Almost Random Notes, Part 15
I will begin work again tomorrow.
I do have several almost random notes:
1. I was troubled by David Orr's essay on Zbigniew Herbert's Collected Poems: 1956-1998 (Ecco / HarperCollins, 2007) in today's New York Times Book Review. Orr takes Alissa Valles (the volume's primary translator), to task, covering some of the same ground recently trod by Michael Hofmann in Poetry. In so doing, Orr does note that some of Hofmann's points are not well-taken, but Orr also fails to point out that a good deal of "the Valles translations" (more than a quarter of the book) is actually the work of Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott, since the entire text of the Selected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert (Ecco Press, 1968), translated by Milosz and Scott, has been incorporated into the Valles' text, almost verbatim. (Valles notes in her introduction that she changed one word in one poem, and explains, cogently, why she did it.)
If the biggest complaint of David Orr and Michael Hofmann is that the translations of John and Bagdana Carpenter are superior to those of Alissa Valles, perhaps they could use their influence in the poetry world to have the Carpenters' translations reissued; as Orr notes, they are largely out of print. Until that happens, we will have the Valles translations--and the work of Milosz and Scott contained therein.
I still say that the Collected Poems is a very good, and important, book.
2. I was also annoyed by Julia Reed's review in the NYTBR--best characterized as a "non-review"––of Annie Dillard's new novel, The Maytrees (HarperCollins, 2007). Reed doesn't have that much to say about the novel; she basically takes snippets from an thirty year-old review by Eudora Welty of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and phrases drawn at near random from Dillard's The Writing Life (A book I, admittedly, go on and on about) and beats Dillard over the head with them. The curious reader will find not-so-much in Reed's review about the novel itself. Instead, we are repeatedly reminded that Annie Dillard writes like...well, Annie Dillard.
Who would have guessed?
In the end, Reed suggests that she actually liked The Maytrees. After three long columns of snark and semi-snark, I suppose that is good news.
3. There is an interesting and useful review by Brad Leithauser in the August 16, 2007, issue of The New York Review of Books of three volumes on the poet Louis MacNeice (including the Collected Poems of Louis MacNeice, Faber and Faber, 2007?). I know MacNeice only through anthologies and Leithauser's thoughtful discussion made me want to order, and carefully read, all three of these books.
I am often put off by Leithauser as a critic, particularly when he writes about his contemporaries. He is evidently kinder--and for my money far more astute--when writing about the dead.
Or perhaps I am still suffering the effects of dehydration.