THE BLOG @ TIR
October 8, 2012
October 1, 2012
I debated with myself about whether to announce the content of this post in a title, the direct and somewhat implacable name + dates genre convention of memorial resolutions and tributes. It seemed somehow too harsh, especially with the wound this fresh, so let me leave that for the end.
In her recent Translationista post, Susan Bernofsky tells a story of Heim’s generosity, his recommendation of her as a translator for a book he knew she liked, a book he might have otherwise worked on himself. It is a familiar story. He did the same with me (for Predrag Matvejevic’s work), and with others I know, students and non-students alike. His generosity was authentic and deep-seated.
He was always very busy, juggling multiple projects at once. Many have his names attached, but there were others brought to him at embarrassingly late stages by desperate publishers in need of his expertise—for a reader report, a recommendation, or even a lengthy revision of someone else’s work—and these do not say Heim on them, though they have plenty of Heim in them. I asked him once if it bothered him that his work would not be recognzed. He said it was much more important that the work be done right. If his name wasn't on it, so be it.
This is how I see the absence of translators’ introductions or afterwords in his work. He certainly had plenty of opportunity to add his voice, introduce more of his presence, and he spoke and wrote eloquently about the work of translation in other venues, but not much about himself. This is what makes the reminiscences we publish here so remarkable—they deviate from a life-long pattern, a way of presenting himself in the world. It is no wonder that the interviewers had to “hound him with questions” to get his story. I am grateful that they did.
He gave his time freely to his many students, too. I was a beneficiary. He taught me how to translate, how to edit, how to mentor translators and teach translation, sometimes by tiny, apt suggestions for changes to a manuscript, often by providing a set of principles he had derived through long practice, always by setting an example. (He also filed my dissertation for me, when I had to catch a plane to get back to my first teaching job… which he had got for me through another former student...)
Now, it turns out his generosity was not even adequately recognized by many of us who knew it first-hand. As Chad Post recently noted in Three Percent, the anonymous donor who provided the bulk of the money for the PEN Translation Fund, was Michael Heim. Says Esther Allen, former Director of the Fund, “I had always thought that the Fund was exclusively the result of an investment of the death benefit Mike’s family had received when his father died in WWII, when he was just a toddler—that that money, invested in 1945, had simply grown until it was $734,000 in 2003.”
But it wasn’t just that, she would later learn. “There was no rich uncle in the background or killing on the market,” Mike’s wife Priscilla notes. “The accumulation of the money that made that fund came from our frugal living, though his Hungarian father, serving in the US army did leave a soldier’s legacy to begin with. We never went to restaurants, movies, though we lived a rich life in music, friends, and books--the best things, after all. Mike wore his clothes for years, including his good blazer after moth holes appeared. Those things add up.”
Indeed they do, and not just monetarily.
Michael Henry Heim (1943-2012): translator, teacher, mentor, friend.
October 1, 2012
Our friends at earthwords, the University of Iowa's oldest undergraduate literary review, are currently accepting submissions in art, poetry, nonfiction, drama, and fiction for the 2012-2013 issue.
Follow the link below to submit:
Deadline: October 15
September 13, 2012
Today and always, for you: Spanish translation!
“La pistolita” (Benjamin Percy’s “The Rubber-band Gun”), “Toc toc” (Brock Clarke’s “Knock knock”), “Avisos fúnebres” (Susan McCarty’s “Services Pending”), and “El pibe al que no invitamos a la orgía” (David Harris Ebenbach’s “The Guy We Didn’t Invite to the Orgy”)—come to us by way of two translation workshops in Buenos Aires, Argentina, headed by Argentine poet Santiago Llach and American translator Jennifer Croft. We published the English originals in TIR 40/2.
When Jenna proposed that I document the project, I read the original pieces (all excellent pieces o’ prose), tried to read the Argentine translations, and did a small panic. I write a little poetry, but not fiction not nonfiction and never ever translation. What little Spanish that’s still rattling around in me couldn’t get me a meal at Los Banditos. Besides, the other intern writes nonfiction and fiction and editor’s notes, he probably does translation I don’t know about, too, because he’s just that cool, and I am pretty sure he’s somehow ethnically more Spanish than I am because the surname Pérez, Wikipedia tells me, is usually Castilian Spanish, so he deserves this and he is capable. But none of these considerations matter because the other intern broke his foot.
But the crucial blog post was still salvageable: I’d email Russell in Japan and Jennifer Croft in Argentina, and then absolutely plaster the TIR blog in a cloud of quotes. Nobody would know that I know nothing.
Then Jennifer emailed me. Surprise, she was in Iowa City, would I like to get coffee? Well, yes, of course I would; I’m blown away by her niceness. But when I go to meet her I’m nervous anyway. Luckily, Jennifer is much calmer than I am, her voice is soft, and her eyes don’t skitter away when she talks. I like her very much. Because we meet in person, over lattes, and I want to appear casual, like I know things, and because I’ve never interviewed anyone since my grandmother in the seventh grade, I don’t record our conversation. All the same, here is my summation of all I learned from Jennifer.
Right now, Jennifer Croft is finishing her dissertation at Northwestern. She studied translation here in Iowa City, which is fortunate for us, otherwise an intern at some other school might be writing this. Jennifer has studied enough languages that when I ask her which she knows, she can’t make a precise count. She spent a Fulbright in Poland, and Slavic languages were her bread. Only recently, after too much Chicago chill prompted a cheap-seats flight to Buenos Aires, did Jennifer consider Spanish translation. She loved Buenos Aires, returned that summer to take classes, and met the poet Santiago Llach.
Because the Argentines are an excellent people, free-to-all literature courses take place every evening, on every block. “That’s something you don’t ever see here,” Jennifer says. “Argentine interests align more with mine; they love high art. For various reasons, I think our culture tends to shy away from it.” Argentines, Jennifer notes, also seem to have wholeheartedly embraced American literature, especially Cheever and Carver.
When Santiago wanted a co-teacher, Jennifer joined him in leading two intimate translation workshops. The classes met, respectively, in a respected bookshop and Santiago’s then sister-in-law’s house. By Argentine standards, ‘student of literature’ doesn’t designate a BA, MFA, or PhD—it’s anyone. So when the two workshops first met, ten strangers gathered: one was soon to be a psychologist, a few worked in business, one studied poetry, another was employed by a condom company. And everyone got along. This is to me a marvel. Jennifer agreed.
Before long, she asked Russell Valentino, our Editor-in-Chief and her once-teacher, for TIR pieces to translate. As Russell recalls, “The idea was that the regular distribution channels for American literature tend to favor big publishers of mostly genre fiction—it is by far the most widely available stuff from the U.S. around the world. Unfortunately, that means that many readers don't have much of a sense of the actual variety and quality of contemporary North American literature, and one of the places where that is most evident is in the world of lit mags, like TIR. Could I send her some pieces to use in their workshop? Of course, I could.”
Any piece passing through workshop becomes a group undertaking, but not quite to the extent that “El Pibe,” translated by seven folks at Llach’s sister-in-law’s, is.
“How?,” I ask. “Does everyone just shout out suggestions?”
“Yes.” Jennifer laughs. Interruption, it turns out, is a precise art in Argentina. At first, she’d wait for the discussion’s inevitable pauses. They never came. Later, her eager interjections offended the entire workshop. She’s since managed to find the line, she tells me.
So, Jennifer and Santi transcribed in the criss-cross pandemonium of voices. “The piece here is what we agreed upon.” She laughs again, pauses a moment. “Or it’s just what we managed to write down in time.”
The idiosyncrasies of this particular translation are several. First, Ebenbach’s orgy participants have been ousted by a new gang: “Santi,” “Jennifer,” “Guada,” “Pablo,” and so forth. As Jennifer notes, their sense of responsibility to a translation only grew once they threw their names into it. In an even cooler move, “El Pibe” is particular to Buenos Aires. “All in all, we wanted to honor Argentine Spanish. So we’d use vos instead of tú, and so forth, in all pieces,” says Jennifer. But “El Pibe” features straight-up local slang. For example, one of my favorite modifications: Ebenbach writes, “As a last-minute thing we invited that guy we met at the liquor store that night because he had a strange kind of authority, though we didn’t really know anything about him.” The Argentine team writes: “A último momento, le dijimos al flaco que nos cruzamos en el chino esa noche porque era… guau.” Roughly translated back to English, the line reads: “At the last moment, we asked the skinny guy we came across in the convenience store that night because he was… woof.” And so forth. A girl who incessantly hands out “Jesus pamphlets” now fervently recites the Ave María; the “complicated” planning of an orgy becomes, quite frankly, “un dolor de huevos” (a pain in the… eggs). The interplay between Ebenbach and his Argentine translators is by turns (and often at once) ridiculous and illuminating.
“So, you’re back home,” I remarked when Jennifer and I first met. Gently, she set me right. “Home is Argentina now.” Lucky for us, I am told that means we can expect further installments of TIR: Argentina.
September 11, 2012
The winner of The Iowa Review's 2012 Jeff Sharlet Memorial Prize for Veterans is Iraq War veteran Hugh Martin. An Ohio-born poet, Martin is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Martin’s work was selected from 265 contest entries in all genres.
Judge Robert Olen Butler noted that he was “keenly moved by the depth of feeling and high quality of writing by these veterans. Hugh Martin's poetry represents this body of work at its finest, evoking wartime's moment-to-moment experience with brilliantly observed clarity while illuminating its manifestation of our shared human condition with wisdom and compassion. The best of what I read was not, in its essence, the work of veterans; it was the work of artists."
Hugh Martin’s first book, The Stick Soldiers, recently won the A. Poulin Jr. First Book Prize from BOA Editions, and recent poems by him have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Crazyhorse, and The Kenyon Review.
Martin will receive a $1,000 prize, and his poems will be published in The Iowa Review’s spring issue of 2013.
Many thanks to all who entered the contest!