In tribute to the great translator George Craig, who died in March of this year, Music & Literature is publishing the following excerpt from Writing Beckett’s Letters, Craig’s reflections on the process of translating Samuel Beckett’s letters from French into English for Cambridge University Press. Writing Beckett’s Letters was originally published as no. 16 of The Cahiers Series (Sylph Editions, 2011).
A feature by Dan Gunn
This month, Music & Literature pays tribute to the great translator George Craig. A professor of French at the University of Sussex for thirty years, Craig translated and co-edited the four volumes of Samuel Beckett’s letters published by Cambridge University Press. His former student, co-editor, and friend of over forty years, Dan Gunn, delivered this eulogy at Craig’s funeral on 1 April 2019 in Lewes, Sussex.
A feature by Mira Rosenthal
Litery has many themes, one of which is time. When I wrote the poems, it seemed to me that I was telling a deep truth about what I went through in and around 2016. It seemed to me that the only way to stop time for a moment was to cast a spell on those moments, the minutes of my life, and to transform them into letters. Now, when I look at those poems, I feel like I succeeded, and I see them as if they are amber, each one with a small insect submerged inside forever. I am that insect. . .
My friend Benjy made the gloaming, all-windows building that is on the cover of a book I wrote and that inspired the architecture of the shack I built and inhabited for a while in Tennessee. The cottage he built shines like someone is arriving in the moonlight, but the window framing on my shack is salvaged gray wood, spongy soft and without a good gleam. Before I move to Chicago I take a bus down to Tennessee to visit him. His house is similar, cedar slats and old barn windows for a greenhouse, row after row of flowers I can’t identify, steps up the hillside so the top opens to a garden like the bottom does.
David Auerbach: You clearly took joy in writing your version of Keats. Is The Warm South fan fiction of a sort?
Paul Kerschen: No doubt! There must also be a touch of Frankenstein in my resurrecting him for my own purposes. I gained and lost a great deal over the course of writing, but whatever the endpoint, it did at least start from a felt intimacy with Keats’s own words, and perhaps in that respect it isn’t too much worse a distortion than other kinds of reading.
A feature by Yevgenia Belorusets
Yevgenia Belorusets is a Ukrainian photographer who lives between Kyiv and Berlin. Her photographic work calls attention to the more vulnerable sections of Ukrainian society: queer families, out-of-work coal miners, the Roma, people living in the warzone in the East. She has just published a book of stories called Fortunate Fallings, about women living in the shadow of the now-frozen, now-thawing conflict in the Ukrainian East, the result of Russian military intervention after the Kyiv Maidan of 2014. The book’s linguistic eclecticism—the stories are in Russian but the publisher and packaging are Ukrainian—silently defies hardline cultural propaganda in both countries. Apart from being political, Fortunate Fallings is also an astonishingly intelligent, moving, and exquisitely written work of ironic European literature. The publishing house Matthes & Seitz will issue it in Germany in the fall; meanwhile, we have translated two stories from it into English, as well as asking the Russian writer Maria Stepanova to review the whole. . .
A feature by Will Alexander
SL: Obviously, I’m drawn to language that works on several levels at the same time. Maybe the poetic properties are there and I’m the one who unearths them. Or maybe I impose my own musical and poetic sensibilities onto unmusical material. I don’t know that it matters. When I was working on The Hideous Hidden, even other poets found it hard to imagine that one could find music in glands!
A feature by Elodie Olson-Coons
I first wrote to Claude Ber when I became acquainted with her startling, fragmentary meditation on grief, La mort n’est jamais comme (Death Is Never Like), which won the Prix international de poésie francophone Yvan-Goll in 2004. The book already had an English translator, she wrote back, but perhaps I’d be interested in her latest work? A thin cream paperback from Éditions de l’Amandier came in the mail shortly afterwards, signed. . .
If you want to meet up with Peter Bichsel, you need to have plenty of time on your hands, and you mustn’t expect the interview to go like most interviews. Our meeting begins in the pub, the Kreuz in Bichsel’s hometown of Solothurn, though it hasn’t been “his” pub for a long time, and it ends with yet another glass of wine on the banks of the Aare River in the springtime sun. In between, there’s a long conversation in his study. But the work itself is over: Bichsel is eighty-two and has stopped writing. Over the last fifty years, however, he has published dozens of volumes of stories and over a thousand columns. His work lives on, continually re-published, read, and loved by new generations of readers—just like its author. I’ve yet to hear anyone ever speak badly of Bichsel. Age has perhaps slowed his tempo—though he was always fond of long pauses in which to formulate his thoughts—but the thoughts themselves are as sharp as they ever were. . .
A feature by Cynthia Haven
And so you were the chosen scapegoat for that society for a while.
I didn’t feel like a scapegoat. There are many anonymous civilians who were scapegoats and nobody will ever hear about them or have a chance to remember them: many people were killed, chased out, mobbed, robbed, humiliated, fired, many people left, many emigrated. All because of local neo-fascist strategies. The biggest victims in Croatia were ordinary people of Serbian ethnicity. In Bosnia, the biggest victims were Muslims. And so on and so forth. Those who were responsible for this “silent persecutions” were never brought to the justice. And they will never be. Because justice in Yugo-zone obediently serves the people in power. . .
The two boys crossing the bridge in front of me are obviously brothers, one of them perhaps ten years old, the other twenty. The small one, very agitated, is talking on and on to the other, and the older one is answering in a deliberate, fatherly way, explaining things. They are speaking Spanish; I don’t understand a word, but their intonation makes them brothers, and their intonation lets you recognize questions and answers. And suddenly they are speaking Swiss German, completely without accents. They switch languages without noticing it themselves at all, and now that they’re speaking Swiss German, they suddenly no longer look like Spaniards. It’s a lovely conversation between the knowledgeable older brother and the questioning younger one. I would have liked to continue listening, but then they speak Spanish again. . .
A feature by John Vincler
Danielle Dutton: I first came across the photographs when a copy of Hardly More than Ever arrived at the office of The Denver Quarterly, where I was, at that time, associate editor. This must have been around 2005. I was opening the mail. I suppose it was a review copy (which seems incredibly generous, since it’s this large, gorgeous hardback), but I’m sorry to say that it never got reviewed because I stole it. Just tucked it into my bag and got on the bus. Anyway, I was already, at that time, writing the initial fragments that I’d eventually stitch together to form the weirdly quilted fabric of SPRAWL, but it was very early days, and the photographs entered the space of my writing almost immediately after I got the book home. . .
A feature by Jáchym Topol
For me, Eastern Europe is a continent of ruins, a relic of a fallen empire.
I can feel the tension here. I love the dilapidated factories on the city peripheries, the roads to them washed away by rain, the bizarre objects along the way like in Tarkovsky’s Stalker, the overgrown country paths leading nowhere, the monuments to those dead so long nobody even bothers to respect or hate them anymore. . .
A feature by Tyler Goldman and Christine Wunnicke
In the conversation that follows, I join the German novelist and translator Christine Wunnicke in the gutter to discuss the challenges and pleasures of translating these two remarkable and scandalizing poets into our native languages—Martial’s Latin into my English, Rochester’s English into Wunnicke’s German. The conversation took place over email and has been edited slightly for concision and clarity.
Right, the community—again, we’re talking about people and music. They’re inseparable. So I was living in Boston, meeting those people, and it was 1998. The World Cup comes. It was always interesting to see how people prepared the party before the game—the kind of vibe, the hats, the warmth, together, and passion. There’s always passion in everything. Passion in drinking, passion in arguing, passion in playing, passion in being together. Really, there’s something so wonderful about it. It was really refreshing to me, the way people were celebrating life. And everyone was showing up to support the gigs, and dancing, and singing the songs. It was so new to me. Even now, you think about jazz in the United States, and you think about Israel… People sing old songs in Israel if they come to one of those evenings where everyone sits together and sings, but if you go to a party or a bar to listen to old music—unless they really love it, it’s not the same. It’s really mind-boggling. It’s really a beautiful thing.
A feature by Rodrigo Hasbún
MC: Yes, I write just one or two pages a day, only in the mornings, and I never add or take out anything, but what is important is that I never have a plan or a story in mind. Each page is revealed to me at the moment I start to write. Each page could (and does) change everything. It is the only way that I can write, for writing is not a job for me, nor an art, but a faith, a sort of a personal religion. To go on writing I don’t need to know where I’m heading, but only that I can do it, that I’m the only one who can. . .
A taste of that task had been presented the evening before, at the Budapest Music Center, which was responsible for the whole series of concerts, and which has given the Kurtágs a home in the city. Fin de partie, it was revealed, is to begin, before getting to the play text, with a setting of an English poem by Beckett, “Roundelay,” performed by the singer who will then take on the role of Nell. . .
A feature by David H. Pickering
I met Stravinsky, I think it was, in the fall of 1915, which is to say just after the grape harvest had ended in the tiny hamlet of Treytorrens where I’d been living. Situated on the lake between Cully and Rivaz, Treytorrens consists of three or four grand white houses belonging to the landowners; while, just next door, there are three or four other colorless dwellings where the winemakers reside. I was in one of the landowners’ homes, the largest one and nearest to the water; it was here that Ansermet, then the conductor of the Kursaal Orchestra, escorted Stravinsky on a visit from Montreux. In the scarcely fifteen-kilometer ride from Montreux to Treytorrens, the train never once abandons the lakeshore, edging the water so closely in places that the tracks pass over a dyke in front of my house. The railroad is still there, but—I record this for the sake of the very young and to mark the passage of time—the locomotives still ran on steam back then. . .
A feature by Whitney Curry Wimbish
Flautist and composer David Bertrand plays the flute like an invitation: come hear this instrument for what it is, not for what you might believe it to be. It’s a welcoming approach that not only demonstrates something of the flute’s innate fine character and ability to blend with all other instruments, but it also rejects the idea that the instrument may only be played by certain people.
“I was told in no uncertain terms: ‘The flute makes no sense. You should play something else. You should be a saxophonist. If you play this much flute, you should have no trouble with sax. The flute is a white people thing. It has nothing to do with jazz,’” Bertrand recently told me. “But in Trinidad, we talk about oppression as a fight dog. Either you bow down and acquiesce, or you fight back. I’m playing the flute to fight.”
A feature by Michael Kelleher
Chus Pato is one of the most significant poets writing in Galician today. Thanks to the efforts of her translator, Canadian poet Erín Moure, five volumes of her work have been translated into English, the two most recent being Secession/Insecession (BookThug, 2014) and Flesh of Leviathan (Omindawn, 2016).
It was almost by chance that I encountered her work. I met Erín in the fall of 2017, and she handed me three of the books she’d translated. It took all of one line from the first poem in m-Talá (Shearsman/Buschekbooks, 2009) to make me realize I was in the presence of a major poet and thinker:
i ask myself if in this phrase all the yews of the free city of Paris lean and fall, all my reflections on language—the word that shuts the edifice of Language is the same that opens to the wind’s dominion—