Category: Literature

An Interview with Jody Gladding, translator of Rimbaud the Son

We are delighted to release an interview with Jody Gladding, translator (with Elizabeth Deshays) of Pierre Michon’s Rimbaud the Son, now available through the Margellos World Republic of Letters series.  In the interview, Gladding discusses Michon’s groundbreaking book and addresses questions of translation.


rimbaud

Yale University Press: Although Rimbaud the Son is something approaching a biography of Rimbaud, much of the book seems to assume that the reader already knows a fair amount about his life. For example, pages after Verlaine’s introduction, Michon begins a sentence with, “It is also said—to explain the herring and the six-shooter…” Who is the audience for this book? Do you think that sentence requires the reader to already know the story of Verlaine’s shooting Rimbaud, or is there a kind of surreal delight in reading a sentence that begins this way without preparation?

Jody Gladding: There may be a kind of surreal delight in coming upon that sentence unprepared, but I think there’s greater delight in recognizing the reference, even if only faintly  The best audience for this book would be those readers as intrigued with Rimbaud’s myth as Michon is, although the writing is so beautiful, I think anyone who appreciates virtuosic prose, Rimbaud enthusiast or not, would enjoy it.

YUP: In your introduction, you say that a “Michon sentence is an architectural feat,” made of stacks of phrases that are set to topple if a single semicolon is out of place. He also seems to create his own language of metaphor which the reader must learn to understand the work—an example that comes to mind is his use of June to represent some kind of poetic beauty or authenticity. What effect does his writing style have on you, and do you think it has an increasingly small place in the literary world?

JG: By calling Michon’s sentences “architectural feats,” I mean that he constructs them with incredible skill, and their intricacies become even more apparent–and awe-inspiring–when, as a translator, I try to tamper with them.  Michon’s writing is dense and poetic and I think it will always have a select, passionate audience, even more so among English readers than French ones.  Personally, I find his prose really gratifying to translate.  This is the third Michon book I’ve translated with my good friend Elizabeth Deshays and, since I’m also a poet, it was an especially enjoyable experience.

YUP: Rimbaud and Michon both grew up in rural communes speaking something close to a patois. They both loved Victor Hugo, and both had sisters who died as infants and fathers who left when they were young children. How do these parallel childhoods shape the way Michon writes about Rimbaud? Do you think Rimbaud the Son is unique among Michon’s work because of this relationship?

JG: Yes, there’s definitely an autobiographical strain running through Rimbaud….  The absent father, the smothering mother, the backwater upbringing and how they shape the artist:  these are Michon’s recurring themes.  The author’s own experiences, obsessions, and aspirations inform his fictions, and to my mind, bring them to life.  Rimbaud… is no exception.

YUP: You write in your introduction that Michon’s “imagination is visual,” that he sees Rimbaud’s life through photographs. For example, the penultimate chapter of Rimbaud the Son is devoted to describing a single photograph of Rimbaud in intense and emotional detail. Was the visual and dramatic nature of the text a particular challenge of the translation?

Jody Gladding

Jody Gladding

JG: In fact, Michon’s attention to photographs throughout was a great aid in translating.  The images of Rimbaud that Michon draws upon, especially the iconic photograph of him with the crooked tie, are all easily available.  So we could view the photos in conjunction with the French text and come up with a more precise translation.  I love the visual imagination at work in Rimbaud….

YUP: I noticed while comparing the translation of Rimbaud the Son to the French how carefully you have preserved the original writing, down to the sentence structure. In your opinion, which is more important: avoiding the risk of reminding the reader that they are reading a translation, or creating the illusion of an untranslated work?

JG: I think the best translations constantly remind readers that they are in the presense of the unfamiliar, expressed in languages not their own.  I think it’s very important that readers, especially US readers, are mindful that they’re reading translations.  Whatever discomfort or resistance such reading experiences prompt can be transformative, and can begin to open whole new worlds.

YUP: Only about 3% of books published in the United States are translations, and the number is even smaller for literary works. What do you think is the future of translation, and translation into English?

JG: With some newer publishers specializing in translation, like Archipelago Books, and university presses creating translation series, like Yale’s Margellos Series, the future of translation looks brighter.  That figure of 3% is abysmal when you compare it to European publishing:  in Germany, 8% of all books published are translations, in France, 14%.  For literary presses, the numbers are even higher:  40% of all novels published in France are translated from English.  By making the works of major writers like Michon available to US and UK readers, publishers like Yale UP are helping to correct that imbalance.  Their contribution to literary culture is invaluable.

Celebrate Book Lovers Day with 10 Books about Books!

Unpacking My LibraryAugust 9th is Book Lovers Day! It’s a time to curl up with a book or three and read your heart out, and Yale University Press is here to help you celebrate. We know that choosing what to read next can be both sweetly intoxicating and totally overwhelming, so we’ve picked out some appropriate and entertaining titles for the holiday.

If you’re a book lover looking to read about other book lovers, we’d suggest Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books edited by Leah Price. The book spotlights the personal libraries of thirteen novelists with photographs, interviews, and top ten lists from each. The featured bibliophiles include Alison Bechdel, Junot Díaz, Lev Grossman and Sophie Gee, and Gary Shteyngart.

If the books in your home library are chock full of highlights, sticky notes, and scribbles, then Marginalia by H.J. Jackson might be the title for you. Jackson reflects on the cultural and historical value of writing in the margins, examines works that have invited passionate annotation, and presents examples of the most provocative marginalia. Jackson’s enthusiasm will be all too familiar to those who read with a pen or pencil in hand.

manguel_pbcoverIf you’re looking for some friendly and passionate encouragement to crack open a book, we’d recommend A Reader on Reading by Alberto Manguel. Manguel is a prize-winning writer and a well-decorated reader, and in this collection of essays he considers the ways reading defines our species. To Manguel, narrative is the underlying structure of consciousness, and books provide an intellectual home.

If you’ve wondered how books became so widely available, you might be interested in James Raven‘s The Business of Books. Raven traces the development of English literary commerce to explain how the book went from a luxury item to a mass market commodity. In a similar spirit, Andrew Pettegree reconstructs the first 150 years of the world of print in The Book in the Renaissance. He shows that the printed book had to straddle financial and religious imperatives from the very beginning.

If you’d like to know how the book in your hands came to be so comfortable to hold and pleasant to look at, then you should check out Richard Hendel‘s On Book Design. Hendel explains how he and other designers make decisions about size, shape, typeface, arrangement, and much more as they help transform a manuscript into a finished product.

If you want to understand not just books but Great Books, let How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton and A Little History of Literature by John Sutherland be your guides. Eagleton poses and addresses questions of evaluation and interpretation while commenting on movements including classicism, Romanticism, modernism, and postmodernism. Sutherland introduces great classics with his own twist of humor and wit, and he includes plenty of digressions into less than canonical territory (everything from Anglo-Saxon runes to The Da Vinci Code).

SeverinaIf, at the end of the day, what you’re really looking for is a well-told story, we’d recommend Severina, written by Rodrigo Rey Rosa and translated by Chris Andrews. The gripping novel centers on a bookseller and the enigmatic thief who throws his world into disarray. It’s a must-read book by a contender for Guatemala’s most prominent literary figure.

If you are interested in the history of Yale University Press and the challenges of university press publishing in general, we’d point you to A World of Letters by Nicholas A. Basbanes. The book recounts the various successes and controversies of Yale University Press’s first one hundred years (1908-2008).

Regardless what you choose to page through next, we hope you have a great Book Lovers Day. And let us know what you’re currently reading in the comments section below!

Roman Architecture: An Interactive Guide and Vacation Planner

As the days grow warmer and the nights grow longer, some are on vacation and many more are wishing they were. The best trips provide opportunities to see new sights, learn about another culture, and return home enriched by the experience. All too often, though, travelers witness the attractions that brought them to their destination and feel, if not quite disappointed, a little mystified at what all the buzz is about. They return home happy, but feeling that perhaps they could have gotten more out of the experience.

Roman Architecture CoverDiana E. E. Kleiner wants to make sure that if you go to Rome that doesn’t happen to you. She’s a professor of Art History and Classics at Yale University, where she teaches a course on Roman Architecture. She’s written Roman Architecture: A Visual Guide to help you learn about what remains from the ancient world’s greatest superpower. The ebook has maps, geolocation links, and more than 250 photographs, many of them taken by Kleiner herself. The iBooks version has bonus features including popup references, visual book navigation, and a set of flashcards for students. Kleiner makes it easy to understand the sights when you are standing in front of them, and easy to feel like you’re there even if you are reading Roman Architecture from the comfort of home.

Kleiner has written an informative textbook that nevertheless feels like a guidebook. She includes historical details about an impressive number and variety of architectural treasures, and in doing so gives a clear sense of what you simply cannot afford to miss. Here’s a rundown of the stops on your next Roman vacation.

The Pantheon

Pantheon, exterior, Rome, A.D. 113-118/125

Pantheon, exterior, Rome, A.D. 113-118/125

To start off the trip right, drop by what Kleiner calls the greatest building ever built. The Pantheon’s greatness comes in large part, she says, from its surprise. To the uninitiated observer, the building looks like a Greco-Roman temple. Roman architects adopted the Corinthian columns and triangular pediment from Greek temples, and an inscription declares that Marcus Agrippa made it. Kleiner explains that, although Agrippa commissioned an earlier temple, Apollodorus of Damascus likely designed the Pantheon for Hadrian. The professor highlights the innovative and remarkable interior, with multi-colored marble floors and walls, a coffered concrete dome 142 feet in diameter, and a stunning central oculus. The oculus lets in light that plays beautifully across the rest of the interior. The temple was dedicated to all the Roman gods and, for Kleiner and others, it is imbued with a touch of the sublime.

Pantheon, interior view of dome, Rome, A.D. 113-118/125

Pantheon, interior view of dome, Rome, A.D. 113-118/125

The Colosseum

Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheater), Rome, A.D. 70-80, view from the glass elevator at the Monument of Victor Emmanuel

Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheater), Rome, A.D. 70-80, view from the glass elevator at the Monument of Victor Emmanuel

If you are looking for top quality Roman entertainment, head over to the Colosseum. Vespasian built the arena, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, for public enjoyment in order to distance himself from his predecessor Nero, who constructed edifices designed solely for his own pleasure. The amphitheater delighted the Roman populace with gladiator fights and mock sea battles, and it remains a public structure, serving as one of Rome’s most visited sites and an enormous traffic roundabout. Kleiner highlights architectural features including its impressive capacity (50,000 spectators), and the ingenuity of its supports. The traditionally constructed first floor supports the new ribbed vaults of the second floor, formed out of merging two traditional barrel vaults. These vaults completely support the Colosseum, and the columns visible along the exterior are decorative.

Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheater), facade,  Rome, A.D. 70-80

Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheater), facade, Rome, A.D. 70-80

The Markets of Trajan

Markets of Trajan, Via Biberatica, Rome, ca. A.D. 113

Markets of Trajan, Via Biberatica, Rome, ca. A.D. 113

Having seen two of the most iconic sights, it might be time for some shopping. Instead of (or maybe in addition to) going to a modern shopping mall, Kleiner encourages visiting the shopping mall’s ancient predecessor, the Markets of Trajan. You can stroll down the Via Biberatica and see where there would have been three stories of shops on either side. 150 shops were housed in tabernae, small, barrel vaulted spaces with doors framed by travertine posts and lintels. The Markets of Trajan, like the Pantheon, were designed by Apollodorus of Damascus. According to Kleiner, Apollodorus’s greatest accomplishment in the design of the markets was supporting vaults with piers and not walls. This opened up the space and let far more light enter.

Markets of Trajan, market hall, Rome, ca. A.D. 113

Markets of Trajan, market hall, Rome, ca. A.D. 113

The Baths of Caracalla

Baths of Caracalla, general view of remains, Rome, A.D. 212-216

Baths of Caracalla, general view of remains, Rome, A.D. 212-216

Going on vacation is tough work and, after a day exploring a new city, there’s nothing quite like a hot bath. Since Romans tended not to have running water in their homes, architects designed remarkable public bathhouses. The buildings had a more or less standard series of rooms including a dressing room (apodyterium) with niches in the walls for clothing, a warm room (tepidarium), a sauna (caldarium), and a cold room (frigidarium). The buildings varied in size and grandeur, and the largest and most impressive at the time, what Kleiner calls The Mother of All Bath Buildings, was built by Caracalla. Lecture halls, libraries, and seminar rooms surround the standard bathing rooms. Caracalla had an enormous caldarium built, and the dome covering it has a diameter nearly as expansive as the Pantheon’s.

The Gelato

Gelato

Now that you have seen a temple, an arena, a mall, and a bathhouse, it is past time for dessert, and no trip to Rome would be complete without some gelato. Kleiner includes Tre Scalini in Piazza Navona on her list of things to do in Rome if you can only go for one day. She recommends the tartufo, which includes chocolate gelato, chocolate chips, panna, and a pirouette. There are plenty of gelaterias with fruit flavors as well, if you are less keen on chocolate.

The photographs and interactive features make it so vivid you can practically taste the gelato. Roman Architecture: A Visual Guide offers an immersive experience whether you have just landed in Rome or just sat down on your sofa at home. You can find more details at romanarchitecture.org.

 

Thoreau: Fully Annotated

Walden JacketIn a month, it will have been ten years since Jeffrey S. Cramer published Walden: A Fully Annotated Edition. Cramer has had a prolific and successful decade, editing numerous volumes on Henry David Thoreau and racking up awards and praise. In 2012, radio host Jim Fleming said that Cramer “may know more about the bard at Walden Pond than anyone else alive.” He has earned that reputation, at least in part, on the basis of his annotations.

Cramer has published three fully annotated volumes by Thoreau: Walden (2004), The Maine Woods (2009), and Essays (2013). To begin to understand why these books are “fully annotated” and not merely “edited,” one need only take a quick glance at Walden. Thoreau’s text occupies the half of the page closest to the spine and Cramer’s copious annotations run along the outside. Between the transcendentalist’s prose and the scholar’s commentary, most of the pages are, indeed, completely full. There are only a handful of places where Thoreau’s text proceeds without Cramer’s accompaniment, and rarely for longer than a few paragraphs. Far more commonly, Cramer’s annotations outstrip Thoreau’s chapters.

The fullness of the fully annotated edition comes not only from the volume of the commentary but also from its breadth and depth. Cramer provides the expected historical, philosophical, and geographical contexts for Walden and goes well beyond their bounds. He explains the writer’s puns, calls him on his exaggerations, and knowingly undercuts his more bombastic pronouncements. When Thoreau declares that “Those who have not learned to read the ancient classics in the language in which they were written must have a very imperfect knowledge of the history of the human race,” Cramer chimes in to say that “Although Thoreau could read Greek, he did not always read the Greek authors in the original, but would use Latin, French, or English translations.”[1]

walden_page

Cramer annotates Walden with the care and thoroughness usually reserved for Shakespeare plays or the Bible, and one might ask why the scholar feels compelled to explicate Thoreau so fully. Perhaps it is simply Cramer’s passion that leads him onwards. Most people will expound upon their favorite subject to an attentive audience for hours if given the opportunity. Indeed, some of that spirit comes through in Cramer’s interviews. In 2012, he was asked what three scenes from Thoreau’s life he would include in a biopic. The scholar begins carefully, selecting major life events, but quickly finds himself on a roll, listing scene after scene, finishing with “and— and— how long can we make this movie?”

Benjamin_D._Maxham_-_Henry_David_Thoreau_-_RestoredYet even as Cramer’s interviews imply that his breathless enthusiasm may be the impetus for the full annotations, his introduction hints at a justification rooted in Walden itself. Cramer quotes Thoreau’s claim that “The heroic books, even if printed in the character of our mother tongue, will always be in a language dead to degenerate times; and we must laboriously seek the meaning of each word and line, conjecturing a larger sense than common use permits out of what wisdom and valor and generosity we have.”[2] Thoreau, Cramer argues, is suggesting a way of approaching Walden. To “seek the meaning of each word and line” is precisely the task of the annotator, who identifies the precise significance of each moment. At the same time, the annotator expands the language beyond its common use, and does so with “wisdom and valor and generosity.” Cramer’s wisdom lies in his paramount knowledge of the bard at Walden Pond, his valor in his perseverant attention, and his generosity in the abundance of his commentary. It is in this sense, in fulfilling a need Thoreau himself seems to recognize, that Cramer’s editions are fully annotated.

 


[1] Thoreau, Henry. Walden. 1854. Ed. Jeffrey Cramer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. 101.

[2] Jeffrey S. Cramer. Introduction. Walden. By Henry D. Thoreau. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. xx.

Jewish American Heritage Month Features The Glatstein Chronicles

Get the ebook of The Glatstein Chronicles for only 2.99 via Open Road Media this Jewish American Heritage Month!

 

In 1934 and with World War II steadily nearing, Jacob Glatstein, one of the most prominent Yiddish-language poets of his time, boarded a ship from the United States to visit his dying mother in his hometown of Lublin, Poland. It is this trip that serves as the basis for the two novellas of autobiographical fiction comprising The Glatstein ChroniclesTold from the first-person perspective of Yash, The Glatstein Chronicles highlights the decline of an entire community through the lens of international Jews in the years leading up to World War II. Book One, “Homeward Bound” details Yash’s observations of his fellow passengers’ political and social leanings over the course of his journey. Glatstein combines childhood memories of violent pogroms in Poland with commentary on escalating anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe to highlight the resilience of the Jewish people and their ability to remain united as a collective group in the face of growing hostility.

In book’s second half, Glatstein reveals the true matter at hand, once again through the experiences of others: the utter despair and seeming lack of hope that must be endured by the Polish Jewry in an environment almost wholly overtaken by anti-Semitism. The Glatstein Chronicles’ importance lies not only in its ability to shed light on the Jewish experience in the years leading up to World War II, but also in its prescience, foreshadowing the imminent horrors of the Holocaust Jews had yet to face at the time of the novellas’ publication.  At the end of Book Two, “Homecoming at Twilight,” before his return to the United States, Glatstein reflects:

Even my mother’s death seemed to coincide oddly with the downward movement of my own life, and all this was in step with Jewish life as a whole, maybe even with the twilight now settling down over the whole world.

Although fraught with anguish and hopelessness, The Glatstein Chronicles serves as “a filial homage to Polish Jews,” offering hope, a hope rooted in the notion that solidarity with one’s community is the most crucial to enduring harship.

This month is the perfect time to explore the life of Yash Glatstein and the experiences of the Polish Jew through The Glatstein Chroniclestranslated by Maier Deshell and Norbert Guterman and part of Yale University Press’s New Yiddish Library series.

JewishHeritageMonth_socialgraphic_600x320_Glatstein

Wilfred Owen: WWI’s Peter Pan Poet

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

– from “Dulce et Decorum Est” (1917)

Wilfred OwenAs a fourteen-year-old boy, Wilfred Owen wore a crest that combined a globe with a cross, and underneath ran the motto “To Observe the World.” Guy Cuthbertson, author of the new biography Wilfred Owen, writes that this crest could have served Owen as a badge for life. Owen led a short life but was constantly on the move. As a child, he lived near the Welsh border in Oswestry, Shropshire, before moving back and forth between Birkenhead near Liverpool and Shrewsbury. As a young adult, he spent time in Dunsden, Reading, and London before leaving for the Continent. Despite having moved around a lot, Owen’s tight-knit relationship with his mother provided him with emotional stability throughout his life.

Unlike her husband, Susan Owen encouraged his interest in poetry. In her youth, she wished to become an artist, but her dreams were crushed by her difficult living circumstances. Neither a starving artist nor a well-off gentleman, Owen also struggled with his lower-middle-class socioeconomic status that prevented him from pursuing higher goals. He grew up without a nanny, a boarding-school education, and without a comfortable home. He had little money to travel and socialize with fellow artists and cultured society. And he could not go to university because he could not afford the school fees and did not have high enough grades to qualify for scholarships (which he bitterly blames on the fact that he had to work so hard outside of school at his jobs). His dream of following his literary predecessors’ footsteps to Oxford was never realized.

He did study English and botany at University College, Reading, but in the end Owen provided himself with the literary education he sought. He had a deep devotion to poets of the past, such as Keats, Shelley, and Tennyson. Cuthbertson writes that Owen felt closer to dead writers than to living people; according to Owen, Keats’ home in Hampstead was “one of London’s most holy spots.” In general, he loved being in London because of its wide range of cultural offerings and because he got the sense of being somewhere necessary, somewhere where it all happens and where he can walk the same streets as great men of yore.

Similar to the titular character in Chateaubriand’s René, Owen felt he was born in the wrong era. His head was in the 20th century but his old soul wandered in the worlds of centuries past. If the present was ugly, Owen would find happiness in the past, an attitude that differed from the Victorian emphasis on Progress and the future. But the real world around him was also on the cusp between the old and the new. During Owen’s childhood in England, the motor car was a rare sight, horses still plowed the fields, and planes did not yet adorn the night sky (Owen would see his first plane in 1912). It was not until he left to teach English in Bordeaux that he managed to enjoy a life more similar to the one he dreamed of, even if it meant fabricating aspects of his identity to mesh with the social and cultural elite of the area.

Wilfred Owen was not a man for fighting in the trenches and facing the horrors of World War I. But ever the poet since childhood, Owen grew up intensely aware of the visual beauty of war and how it was a source of inspiration to many writers. However, Cuthbertson emphasizes that Owen was not naïve about the realities of war and had been previously exposed to war and death: he ministered to the sick and dying in as a lay assistant in Dunsden, he had seen wounded soldiers while living in Bordeaux, and he participated in military training for a year before being sent to the Front. He put off enlisting for some time because he knew, unlike many young lads his age, that war was not all about exciting heroics. Eventually, Owen joined the Artists’ Rifles in October 1915, a Special Forces regiment of the British Army Reserve that comprised of creative types and those from a public-school/Oxbridge background. While in the trenches in France, he felt a need took an archaeological approach to writing about the War and his poetry reflects a keen sensual understanding of the violence that surrounded him. He met a tragic end, dying on one of the last days of the First World War, at just 25 years old, and his family was informed of his death on Armistice Day. It is indeed very sad for such a young talent to leave us so soon, but given that Owen never wanted to grow up and had a fear of growing old, one might say that he would appreciate the pathos to his death.

Cuthbertson’s narrative feels very up to date with contemporary references to help readers understand World War I’s famous poet. He compares Owen to fellow Scouser John Lennon because of their mutual roots near Liverpool while also comparing him to Humbert from Lolita because of his deep interest in young children. Despite making these comparisons, Cuthbertson ultimately demonstrates that Owen is hard to define. He always tiptoes on the border of being something different. While born in England to an English family, his connections to Wales and Welsh culture had some wondering whether or not he could considered a Welsh poet. While raised in an evangelical Christian family, Owen was so enchanted by the art of Catholicism that some thought he perhaps became a Catholic in secret. His sexuality also remained less than clear; Owen expressed an admiration for certain young men and women, but many admirers thought him to be almost sexless.

Even in death, Wilfred Owen’s identity is still a mystery, still constantly in motion. Like Peter Pan, Owen never grew old in his own life nor in our imaginations.

Q&A with Eryn Green, the 2013 Winner of Yale Series of Younger Poets

Eryn Green_

Happy National Poetry Month! Check out the new site, Youngerpoets.org!

 

Yale University Press had the pleasure of interviewing Eryn Green, whose collection, Eruv, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 2013; his book is out this month. Here, we discussed about the life of a poet and the relevance of poetry in today’s modern society. Visit the new Yale Series of Younger Poets website for more information on the history of the prize, published books, and of course, our illustrious list of poets.

 

Yale University Press: What prompted you to start writing? And why poetry in particular as opposed to prose?

Eryn Green: I’ve been writing since I can remember. I recall walking upstairs and explaining to my parents very calmly that I wasn’t going to be able to make it to dinner because I was “really on a roll” with a story I was writing about a guy who waits his whole life to go to outer space, but misses his rocket ship to Mars because he’s kind of OCD and has to arrange everything in his house a certain way or else he’s sure the rocket will crash. I was 8-years-old. So, the impulse has always been there. But I began writing poetry in earnest in college, after years of fiddling with it, after taking writing workshops with some amazing teachers and meeting a mentor and really finding my chosen family of friends in the writing community at the University of Utah. I realized poetry was as much about what I wrote as it was about how and with whom I was writing. I knew this was what I wanted to do immediately.

 

YUP: What or who are your primary sources of inspiration?

EG: My friends and family, first of all. I am intensely lucky to have so many gifted writers around me every day—from my talented partner Hanna Andrews and the library of excellent work that has come out of Switchback Books and Coconut Books over the last handful years, to dear friends from Utah and Denver like Nathan Hauke, Kirsten Jorgenson, Geoff Babbitt, Stacy Kidd, Shira Dentz, Kathryn Coles, Brenda Scieczkowski, Chris Kondrich and Sam Knights, all of whose work slays me. Denver at this moment is a really terrific place to be a poet—we have an amazing community centered around the various creative writing programs in the vicinity and the flourishing small-press scene building along the Wasatch Front. All of that stuff helps keep me inspired. I also am a big fan of the forest and the national park and the humble bog.

 

YUP: How would you describe your overall process as well as your day-to-day writing schedule?

EG: Well, I have a very tiny 4-month-old baby girl, so my day-to-day writing schedule changes day-to-day. Which, as it turns out, isn’t such a big deal—actually, it fits right in with my long-standing general approach to writing. I write in a journal, nothing ever finished, usually scribbling just small jots and tittles, and then I return to my notebooks later as a kind of source of compost and inspiration. I try to keep the process of writing a poem low-stakes as much as I can—I try to recognize my work within the broader scope of my life and the life of the universe, which sounds hokey, but is true. The stars and the sun make writing easier—if I don’t write a poem today, does anything suffer? No, assuredly not. The sky is still there, the ground is still there, the birds still know intuitively exactly when to strike up the band. Things remain well underway. So, writing for me is a way to recognize the larger conditions of things, and my place therein, and in this thinking writing a poem is inherently a moment of joy.

 

YUP: Which audience (if any) do you have in mind when crafting your work?

EG: It’s an interesting question. On the one hand, I live and work in a community of writers, many of whom I share my work with regularly. So, my friends are on my mind. But more conceptually, really, I think about writing as a kind of prayer—what is the audience for a prayer? It’s not God, exactly—and it isn’t just emptiness. It is some kind of point in-between, a flickering intelligence inside of space that I imagine—that’s who /what I figure is giving me the material in the first place, and so that is with what/who I often imagine myself writing to.

 

YUP: How many rejections did you receive before your first published poem?

EG: So many. Like, tons. Who even knows. An amount only measurable in bulk mass.

 

YUP: What is your reaction to rejection? How do you internalize that experience?

EG: Initially it was terrible, because I felt like I was up against an impenetrable wall of insider knowledge I didn’t hold. But, it turns out, I was just writing bad poems. Once I got a couple of poems accepted to journals, the still-constant slog of rejection became less intimidating and more motivating. My general reaction to rejection today is opening a beer.

 

YUP: How do you know when your work is “finished”? Do you find yourself editing work that you deemed complete a long time ago?

EG: I suspect that all writers are somewhat bad at this, but I know myself that I am never sure when a poem is over—perhaps a reason I write so many serial works. I think one of the jobs of the poet is not to dictate to the poem what its shape or content or exact parameters are going to be, because it’s a little tyrannical and anyone can learn how to execute this kind of poetry-by-way-of-rote-equation. No, a big part of being a poet is learning how to look and listen more carefully to the subject underhand, to become evermore attentive to your circumstances and the work that is revealing itself this moment in your writing. You know a thing is finished when it says it is.

 

YUP: Mark Edmundson wrote an article for Harper’s last summer, claiming that American poetry is in decline. Do you see this as real problem in today’s literary landscape?

EG: The first thing to say—and this is not said nearly often enough in the discussion of contemporary poetics—is that poetry itself cannot decline. Not in America nor on the Continent nor in the Southern Hemisphere nor Antarctica. This is why we come to poetry in the first place: it is beyond us. In the same way that matter cannot be created or destroyed, merely transferred, poetry—the substance of the thing, that which we are all working to translate and record in our poems—is an inexhaustible natural resource. It is of the world, of the universe, and can no more decline than can the cosmos. So this brand of newspaper doom-saying is just bluster, and it feels comically curmudgeonly. We do not have to worry about poetry. That recognition alone is more liberating as a poet than I can possibly articulate.

That being said, in direct answer to your question: no. Decidedly no. The poems coming out of America today are not declining in quality. Indeed, as it’s been said time and time again, the amazing proliferation of high-quality, experimental small presses publishing the work of an increasingly diverse range of poets makes this day—today—the most exciting time imaginable to read and write poetry. So you say you don’t like poetry? What kind of poems do you mean—we have other examples to show you. You say that the work was better in days gone by? Well, who knows. But there is certainly more poetry available now than ever before, in addition to all that came before, and while that might amount to a few stinkers here and there, in large it means a deeper and more satisfying literary landscape through which to saunter. We should be happy everyone isn’t Robert Lowell.

 

YUP: What would be your advice for young poets or potential writers who are timid to dive into the process and don’t know how to start.

EG: Start. If you don’t know where to start, take John Cage’s advice and “Begin Anywhere.” Honestly. Start reading the winners of the prizes you care about—start checking out the work of different poets working in different parts of the country, affiliated with different schools and literary movements—start sending your work
to recipients that might be sympathetic, even if it isn’t an official contest period. Maybe people will just be happy to see your excellent work. Worst case scenario, they won’t be. Regardless, you’ll be better for getting it out into the world.

 

YUP: Attention spans are deteriorating and we’re allegedly moving towards a post-literate society; why do you think poetry remains relevant today?

EG: Poetry is the rare form of art or literature that rewards equally on the smallest level—the music of the phoneme, the word, the line—as it does on the level of the whole work. So, even if attention spans are getting shorter, poetry is still able to impart valuable experiences and lessons to readers. Poetry packs a big punch in a variety of small packages; you can get something out of a poem at almost any juncture. This is not to speak of the wealth of cool poetry that is directly wed to the internet and web-based technologies, which is a big wealth, a richness, all of which ought to be right in the wheelhouse of 21st century inclinations. Despite the popular move away from reading and the interruptions of modern living, poetry remains a really powerful way to remind people they are human and that life is beautiful and hard and worth paying real attention to. Poetry touches on that which is shared in common.

 

Eryn Green is the author of Eruv, winner of the 2013 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. He recently received his Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Denver and holds an MFA from the University of Utah. His work has appeared in Jubilat, Colorado Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and elsewhere. He lives in Denver, CO.

Celebrate National Poetry Month with YUP

View our 50% Off Selection of National Poetry Month Titles for e-newsletter subscribers!

April is National Poetry Month, and Yale University Press has been excited to celebrate with new titles dedicated to the art of verse and a handful of paperback releases from our Margellos World Republic of Letters series.

 

After last month’s announcement of Ansel Elkins as our 2014 winner, we are delighted to showcase the work of last year’s Yale Series of Younger Poets winner Eryn Green with our release of his collection, Eruv. As Carl Phillips, judge of the last three competitions, and chancellor of the American Academy of Poets notes, Eruv “reminds us how essential wilderness is to poetry—a wilderness in terms of how form and language both reinvent and get reinvented.” Holding both a PhD from the University of Denver and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Utah, Green has published an essay in Esquire, and his poetry has appeared in JubilatColorado Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly, among other publications. Eruv is now available in paperback and a cloth limited edition. You can read a Q&A with Eryn on our blog and be sure to visit the new Yale Younger Poets website!

 

 

Kiki Dimoula; Photo Credit: Michalis Anastasiou

 

Kiki Dimoula is one of the most highly regarded names in the canon of Greek contemporary poetry. She is a recipient of the European Prize for Literature and a full member of the Academy of Athens, to which only three women have ever been inducted. Now available in paperback, The Brazen Plagiarist, translated by Cecile Inglessis Margellos and Rika Lesser, selects poignant poetry comprising her immense oeuvre and highlights the beautiful verse, which according to poet Yves Bonnefoy, is reminiscent of “reflections of a cloudy sky in earthly words.”

 

 

Dante, the medieval Italian poet fondly known as the “Father of the Italian language,” is probably most well-known for his epic poem The Divine Comedy. In hopes of being able to examine the poet and the social climate of his time through the lens of The Divine Comedy and Dante’s other minor works, Open Yale Courses is offering “Dante in Translation,” taught by Giuseppe Mazzotta, Sterling Professor of the Humanities for Italian at Yale and specialist in medieval literature. Mazzotta’s Reading Dante situates the writings within the poetic and political context of the late Middle Ages while exploring the poltical, philosophical, and theological issues at the forefront of Dante’s mind, including the relationship between ethics and aesthetics, love and knowledge, and exile and history.

 

 

While some of our readers may be somewhat familiar with Kabbalah and some not at all, we aim to expand your consciousness of the subject with the paperback publication of The Poetry of Kabbalah:  Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition, translated and annotated by Peter Cole. The compilation, the first in the English language examining Jewish mysticism, spans over 1,500 years of Kabbalistic tradition. A 2007 MacArthur Fellow and founder of Ibis Editions, a small literary press in Jerusalem dedicated to publishing overlooked works in the languages of the Levant, Cole has been praised for his talent for transforming poems “long regarded as untranslatable” into English translations that “retain the subtleties, complexities, and formal elegance of the original verse.” His elegant treatment of the sacred texts in this work is reflected even further by his translation philosophy, which dictates that he regard language as “sacred, or a reflection of the sacred,” describing his care of language as a moral and metaphysical act.

 

Just as Peter Cole has brought to light the tradition of religious verse, so do Jay Hopler and Kimberly Johnson, editors of Before the Door of God: An Anthology of  Devotional Poetryin which Hopler and Johnson follow the development of devotional poetry throughout history, tracing it back to the very origins of poetry in English. Focusing on the works more as “literary artifacts rather than spiritual exercises,” Johnson and Hopler showcase a range of poetry from sixteenth-century hymnody to the contemporary poetry that both adopts the devotional posture and reflects the widening influence of non-Christian traditions in the Anglophone canon. As the editors explain in the anthology’s preface, “This anthology brings together some of the finest poems of the Western literary tradition and does so with the hope of generating a conversation—not just among scholars, artists, and academics, but among readers generally—about the relationships among literature, history, and the idea of the spiritual.”

 

We invite you to read and share the works of poets and their translators in our Margellos World Republic of Letters series, featured in our WRLbooks sampler celebrating National Poetry Month!

Q&A with Will Schutt, the 2012 Winner of Yale Series of Younger Poets

Will-Schutt-Photo_smHappy National Poetry Month! Check out the new site, Youngerpoets.org!

 

Yale University Press had the pleasure of interviewing Will Schutt, whose collection, Westerly, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 2012 and was published last spring. Here, we discussed about writing poetry and the relevance of poetry in today’s modern society. Visit the new Yale Series of Younger Poets website for more information on the history of the prize, published books, and of course, our illustrious list of poets.

 

Yale University Press: What prompted you to start writing? And why poetry in particular as opposed to prose?

Will Schutt: I had good teachers, bookish parents, and a brother who was a great talker. I have never been a great talker, yet I have always felt an urgency to express myself. I tried drawing, but I was no good at drawing. I tried acting, but I was too shy to perform. When I wrote prose, I had no gift for storytelling. That’s not to say that poetry was my last resort, but it turned out to be the best means of articulation at my disposal.

 

YUP: What or who are your primary sources of inspiration?

WS: Good books, a room with a view, my wife’s curiosity.

 

YUP: How would you describe your overall process as well as your day-to-day writing schedule?

WesterlyWS: I write early in the morning, when I have the feeling that I don’t owe anyone anything yet, that I only have myself to answer to. I’m not sure there’s an overall process to speak of. As with soup, you keep stirring and tasting, stirring and tasting. Writing the poems in Westerly largely consisted of unearthing a pattern in an idea or experience (real or fictional). Pattern, after all, is pleasure. But there is pleasure in variation too. More and more often I find myself beginning with a formal pattern or turning over a particular word—ferry, carnival, wishy-washy, etc.—and figuring out how much I can deviate from the pattern or word’s associative meanings without giving way to chaos.

 

YUP: Which audience (if any) do you have in mind when crafting your work?

WS: Usually I do not have an audience in mind. Occasionally I wonder what certain writers I admire would think. Once in a blue moon I worry about what someone who isn’t a native speaker of English might make of my work.

 

YUP: What is your reaction to rejection? How do you internalize that experience?

WS: “They don’t know genius when they see it.” Or “They’re absolutely right. It’s crap.”

 

YUP: How do you know when your work is “finished”? Do you find yourself editing work that you deemed complete a long time ago?

WS: It is a good sign if I have surprised myself, if I have landed somewhere I hadn’t set out to land originally. I try to exhaust a poem’s possibilities and then work backward to see if everything in the poem is essential. I do return to work I had thought was finished, oftentimes with the result that I rip the poem up and repurpose a few lines.

 

YUP: Mark Edmundson wrote an article for Harper’s last summer, claiming that American poetry is in decline. Do you see this as real problem in today’s literary landscape?

WS: No, I don’t. I don’t even think Edmundson’s criteria for great poetry—that is, if I remember correctly, poetry that is more “public”—fits my own criteria for greatness. I come across plenty of ambitious, inspired American poetry of the moment. Poetry continues to change and sometimes people get off on sounding poetry’s death knell whenever it doesn’t resemble the model they’ve established for it.

 

YUP: Attention spans are deteriorating and we’re allegedly moving towards a post-literate society; why do you think poetry remains relevant today?

WS: I currently teach modern and contemporary poetry to high school students who prove to me on a weekly basis that poetry has hardly lost its relevance. It continues to be an antidote to deteriorating attention spans, to the manipulation of language, to deadening language, to dullness period. 

 

Will Schutt is the author of Westerly, winner of the 2012 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. A graduate of Oberlin College and Hollins University, he is the recipient of scholarships and fellowships from the Gilman School, the James Merrill House, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University. He was recently awarded the Jeannette Haein Ballard Writers’ Prize. His poems and translations have appeared in Agni, FIELD, the New Republic and elsewhere. He currently lives with his wife in Baltimore, Maryland. More information can be found at his website: www.wschutt.com.

Our Texts are Palatial: Words from Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger

Jews and Words is a book that celebrates the written word with a very particular voice that grew out of a lifetime of father-daughter conversations between co-authors Amos Oz, and Fania Oz-Salberger. As Martin Peretz of the Wall Street Journal noted, “You cannot get the taste of this book, let alone its essence, without reading it.” It seems natural to let Amos and Fania’s words speak for themselves.

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Amos and Fania’s interviews with NPR and i24 News provide another glimpse into their ongoing dialogue about the Jewish literary tradition. Hear in their own words what it means to be Jewish atheists, how the words “Jews” and “readers” can be interchangeable, and how Jews grew uniquely dependent on words.

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For more from Amos and Fania, listen to their conversation on the Yale Press Podcast with John Donatich and like Jews and Words on Facebook.

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