May 3, 2016

GELLU NAUM Poem in PLUME's Newsletter Introduced by MARGENTO; translated by MARGENTO and Martin WOODSIDE

"Silo" by Randi Ward

from the newsletter signed by Plume EiC Daniel Lawless:

May, 2016


Readers:  Welcome to Plume, Issue 58
May– and the cruelty this time not of the month even metaphorically but lying instead in the fact of what I must lay at your feet: actual news – in a Newsletter. A relief to most of you, surely: my own ramblings put aside so that we might speak of…business. Yes, let’s call it that. Much of what will follow – though not all, by any means – will reappear in this month’s Editor’s Note, I should warn you.
But first, something that will not appear in that Editor’s Note: our “secret poem from Gellu Naum” – “Notes on the Translation of a Poem Based on a Mistranslation” marvelously translated and introduced by Plume contributor Chris Tanasescu (Margento):
Notes on the Translation of a Poem Based on a Mistranslation
 In “Natura umană”/“Human Nature,” Romanian surrealist Gellu Naum (1915 – 2001) takes his favorite jazz musician, Miles Davis, on a tram trip around downtown Bucharest, while the latter plays his famous trumpet.  Playing the trumpet on a tramcar is not the only unusual thing here, and as we’ll see, issues of media(tion) and non-representational spatiality can be traced as playing a fundamental role in the poem.
Modern and contemporary poetry can be and has been revisited from a new media and digital space perspective—and I am not speaking of digital poetry (only) but of traditional/“page” poetry as well.  Marit Grøtta for instance wrote a book on Baudelaire, circumscribing the early modernist’s poetics as deeply informed by the new media of his age—particularly pre-cinematic devices—the kaleidoscope, the thaumatrope, the zoetrope, etc.  As this brief enumeration already shows, there is a strong (if not prevailing) emphasis on the visual in these early fusions.  Still, in Baudelaire (as argued in the same book) the flaneur’s experience of the crowd is a profoundly sensual one. 
This latter modernist motif is revisited by Naum in his poem and actually twisted almost beyond recognition, since he includes two major additions extracted from the cultural heritage of the 20th century—psychoanalysis (the girl who performs the part of her brother’s “dear mama”) and popular music (jazz). 
These two additions are further distorted by placing the “concert” on a tramcar and subverting the given topographies (the Neajlov flows in reality somewhere beyond the outskirts of Bucharest and nowhere near the downtown Piazza May the 1st).  “Miles Davis” thus becomes, in Ian Davidson’s terms, a “circulating entity” within another “circulating entity,” a restless, walking, performing passenger in a tramcar which is in its turn in motion. 
His whereabouts is therefore always variable and uncertain, and therefore Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in quantum physics—that has been identified as perfectly applicable to digital space (cf. Stephen Kennedy 33)—is illustrated here in a most palpable way.
Moreover, multi-temporality and the multiple motions involved in the poem circumscribe an economy of place and space of particular relevance in the context of our discussion.  Miles Davis’s character gradually acquires a special kind of place and space related features.  His mobility as well as the connectivity and relative re-positionings and (re)arrangements he stirs in the surrounding contexts evoke both the ever-shifting, expanding, and protean networks of hyperlinks in digital space as well as the way in which within (and then as based off of) the virtual, the digital creates a space with a reality principle of itself.
The dislocated places, displaced and floating locations typical of digital space are accompanied here by another salient feature of the latter.  A sky with its own stars is made visible through and within the musician’s presence and performance, both of which generate a space of their own, where the eagles on a necklace soar among the stars beyond/above the ceiling.  This confusion between the two levels of reality and their fusion into a new self-sufficient kind of reality cohere with the descriptions of digital space in recent criticism as going beyond the real-virtual binary opposition and, as already stated here, acquiring a reality principle in and of itself (see for instance Kroker and Kroker, 11).
Now we can return to the new media mentioned in the opening remarks.  Unlike in modernist poetries, the economy of such space and of the poem is not mainly visual anymore, but sonic.  The refrain of the poem is a mistranslation (Naum literally renders the song title as “time after time”, “timp după timp”).  It sounds like an echo, and the economy of the poem gravitates around it in ways that could be probably best described by the “echostate” (“an echo of a statement”) concept (cf. Kennedy 74-5).  The re-mixed and remediated performance develops the echostate of “time after time” in ways that restore the sonic and multi-temporal dimensions to a conventional and representational space related experience.  The figure of the musician himself and his wandering among passengers and from one coach to another is also a form of echostate, a metaphor for the propagation of statements and the way they connect or disconnect in various spaces and on various levels, within and across media.  His presence triggers a continuous reconfiguration of relationships and causes identities, statuses, and connections to become fluent, fluctuating, and interchangeable.
Come and be transported, be utterly dislocated and transformed by this poem!
Human Nature
by Gellu Naum
When Davis entered my sleep he played crooked
and that bewilderment had emerged which finally encloses
                  you in autumn when you’re alone and ordained for states of
                  mind you can’t resist
I started out then        Davis plays on his green trumpet   
                  Plays crooked
the mouth of the trumpet scraping the ground
and suddenly we find ourselves in Piazza May the First
there was a girl on the #3 Tram with a sanitary handbag
made from tarpaulin it had a red cross painted on the top she wears
a beret made of sky colors bound with a strap which slides
down the neck
she was about 14 years old all terribly made up
playing a game she made up pretending to take the wrong
                  coach accompanied by a much younger brother
she corrected him constantly performing the part of dear
in the crowded coach Davis plays crooked passing among
                  the others  his trumpet touching the floorboards
time after time and I felt like crying he was just an old
man the others couldn’t hear him the girl with the son-brother passed on to the other coach she returned then
Davis plays crooked he passes among the others I made
                  out above through the ceiling yellow stars on blue
                  sky I admired the necklace at his throat a great
                  jewel with eagles
the others smoked as Davis wiped the sweat from his brow
his trumpet seemed a golden amphora sweat poured down those eagles
Davis plays crooked his heart ever deeper dragging with his
fingers making unintelligible signs then there was one with long flowing hair and a small black guitar
the hair ran down over his guitar or it rose up in any case
                  he couldn’t hear Davis either
Davis played crooked this girl was made-up violently
                  passing into the other coach the other watched
                  snapdragon flowers through the windows and the
                  reddish-black hollyhocks would stir time after time
for two days we’d traveled as Davis played crooked
                  down close to the floor
on the third day I got off at Piazza May the First while
                  Davis stayed among the passengers I remained alone
                  despondent on the banks of the Neajlov that girl
                  (brother’s mother) I believe was in the same coach
                  with Davis I hadn’t noticed
in any case I was certain and she clamped the back of her
hand over her son-brother’s face and pulled from the
sanitary handbag a black bandage for his eyes
smeared with my shadow I wiped the sweat from my
(translated from the Romanian by MARGENTO and Martin Woodside from Athanor and Other Pohems, Calypso Editions, 2013, reprinted here with permission from the publisher.)
Natura umană
de Gellu Naum
Când Davis a intrat în somnul meu cânta încovoiat
ieșise la iveală în sfârșit acea nedumerire care te cuprinde
         toamna când ești singur și rânduit la stări
         pe care nu le poți respinge
pe urmă am pornit la drum             Davis cânta la o trompetă verde    
         Cânta încovoiat
gura trompetei atingea pământul
și pe neașteptate ne-am pomenit în Piața 1 Mai        
era o fată în tramvaiul 3 cu geantă sanitară
         din prelată avea o cruce roșie pictată pe capacul genții purta
         o bască de culoarea cerului legată cu o curelușă
         care îi cădea pe ceafă
avea vreo paisprezece ani era teribil de fardată
juca un joc se prefăcea că a greșit
         vagonul o însoțea un frate mult mai mic
de fiecare dată îl certa vroia să pară
era înghesuială în vagon Davis cânta încovoiat trecea
         printre ceilalți trompeta atingea podeaua
timp după timp și îmi venea să plâng era bătrân
         ceilalți nu-l auzeau fata cu fiul-frate a trecut în celălalt vagon apoi s-a reîntors
Davis cânta încovoiat trecea printre ceilalți zăream
         deasupra prin tavan stele gălbui pe cerul albăstriu
         îi admiram colanul de la gât un mare
         giuvaier cu vulturi
ceilalți fumau și Davis își ștergea sudoarea de pe față
         trompeta lui părea o amforă de aur sudoarea îi cădea pe vulturi
Davis cânta încovoiat cu inima mult mai adâncă făcea cu degetele semne
         de neînțeles era acolo unul cu părul foarte lung cu o chitară mică neagră
părul i se scurgea înspre chitară sau îi creștea din ea în sus în orice caz
         nici el nu-l auzea pe Davis
Davis cânta încovoiat fata aceea violent fardată
         trecuse în vagonul celălalt vedea
         prin geamuri flori de gura-leului
         și nalbe înroșite-negru care se mișcau timp după timp
de două zile tot călătoream așa Davis cânta încovoiat
         aproape de podea
a treia zi m-am coborât în Piața 1 Mai el a rămas
         acolo printre pasageri eu am rămas tot singur
         ca un amărât pe malul Neajlovului fata aceea
         (mama fratelui) cred că era cu Davis în vagon
         n-am observat
în orice caz sunt sigur că și-a pleznit cu dosul palmei
         peste mutră fiul-frate și că a scos
         din geanta sanitară fașă neagră ca să-i bandajeze ochii
mânjit de umbra mea eu îmi ștergeam sudoarea de pe frunte
Gellu Naum (1915-2001) started as an orthodox Surrealist, together with André Breton and Victor Brauner in the Paris of the 1930s, where he pursued a PhD in philosophy from the Sorbonne. After returning to Romania in the early 1940s, he embarked on a solitary and prolific career, riskily immune to the political agenda of the Communist regime. He reshaped surrealism by means of a mode-of-existence poetics that absorbed (often jocosely) erudite eastern and western references along with popular culture and the quotidian, thus managing to fuse a wide range of styles and dictions into a unique discourse, shamanistic and deadly humorous at the same time. A major voice of the 20th century, his verse contains varied infinities while staying mysteriously homogenous and enlightened by the pursuit of the same unmistaken path.
MARGENTO (Chris Tănăsescu) is a Romanian poet, performer, academic, and translator who has lectured, launched books, and performed in the US, SE Asia, Australia, and Europe. His pen-name is also the name of his multimedia cross-artform band that won a number of major international awards. His book of translations—together with Martin Woodside—from Gellu Naum’s poetry (Athanor and Other Pohems) was nominated by World Literature Today as Most Notable Translation in 2013, and his more recent work has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Prairie Schooner, Belas Infieis, Experiment-O, and Tristan Tzara Notebooks, among other places, and he has recently completed the libretto for a rock opera composed by Bogdan Bradu. He continues his work on the graph poem project together with Diana Inkpen and the latter’s students at University of Ottawa. MARGENTO is Romania & Moldova Editor-at-Large for Asymptote.
Wonderful, yes? Thank you, Margento – Chris, and Martin.

Read the whole newsletter here.
Sign up for the Plume newsletter here.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...