Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Looking for Beauty in a Word

I'm really missing my books lately, especially the poetry ones. Hopefully we'll be reunited soon, but in the meantime, I plan to find some of the poets I don't have yet. Reading more poetry is, believe it or not, a step in working on my novel, to make my prose more lyrical. (All of these poets and more can be found on the Poetry Foundation's website.)

Robert Hass is one of these. He's known as a poetry translator, along with writing his own poems. If you think poetry translation is just a matter of knowing another language, think again. When a word can have several different meanings, how do you choose which one is just right? How do you keep the feel of a poem when it translates with such different sounds? It's a difficult thing, which Hass does well. Several years ago, I went to a reading of his in Chicago, and he was delightful. I'm not looking for a specific book of his; anything will do.

Another poet I'm seeking is W.S. Merwin, author of The Shadow of Spring, which won a Pulitzer in 2009.

A bit from his poem "A Purgatory":

"...once more the eye
reveals the empty river
feathers on all the paths
the despairing fields
the house in which every word
faces a wall...

...and the eye must burn again and again
through each of its lost moments
until it sees"

I love Merwin's simple beauty - the way he takes a single moment and stretches it into many by describing things so vividly, so thoroughly, that the reader can taste them. He, like Hass, is also a poetry translator, but Merwin is better known for his original works.

WisÅ‚awa Szymborska, a Polish poet who just passed away recently, wrote poems with irony and an air of question in them - questioning whether we actually know what we know. In the poem Dreams, the narrator says those who write dream interpretations don't actually know anything - but sometimes they're right anyway. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996, and I think she was pretty adorable, even in her later years.

File:Wislawa Szymborska Cracow Poland October23 2009 Fot Mariusz Kubik 01.jpg

I'm also seeking Hafez (or Hafiz, depending on who's translating). He's a Persian poet from the 14th century, and I only know one line of his: "Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you." I have a recent interest in Middle Eastern poetry in general - though much is lost through translation, well-translated poems can really convey the beauty of a language, and I heard somewhere that Persian and Arabic poetry are the most beautiful ever. That's an experiment I want to undertake. As well as I can, anyway. I have no plans to learn a new language anytime soon.

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