Pander 6/7 (March 1999)
e-mailing venus: Translations of Poets from Sappho Onwards. Ed. Diana Harris and Anna Jackson. Auckland: Venus Press, 1998.
Sandro Botticelli: The Birth of Venus (1485-86)
You know how it is when you have a whip-round. One person’s got ten bucks, another fifty cents, Billy’s only got two buttons and an old lifesaver, but somehow it always adds up to enough to go and buy fish ‘n’ chips. There doesn’t seem a great deal of point in looking at this extremely eclectic set of poems / translations (the term is fairly loosely applied) by a bunch of people at Auckland University as a book, exactly, so I’ll just comment on a few of the more interesting contributions.
C. K. Stead is pretending to be Horace instead of Catullus for a change, and it’s quite a welcome one. These are nice, if slight.
Murray Edmond does his thing, well. The second of his two poems, a collaboration with his linguist son Jacob, is an interesting example of that old dilemma of echoing form or content. It seems to work as a poem, which is the only sane criterion.
Charlotte Craw is someone to watch. She clearly has a great deal of talent and ingenuity, but I have to confess that I think these three pieces disastrously wanky, consisting (as they do), of variations on various variations of Pound, Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens. But she’s probably the real thing, for all that, if she can get over that kind of in-house stuff.
Anna Jackson’s “futurist translation of the inferno” is the most solid contribution, though I don’t see anything particularly “futurist” about it. I like the idea very much, and the babyish diction is deceptively complex. The trouble is that she doesn’t have a great deal to say except that there are a lot of “lustful gluttons” on Ponsonby road. Beside that, her categories of the naughty (somehow calling them the “damned” seems a little exaggerated) are spineless people, partygoers, stockbrokers, therapists, trouble-makers, bad parents, and finally “the artists who gave up painting, the poets / who were too busy teaching.” Yep, pretty bad, all right. The only trouble is that Dante was harrowing his own heart, whereas Anna is ticking off everyone else. Nice to get back to the family at the end, but it’s hard to believe she really means or believes it.
Paula Green insisted on the ugly font used for her poem, I’m told. Very much her usual, accomplished thing. The bit of Italian included en face doesn’t seem to have much to do with her poem, but it looks very attractive.
Robert Sullivan has contributed some poems from his forthcoming Star Waka (every poem’s got to have a reference to a star and/or a waka). There are also poems by Elizabeth Wilson and Diana Harris.
Whew, what a sarcastic bastard this reviewer is! Actually, I think the whole idea’s kind of cool, and I enjoyed reading through it. I felt a bit frustrated by a lack of drive in most of the pieces, but they’re all intelligent, and we can always do with more intelligence in the poetry scene. It’s a handsome book, and well worth reading, but it could have been much better if the contributors had treated as a bit less of a grab-bag, and a bit more of a homage to that goddess WHO RULES US ALL!