On Sat, 11 Apr 1998, Mark Weiss wrote:
> Karlien: I thought that when I refered to Jon Corelis' intention it would
> be plain that my tongue dripped with irony. Apparently not. But then, I had
> not yet become a category.
O, I didn't realise it was irony. I thought you were holding the poet
responsible for his words. I thought you had dragged his "words like
culprits to the bar", and then proceeded to declaim:
"Must men stand by what they write/as by their camp-beds or their
weaponry/or shell-shocked comrades while they sag and cry?"
> Let me try this out: whatever is in the poem, whatever referents, whether
> the author (or translator) understood or was aware of what he was doing, is
> part of the text (that's why as poets we're in the business of choosing our
> words carefully). I don't see how these referents can be irrelevant or less
> interesting to the reader unless the reader is similarly unaware.
I do quite get that. Except "the business of choosing our words
carefully" is, as it turns out, so complicated. What was chosen (and the
poet mitigated his responsibility by saying the editor had done it,
honest guv) went beyond "our words", in the sense that the version chosen
does not adhere to the commonly-agreed upon way to write signifiers
(orthography, no less) no matter the dialectical variants of
pronounciation. Although a dialect consists of variants in syntax and
semantics, and not only pronounciation (and thus the imagined colloquial
is still 'non-standard' language usage in the orthographic version)
there were more difficulties with the transcription, not only that of the
effort of reading. As you had sort of pointed out, phonetic transcription
was often used to emphasise the supposed illiterate status (so dense!) of
the speaking subject quoted in a text. This, you did say, added insult to
injury. My point was that the phonetic transcription might lead to a
density of another kind, a text rich in homonymic play.
> I also think that you must yourself be aware how different a case the poem
> of Khaled Hakim you cite is. Hakim, for his own reasons, writes, in a
> phoneticized spelling (why, I wonder, doesn't he go the next step and use
> the phonetic alphabet?)that doesn't appear to me to distinguish its
> pronunciation, primarily in the queen's english, except when he is quoting
> dialect, and when he does so he's precisely making a point about the quoted
> speakers. He is aware that there is an implied commentary. Dialect is an
> artifact with a history. Corelis is abstractly choosing a correlative
> dialect as if it had only the most general meaning, i.e., that rural equals
> rural, that the speaker in the poem is not us, and that appears to be where
> he means its function as commentary to end. That he probably inadvertently
> opens a whole other can of worms I should think would give him pause. Of
> course, if he wants large numbers of his potential readers, even many who
> are not hysterical Americans, to hear racist overtones, that's his right.
> Seems a bit much to impose this on Theocritus, though.
But now it does revert to 'intention' or 'awareness' or 'wants to' again.
Hakim 'is aware that there is an implied commentary', sure, whilst Corelis
seems not. Hakim does not use phonetic alphabet because it's the homonyms,
puns, and so on, not speech rendition, that he's after, it's
writing-based poetry in that sense. My point is not that "dialect is an
artefact with history" but rather that the "phonetic transcription of
dialect is an artefact with history". Again, it seems to emphasise the
'illiteracy' of the quoted speaking subject, which, in a pastoral poem, is
of notable interest. Thus it isn't 'overtones', (ie. the impression the
text could give to uninformed interlocutors that: "this is a voice which
belongs to a particular ethnic identity") but the way the graphic
rendition of that speech (perhaps signifnied as of the illiterate)
functions within the context of the pastoral, & that seems to have some
literary history. Hardy reverses the process of verbal and then written
signification: nature is represented as a mysterious writing ('runic',
hieroglyphs') that could be verbalised by those that speak the tongue of
trees, who are, thus, literate in a different, indeed a 'foreknown' way.
And yes, the 'voice' is persistent: my pantry is burstin' is the type of
expression I do seem to recall from Gone with the Wind. I could imagine
such mimicked speech acts to be disturbing, in a localised racist manner,
but getting beyond those 'overtones': is such mimicry radically related
to the pastoral? How does it function with regard to the non-standard
rendition of verbal signifiers: does it mark the subject as of an oral
culture? One that produces no written text? One that reads trees & stars?
Is that subject fetish-essentialised? Of course this opens more than a
On the author's culpa: in his defence he did exclaim triumphant a couple
of posts ago: "when did you last see a translation from the classics that
was controversial?" As if he, unlike dreary poets like Derek Walcott, has
found that cool edge of controversy which makes Theocritus so very hip to
hop. Well, one can but dream on....