Figure of Eight: New Poems and Selected Translations

Description

90 pages
$12.95
ISBN 0-920428-98-3

Author

Publisher

Year

1987

Contributor

Reviewed by Anne Burke

Anne Burke is the editor of the Prairie Journal Press and author of
Prairie Journal Prose.

Review

I always feel some trepidation when I review a book boasting a cover blurb that is frankly more laudatory than I can possibly be.

Piecemeal translations of poems constitutes about half of this book. They call to mind nostalgia for a time when poets were linguists and literate people learned many languages in childhood. Wevill is to be commended for admitting his reliance on translators, “scholars and native speakers,” among them Alberto de Lacerda, who not only helped with the poems by Fernando Pessoa but collaborated in the translation of his own poems. However, it is difficult, if not impossible, for this reviewer to assess what Wevill’s role has been, especially in view of my own lack of fluency. I am familiar, nevertheless, with the A.J.M. Smith versions of Juhász, for example, and an author’s sense of pastiche: adapting the work of others as if it were some portion of one’s own writing (Je est un autre, according to Rimbaud). Still I find the practice of embedding the translations in the middle of the text (as if they were not products of independent minds) unnecessarily confusing. Why not wait to issue an entire book of translations if they are to be published — perhaps with a critical apparatus appropriate to the sources that would have some actual scholarly value.

There remains the problem of identifying what is “original” in Wevill’s poetry, and that may be a poor term for him, for this is a poet’s poet. The writing is replete with allusions to the masters, and the role of tradition is one that Wevill is aware of. In fact it is both a pose and a thought on which to muse. He achieves some fine lines, interspersed with cliches (which, depending on his intent, may or may not be adequately reworked), but the result is a pastiche of sorts that, incidentally, has made many a career for the academic poet in our society.

For those so inclined, readers should consult Other Names for the Heart: Selected Poems 1964-1984 (an overview from four earlier offerings now out of print) and then turn to the few (very few) new pieces in this collection.

 

Citation

Wevill, David, “Figure of Eight: New Poems and Selected Translations,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/34674.