How did you come to translate Šalamun’s work?
I met Šalamun in the 90s and we became
friends and he asked me if I would look at some of his poems for him,
to sort of help him clean them up. Let's be clear that that is all I
can do for his poems -- clean them up for American publication. He
showed me a bunch and I did a lot of work on them and Rebecca Wolff and
I published one or two of them (I can't remember) in our inaugural
issue of Fence
, and he read those translations for the Fence
reading at the Public Theater. That was thrilling for me, of course,
not only to hear him read but to hear him read my translations. We did
several more which were published in various places -- places that
wouldn't ever publish me otherwise. Šalamun likes to have many voices
translate his work and I think that's great -- his first book here, the
, had at least 5
different translators if not more, and I think that is a good
thing. I was only a very small part of what has become Šalamun In
English, and I like it that way. I've always liked the Paul Auster
French anthology for that reason -- that he included several different
translator's voices for each French poet.
What relationships do you see between Šalamun’s work and your own?
Šalamun's poetry was very simply extremely influential for me. I've
said this stuff a million times, but basically his amazing combination
of European seriousness and historical gravitas mixed with a New York
School influenced freedom was a revelation to me at the time, and
something I tried and try to work at in my own poems.
Your new poems gather strength from the juxtaposition of seemingly
disparate syntactical units. Take the strangely dissonant closing lines
from “Volkswagen Rabbit:” “I drove you to your car./Your curly hair in
the late/afternoon on the prairie./And then you went/to Belgium and
died.” Taken together, these lines suggest an elegy, but the reader
senses a whole history of grief submerged in the silences between
lines. What is the relationship between the spoken and the
unspoken in your poetry?
I definitely always want to take out rather than put in. I want to say
as little as possible while suggesting as much as possible. Sometimes
that fails. Sometimes people aren't right there with you, and they're
not getting all that you think you are suggesting. I'm extremely
interested in the way that Basho, Issa, Buson, etc. are able to say so
much with so little. I think the secret is in WHAT is spoken and how
the right spoken thing can carry along with it, secretly, under wraps,
the important unspoken things. But there's a lot of failure.
Sample Translations: Agni
"The Sword" in There's the Hand and There's the Arid Chair