Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Gift Horse Review

Quick off the mark, Quill & Quire has published a review of Gift Horse in its November 2011 issue (review isn't online yet). Meaghan Strimas describes Mark Callanan's poetry as
not fussy, nor is it driven by ego; it is humble, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is, for the most part, blessedly free of sentimentality and filler. There is an exactitude to his art, displayed in the efficiency of his diction and his tightly organized stanzas.
(Love that hedging "for the most part.") Callanan and Mary Dalton read at the Atwater Library in Montreal as part of the Atwater Poetry Project on April 26, 2012 at 7 p.m


Anonymous said...

Dear, Mr. Fox,
Hedging can be useful. In this case the reviewers 'hedging' echoes the humility of the poet whose work is under evaluation. In contrast, the absence of hedging in your post about Tranströmer, specifically where you refer to Don Cole's "masterful translation," must be read to mean that you have read the originals in Swedish.


Pat Warner
St. John's

Carmine Starnino said...

I agree: hedging IS useful. Though I'm not sure the reviewer is "echoing" anything -- she's just qualifying her praise. I guess I was pointing it out because the phrase "for the most part" has become such a reviewing cliché. I see it everywhere, including my own reviews. It's a great shorthand because it allows you fold in a great deal of doubt into your praise. But it doesn't make it any less of a (sometimes tedious) tic. And no, you're right, I don't read Swedish, so I have no way of knowing whether Don's translations match up with the originals. But then I don't read Serbian, Hebrew, Hungarian, Polish or German. And yet I've read really extraordinary English versions of poems by Vasko Popa, Yehuda Amichai, János Pilinszky, Wisława Szymborska and Durs Grünbein. I'd feel pretty comfortable calling those respective translations -- or "translations" -- masterful.

Anonymous said...

Getting one’s head around poems by an author one has not previously read is often difficult, so praise or condemnation should be tempered with at least a tacit acknowledgement that the review may be undercooked or overcooked. Hedging is less understandable –and may even be unforgivable—when you are dealing with a new book by an author whose previous work is known to you. Re: Mark Callanan's book, your pointing out the reviewer’s “hedging” I read as a criticism of the reviewer's praise not being unequivocal, when, in fact, your dissatisfaction seems to have emanated from what you judge to be a deficit in style. Fair enough.

On the question of translation, I’m less convinced. The problem, as I see it (slight hedge), is with the use of the term translation. Whether one encloses it in quotation marks or leaves it unadorned the term and the poem it applies to still carries with it the question of its antecedent. Evaluating a “translation” which takes into accounts both poems (and possible half-siblings) and evaluating a translation which considers the poem only in terms of the language it has been translated into are really very different exercises. I, too, have enjoyed English versions of poems by Brodsky, Milosz, etc., but it’s always in the back of my mind that if I knew the original I may not think that the poem is masterful at all (another hedge). A recent spate of letters in Poetry about a Lorca poem translated into English by the Irish poet Connor O’Callaghan illustrated the kinds of problems that can occur.

All of this raises an interesting question. If there can be a masterful translation of a masterful poem, can there be a masterful translation of a mediocre poem, i.e. can the translation so improve the original as to make it masterful or great.

Nice chatting with you, Mr. Fox.