k a m a t e k a o r aa new zealand journal of poetry and poetics
|issue 11, march 2012|
with translation and notes by Murray Edmond and Joanna Forsberg
Adam Wiedemann wrote a poem, “Wiersz Vivienne” (“Vivienne’s Poem”), while in Iowa City with Vivienne Plumb at a writers’ gathering at the University of Iowa. His poem was about the experience of translating a poem by Vivienne Plumb, “The Vegan Bar and Gaming Lounge,” into Polish, and thus it is a poem about the act of translation. With kind permissions of the authors, we have reproduced here both Vivienne Plumb’s poem “The Vegan Bar and Gaming Lounge” and Adam Wiedemann’s “Wiersz Vivienne.” “Wiersz Vivienne” was originally published in a selected volume of Wiedemann’s poetry, Czyste Czyny (Poznan, 2009). “The Vegan Bar and Gaming Lounge” was published in Nefarious: poems and parables (Wellington: Headworx, 2004), and that volume featured a cover drawing by Adam Wiedemann of a cow with human feet. To finish the story of this translating interaction between poets, Joanna Forsberg and I have translated “Wiersz Vivienne” into English, and provided notes about our translation. Our translation does not try to smooth out the bumps, and we have retained, but noted, “errors” and “oddities.”
The Vegan Bar and Gaming Lounge.
I hate places with names
I hate places with names
Vivienne pisze w tym wierszu, że nie lubi
Ale wracając do barów, teraz już można przetłumaczyć, Stara
Tłumaczyłbym ten wiersz dalej, ale mi się skończył.
Iowa City, 24.9.04
Vivienne writes in this poem that she does not like
But coming back to bars, now it is possible to translate The Olde
I would like to carry on translating this poem, but it surprised me with its end.
Translated by Murray Edmond and Joanna Forsberg
Notes: Murray Edmond
1. “Dusty” is a mis-reading of the original poem’s “dusky.” In other parts of the poem Wiedemann puzzles over unfamiliar words such as “scones” (potentially unfamiliar to some English readers too, but heartland English for Antipodeans) and “obsequious.” Once the bridge becomes “dusty” then the “damp leaves” that follow create an unlikely landscape, but one not unsuited to the lurking horror and haunting strangeness Plumb’s poem evokes. Iowa is arguably equally foreign for Plumb and Wiedemann, despite Plumb’s stronger claim to access the English spoken there. Plumb brings her scones to Iowa, and Wiedemann brings his Polish blues singer Elzbieta Mielczarek even though the hotel provides him with Prokofiev.
2. Carriage lamps become something like “switched-on reflectors,” pretty clearly the result of a dictionary trail making a false turning and leading into the wrong technological vocabulary. My guess is that Plumb’s “carriage lamps” refers to the use of “ye olde” style lamps in modern parks for illuminating pathways. This would connect with “The Olde Taverne” that appears two lines later and concurs with a distaste the poem expresses for a certain kind of foreignness-cum-antiquated stylization used in the contemporary world to give objects and surroundings a patina of class that is actually indicative of the cheap-and-kitsch-and-nasty. Café Bleu has been an earlier example of this. To this point Wiedemann’s poem has been “tracking” Plumb’s, so both poems come to the end of their first stanzas “simultaneously,” so to speak. “Switched-on reflectors,” if thought about for a moment, could constitute an image for the job that translators do–translators are “switched-on reflectors.” There is something to be grateful for in this odd phrase.
3. Binks must be the name on the hotel air-conditioning unit. It sounds like it could be a curse or a cry of delight or an instruction in a game in a number of languages, but it is a language-less word, which can’t be said of all proper names. Nevertheless Binks manages to stand for something of the horror (and the comedy) of writers at writers’ retreats or academics at conferences or important people gathering for meaningful intercourse: sooner or later all these junketeers will meet their Binks.
The context of the translator’s world has erupted into the poem in this third stanza, which up until then has been faithfully tracking Plumb’s poem (Plumb’s poem doesn’t have a third stanza, part of the disappointment Wiedemann expresses in the opening of his third stanza). Disappointment is accompanied by distress (Plumb’s poem drives the translator to melancholy). The contingent situation of the translator enters the world of the translation, betraying that sense of timeless transference that translations want to convey (and how their language world decays, just as rapidly, if not more so, than the original). Staring at Binks is what translators do. Talking to Binks is what translators do. And like it or not, some of that background chatter sneaks into the translation. The decay has set in as Binks wafts up the smell of those old potato peelings.
Plumb, Vivienne. Nefarious: poems and parables. Wellington: Headworx, 2004. Print.
Wiedemann, Adam. Czyste Czyny. Poznan: 2009. Print.