Archive for the ‘Words’ Category
[The third is a series of essays from China, New York, and Israel]
Hurricane Sandy hit and shut down New York before we had a chance to publish the following article about my trip to the city in mid-October. Since then, I’ve been witness to a barrage of coverage about the devastation, from photos to death totals, and it seems insensitive to run a piece about my trip without comment on the storm and its aftermath. The majority of what I’ve seen has been social media updates from friends, family, and strangers in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Everyone I know is all right save for power outages, but the comparisons to an apocalyptic Hollywood movie scene don’t seem unwarranted. My original piece was intended to be humorous, as one can’t exist in New York without a sense of humor. The city isn’t perfect, but it is fantastic; both its faults and strengths are as worth exploring as they are in my hometown, Chicago. One of the city’s strengths is most certainly the sense that despite its diversity, it is in fact a unified city, an idea I was skeptical about originally. The music scene has come together with benefit shows, my twitter feed is full of locals, celebs, and companies tweeting simple ways to help hurricane victims, and places offering their wifi and space for people to do their work. The amount of people affected by this disaster in such a small area is overwhelming; the amount of these same people coming together to help is phenomenal.
While it was raining when my plane landed in Beijing, it was in the 70s and sunny most of the next two weeks. I was staying on the 24th floor of an apartment building and could see the surrounding mountains nearly every day. The haze that the city has become known for wasn’t completely absent, but was generally never an issue. But with good weather combined with the National Day and Golden Week that followed, areas of the city grew to even more phenomenally crowded than what is normal. I had initially contemplated trying to travel outside of Beijing, but after hearing horror stories from travelers about overbooked trains, no hostel availability, and sleeping in a karaoke room for the night — I decided to stay put.
For many American readers, In Time’s Rift will be the first introduction to the German poet Ernst Meister. Published by Wave Books, the collection consists of short, concise poems that “at once entice and irritate the mouth and mind,” as translators Graham Foust and Samuel Frederick write in their introduction. Staff writer Gina Myers recently sat down with Foust, who is the author of several collections of poetry, to discuss the new book of translations.
Frontier Psychiatrist: How did this project come about? Did you have experience prior to this book doing translations? What got you interested in translating this particular writer?
Graham Foust: I’ve been working on these poems since about 2004 because Jack Davis, this guy who lives in Canada and has something to do with sitting in fire towers during the summer, wrote me this letter because he had read one of my books and he said it was strange to see an American poet influenced by Ernst Meister, and I was like I have no idea who that is. So we corresponded for a bit about that. And it was funny, right after he sent me that letter, I read at Woodland Pattern, and I was looking at this wall of poetry books kind of overwhelmed, but I saw this British selected poems of Ernst Meister’s called Not Orpheus done by Richard Dove, who is this well known translator of German, so I bought it and read it, and was like, yeah, I totally get why he said that. I felt an immediate kinship with the book. But the translations seemed a little weird, or wooden, or not very poem-y. They seemed more like sketches for what a poem could be, so I just started teaching myself German and tried to retranslate the poems. The poems aren’t really in any order, but I didn’t know that at the time. So I would just kind of work on it when I didn’t have things of my own to do and that went on for several years, maybe six years. And then I met my dad’s wife’s daughter’s husband who is a German professor–that’s Sam. And I was like well this guy will surely have heard of Ernst Meister, and he was like I don’t know who the fuck that is. It wasn’t that he was uninterested, he was just like, who is this guy? So I sent him the poems, and he said they were amazing poems but the translations – eh. So he asked if we wanted to work together, and we did. And the focus of this was that no one had done a whole book of his in English before, they just sort of cherry-picked poems throughout his corpus. But his last three books are sort of a trilogy, so we decided to do the last three books.
The Airport Express elevated train flies past the stagnant Tuesday evening traffic and I’m welcomed to the city by the corporate offices of Mercedes, Caterpillar, and Microsoft. Through the haze and rain shine the bright yellow lights of an Ikea. Did I take the wrong plane? Nope. I’m in Beijing, back in China for the first time since I studied for a semester in Shanghai over three years ago.
To My Ex-Best Friend:
Thank you for the invitation to your Baby Barbecue. The invite (not to mention the title) surprised me. Never would I have expected to be included. But there, tacked on to the lengthy recipient list’s tail end, was my old email address, one I stopped using three years ago, one you in fact suggested that I retire because suzyQT, a remnant of my college days, screamed immature. How fortunate that I met you so soon after I moved to New York. You hoovered out of me almost all my sloppy traits, leaving an empty shell to fill with trimly tailored attitude. But I reserved one part, high up and out of reach, and kept it alive without knowing what it was. That bit would come in handy years later when I finally recognized it: my own damn self.
America and China are awesome. Tied at 23 medals apiece, it’s obvious why these are the top two nations in the world: America because it sucks in freakishly gifted people from all over the globe, claims them as its own, then gives them frightening and overbearing mothers intent on living out their failed ambitions through their mutant children, and China because apparently there’s very few things that 10 year old Chinese kids can’t do well.
Japan is a cliché. Nearly half of their medals have been in Judo.
Let me make something clear: I am a nerd. Not one of those pickles-and-plaid, post-ironic, twenty-first century nerds either. I’m talking about a data-hungry glutton for the esoteric, a devoted slave to pedantry, a straight-up Urkelian nerd. My glasses are so thick that, were you to try them on, you’d think you were dropping acid. In the second grade, I read myself to sleep with an international book of flags. My favorite shape as a three-year-old was the trapezoid.
It should come as no surprise, then, that it has been my life’s dream to appear on Jeopardy!. Read the rest of this entry »