Visiting us this month at Vouched is Adam Robinson, editor of Publishing Genius Press and author of Adam Robison and Other Poems and Say, Poem.
* * *
In Dorothea Lasky’s introduction to The Formal Field of Kissing by Bernadette Mayer, republished last year by Monk Books from NY, she writes, “When the editors asked me to [write this introduction], I could not believe my luck.” And that’s how I felt when Christopher asked me to be the first Vouched Visitor.
The Formal Field of Kissing is amazing, by the way, and you’d be doing yourself a favor to buy a copy. At $10, it’s a steal, in spite of the misleadingly short page length (30 pages, some of which have several pieces on them). This book is my first time reading Bernadette Mayer, who is so fresh, where’ve I been, and it’s a nice way to revisit Catullus and Horace, whom the book translates and takes as its starting point.
You won’t find a what-the-fucker more than Catullus #42 — which you can hear Mayer read at Penn Sound (listen). (In the beginning of this reading she says you’ll probably never hear a real translation of that poem. A professor at Middlebury explores why in this old-Internet essay.)
Isn’t it surprising, when the ancients turn out to be profane and funny? Here’s a translation of Horace, from the Greek:
You sing and play the lyre and I’m on fire
I want to strum the whole fucking universe
You know I want to loosen your strings
When he says “I want to loosen your strings,” I feel like he’s saying “I want to get into your pants” as much as he’s referring to the strings of the lyre. Right? Or am I crazy?
One of my favorite bands is Old Songs (feat. Chris Mason, author of Hum Who Hiccup). They translate ancient Greek poets like Sappho and put the songs to music. Here is Sappho “104a”. It’s so moody! But other Old Songs songs have lines like “You didn’t give me no coat,” and “The girls were driving me from the door with sticks.” When savvy poets are translating the ancients, I’m never sure how much of the punky parlance exists in the original and how much the translator instills, trying to make it familiar to our jagged, modern ears. I’m sure someone could tell me. Why don’t you just tell me, Anne Carson?