2015. február 11., szerda

[1] I discussed 'cramped sonnet manifesto' with Laura Elliott who had seen the glosses. She wanted to know where the image of the child with a train-set had gone. Partially it had been turned into a white elephant. I had chosen to carry over what I felt was the sense of that image rather than a literal rendering of the words. 

[1.1] In Hungarian the word for lost/vanish has connotations of take or steal. The rushing train in the original is a metaphor for growing up but it is also something stolen. If I have understood it well, this metaphor is quite pedestrian and one which could be carried over to English with relative ease. I suspect however that there are levels of irony operating in the poem and chose to avoid 'translation-proper' in this instance. 

[1.11]A white elephant, a 'possession that is useless or troublesome, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of' [Oxford], replaces the train as the toy in the poem keeping in tact to some degree the use of an image. The white elephant brushes against a sense of the original. It also performs another function. The original makes use of a traditional sonnet form but the speaker regresses into the use of sonnet form, then in the sestet we are told the speaker would prefer to be misunderstood than write facile or palatable verses. I take the strict use of form to be a parodic device and the white elephant is, to some extent, a nod to this.

[1.2] Laura and I also discussed the 'cramped' layout. It's possible that it's hard to read. I'll look at using stanza breaks.

[2] I have been thinking about what a 'bad' translation is. Differences in grammar, gendered nouns etc. cause problems for both machine-generated and human translations. If you stick a text back and forth through some less reputable internet translation sites (an old trick now) the penumbra of meanings make for unusual results and the translated word may at first seem at a remove from the original. Often the autotranslated text is as jumbled syntactically as semantically and as I demonstrated previously can have fairly pleasing results. What is important here is that a sense of the poem is retained.

[2.1] We remember that sense is from the Latin sensus, a 'faculty of feeling, thought' and most importantly 'meaning'[Oxford]. That is to say that when we think about the production of meaning in reading (or writing) a poetry, it is the sense of the poem which is our primary experience.  

[2.12] Reading is my sense of meaning guiding my feeling in the writing of the poem which is always already translation.

[3] On 19th January I went to a Creative Translation workshop organised by Alba Londres and steered by Peter Jaeger, Professor of Poetics at Roehampton. We were introduced to a number of strategies for translation. These included:

  • Homophonic translation which was discussed in relation to Zukofsky and framed within a tradition of nonsense verse. There is probably something to be said here about the homophonic translation and the oral tradition but it's taken me so long to sit down and type up these notes that the thought has alluded me.
  • Antithetical translation which is where each word is replaced by its opposite. 
  • In trying to find a link to antithetical translation I have found this link to some interesting strategies, not all translation.
  • Allusive referential translation, where you free associate with the poem i.e. you write the first word you associate with each word you read. I felt that the outcomes of this are highly dependent on the mood of the translator. This in turn led me to think of the method as performative and indeed how many of these strategies are performances. A good example would be James Davies and Philip Terry's reading at the first Camaradefest.
  • N+7, of course. There is a generator for this here which is quite fun. 
We took some of these for a run, which I wasn't expecting, and I churned out some bad writing. 

[3.1] The conversation seemed to conclude with a discussion of Tim Atkins' Petrarch Collected Atkins. We were shown a stanza which made use of the N+7 method but soon found the method didn't appear to have been strictly adhered to. Atkins employs a number of creative translation strategies, often within a single poem. This raises questions about creative translation methods, are they constraints, strictly procedural (the conceptual manner) or are they guidelines? Atkins appears to be listening to the poem he is writing as closely as the 'original' text and being guided by that sense rather than strictly semantic questions of fidelity.

[3.11] I have been thinking about the championing of the new poem over the source poem, particularly where use of multiple creative translation techniques have been employed, as a kind of nontranslation. Has somebody already coined this phrase and is it even necessary? 

[3.12] What has been missing from the discussion are questions around the ethics of fidelity.

[3.2] Further reading mentioned was Roman Jakobson's On Linguistic Aspects of Translation and Walter Benjamin's The Task of the Translator.

[3.21] I am not aiming to say anything original in these blog posts and I am unlikely to undergo the kind of analysis of my own poems as I have above. The aim of these recent posts is to approach some of the questions posed by translation. The answer to any of these questions, if there is one, is improvised in the performance of the translation. 

2015. január 9., péntek

My approach to writing a first draft translation was much the same as if I were sitting down to 'write my own poem'. Of course literary translation is a creative act in the first place. I had amassed a certain amount of information about what this poem might have been and used that information to chalk out boundaries in which I would compose a new sonnet. 

My feeling was that the strict formal structure of the original was probably parodic given what I understood of the content. I'm not comfortable with hard end-stopped rhyme and did not want to write a parody. It would require me to parody the original, which is a parody of several poetic elements - the result would be a smug spiral of literary allusion. 

I wanted to work with the rhyme scheme and had been recently thinking about using the sonnet as a 140 syllable rectangle. I felt there was a volta within the original which would carry over. I have been thinking about pro-wrestling a lot recently and the improvised per/formal elements of a wrestling match. Generally, as with the performance of writing, one has a few bits and pieces one wants to get in (if the right moment arises) and a space (the ring/formal construct) to work in.

This is the first draft :


A few days later I received some notes from Réka on my gloss. Incorporating them the gloss reads like this :


oversized ars poetica crammed into a sonnet

as a five year-old child’s wooden train set
is swept rushing away from him
he learns to play dice and I regress
to write to you in a broken sonnet form

when they hurt this rough shell  
for example I wrote in iambic  
tetrameter poems said to be good in a bad mood  
I started it as a love letter in a weekly paper

those six lines that can be scanned  
however, my real face is more free  
wing, flutter, dive, be staggered whimsically

I prefer to be misunderstood
and better a harsh word spoken  
than the applause of these flatterers


There are some elements which, in light of the new gloss, may or may not need addressing and may or may not need editing.

2014. december 17., szerda

I was on holiday in Budapest with my wife recently. During our stay on Múzeum körút, we walked past a row of second-hand and antiquarian bookshops every morning on our way to get coffee. On the last day I decided to buy a book of Hungarian poetry and attempt to translate some of the poems into English.

I had a list of 'innovative' or 'avant-garde' or 'experimental' poets. These labels and their usefulness have been debated endlessly (with good reason) and I acknowledge their flaws. Using them as search terms to find Hungarian poets I really only hoped to avoid popular, historical and nationalistic verse.  Furthermore, I wanted to feel like I would find a large subjective space in the poems in which I could work, by which I mean write. Of course, the bookshops did not stock the poets I am interested in. Instead I chose two books on their looks: both paid attention to space on the page, experimented with typography and made use of graphic symbols. One of the books also had poems in braille. 

The first book I have turned my attention to is Fabula Rasa by Cselényi Béla. Putting his website through Google translate I learn he is a former librarian, archivist and lecturer. The phrase avant-garde is also used in his biographical note but the sentence is scrambled and makes little sense to me. The first poem in the book is on the inside flap of the dust jacket:  túlméretezett ars poetica szonettbe zsúfolva. I recognise the words ars poetica and szonettbe, and it is indeed the unmistakable shape of a sonnet. From the very limited understanding I have of Hungarian pronunciation I can also deduce that is uses the Shakespearean sonnet rhyme scheme. (I don't have the copyright to reproduce the poem here. Since Cselényi is a former librarian and archivist I think it's only fair not to reproduce his poem without permission, as much as I would like to have it here for context.)

The reference to Horace: since this is in the title I can assume it will be an overarching element central to the poem and is therefore not an element I can altogether dispose of. Secondly, there is the Shakespearean sonnet form. I learn that the title translates as Ars Poetica Crammed into a Sonnet. So the form is also an essential element. Before I have even really begun in earnest I can see there are things - formal things and subject things - which I am in some way obliged to make English. I employ found text and quotation in my work regularly and there is an aspect of re-contextualisation which applies to both appropriation and translation, but questions of obligation and fidelity seem more pertinent to translation.

I won't go into much detail about how I created my gloss versions but it involved using two different translation websites and an online Hungarian-English dictionary. I also did lineated and de-lineated versions to see what role enjambment may have played. Here is one of the glosses:


(oversized ars poetica crammed into a sonnet)


than the five-year child if he gets lost

from him the speeding game train
and starts playing dice me, I too regress
and I write in a sonnet form if it is hurt

my seashell with something rough
I wrote in a bisector number eight for example
called a poem good in bad mood
and I started it as a love letter

can be scanned shorts are effective in a weekly paper
on the other hand freer my real face
soars flutters dives bizarrely astonishes

the be-no-I like understanding better
and more will be the [birálatból] the profit
like greased-manicured lot of praise (...)

To me it is slightly lumpy but essentially a good poem. The last line is actually from one of the other versions, since this translation website didn't understand it. I have not been able to translate the word birálatból at all. Perhaps it's an invented word - Ars Poetica tells us it's fine to coin a phrase so long as it's done with care. Here's a delineated version:



(oversized creed crammed sonnet)
than the five-year-old child is lost him racing toy train and dice start I regressed and write sonnet form breach of shell forgotten something interesting booking for example, scored eight overhead wrote saying good verses bad mood and love Mail Recipient start out scanning six rows at a weekly newspaper, however, freedom is the real face soaring verdes fall bizarre amazed at the non-comprehension-and the more I like my birálatból also be more beneficial than the praise of many greased-manicured

We see the translation is slightly different because the machine reads the lineated version as each line being a discrete unit. This delineated version is not without its charms either. 

Next I comb through the poem, translating each word individually as well as combinations of words to find expressions or phrases. I have concluded that the poem moves like this:


  • As a child may grow out of his toys I on the other hand have regressed into the use of the (broken or injured) sonnet form.
  • From inside my rough shell I can bang out around eight good poems in a bad mood.
  • They start like cheap love letters you might read in a weekly paper.
  • Rather than creating something real I go for whimsy and floaty artifice.
  • I would prefer to be misunderstood than praised by sycophants.

I am still doubtful that I have fully grasped the basic semantic meaning of the poem, but there are ideas I can get behind here, and some nice turns of phrase and music in the glosses. I have asked a Hungarian friend, Réka, to produce a gloss of the poem which I will add in to this post when she has finished it.

2012. május 29., kedd

2012. március 29., csütörtök

Please don’t let this be mistaken for one of those blog posts where the author justifies or excuses his prolonged absence. This is not a forum I use to keep up any kind of profile. It’s more of an online workbook, a place to consolidate my thoughts about my work. As such it becomes a record of most of my creative output, most of which I have been documenting elsewhere and as such I feel the need to make note of it here.

Today Blog – The premise is simple: once a week I make a collage on a 6” x 4” postcard from a red-top tabloid newspaper. These are para-surrealist compositions with no political agenda beyond the suggestion that these tabloids are documents presented to us as fact, yet are often surreal in themselves. The physical objects are filed away in a photo album and I consider the scans of the collages to be the finished object. I create them by hand, and this limits the level of manipulation available to me. Manipulation seems to be the key word here; I work only with an art-knife and a Pritt-stick, demonstrating my limited ability to edit the images I use, all of which are airbrushed and highly manipulative in their original context. There is probably more to this in critical terms, but really my overarching objective is to amuse myself, hopefully others too.

Disjecta – I have been working with Mike Saunders on this idea of ‘themed poetry mixtapes’. It started as a chain of emails; whenever we came across a poem about alcohol we enjoyed we’d email it to the other. This evolved into other themes, a blog to house them all, and recently the first Disjecta booklets. These were hand cut and stitched on a sewing machine by Mike and myself. The run of fifty booklets will be disseminated for free by Papergirl Norwich, a so-called non-curated project which calls for submissions from artists that will be rolled up and distributed on the streets by cyclists (a-la paper girl). It would have been easy to distribute these among friends and colleagues but we want chance to play a part in the way people encounter these booklets. I have enjoyed chancing upon good poems which fit our themes and I hope that experience is replicated when people receive the booklets.

It wouldn’t really be appropriate to provide this kind of explanation for Today and Disjecta on their respective blogs, as they are themselves the product, or at least a large part of the product.

Poems – This is something I don’t usually discuss on here, however I have recently been writing about the work of
Sarojini Lewis and as such some of my thoughts about Locus have entered into the poems. I have said of the poems that they are not ‘about’ her work, but speak through it. That is to say my aim is not ekphrastic repetition, but to seek a subjective understanding of the concepts at work in Sarojini’s photography and start from there. As such the new work has become about absences and miscommunication, there are figures and places which recur but only through the photographer’s struggle to represent them in her work. I should clarify that the figure in the poems is not intended to be Sarojini herself. I should also probably post one of two of the poems, otherwise the above is all abstract, but they are to be assessed and I feel they shouldn’t be published until that process is complete. I’m really hoping to work towards a physical product that encompasses the poems and some of Sarojini’s work at a later date.

2011. március 17., csütörtök

2011. február 13., vasárnap

January Prints






"I walked out of the airport into one of those clear, sharp-edged January days... The light had such a physical presence; it looked as though you could lean against it"

- Henry Wessel

Unfortunately I haven't had light this good since mid-January when I only had time to shoot one roll of film.