Strange Tongues: Arielle Greenberg on Aase Berg and Kim Hyesoon in APR

by on Apr.01, 2014

In the new issue of American Poetry Review, Arielle Greenberg has an essay on the state of translation in contemporary poetry:

“Nonetheless, as new poetry books have been arriving on my doorstep over the past couple of years, I’ve been deeply heartened to see so many weird, wild, exciting works – both modern and contemporary – in translation…”

Arielle Greenberg

Greenberg goes through some of the anxieties about translation – how she doesn’t have access to the cultural context, the original etc – but concludes that she nevertheless thinks it’s important to read foreign works in translation:

“… since many of the literature that have avant-garde American poetry originated on other soil, it behooves us to have a more complex sense of the ways in which idea and art intersect and develop across cultures and tongues…”

She then goes on to discuss Graham Foust and Samuel Fredrick’s translation of Ernst Meister, Tomaz Salamun’s On the Tracks of Wild Game (translated by Sonja Kravanja), Lidija Dimkovska’s pH Neutral History (translated by Ljubica Arsovka and Peggy Reid), my translation of Aase Berg’s Mörk Materia and Don Mee Choi’s translation of Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage of the World, Unite!.


This is how Greenberg describes Dark Matter:

“Dark Matter is, as its title suggests, a relentlessly macabre collection of prose poems in sections (though certain landscapes and characters seem to melt from one into another), informed by imagery from sci-fi and horror movies and video games: black shells, glowing castles, radioactive lemurs, crystal germs. The whole book feels LCD-screen-blue in a blacklighted cavern, and in true Gothic mode, the body is itself the site of horror: “I haul myself,” the speaker with a gashed-up mouth laments in “Life Form”…

Greenberg’s method throughout is to draw connections between American and the translated poets:

“certainly Berg’s work with its throbbing aquariums, tentacle cities, illicit carnivals and “Herbaphrodites,” feels very close to the gaudy, fairy-tale-infused grotesqueries of poets like Lara Glenum and Danielle Pafunda. But we can also hear Celan in a poem like “Rubber Cathedral”:

The foundation the bone-porousness
the cathedral the bone-porousness
the holedeep cathedral
the universe increases

the temptingsongdepth’s hearing

About All the Garbage, she writes:

“In All the Garbage, the body and landscapes are both punctured, permeated: in the poem “Starfish” ditches form from tears, and limbs dissolve. Women and girl children, endangered and bloodied, seem to be analogies or akin to the earth, both of which “peel easily like an onion” and suckle or are suckled without nourishment. This is a poetry of vast depletion.”

OK, that’s an abbreviated version of the article. Go read the whole thing. It’s not on line so you’ll actually have to trod over to your bookstore and get a hard copy. Or if you -as many people these days – do not live close to a good bookstore, you can buy a copy here.

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