August 12th, 2013 / 4:59 pm
Craft Notes & Random

Brief Notes on Johannes Göransson’s Poetry Foundation Posts

Rauan Klassnik already wrote a little bit responding to the first of Johannes Göransson’s recent ‘Corean Music’: Art and Violence posts at the Poetry Foundation blog. Part 3: “The Autobiographical Account of The Diabolical Music of Translation and Kitsch,” starts with the lines:

Every immigrant knows that it’s impossible to translate.

Every immigrant knows that it’s impossible not to.

As the post introduces some of JG’s own autobiographical context into the discussion, these opening lines push me to immediately delve into my own autobiography and the troubles of translation, translating between languages, yes, but also between cultures, histories, philosophies, beings. (Also I’m taken back to Bhanu Kapil’s Incubation: A Space for Monsters…)

He also quotes Kim Hyesoon from an interview:

Yes, poems are ways of saying you clearly remember the day of your death and your tomb. When I am writing poetry, I relive my days when a woman inside me dies many times. My body is full of graves. A sepulcher is dug up, and a young girl comes out of it with her dusty hands in tears. A lady who is a young girl and an old girl at the same time feels the presence of the young girl. I feel that the 15-year-old me and the 50-year-old me come out of the sepulcher through an illegal excavation. Time is not a straight line, but just a flat hell, like a desert. I am a tomb robber who is robbing my own tomb. Things from my tomb are exhibited under the radiant sun. Every time it happens I feel crude.

This feels really apt to me. The sort of violence of extracting different versions of a self, extracting memories and translating those memories, a thousand lives and deaths trapped in the strange balance of a body, like a fucked up game of Operation.

Recently I found some of my mother’s old photo albums, an old yearbook, photos of her as far back as junior high, some from before she met my dad. I had never seen most of these photos before. I looked through each album with my dad, recording his thoughts, recollections, questions as we picked her out in group and class photos, speculated on her age and context. My dad had also not seen many of these photos before. It was a strange piecing together of an identity, an identity that is altogether very clear in our minds. She was his wife. She was my mother. And an identity, that instead of becoming magnified, clarified, starts to become shattered and fragmented. It is a violent and uncomfortable process. Who is this woman at the beach in the photos? What version of my mother is this? How do I extract her ghost, my ghost, from these old images?

It is strange to think about the violence of translation. JG writes:

It was an abusive translation project.

It was catastrophic translation.

I haven’t recovered yet.

I haven’t recovered from the violence and I haven’t recovered from the beauty of being drowned in a foreign language, a language full of strange and alluring words like “faggot” and “weirdo.”

I’m not doing a full response of JG’s posts, and regardless, you should head over to the Poetry Foundation and read them yourself, but mostly I’m currently too self-absorbed to make any connections that aren’t related to my own peculiar and particular situation. JG’s posts are full of interesting questions, including circling around an ancient one about the potential of art. I’ll stop here for now, but curious to hear from others who might be engaging with these ideas in different ways…



  1. “Instead of judging the poem, let’s become overtaken by it.” | HTMLGIANT

      […] brought this up a few days ago, but I think it bears repeating. Johannes Göransson continues to mash blueberries and puncture […]

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