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Contributor Spotlight: Chris Tamigi

I’m excited about seeing “Impure Acts” (my translation of Mauro Covacich’s short story “Atti Impuri” ) in print in the HFR.  The idea of an English translation of a contemporary Italian story set in postwar Poland intrigues me in that it interposes several layers of mediation between the reader and the narrator.  You have Covacich who conjured up this scene in the mountains outside postwar Krakow and described it in Italian, and then you have the translator (me) importing the story from Italian into English.  

Thus “Impure Acts” delivers Krakow by way of Rome.  I haven’t asked Covacich how much he researched the setting, but I’m sure he worked in part under the assumption that a young priest leading a group of high-school students on a daytrip into the mountains could unfold in much the same way then and there as it would in Italy (if not in today’s Italy, Italy a couple of generations ago).  Indeed “Impure Acts” is not so far removed from the Italian experience as it is for the American reader.  Besides Catholicism’s central role, we also see an alpine shelter (I had no idea what these were the I first time I encountered one in an Italian novel, but maybe I just haven’t spent enough time in the mountains) and a dance organized by the “rail workers club” (Covacich uses the word dopolavoro which literally means “after work” and refers to the state-sanctioned recreational clubs set up for workers under the Fascist regime).  

I enjoyed learning about the diverse writers and cultural artifacts referred to in the story.  There was a quote from philosopher Simone Weil, for which I first consulted an English translation and the original French before writing my own version—finagling the wording to best fit the narrator’s intended meaning.  There’s also a synopsis of the short film, Falling Leaves, by silent movie director Alice Guy-Blaché.  At some point, I decided I absolutely needed to watch the movie on YouTube in order to clear up some minor uncertainty. 

Then there were the two quotes from the New Testament.  The one from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is one of my all-time favorites given the Gnostic/Manichean subtext one can read into his assertion that our battle is against the spiritual forces of evil.  For quotations from the Gospel, I try to borrow from the King James or Standard Version for my translations, but—alas—here the passage alluded to in Mark didn’t really serve the purpose of defining the Greek term kairos (a new concept for me) so I ended up just translating Covacich’s version into English.  And, finally, there are the hymns the students sing.  I had no luck finding English versions of these; Covacich told me they were written in antiquated Italian which encouraged me to use words like “Thou Seraph.”

One last anecdote: when I first showed my draft of “Impure Acts” to fellow translators, they pointed out how—given the “touchy” subject matter—I had to be sure and steer clear of unintentional doubles entendres.  This was made all the more challenging by the presence of hard sausage (dried sausage? salami?) in the story.  Once you start thinking along these lines, even commonplace idioms like “on the other hand” can start to make you giggle.  

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Chris Tamigi was awarded a 2014 ALTA fellowship for emerging translators.  He is a student in the University of Arkansas’s MFA program in literary translation and is currently translating Mauro Covacich’s novel In Your Name (A Nome Tuo).  His translation of Covacich's "Impure Acts," appeared in Issue 55 of Hayden's Ferry Review.

Contributor Spotlight: Sarah Pemberton Strong
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My poem “Mobile” was inspired by a baby gift for my newborn daughter—a mechanical crib mobile sent by a well-meaning relative I’d never met. This mobile, with its toxic-smelling plastic ponies and its beepy, teeth-grinding rendition of a piece of music I was fond of, struck me at first as the very nadir of technological achievement. As the poem says, whenever I looked at it—and smelled the chemicals coming off the plastic—it made me think of  “asthma attacks and Chinese factory workers.” In an earlier draft, the poem went on to ask, “Why would anyone give a naked infant / such a complicated dance of suffering?” Although those lines didn’t make it into the final version, once I had posed that question, I wanted to try to answer it, or at least investigate it. That investigation comprises a large part of the pleasure poetry gives me—the experience of embarking on a quest I hadn’t intended to sign up for.

As my mind jumped around trying to answer the question I’d posed myself, I discovered the discursive narrative that is the poem’s form. I wanted “Mobile” to read the way people actually think, leaping from one idea to the next with lightning speed. As I worked on the piece, however, a tension developed between the heap of details I was accumulating and my desire to make a poem that, despite its content, still had a clear formal shape. To create that shape, I had to search out connections between the different images and discard those that didn’t serve the emerging structure. The Blue Danube Waltz led me to the real Danube river, down through a good deal of European history, and then back out to a performance I once attended, where there was a man sitting alone on the edge of the stage that was the twentieth century, plucking the notes of the waltz on a classical guitar with such exquisite tension between the sweeping music of the river and the tiny punctuated pattern of human feet that the people in the sparse and hurried
lunch-hour audience put down their cell phones and wept.

The memory of how deeply affected I’d been by the music, which up until then I’d associated with ice-skating rinks and Bugs Bunny cartoons, gave me a response to my original question: Why would anyone give a defenseless infant such a mobile? Why would anyone want to buy it? Why ponies? Why the Blue Danube? Perhaps a powerful wish for something genuinely nourishing—a beautiful piece of music, or the sight of horses running—was buried inside this flimsy piece of mass-produced junk, still alive in there and straining to be heard. 

When I began “Mobile” in the autumn of 2013, I had no idea how it might relate to other poems I was writing. Now, a year and a half later, I see that this poem’s concerns are connected to a larger work, and that a good deal of what I’ve been writing this last year keeps returning to the same themes: the effect of our human habits of consumption, the relationship between what we crave and what we aspire to, and the tension between our fantasies of returning to some sort of utopian, Edenic state and the likelihood that, if granted one, we might destroy it through our own transient cravings as we “rise up from the earth’s breast / and crane our necks over the grasses, distracted / by a glimpse of shiny things.” 

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Strong's poem, "Mobile," appeared in Issue 55 of Hayden's Ferry Review.

Contributor Spotlight: Clyde Moneyhun

I found my voice as a writer, ironically, by speaking in other people’s voices, which is to say when I started translating in earnest.  Before about five years ago, I’d dabbled in translation.  In college, I once got out of taking a final exam in an Italian class by turning in a translation of the brief memoir “Winter in Abruzzo” by Natalia Ginzburg, and later it was the first translation I ever published.  Still in college, I started translating Camus’s The Stranger to teach myself French.  Living in Japan years later, I collaborated with my friend Mark Caprio to translate the Japanese novel A Heart of Winter by Miura Ayako, which we did manage to finish and publish, and also some contemporary Japanese Buddhist poetry.  I should have given in to my fate long ago, but I spent many years writing short stories, personal essays, even a travel column for a while, before I committed to translation wholeheartedly.

What brought me back?  Catalan.  After learning French, Italian, and even Japanese, I finally took an intensive year-long class in the language of my ancestors.  Most of the six million speakers of Catalan now live on the Mediterranean coast of Spain in Catalonia and Valencia.  My mother’s family spoke it on the tiny island of Minorca in the Balearic Island group before immigrating to Florida; my grandmother was the last one in the family to understand it.

The music of Catalan grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.  It sounded like no other Romance language I’d studied.  I got hooked on the online Catalan television station TV3, especially a pseudo-documentary comedy show about the language itself (“Caçadors de paraules”) and an evening soap opera (“La Riera”).  I memorized folk songs like “Rossinyol,” which had a moment of fame because Joan Baez used to sing it, and songs by rock bands like Gossos.  I started translating Catalan literature, starting with the medieval mystical poetry of Ramon Llull.  And then came Ponç Pons.

I found him because he’s the most famous poet from my family’s island home of Minorca.  I translated a dozen poems I found on the internet and mailed them to the only address I could find, the high school where he teaches.  He replied within a few days by email with total delight, thanks, and generosity.  We struck up a correspondence and exchanged many emails, letters, and packages; he sent Catalan children’s books to my kids, and I sent him compilation CDs of the 1970s American rock that he loves.  When I got a chance to go to Spain a couple of years ago, we met for the first time, and he loaned me his beach cottage in a tiny town on the north coast of the island.

Sitting on the porch of Ponç’s cottage, I translated my first Catalan poetry by women:  Maria Antònia Salvà, Clementina Ardieru, and Rosa Leveroni.  They led me to Maria-Mercè Marçal, who rediscovered and championed and republished all three of them as her poetic godmothers.  Marçal led me to the most intense joy I’ve experienced as a writer.

I simply feel that she is my spiritual sister.  We were born two years apart, we were in college at the same time, we read the same books, we marched in demonstrations for the same causes, we loved the same way.  Her voice speaks to my heart, and my strong hope is to speak her voice in English to people who will never understand it in Catalan.  I’m aware (believe me!) that this is impossible, but it doesn’t stop me from trying to sing her astonishing songs to those who have ears to hear them.

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Clyde Moneyhun's writing appeared in Issue 55 of Hayden's Ferry Review. He teaches writing and translation at Boise State University in Idaho. His translations of 20th century and contemporary Catalan poetry have appeared in the Notre Dame Review, Inventory: The Princeton Journal of Translation, Lyrikline, Eleven Eleven, and The Winter Anthology. His most recent project is a collaboration with the photographer Maria V. Garth (see mmmintranslation.com). He is the recipient of a Faculty International Development Award (2013) and a Visiting Professorship (2015), both at the University of Alicante in Spain, and an Arts and Humanities Institute Research Professorship (2013) for work on translations of the Minorcan poet Ponç Pons.

Contributor Spotlight: Patrick Milian

The first poem I wrote was a libretto, a byzantine elaboration of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” My roommate asked me if I’d try writing the text for an opera he was hoping to write, so I tried. I tried writing the only way I knew how—which meant meter, rhyme, form, and capitalizing the first letter of every line. It took about a year to finish the libretto and, reading it now, it seems like a record of an idiosyncratic education in which arias turn into sonnets, duets are sung is terza rima, and Longfellow makes more than one appearance. These were the best methods I knew of making a poem sound like music.

Ironically, that opera is being held in pre-production limbo just across campus from the HFR office at the Lyric Opera Theatre. “Libretto” was drafted over the course of ten days in the San Juan Islands and was the only piece of writing I worked on while there. It was an exercise in focus, in leaving out all distractions to see what would happen. I only read one book: Peter Porter’s collection of the poems Benjamin Britten had set to music. I also went the ten days without my headphones, a typically integral part of my process. One afternoon, I was sitting outside, reading some Auden sonnets that Britten had set, and suddenly someone was in the building behind me, plinking out a few notes on a piano. It wasn’t quite a song, but the sound immediately announced itself as music. That was the moment I knew what this poem was going to be.

Britten and Auden, though frequent collaborators, only wrote one full opera together: Paul Bunyan—one of the worst English operas ever made. Suffice to say that, under pressure from the producers to include more female voices in a story about lumberjacks, Britten and Auden added the roles of a singing dog and two cats: Fido, Moppet, and Poppet.

“Libretto” reconceptualizes that collaboration, imagines the process of composition, cut through with the dangers of erotic tension and creative differences, and ultimately ends on a stale and, perhaps, underwhelming image. The goal, however, was to do more than retell Britten and Auden’s collaboration, but to become something like that piano cutting through the silence, to make language that announces itself as a potentiality for music. Auden wrote that “the job of the librettist is to furnish the composer with plot, characters, and words; of these, words are the least important.”

I say the first poem I wrote was a libretto because I’ve stopped seeing a difference between the two. We speak of the “musicality” of language, but music is not and cannot be language, nor can language be music. What language can be, however, and what I think we mean when we call it musical, is an imaginative pivot point from meaning-making into music-making. “Libretto” is a furnishing, a jumping-off place, a constellation of sounds and rhythms that can, if you would like, set off music. Dana Gioia in his essay “Sotto Voce: The Libretto as Literary Form” points out that the libretto is not written for the audience, but for the singer and the composer. It is an inspiration for the music. The title of this poem is “Libretto” not because it is meant to be sung, but because it is meant to set off music in the reader, to make the reader a composer.

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Patrick Milian's poem, "Libretto," appeared in Issue 55 of Hayden's Ferry Review.