Where is the "foreign" in "international"?

As a translator more than sympathetic to modernist and postmodernist poetries, I nonetheless wonder about approaching foreign poetic traditions and situations from a vantage point that is internationalized, to be sure, but home-grown, emerging from an Anglocentric site--the US. And so I ask:

What does it mean to devote an English-language webpage to "poetic invention" and search abroad for modernist and postmodernist poetries in foreign languages? To what extent does this search remain a pursuit of resemblance, of sameness, in poetic traditions and situations that are fundamentally different, cast in different languages and cultures, however much cross-fertilized by anglophone poetries? Just how self-regarding, possibly self-confirming, even self-congratulatory, is such an effort?

Should a look at foreign poetries confirm or upset the values, beliefs, and representations of the looker?

Another tack: the great modernist translations in much of the 20th century avoided contemporary foreign poetries. The translations of Pound and H.D., Zukofsky and Blackburn focused mostly on foreign poems from antiquity and the middle ages. There are exceptions: Beckett's version of Apollinaire's "Zone," e.g. Yet the most important modernist translations from the 1980s onward have tended to seek out foreign modernists. These are undoubtedly brilliant projects: I am thinking, for instance, of Eliot Weinberger's version of Vicente Huidobro's "Altazor," Clayton Eshelman and Annette Smith's Aime Cesaire, Rosmarie Waldrop's Jacques Roubaud, Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris's Kurt Schwitters. Some might put certain British translations in this list, like Nicholas Moore's Baudelaire hoax. But modernist approaches to foreign poetries that are not modernist? Melnick's homophonic Homer, "Men in Aida," Logue's "War Music" . . .

How foreign is it? is the question I ask, sympathetic as I am to all these projects. In US culture, where since the Second World War the volume of poetry translations has dwindled to a trickle, to a few drops in some years, where it is difficult for readers to read foreign poetries with a sure (in some cases, any) sense of the traditions and situations that gave life to them, would not any foreign poetry seem unfamiliar, imported from a very different place, possibly without a strong tradition of modernist experimentalism? Might the very practice of translation, if it is driven by the pursuit of the foreign, demand a rethinking of the notion of "invention"?

1 comment:

Murat Nemet-Nejat said...


I think it is essential that in this blog members come from a diversity of countries and cultures. The hope is that they bring their points of view.

In my own discussions of Turkish poetry, I consistently tried to show how this work creates a poetics very different from the modernist (or post-modernist) poertics as the West understands it.

Within that framework, the English spoken in this post is not a "mother-tongue" but a linguistic clearing house, an Imperial English, through which we communicate with each other, hopefully without implicity assuming an already set poetic authority.



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