THE BLOG @ TIR
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!
August 30, 2012
Daniel Khalastchi is an American poet. He is a professor and assistant director of the new Undergraduate Certificate in Writing program at the University of Iowa, where he obtained his MFA in poetry from the Writers' Workshop. His first collection of poems, Manoleria, debuted last year and was awarded the Tupelo Press/Crazyhorse First Book Prize. He is also the managing editor at Rescue Press. His latest poem, "Notes from an Adjunct Professor at a Major American University," is featured in the Fall 2012 issue of The Iowa Review.
I sat down with Daniel to discuss his new poem, rap music, and why the chicken man blew up in Philly last night.
SP: I see you a lot with your iPod, walking around Iowa City. What kind of music are you listening to?
DK: I'm very into rap. I get up every morning and spend about an hour and a half on rap blogs, checking out new music, reading reviews of albums and tracks, that kind of stuff. Rap, for the longest time—when I didn't really know there was contemporary poetry, or that I could be a poet—rap was the closest thing.
SP: So music has a place in your writing process?
DK: It's actually hard for me to concentrate while listening to music. I listen to white noise now. I used to listen to classical music. For a while—when I was in the Workshop years ago—I had this one mix I'd listen to while I wrote, and it became a kind of white noise. For a while, I used to turn off my speakers and just have my subwoofer and try to write towards a rhythm.
SP: So poetry, for you, is rhythm-based?
DK: One of the first quotes that I fell in love with was from the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who poetically blew my mind with very interesting phrases, using sound to drive a point, talking about God, his relationship with God, that kind of thematic content and how it was really pushed forward with his use of rhythm.
SP: The twentieth-century poet Muriel Rukeyser is known for saying, "Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry." I know you've done work on Judaism before, and even in your poem in The Iowa Review, you talk about religion. As a Jewish American and someone who's written about Judaism, do you find your beliefs surfacing often in your work? Do you consciously attempt to write about any specific topics?
DK: Growing up as sort of a lonely Jew in Iowa, I did feel ostracized. And as I've grown up, I've tried to figure out what it is that makes me interested and think. And I noticed [Judaism] just started showing up in my writing in a way I wasn't prepared for. My father was born in Baghdad and escaped in 1969, and so often when I think about what he went through because of religion, that's a big part of my history. People in his family were killed, and he had all these experiences because of his religion. The poem that's in The Iowa Review: I was teaching at Marquette University, which is a Jesuit university. Everywhere you go you're in this beautifully depressed city, and there's this huge racial divide. You walk into every class and there's a cross. And so I just started thinking a lot about these things. I think when I focus on [Judaism], it's not as good or as interesting. When I write about what I'm thinking or feeling, it does tend to come up.
SP: So you tend to write about Judaism as being immersed in another culture?
DK: Someone could read my line "they'll find out you're Jewish" and think the same thing about being Hispanic or Mormon. It's this idea about what we mask in public. What we feel we can't stand behind. What we feel we want people to know; what we feel like we don't want other people to know about us. It's about what these things mean in our culture. "Notes from an Adjunct Professor at a Major American University" was written at a time when teaching in the adjunct world was a huge travesty. I have a lot of friends that don't have stable jobs. When I started writing that poem, I was thinking about what things professors would do for their loved ones. The poem's about my experiences on some level, but also what I imagine other educators' experiences to be.
SP: So the "I" in this poem is some nameless adjunct professor?
DK: I think all of the "I"s in every poem I write are some nameless guy. I don't think I'm a confessional poet. It's not a Twitter feed. That poem isn't 100% true, obviously.
SP: Do you think that experience is necessary to have in a poem? Even at least a modicum of personal experience?
DK: No. Poetry, for me, has to have a heart. All poetry can have a heart. Sometimes it's edited out. Sometimes it's just not there. The poem doesn't have to be real. Going back to music, Springsteen says he gets away with what he writes because of something he calls the rage of the music, which means if he's going to write a song and he starts in D-minor, I'm already sad. Lyrics don't even have to come in. So if he has a song that begins, "well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night"— if I wrote that in a poem, someone would think that's a surreal, humorous poem. Put some minor chords behind it, and it becomes kind of dark and scary. I think you can get away with more in music. But good readers will understand there's some element of fiction.
SP: Do you think music can do more than poetry? Do you think it's a more supreme form of art?
DK: I can emphatically say that I don't think music is a more supreme form of art. Can it do more? I think that depends on the artist. You can reach more people with music. To get a hundred people to read a poem is nearly impossible. You're a hugely successful poet if you sell a couple thousand books, but for a musician that's nothing. You can record a song in your basement and post it on Myspace. People take music in smaller bites. You don't have to interpret every chord change. Whereas I feel like with writing, people pick up a poem or a story, and they feel like there's this sort of intellectual battle going on—that if it's a poem it's a riddle. So people turn it off. Put on "Like a Rolling Stone" by Dylan, and people will sing along with it. Music has a different appeal. I don't think it's superior. Just different.
SP: So they're different. But can they achieve the same things?
DK: Yes. Nas had a record a couple of years back called Hip Hop is Dead. The last song he had on that record was called "Hope." The whole album is Nas rapping over beats and scratches and samples, and it gets louder and louder, and you get to the last song and it's just a capella. Take away the beat, and what is rap? It's a poem. Listen to a poet read a poem and Nas rap without a beat, and they're pretty similar. The difference is that poetry seems academic. And hip hop and music seem of-the-people. Essentially, a song is read to you.
SP: Do you think it's easier to ignore—in our culture—stuff that demands serious attention?
DK: I do. I mean, when I walk into a college literature classroom and all anybody's read is Nicholas Sparks and Fifty Shades of whatever, it makes me sad. Because I know there are so many books people would love if they gave them chances. Part of it is because of this big intellectual divide where people feel like they can't participate in difficult stuff. The Beastie Boys say there are only twelve notes a man can play, so how do you arrange those notes to do something to an audience? I'm getting, as a professor, e-mails that are all lower-case, exclamation points, smiley faces, tongues, "so drunk" with six k's, "can't come to class" with a z—just weird stuff where you're seeing that writing and reading is getting worse because people aren't giving up the time for things that require attention. Go into Barnes and Noble in your town and—
SP: It closed.
DK: See? Go into Prairie Lights and you'll see Jonathan Franzen's Freedom on sale for five bucks.
SP: I got it for two.
DK: Right? As writers, all we can do is write and hope people will read. As a poet, I have the one luxury of knowing I'm not going to make any money out of it. I think that means I can be a little freer with my work. And that's certainly not a problem for us poets.
Sevy Perez interned at The Iowa Review during the summer of 2012.