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Readings, Languages, Other Things

Currently, very exhausted. The Bakery turned out to be an artist's studio-type venue on James St. Black wallpaper. Monochrome paper cut-outs on the walls. Chessboard checkered floor. Very dark -- I felt my eyesight destroy itself by a few more degrees. Crowd of about 20. We sat around on vinyl-covered benches, in a loose square.

scanner_darkly tells me these stories about going to Cons and feeling disconnected from crowds of strangers. I was reminded of them the whole time I was there. I was conscious of being the stranger. I was conscious of not knowing anyone. I was introduced as Afi, the person reading Abdyaghooth's translations. The Polish lady sitting next to me asked if I translated them. I said no. She told me she came from the Fremantle Arts Centre. I told her I just took up a residency at the KSP Centre. I had my legs crossed, my back straight, and my hands folded on my knee.

The panel discussion on the challenges and pitfalls of translating poetry into English, by bilingual poets, was interesting. There was a panelist (Pierre Van Osselaer) who was extremely multilingual, wrote in no less than five languages, who was all about the semantics of translations -- how the different grammar between different languages could mangle the nuances of a translation. It was interesting to hear his reasoning, as his methodology for studying languages was similar to mine. He approached languages syntax first, rather than vocabulary first. He was genuinely interested in the study of languages and its nuances.

Another panelist pictured the importance of being multilingual as a story his grandmother told him in his native Sudan. A long time ago, a cat was looking for his breakfast when he chanced upon a mouse. The mouse escaped to his hole, and the hungry cat waited outside. In order to lure the mouse out, the cat barked. The mouse, hearing a dog and believing this meant the cat would've run away, came out of hiding. The cat ate the mouse, proclaiming, "It's good to know a second language!"

There was an Indian panelist who was talking about the culture of public readings in India. Public readings are just something people do there, according to this guy, as a community, as a group of friends, even just because. Poetry journals, and support for poetry in newspapers and other publications was very high. It was interesting to think of in socio-economic terms as compared to wealthier nations, like Australia, for instance, where such support wasn't readily available.

While quite a number of good views were raised overall, I was disappointed that during the discussion on translating culturally significant terms, the issue of audience comprehension of foreign, culturally significant terms in original English poetry was not raised. There was a lack of time, which cut that discussion short in the middle. Admittedly, my reasons for bringing up the subject would've been underhanded. I was once rejected by a publication for having the words "calamansi" and "Anansi" in my poetry. The editors told me that they couldn't understand my poem because it used foreign terms, and that I should consider including a glossary with my poems that included such terms. There was also the critique I received a few weeks ago where a critic called me on translating Muslim greetings from the original Arabic into English within a short story -- it weirded me out. I wanted to know what more experienced peers thought about approaching writing in English for an audience outside of their cultural spheres, where "explaining" the story's culture should start, and where it should end. Or even any case studies they had on the subject.

While waiting for our reading, I told Abdyaghooth about the review I got from Tangent Online for Rahim. We were sitting with Afeif Ismail, the panelist who told the cat's story. Abdyaghooth and Afeif both laughed, and reminded me that Muslims generally never translated the greetings into any other language. Regardless of where they came from, they would greet each other in Arabic. This was a good point. I'd translated what I did in my story because I felt it was necessary for my readers understand what was being said as a counterpoint to what was going on. I stand by what I did, but at least in terms of the realism of the story, it was inaccurate. Another thing to think about with regards to cultural criticism.

At the start of our set, Abdyaghooth greeted his audience with assalamualaikum, and mentioned that I was just talking about that phrase with him. He gave me the microphone to better phrase what I'd said, which was unexpected. Pretty terrifying. I think I barfed something about the review in question, and by way of the panel discussion failing to address this, please excuse my language, how "white audiences" might sometimes also seek exoticism in the untranslated. I sort of insinuated this was a kind of voyeurism, and finished with a hello (which, while stumbling about like a morbid insomniac, I actually forgot). Finished the reading in our alloted 10 minutes. Abdyaghooth let me choose the poems to read. Rashid Naghhas, his translator, has an excellent grasp of nuance. I think he captured exactly the visceral imagery of the poetry. I was trying my best to be up to the job of reading what he put to words, what Abdyaghooth was reading very beautifully in Arabic beside me -- I don't really know if I did well. I just don't really know. I think I was quite dodgy, actually. These were supposed to be the views of a child walking through a cemetery.

Preferred to not make eye contact with the audience, which I couldn't see much of anyway, thanks to the lights on stage.

Sat through an hour and a half (we ran over time) of mostly elderly citizens reading their favourite classical poetry, sometimes without translations.Between getting about four hours of sleep the night before and shortcircuiting at pastoral poetry describing ... scenery ... I know there was stuff about flowers, creation and at least one city scene in there ... and some random dada-ist. During the open mic segment that took way too long, people were reading their favourite French or German poems, not necessarily the ones they themselves wrote. A number refused to read translations as well, believing the true magic of the poetry would come through by sheer...magic powers alone. The random Dada-ist read gibberish. Literally, he read gibberish, calling it stuff he writes in dark cinemas. He was a great performance poet, it was forceful. But then...there was no point. People clapped. It was an empty, dull feeling. I was pretty out of it.

By the end of the show, I was being buzzed by my parents constantly, who were also in town that day and helpfully picking me up, desperate to get out of there, and trying to find Abdyaghooth to thank him for letting me read his poetry. I met the MC for the morning, Vivienne Glance, and thanked her for MCing and organizing everything. She introduced me to two very nice ladies who happened to be translators. We got to talking about languages. They recognized me as the person who talked about exoticizing foreign languages in literature and seemed glad I raised the issue (my first real appearance in local writing circles and I give myself trouble like this...). I was getting nervous as this went on. My parents kept buzzing me throughout this conversation.

I have a policy on answering my mobile phone. Basically, I'm happy to let the thing buzz away (I never use a ringtone) when I'm in a conversation with someone else. Unelss it's direly important and out of the blue (I could guess this was my parents calling based on context), I consider it rude to excuse myself from a conversation that way.

So I was hurrying out of The Bakery, still mostly getting accosted by random people (someone looking for Abdyaghooth, people asking me if I was responsible for translating them, etc.). Halfway down the street, I pick up the phone when my parents buzz me again. They're angry because I ignored them, and get even angrier when I start getting lost from their directions towards where they were waiting for me. I wasn't able to say goodbye to Abdyaghooth, and this made me feel bad because I did want to thank him for letting me read his work. Found my bearings, found my parents. Texted Abdyaghooth my thanks.

Forgot my jacket once we were out of city limits. Dad was pretty upset because he bought the jacket for me in Vietnam, and it's a nice black leather knee-length. Not something I'd lose for the price. Called up Abdyaghooth since I didn't have any numbers for The Bakery. He had a reading there last night, so he offered to help get my jacket for me. Since the organizers were still on hand after I left, there's a high chance my jacket was just put in storage. I still owe him a poem of his I promised to edit a month ago. I should finish it for him to hand back when I see him on Monday.

We still had to do a grocery run and a gardening tool run before we headed home. The Bakery is more than just darkness. It is also dust, and lots of it. I was tearing up for an hour after leaving the place. My allergy tolerance goes only so far. I'm pretty thankful it seemed to be a no smoking zone inside. Got home. Crashed. Kept getting knocks on my door and window from parents wanting me to help them rake grass (literally; we're tearing up the front lawn by hand and fork to sow new seeds). Went out to help tear up the lawn, eventually. Had to help make dinner. Could barely eat aforementioned dinner. Wanted to write. Couldn't write. Woke up this morning to more lawn tearing, lots of laundry doing and no my own working.

Got an email from oldcharliebrown with a bio request for Fantasy Magazine #4. Asked if I could deduct the price of a copy from my fee, since I wanted a copy of the 'zine I showed up in. Sean tells me I'm getting two comp copies. (Because I'm a goof?) Glee!

Got a postcard from eekers. It made me giggle -- it's a very Eekish postcard. I wondered why she asked me if I liked Darwin the other day. (And by the way, yes, huge fan of Darwin. Darwin put me on this earth to burn question marks into the lawns of unbelievers.) Considering the postcard I got was a portrait of some grumpy old dude called Erasmus Darwin, and such.

Found out after dinner I got a commission to do a small set of translations, due Monday. Just finished the job. My brain. It dies.