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Circumference - 2005

  • Subtitle: Poetry in Translation
  • Issue Number: Issue 4
  • Published Date: Autumn/Winter 2005/2006
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual

What gets translated? is more of a koan than a question. After all, where does meaning hide if not in words themselves? And what happens to meaning when words are transformed into another language? Something remains—but what, exactly? These are the kinds of questions that this small but important journal sets out to explore. How one reads Circumference depends largely on one's language base. I read English, of course, and (rather badly but with much enthusiasm) French, so the French-English spreads of this journal (which is formatted like a dual-language book) were most interesting to me. I stumped my way much more awkwardly through the other Romance languages, and those poems in Chinese, Hebrew, Greek, and Russian were, to my uncomprehending eyes, more or less decorative blocks of text. Yet it's in reading through—or at least looking at—the many languages gathered between these covers that you taste the real rewards of this journal, because in doing so, you begin to track your own mind as it works to fix meaning even in those languages you can't possibly begin to read, and you can almost feel the different densities of language as they filter through your consciousness. As far as the translations themselves go, some are inspired, others flat. Personal favorites include Ilya Bernstein's gusty translations of three poems by Osip Mandelstam—but there is much to choose from. The journal departs from its standard format of poem-translation in two sections. One of these is the lighthearted "Homophonic Feature" in which more than a dozen writers (including Rick Moody and Billy Collins) attempt to "translate" a Flemish poem by Herman de Coninck by grappling with the implications of its sound-character alone. The other section is a translation of random notes, private jottings, and mostly inconsequential musings by Celan, which, though rather fetishistic in its academic attention to errata, does contain a few illuminating thought-bits, such as "the poem has . . . an anti-metaphorical character . . . What separates you from it, you cannot bridge; you have to decide to leap." [Circumference, P.O. Box 27, New York, NY 10159-0027. Single issue $10.] — Kim Drain

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Review Posted on April 30, 2006

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