Sandy McIntosh

Tomas Tranströmer and Robert Bly Translate Each Other's Poems

Tranströmer writes:"You changed my line to: 'The plow lifts from the furrow like an owl slowly airborne,' but what I meant was: 'The plow lifts the furrow like an owl crushing rocks.' Well, I like yours better in English, so please use it that way." Bly writes, "My English word 'headlong' means 'rushing at something heedlessly.' But I like it that you've translated it as 'He grows a head of enormous length.' I send you several new pages of verse that go in the direction you've pointed out."

Meanwhile, where there are no negotiations:

Khrushchev thunders in 1956: "We will bury you!" after the Soviets explode an H-Bomb, and the Cold War is ratcheted up. But the correct translation should have been, "We will outlast you."

In 1945 Truman demands that the Japanese surrender. Japan issues a statement that it will consider the demand, but it's mistranslated: “We're ignoring you with contempt.” Ten days later, thousands die at Hiroshima.

Early in the first millennium, Saint Jerome translates the story of Moses returning from the mountain with horns on his head, having been hung with them by the Lord. But "horns" could be translated as "a great light on his face." Yet, for more than one thousand years, Jews are believed to descend from Satan. Millions are killed.

Can poetry matter?

Hemingway Completes His Introduction to A Moveable Feast
"This book is fiction. I have left out much and changed and eliminated and I hope Hadley understands. She will see why I hope. She is the heroine and the only person who had a life that turned out well and as it should except certain of the rich."

                —Ernest Hemingway. One of twelve false starts on his Introduction. (Item 122. The Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy library, Boston.)
There is cleanliness to those years in Paris which is not fiction, and harmony and logical order that I did not notice when I was living and inventing it, though it seems obvious and self-evident now. We were in love and innocent, and, in the end, produced a lovely, innocent child by the name of Mr. Bumby, who should have had us by his side more years than he did. Few of us were aware of the dark drawstrings of personality. I taught Ezra to box, and we enjoyed joking about the Jews, which was all harmless at the time. If Joyce or Miss Stein noticed the shadow of my father's shotgun clamped in my jaws, that I rattled and shook at them to make a point, they never mentioned it. And it would not have been out of politeness or modesty, as neither was modest, though both were direct and often polite.

This book is fiction, but it is also true. Hadley and I were poor in Paris, but simple and honest, because of it. Only in the end, when there was a little money and late mountain nights and skiing and dinners and drink under the lanterns, when our attentions turned from each other to newer faces and adventures, did we lose our way.

Hadley is the heroine, her image bright above the lanterns of women and cities. Hadley is the light that led me, in the end, to this white room in Ketchum of which the tourists will ask. "Why this room? Why so small?" I would answer: Poverty and innocence live in small rooms, and the room Hadley and I share grows smaller in my eyes as I sit in this chair, my father's shotgun—anonymous steel—clamped in my jaws, as I prepare at length to address that issue.

The Plagiarist's Heart

"How did I become a writer?" Sidney S. the well-known screenwriter was telling me. "In high school I was too lazy, or I ran out of time, or for some other reason I borrowed my roommate's A+ English paper and copied my name to it. I have to say it was impressively written. But I didn't expect my English teacher to give it an F and drag me to the principal's office.

"'This young man,' Mr. McGowan told the principal in a drooling frenzy: 'I've caught him cheating—cheating again! This time he stole an article from The New York Times Book Review I'm sure! This time he must be suspended from school!'

"The principal wasn't ready to follow through (my father, after all, a big donor). 'Let's test him,' said the principal. 'Give him another writing assignment and see if it reaches the quality of this one.'

"I knew my English teacher would rather have kicked me, punched me, battered me. He was one of those violent English teachers, a wrestling coach, loved to spank his class' wise-guys with a dictionary. But he sat me down in the empty classroom and ordered a writing assignment.

"He gave me thirty minutes to write about something—I forget what. For a while I was lost, had no idea how to do it. Then I thought about the paper I'd plagiarized. I thought about its organization: the strong, clear first sentence. Supportive sentences to follow. Then the unfurling of ideas into separate first second third fourth fifth paragraphs. Finally, a big idea to gather all the smaller ones together. Of course, you'll say, this is nothing but classical rhetoric. But at that moment, untutored, I was discovering something for myself. An embracing vision. It had the land, the mountains and the sky in it. I could breathe its air!

"I organized my thoughts, then, and wrote.

"At the end of thirty minutes, my teacher snatched the paper. He was going to get me this time!

"He devoured it—there's no other word to describe his hunger. I watched as he read, his face intent, but then, falling, as if it were a wall of decaying brick and mortar. Finally, he told me I could go.

"That was the last I heard from him or anyone. I was no longer an F student. And I knew then, without doubt, that I would be a writer."

These pieces come from Sandy McIntosh's new book, A Hole In the Ocean, A Hamptons Apprenticeship, to be published next May.
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Blogger EILEEN said...

" Poverty and innocence live in small rooms" .. !!!

Sandy: excellent!


2:57 AM  

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