robertogreco + confucianism + pacifism   1

3quarksdaily: Sam Hamill Interviewed
"Shadab: What is the translator’s first allegiance: the original poem in all its cultural specificity (context, tradition-based allusions, nuanced language) or the poem’s more “translatable” aspect— its essence and meaning from a universal viewpoint?

Sam: Each translation brings its own particular challenges. Every translation is unique. Many classical Chinese poems can be translated in a very literal way—like Tao Te Ching for instance. And yet we have perfectly awful translations of it from people like Stephen Mitchell when the translator intrudes on the text. It’s a delicate dance. Mitchell reads no Chinese, so he simply invents and interprets from what others have done. I go through the poems character by character and try to make the poem a poem in English that is true to the original. We can’t replicate the 5 or 7-syllable line of classical Chinese poetry, nor mirror the interior and exterior rhymes, so I seek a speaking music in English to convey the sense of rhythm in our own tongue. In my Crossing the Yellow River: Three Hundred Poems from the Chinese, there are a variety of styles and distinctly different voices. We lose a lot of nuance and subtlety when bringing them into English.

Shadab: What are some of the glaring and subtle differences between the Western tradition of poetry and the Eastern, in your experience as a translator?

Sam: This would take a book to answer properly. Chinese is rhyme-rich, while English is rhyme poor. Chinese and Japanese poets use “pillow words,” a fixed epithet that gives a double-meaning. When our Asian poet speaks of “clouds and rain,” it may be about weather, but it also may be about sex. Clouds are masculine, rain is feminine. And individual Chinese characters often contain two or three or even four distinct meanings all at once, so the translator must choose a primary single meaning in English and “dumb it down” for the western reader. Classical Chinese poetry is chanted, not simply spoken. Classical Japanese poetry is loaded with sensibility, nuance and social awareness and often makes use of “honkadori,” “shadows and echoes” of classics both Japanese and Chinese. Translation is a provisional conclusion and great poetry needs to be translated freshly for each generation.

Shadab: What can we learn from Eastern aesthetics— in particular, the Chinese tradition?

Sam: Confucian exactitude of language, Taoist-Buddhist “non-attachment,” and most of all something about great human character at its core. Rexroth called Tu Fu “the greatest non-epic, non-dramatic poet ever,” and I think that reflects what he saw as Tu Fu’s character. As Heraclitus says, “Our character is our fate.” I think most classical Chinese poets would concur. I could make a similar case for Basho or Saigyo in Japanese.

Shadab: Is there such a thing as a “poem for all times”?

Sam: Sure. “Ode to the West Wind” would be a great poem in any language any day. Same with the great Zen poets or Rilke’s “Archaic Bust of Apollo” or… I could make a very long list.

Shadab: Are poets duty-bound to include a political consciousness/conscience in their work?

Sam: “Duty-bound?” I think not. But it’s almost impossible to write “apolitical” poetry in a world in which everything has political ties either directly or indirectly. A simple love poem is loaded with politics: is it heterosexual love we celebrate today? Is the “she” submissive or assertive? Is the “he” passive or dominant? Is “she” objectified or are her complexities reflected in the poetry? We’d have no “romance” in our poetry were it not for the meeting of Arabic and European tradition in Provence in the 12th century. I can’t imagine a poetry without conscience. Poetry, because it’s meant to communicate, is a social medium. Art is a social activity because it reaches out. Whether it’s Hopper or Goya, Plath or Rich or Gary Snyder, there is a social engagement that reflects back on culture and history.

Shadab: Is activist poetry effective as a catalyst for change in our times?

Sam: The “women’s movement” of the 60s and 70s was mostly begun by poets: Margaret Atwood, Adrienne Rich, Robin Morgan, Susan Griffin, et alia. They were inspired by Sappho, by Akhmatova, etc. Poetry has almost always been a part of social revolution. Think of the great poets of the Spanish resistance to fascism or the role of poets in Latin America and elsewhere. Nazim Hikmet struck terror into the hearts of his oppressors.

Shadab: How would you define the term world poet? Has America produced such a poet?

Sam: Whitman. He was read all over Latin America before we northerns realized how important he was. And to a lesser degree, Ezra Pound, and many of the post-modern poets transcend our borders.

Shadab: You once said: “You can’t write about character and the human condition and be apolitical—that’s not the kind of world we’ve ever lived in.”
Unlike most politically inclined poets, “apolitical” poets, such as the supremely popular former poet laureate Billy Collins (and a number of others), seem to have received tremendous success in earning laurels and even money. Why is that?

Sam: They entertain the lowest common denominator. They ask (or demand) almost nothing from their audience. They are the Edgar Guests of our age. They also ask very little of themselves, and certainly nothing the least bit revolutionary. They don’t present any threat to the status quo. Billy Collins was Poet Laureate when the USA invaded Iraq. But you’ll find no protest in his poetry."



"Sam: A poet’s first duty is to open his or her heart and stand naked in the act of revelation. I wouldn’t be a poet laureate even if asked. My “master” is revolution—nonviolent anti-capitalist humane revolution. The greatest threat to the world today is American imperialism, just as it was a hundred years ago. The body count is almost beyond comprehension—millions dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, genocide against Palestinian peoples whose lands are being stolen day by day, 30,000 gun deaths in the USA every year, drone bombings of children in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the sabotage of democratic governments in Latin American and elsewhere, sweatshops in Indonesia and China… the list goes on and on. Who will listen to the cries of the world? Who will dare speak for those who have been silenced?"
samhamill  poetry  capitalism  pacifism  imperialism  2014  interviews  activism  writing  politics  billycollins  translation  waltwhitman  garysnyder  margaretatwood  adrennerich  robinmorgan  susangriffith  basho  rilke  zen  buddhism  sappho  language  taoteching  asia  saigyo  tufu  taosim  confucianism  non-attachment  kennethrexroth 
september 2014 by robertogreco

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