'A Handful of Blue Earth' Marilyn Hacker on her translation of the poems of Vénus Khoury-Ghata

Posted on May 26, 2017 by Heather Gallagher

Marilyn Hacker has translated several of the works of Vénus Khoury-Ghata. Here to celebrate her latest translation A Handful of Blue Earth, Marilyn discusses the translation process and what inspires her about Vénus Khoury-Ghata. Read on for a poem from A Handful of Blue Earth.

 

A Handful of Blue Earth

 

A Handful of Blue Earth is your translation of the poems written by Vénus Khoury-Ghata. When did you first read these poems and what initially drew you to them?

 This is the sixth book of Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s that I have translated since 2000. I had read collections of her poetry in French, and been intrigued by how much implied history there was – history in the macro-historical and in the tale-telling sense –informing them. I was asked, back in 2000,  by an editor to give a reader’s report on an anthology of French and Francophone women’s poetry scheduled for publication. There were a couple of poems of Vénus’ that were so full of howlers of mistranslation – which I signalled to the editor – that I was impelled to re-translate them. Some months later, I met Vénus through a mutual writer friend, and knowing her, knowing the person and the personality behind the work, was another impetus to engage with it.

 

Throughout the collection, there are a range of poetic forms and styles. Is there any particular form that you would say presents a particular challenge as a translator?

There are no actual metrical /rhymed/stanzaic ” fixed poetic forms”  -- either coming from the French (or Arabic) literary canon or invented by the poet – in this book, or in any of Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s poetry, though there is a difference between the short-lined verse of the “Lady of Syros” and the more surreal prose-poem-like paragraph-stanzas from the “Book of Petitions” , while the long “Mothers and the Mediterranean” poem partakes of both.   The rhythms and the breath of the short-lined poems are quite different from the marvellously meandering sentences of that border on prose. It’s not hard to keep them apart.

There are not as many formal  - in the sense of metrical/syllabic , etc. forms – virtuosos working currently in French poetry as there are in contemporary poetry in English  -- thinking of George Szirtes, Mimi Khalvati, Derek Mahon, Patience Agbabe , for example , though Jacques Roubaud is an exception. I once translated a series of (also surreal ) sequences in decasyllabic dixains  - ten-line stanzas of ten syllables each – by another poet, Marie Etienne, which was surprisingly easy, given how much iambic pentameter I had written myself – and even led me to write something using the same form.

 

Do you have a particular process when translating poetry? 

No…I often find myself reading a poem in French and “recreating” it in English, and that’s the impulse to translate it. If there’s a book of translations to complete, the process is less meandering than that.

 

This poetry collection deals with a variety of themes such as exile, warfare and female relationships. Is there any motif in particular that stands out to you as the defining theme of the collection?

Oddly, the only relationship between women I noticed in this collection was that of the daughter who “becomes” the pre-Cycladic statue to her mother. It’s a subject that has been primary in my own work, and an intense ,conflicted mother/ daughter relationship is central to another book of Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s that I translated , Nettles, published by Graywolf Press in the U.S. in 2008.  Exile and expatriation, though, are themes that run through all this poet’s work  - quoting from “The Book of Petitions”:

How can you weep in a language no longer your own

what can you call walls not imbued with your sweat  

In both the “Lady of Syros” and “The Book of Petitions,” death itself is seen as a kind of exile or expatriation  - which, paradoxically, makes it seem less final and inexorable: exiles sometimes return.  Whereas the state of war evoked in “The Mothers and the Mediterranean” seems almost more permanent than death – and I think it was the persistent murderous state of war now in Syria, in Iraq, that brought the civil war in Lebanon so urgently back to the poet’s imagination…as well as the city of Beirut, where she grew up, very specifically evoked in that sequence.

 

Would you say that reading and translating Vénus’ poems has influenced your own poetry? 

I’ve translated extensively from the work of about ten French or Francophone poets in the last going-on-twenty years, and there has been, intentionally or inadvertently, dialogue with several of them in my own work.  Here is a glosa, a Spanish form in which the poet takes 4 lines from a poem by another poet, and composes 4 ten line stanzas, each ending with one of those four lines in turn  -- this was written elaborating on four lines of the poem by Vénus Khoury-Ghata that is given in its entirety, following.

 

GLOSE

 The death of a sparrow has blackened the snow

But  nothing consoled her

Who is the night among all nights ? she asked the owl

But the owl doesn’t think, the owl knows

Vénus Khoury-Ghata : “Borderland”

 

Dumb heat, not snow, sheathes Paris in July

and sheathes suburban Washington.

Planes rip through the fabric of a frayed

afternoon torn open

by words no afterwards will clarify.

Knowing what happened, no one will know.

We had a friend ;  she had a young  son.

There was exile, its weight on a day.

There was the heart’s ice, its insistent glow.

The death of a sparrow has blackened the snow.

 

Trope upon silvered trope, of what might a mirror

remind her : copper, black silk , the eloquence

intelligence gives eyes ?  Reflected terror

that conscripted all intelligence.

I am a great way off and cannot come nearer.

I do not know what the night or the mirror told her

or the sense of the words she wrote when nothing made sense,

or if they made a sense that seemed clearer and clearer.

The child raised his arms to be lifted, to be held, to hold her,

but nothing consoled her.

 

Put the morning away in the murk of myth :

not the unthinkable, but Radha’s dance

breaking her bangles, imploring the dark god with

metered and musical lamentations,

repeated measures meant to distance death

suggest a redemptive spiral for the soul

(child, child bleeding to death, no second chance)

 in the containment of despair and wrath

within the peopled descent of the ritual.

 

(Who is the night of all nights she asked the owl.)

 

No dark god was there, and no god of light .

There are women and men, cruel or fallible.

No mild friend picked up the telephone at the right

moment ; some Someone was unavailable.

The morning which paled from an uneventful night

would have been ordinary, except that she chose.

Interrogate the hours, invent some oracle

flying overhead , read fate into its flight.

We think the snow was blackened by dead sparrows,

but the owl doesn’t think; the owl knows.

 Vénus Khoury-Ghata

 

From “Nettles

 it should have been beautiful and it was merely sad

gardens departed this life more slowly than men

we would eat our sorrow down to the last drop then

belch it in splinters in the face of the cold

the sun’s spirit kept the sun from warming us

a sun that eventually ran dry        from so much concentration

It was elsewhere

it was a very long time ago

tired of calling us the mother left the earth to enter the earth

seen from above she looked like a pebble

seen from below she looked like a flaking pine-cone

sometimes she wept    in sobs that made the foliage tremble

life, we cried out to her, is a straight line of noises

death an empty circle

outside there is winter

the death of a sparrow has blackened the snow

But     nothing consoled her

who is the night among all nights? she asked the owl

but the owl doesn’t think

the owl knows

 Translated by Marilyn Hacker

(from Names, W.W. Norton and Co., 2010)

 

Marilyn Hacker is the author of thirteen books of poems, including A Stranger’s Mirror (Norton, 2015), Names (Norton, 2010), Essays on Departure (Carcanet, 2006), an essay collection, Unauthorized Voices (Michigan, 2010), and fourteen collections of translations of French and Francophone poets including Emmanuel Moses, Marie Etienne, Vénus Khoury-Ghata, Habib Tengour and Rachida Madani. DiaspoRenga, a collaborative sequence written with the Palestinian-American poet Deema Shehabi, was published by Holland Park Press in 2014. She lives in Paris.

 

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How to get the most out of Kudos: For authors

Posted on May 17, 2017 by Megan Ainsworth

What is Kudos?

Kudos is a web-based service that aims to help increase the visibility and impact of research and build academic reputations. It is free for researchers.

How does Kudos increase the impact of your research?

Your research has been published and with the aim of increasing readership, you have shared or promoted it across various online channels; how can you be sure what works?

Kudos is designed to be a central independent system from which to manage communications for your publications wherever you publish and/or whichever “channel’ you use to communicate, bringing together different metrics to understand which actions are driving results. 

 

“Kudos is designed to be a central independent system…bringing together metrics to  understand which actions are driving  results.”

 

What do you need to do as an author?

There are 3 simple steps towards increasing the impact of your research; explain, share and measure.

Step 1:

Claim and explain your article. Once registered with Kudos (you can use your ORCID if you have one) you will be able to find your publication and ‘claim’ it. Explain your article by adding a plain language summary to make it more discoverable - which means more usage and more citations. For example if your title is long with a narrow focus, plain language impact statements make articles appeal more to other researchers in different fields, increasing the reach of the article. Tip: Use language that will be comprehensible to non-academics or researchers in other fields.

At this stage, you can add links to related resources that help to bring your work to life, set it in context, or drive further research (code, methods, data, slides, video, press coverage, blog postings etc.).

By explaining and enriching your article, you are making it easier for:

  • People using non-specialist terms to find otherwise “hidden” works - increasing cross-disciplinary readership and citations.
  • People within your field to skim and scan more publications.
  • People in adjacent fields to understand the relevance of your work to what they are doing.
  • People outside academia to get a handle on research and apply it in non-academic ways.
  • Non-English speakers – ensuring your work has impact globally.

Step 2:

Share your article. You have enriched your article by adding a plain language summary and related resources, and you are ready to share your work across different social channels.  Kudos generates ‘trackable’ links for you to share via your email, web and social networks. This gives you a unique insight into which tools/channels are most effective. On average, authors who make use of Kudos’ sharing tools receive 23% higher downloads of their work.

 

“Trackable links give you a unique insight into which tools/channels are most effective”

 

Step 3:

Measure the impact of your activity through comprehensive personalised metrics. The personal metrics dashboard in Kudos allows you to see all your claimed article metrics together on one page on My Dashboard – which can be accessed under the My Tools drop-down menu.

Minimal effort, great results…

On average, it takes just 15 minutes to complete these 3 simple steps; a very acceptable duration of time to increase usage and citations.

If you have recently had an article published in a Liverpool University Press journal, you can register with Kudos and begin using the service immediately, completely free of charge.

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Town Planning Review 88.3: Featured Article

Posted on May 17, 2017 by Megan Ainsworth

The editors of TPR have selected 'The character of the Just City: the regulation of place distinctiveness and its unjust social effects' by Gethin Davison as the Featured Article for the latest issue. It will be free to access for three months. You can access the article here.

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance, the author stated the following:

One of the most important tasks of planning research is to scrutinise and question the norms, assumptions and values that underpin planning practice. To that end, this article casts a critical light on an area of planning practice that is widespread, long-standing and largely unquestioned: the regulation of place distinctiveness through notions of neighbourhood, or community, ‘character’.

Drawing on the methods of Critical Discourse Analysis, the article examines planning texts in Melbourne, Australia, a city where the concept of character is unusually central to planning decision-making. Not only does the analysis reveal some inherent difficulties in the regulation of character, it demonstrates that such practices can also justify highly inequitable and exclusionary planning outcomes.

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The 'truth' behind Atlantis - Christopher Gill on Plato's Atlantis Story

Posted on May 05, 2017 by Heather Gallagher

Christopher Gill, author of Plato's Atlantis Story, discusses the philosophical significance of Plato's compelling Atlantis story and how the mythical city has captured our imagination throughout time. 

 

Could you give us an overview of Plato’s Atlantis Story?

First of all, it’s not just the story of Atlantis. That is the famous name, but it’s actually a tale of two cities. It’s the story of Atlantis and Athens, two long-ago cities in Greece, and both of them are set in an idealised past. It’s about the character of the two cities, especially the contrast between them, which is a contrast in constitution, structure and character. The story describes each of them separately and leads up to a future war which is never actually described, a war which leads to the defeat of Atlantis – and that is something that is often glossed over in people’s idea of Atlantis. Ancient Athens wins and Atlantis is defeated.

 

What is the philosophical meaning of the story?

To get the philosophical meaning, it’s useful to think about the relationship between the Atlantis story and other major Platonic works of philosophy. There is an explicit link to the Republic in that the philosophical meaning of this story is a political one. We have the equivalent of the ideal state of the Republic set in ancient Athens and we have a kind of counter-ideal in Atlantis. The focus, in both cases, is on their structure or constitution, which is what Plato’s Republic is also about. Political structure is important and gives rise to events – and this is part of the philosophical significance of the story.

You get another indication of the philosophical significance if you think about the relationship to the Timaeus, the story of the creation of the universe – both stories are put side by side in this text. Both stories, in different ways, place human life in the context of the cosmos, and this greatly expands the perspective that you have on the city as a political community. In the Atlantis story, we find a massive expansion of time, space, and geography; we go out to the far west and we go far back in time. The story invites us to place the city in this much broader perspective. Also, the description of the city is very much centred on its physical context, showing the city in its material and environmental context, just as the creation story is an account of human beings being formed within the universe as a physical entity.

These themes, the political theme and the theme of the universe, are expressions of the more general idea of making the ideal into something concrete, physical and actual. The two cities are specific expressions of the ideal and the un-ideal political community and Atlantis functions as a foil or contrast to the ideal.

 

What is the significance of Plato’s presentation?

This volume brings out the significance of the use of dialogue and the interplay between characters. The dialogue between the figures (Socrates and the other characters) frames the story, which forms part of their conversation. Plato in other writings uses dialogue form and tells stories (his ‘myths’). But this story is quite unique in Plato, offering a quasi-historical description of two cities, going back far beyond Plato’s own time. It is very vividly presented, with highly specific and graphic presentation of both the cities, their geography, topography and the physical expression of their political life. Of course, that’s what has captured people’s imagination over time. The description reflects the 4th/5th century Athens of Plato’s personal experience whilst also creating an idealised past.

Also, Plato presents the account in such a way that the theme of truth runs through the story. It poses the question, implicitly: what is truth? Critias insists that his story is true and accurate but it looks suspiciously unlike a true story, and more like a philosophical fable. The story starts like a myth, so it is puzzling when it is described as true. Running through the conversation between the characters is this interplay between truth as fact and truth as ideas. This interplay feeds back into the core philosophical point in the story about making the ideal into something actual. It’s difficult to work out when the story is set, whether it is real or not, whether it could have been real. There is a  slightly surreal quality to it all, which helps to unsettle our notion of truth and makes us raise profound questions, which is Plato’s ultimate aim in the story.

 

Why do you think people are still drawn to Plato? What makes him so significant?

The reason why we’re drawn to Plato is because he is an absolutely brilliant, world-class philosopher. It’s like being drawn to the Bible or Shakespeare or Darwin. The ideas are still philosophically powerful for us. But also, I think Plato also still attracts because he’s a wonderful writer. He is bold, his conceptions capture people’s minds and imagination. He combines philosophical and literary brilliance. It’s that combination of the philosopher and the author that makes him still continually compelling to us.

The story-telling is key in this text, people return to again and again because it seems so vivid that people almost feel it must be true. It’s so wonderfully told, and with such richness of detail, that it has driven people over time to actually look for Atlantis even though it absolutely isn’t there.

 

What do you think will make this book useful to students?

There are two kinds of readers who will find it really useful. One is Platonic scholars or philosophy scholars in general; they will appreciate the fact that it is comprehensive, with the text, the commentary, the translation and vocabulary brought together in a compact format. There’s a very long and in-depth and new interpretive essay which builds on previous scholarship on the work. So the book has a definite appeal at the academic level.

But there’s also something for everyone because some can just use the translation, and others can make use of the book as a whole. It is especially directed at students, people studying Greek at university or school. It is a very practical text, in a number of ways. This is partly because it’s comprehensive, but also because it gives a lot of help with the grammar and translation, help that students need to work their way through this text. There is a detailed grammatical commentary and a full vocabulary of Greek words, as well as a new translation of the text. Alongside this, the unusual presentation of the text in bite-sized chunks of notes and commentary makes the content more digestible. This book is practical, engaging and designed to provide what modern students need.

 

For more information on Plato's Atlantis Story please visit our website.

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Comma is available to institutional non-members of the ICA

Posted on April 28, 2017 by Megan Ainsworth

Liverpool University Press is pleased to announce that Comma, the journal of the International Council on Archives, is available to institutional non-members of the ICA for the first time. 

Comma, International Journal on Archives is the chief serial publication of the International Council on Archives. Comma strives to be of value to a broader readership beyond the ICA membership and the archival profession at large. Content of the journal includes congress and conference proceedings, reports and studies from ICA bodies (branches and sections) and special thematic issues. The common focus of each issue is the research, administration, and development of archives and the archival profession on a worldwide basis.

Comma is distributed worldwide for Liverpool University Press by Turpin Distribution. For ordering information contact: Liverpool@turpin-distribution.com
Tel: +44 (0) 1767 604977 or Order or renew a Comma subscription online.

For more information please visit our website: http://online.liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/loi/coma

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