Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"Translation is the closest reading one can do of a poem."

Read this in an interview of Charles Simic. Actually scanned it. This is not a blogaday entry, but rather the sort of thing that I would love to use my blog for more often than I do--basically it gets eaten up in Facebook notes these days--it's basically an idea.

Simic is, of course, a translator. I say "of course" because the quote makes it obvious. So he's speaking literally. I've only scanned the interview, but this jumped out at me. I can take it and apply it figuratively, because there is a sort of translation going on when you read a poem, or rather when you read anything. Easton Ellis talking about film as the medium that forces itself upon you. The written word doesn't do that. I'm not linguist or brain specialist or what have you, so I won't pretend to be able to pick into the ways that language sets off thoughts and what reading actually means inside our heads.

I just thought that "translation" could fit well as a metaphor to what we all do when we see art. And here I'm speaking more cosmopolitanly than Ellis, because I think you can steer films into corners in your own mind, as well as anything else. It doesn't even really have to be art, because this is basically the same process as the one that I use, anyway, to create art. You're translating what you are taking in into your own personal language.

The idea I've been having for a while now for a story about an old author who's now translating his old novels into his wife's language--I want to be able to capture the above as part of its theme. Maybe I can't, because it isn't even horribly well stated above, but what the "Smitten"/"Found" stories have taught me is that I can write prose that is pretty ugly but that I can still be somewhat proud of. Poetry is completely different.

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