll just give ya the first line –

Cuerpo de mujer, blancas colinas, muslos blancos

Aquarius day, new hair, blanket colonies – new blankets,

– and the last –

como una flecha en mi arco, como una piedra en mi honda.

Come oh one a fellatio in me on top.

And that there’s the unconscious of language, right there, remembering for us we’re in bodies, prideful, all.

On total translation

A foolish notion. What would it be to translate not only for meaning, what we usually mean by “meaning,” reference, signification, the pointy ends of words, but also for everything else about, within, around them: their loops and curls, textures of their paper, sleepiness of the scribe, slips in the book’s stitching, burn marks at the edges of pages, how a sequence of ascenders and descenders read as skyline or script for a roller coaster.

Crazy yeah. But if (1) you’ve come to feel translation’s originary no matter what, and (2) your semantic translation of a poem has sucked no matter what, and (3) you’re not done with said poem, and (4) you have a decorative itch – well, you might come round to a like crazy. You might start to wonder if þine heortan geþohtas, the force of your heart’s thought, might be most truly got not via narrowly focused semantic emissions, but through a sprawling heterogeneous relation of potentially everything in the nexus of poet poem scribe translator reader annotator and medium.


Semantic reference is a span of human meaning about as sliver as visible light is to the electromagnetic spectrum.


88vMy guiding thought in Overject has become, assume you know nothing about what should or shouldn’t be translated. 88V post-it 1Feel like translating handwriting? Translate handwriting. Feel like transmitting hesitation? Transmit hesitation. Anything honest in the encounter between old damaged minor text and ignorant inexpert minor reader’s fair game.

Now if at every point everything is open to translation – how do you decide? I’ve found me guided by intuition and accident.

Gut, and happenstance. Who have led me to handwriting. My work with which in Dumuzi had drawn me to more exuberant organic loops and sweeps than the hell scraps there could suit. Into Overject went the overflow. And the self-indulgence of translating nothing but handwriting pushed up in me little spikelets of self-doubt. And one of those has made it to a post-it.

88V card 1And the possibility of annotating my translations bloomed hard and fast in my head and the next flower was a notecard on which I found a bit of semantic translation wanted (musewise, it wasn’t I who wanted, but just who let it) to burst in. And these three – transcription, post-it, notecard – plus a ghost face who poked in from a later page, became assemblage.

88v p1


The next major adventure is homophonic translation, of which I’ve written before. Here too annotation and anima. (The abrupt edge on the right is a scanner error. Not all accident is welcome.)

88v p2

“D.P.” = Dramatis Personae. One way I hope to make this work a little less esoteric in the end is, draw names out of the sonic surround, faces out of the visual noise, and see what storylines they hint at (no more, dear hearts, than that).


Oh now the lure of semiosis. Not from the meanings of the “original poem.” Rather from the nexus formed when that poem’s meanings intersect with recent homophonic accidents and my momentary interior weather and demonic images yet to be actualized. An ambivalent compound arises.

88v p3


Comes now a grave move. So much is lost in this moment! The haecceity, the suchness, of each t, each l, each g, unlike any other anywhere in existence, all now made to be of a same sameness.

I take the manuscript page and I type it up.

I try to make up the loss. I follow the leads of ascenders and descenders. After selecting some text, à la Phillips, I black out the remainder with a Sharpie. The thickness of the erasure line is governed by the heights and depths to which the line (or portion thereof) reaches. No ascender? It thins. No descender either? That thins it further. One et (⁊) and it goes down a long way. One thorn (þ) and it reaches both high and low.

88v p4

The whole of the rest of the design, mouths and eyes, windows and doors, lions and tigers and heroes and hydras, or here a school bus climbing a hill, is begun from the thicks and thins of the bars, and the white slits left between.


The chosen text has the quality of a code. As if a minor character in Beowulf had got his hands on an Enigma machine. Crypto-crisis. So I put on my tinfoil Turing cap and coughed up this.

88v p5

And when I got to that, I felt I was an inch or two closer, maybe not more, to a true translation of folio 88V of the Exeter Book.


Closer anyway than my semantic translation of that folio, which I did some years ago, and goes like this.

Ask me straight out. Don’t hide your whole life
what only you know. I won’t tell you what matters
if you hold the force of the heart of your thought back.

The wise work in riddles, praise God foremost,
our Father who said of His Creation we could
live here a while, a gift he’d remind us of.

In glory Measurer, on earth humankind,
young here is old, God is eternal with us,
events don’t touch Him, illness

You can hear the strain in it. Couldn’t care less about these pieties. Why’s the poem compel me at all? Nothing in its answers speaks to me. The pressure I hear in its questions – in the failure of its answers to relieve the pressure – that moves me.


Around here I realized two things. One, my epigraph, it spoke to me out of Job, “Where shall wisdom be found?” Is that what I’m translating, the Exeter poet asking it, into me asking it?

Other is, the work has to be in earnest. I can fuck around as much as I like, goof off, poke fun, mess shit up, that’s fine, but the asking has to be in earnest, otherwise this’ll be a dumb game I’m sick of real soon. Flip side, as long as it’s for heartfelt for me, it can be totally way goofball, and still live, short I and long.

Exercise: Homophonic translation

(Another of the exercises I’m giving my Art of Compost class.)

In a homophonic translation, you translate for sound, rather than for sense. For instance, this sentence in French

Je vais aujourd’hui à la maison de mon ami.

sounds roughly like

 Juh vase oh zhour dwee a la may zon de moan am ee.

And so its homophonic translation might go

Juvie, so, sure, twee. Ah, lamb, he’s on demon, am ye?

Notice how a word in the French can become two in English, or the end of one word and the start of another, in the French, can fuse to form a single English word. In other words, don’t worry about preserving the boundaries between words.

Notice, too, that the translation isn’t exact—vowel sounds shift a little, and sometimes a voiced consonant (e.g., “d”) becomes unvoiced (“t”).

The exercise. Take a passage of 50-75 words, verse or prose, in a language other than English, and do a homophonic translation into English. It’s better to choose a language that you know how to pronounce, but if there aren’t any of those, just make your best guesses.

Examples follow. You might also check out David Melnick’s Men in Aida.

Louis and Celia Zukofsky, Catullus

Source Text (Latin)

Multus home es, Naso, neque tecum multus homost qui
descendit: Naso, multus es et pathicus.

Homophonic Translation

Mool ’tis homos,’ Naso, ’n’ queer take ’im mool ’tis ho most he
descended: Naso, mool ’tis – is it pathic, cuss.

Christopher Patton, Overject

Source Text (Old English)

Frige mec frodum  wordum   nelæt þinne  ferð on
hælne degol þæt þu deopost cunne  nelle icþe min
dyrne gesecgan  gifþume  þinne hyge cræft hy
lest  ⁊þine heortan  geþohtas ∙ gleawe men sceolon gieddū
wrixlan god sceal mon ærest hergan fægre fæder user
ne forþon þehe us ætfymþe  geteode lif  ⁊lænne
willan  heusic wile þara  leana gemonian ∙ meotud sceal
inwuldre  mon sceal  oneorþan  geong ealdian god us ece
biþ ne wendað hine wyrda  nehine  wiht dreceþ adl

Homophonic Translation

Fridge me, Frodo. Um, word. Um, nail a thin firth on
hell. Ned—eagle that thou deepest can. Uh, Nellie—itch the mine,
dear. Now you sedge, an’ if thou math in how ye craft, how
lost and thin a heart an you thought as. Glue we men shall on yet. Um,
were Ixlan god, shall man arrest her gain? Fare a fader user.
Knife or than the hay us at fume. The yet ode, life and lane, uh,
will an hay us itch, while, o’there, Alan a’ye money on. Meow. Dude shall
in weld, remand shall on earth, an’ yon gulled Ian, god us each, uh,
both new. Endeth he new word. An’ a he new wicked dreck i’th’addle.