Sean Bonney's Translations of Baudelaire
July 18, 2007 4:37 AM   Subscribe

Sean Bonney's translations of Baudelaire are unconventional. Instead of following the form of the French originals they are semi-concrete typewriter poetry. In a review of the book, everyone's cup of tea, onedit magazine says that they are "certainly the best translations of Baudelaire in English ever written." Which might explain why they published 35 of them in their latest issue. You can listen to Bonney read his translations here [mp3]
posted by Kattullus (61 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
this is nice, I mean, like very verrrrrry nice.

the 'translations' are not strict in the more familiar sense - not word-for-word by any means, but they get at an essence of the poems that you almost never see.

I have to read more now. This is really great.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:10 AM on July 18, 2007


Oh, and, I went looking for "La Chevelure" in the original (because I don't know that I ever read it) to see how it compared. I found it here, funnily enough. Below the french version are several English translations and if you read them and then Bonney's, well, then a lot of this becomes a lot clearer.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:21 AM on July 18, 2007


It’s an interesting exercise, and the translations may well be excellent (I’m in no position to judge them), but I could barely read the first three of them, and gave up after that.

The ‘semi-concrete’-ness of it all strikes my tired eyes as an almost quaintly old-fashioned affectation.
posted by misteraitch at 5:31 AM on July 18, 2007


If it isn't deliberately opaque, it isn't art.
posted by DU at 5:35 AM on July 18, 2007


It is well documented that Baudelaire believed the carriage return lever to be an instrument of the bourgeoisie. These are pretty, even beautiful translations, but I think some essential function is lost in this form.
posted by steef at 5:59 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hypocrite mefite - Mon semblable, mon frère!
posted by jouke at 6:16 AM on July 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


This may be awesome but it's impossible to read, so I won't.
posted by Justinian at 6:20 AM on July 18, 2007


Yes, yes, yeah. They are damn-near illegible. And I am not a fan of the affected "..carriage return lever instrument of the bourgeoisie." composition style.

But.

The ones that I have been able to decipher are great poems, and great 'translations' of the original.

Maybe this is a post just for... well, for me. Hey, thanks Kattullus...
posted by From Bklyn at 6:36 AM on July 18, 2007


This is like textbook pretentiousness.
posted by four panels at 6:59 AM on July 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


What four panels said.
posted by dobbs at 7:16 AM on July 18, 2007


I do sort of like these, and I think it's a great thing to do with classic poetry, but they hurt my eyes. I couldn't take an entire book of them.

Also, the purported title of Sean Bonney's book, Blind Pork Nihilist Drainpipe, is one of the most horrible and glorious self-parodying titles I've ever heard. In my mind, there is an endless video loop of Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall reading it out loud in a squeaky voice while wearing a beret.

Sadly, I couldn't find it on the Salt Publishing website -- just Blade Pitch Control Unit.
posted by xthlc at 7:33 AM on July 18, 2007


More fun, I think, are the translations of Dadaist Francis Picabia's Drawings by the Girl Born Without a Mother (my favorite)
posted by silby at 7:34 AM on July 18, 2007


These are terrific. Forget that they're hard to read. Work for it. Other translations I've read are too flowery and mannered. This reminds me of some early(?) Bukowski when he was more obviously poetic and image conscious.

It's okay to be artsy when the results are this good.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:36 AM on July 18, 2007


Sometimes I have to wonder why anyone bothers posting literary links here. Maybe it has to do with the search for intelligent life forms.
posted by memexikon at 7:38 AM on July 18, 2007


Wouldn't a literary link be, by definition, readable?
posted by DU at 7:39 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Only if you're stuck believing pre-modernist fossillized literary forms are the pinnacle of contemporary poetic culture.

If you've read Joyce, Stein, the Dadaists, the Zaumists, the Futurists, Surrealists, Lettrists, the visual & concrete poets, the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, etc etc ... the parameters have been drastically reconfigured.
posted by memexikon at 7:48 AM on July 18, 2007


oh, well, if that's a translation of baudelaire, then i guess i should share my haiku translation of homer's odyssey

life's a bitch when you
can't get back to the crib cause
the gods are fuckers
posted by pyramid termite at 7:53 AM on July 18, 2007 [5 favorites]


...the parameters have been drastically reconfigured

Sorry, I was still able to read this, you fossilized pre-modernist.
posted by DU at 7:57 AM on July 18, 2007


i would do your hair
even more than that guy did
cameron diaz
posted by pyramid termite at 8:04 AM on July 18, 2007


Only if you're stuck believing pre-modernist fossillized literary forms are the pinnacle of contemporary poetic culture.

I imagine you and Bonney conversing would be a perpetual motion machine of pretension.
posted by dobbs at 8:11 AM on July 18, 2007


You might also enjoy David Cameron's Flowers of Bad. Cameron's a great poet and he will usually sign or kiss your copy for you if you ask him to.
posted by mds35 at 8:13 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Only if you're stuck believing pre-modernist fossillized literary forms are the pinnacle of contemporary poetic culture.

I have an idea, why not print the words in a manner so that I can read them.

If you think jumbling a bunch of words is literature, you're fucking kidding yourself.

While I'm here, I'll point out that Modernism died with Wallace Stevens, and the thing about literature is it tends to be timeless. Fuck the LANGUAGE poets, where are they now, graying in some depleted department.

Try Louise Gluck.

And after you're done flipping your concrete poetry book around a few times to make out another poem (look, it's a squirrel!), try some Rilke.

We're not against art, we're against gimmick.
posted by four panels at 8:14 AM on July 18, 2007


Just as I thought. Why post literary links here?
posted by memexikon at 8:19 AM on July 18, 2007


Utter nonsense.

If you take this at all seriously, then you're a pretentious twat. If you don't agree with that last sentence, then maybe I can type it out on a big old typewriter and *mash* it up for you (Adding a soupçon of fucking swearing to the mix). So then you can look at it and stroke your stupid goatee beards and think it's wonderful.

"It's just like Bukowski..."
"I haven't been so hard since I read the poems of Jim Morrison..."
posted by seanyboy at 8:24 AM on July 18, 2007


Ca c'est emmerdant. C'est une jeste. C'est une jeste emmerdante!
posted by SaintCynr at 8:27 AM on July 18, 2007


Just as I thought. Why post literary links here?

the fact that you get discussion and controversy instead of mindless approval is proof that indeed, you have found intelligent life here

on their own merits the poems are fairly decent ... as translations they just don't work as they don't even try to be faithful or accurate

as far as the modernism you favor goes, it's outdated for the most part ... it had its place and time as a means to expand language and its possibilities, but there's only so much that can be done with that kind of thing before it all starts sounding like the same old nonsense

at some point, it's got to relate to something real that's comprehensible to the reader, which is something the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets and many others often forget

not that sean bonney has neglected this ... but i wish he wouldn't call these translations - improvisations might be a better word
posted by pyramid termite at 8:32 AM on July 18, 2007


Am I the only person who read this as Sean Connery? After I clicked I was almost immediately disappointed.
posted by fusinski at 8:38 AM on July 18, 2007


Other translations I've read are too flowery and mannered

So is the original.

This? Not so much a translation as a personal interpretation, I think. Strip the title and have someone read one of these poems, and pennies to dollars they won't have a clue that it's Baudelaire.
posted by splice at 8:40 AM on July 18, 2007


I hear/see them as translating translating
posted by memexikon at 8:41 AM on July 18, 2007


Fuck the LANGUAGE poets, where are they now, graying in some depleted department.

That's a modernist poem in itself. ;-)

These are lovely and nice but I think that they are partly redolent of Baudelaire to an anglophone reader because they are (coff) opaque, just like the poems are. But partly that opacity is due to its being in a foreign language. So yeah, all translations are impossible.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 8:41 AM on July 18, 2007


If it isn't deliberately opaque, it isn't art.

Yeah, people who don't understand art say that a lot.
posted by interrobang at 8:46 AM on July 18, 2007


I've finally purchased an account just so I can say how great this post is. (And if that makes me a pretentious twat, well, at least I'm a pretentious twat who doesn't call other people silly names just because they happen to enjoy something I don't.)
posted by Hypocrite_Lecteur at 9:02 AM on July 18, 2007


Why post literary links here?

I like those minutes or so after a literary link gets posted. They drag by, the thread is all but dead to me, and then all of a sudden you can imagine everyone starting like they just woke with the realization that something should be said, taking a moment to drop an "Excellent!" or "Thanks!" in the thread, and then going back to reading the link. I think that's a good reason to post literary links here.

Anyway, this is good. Thanks. More poetry!
posted by carsonb at 9:03 AM on July 18, 2007


Yeah, people who don't understand art say that a lot.

There's a difference between not understanding something because of a fault on your end and not understanding it because understanding has been deliberately prevented. If typing all the words on top of each other illegibly isn't an example of the latter, I have no idea what is.
posted by DU at 9:05 AM on July 18, 2007


So is the original.

I know! Somehow that works better in French.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:13 AM on July 18, 2007


Ooo! And I just remembered, too: Nicholas Moore's thirty-one versions (imitations? parodies?) of "Spleen." More Baudelaire goodness.
posted by steef at 9:13 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Jewel anyone?

I especially like:

I have blonde hair
I pluck my eyebrows
I have my father's nose
posted by memexikon at 9:30 AM on July 18, 2007


If it isn't deliberately opaque, it isn't art.

All right, I had to come back to this, because I promised not to snark anymore.

Art is a discipline as complex as math or science or music. If you don't understand a piece of art, it isn't necessarily the case that it's "deliberately opaque"—though I'll grant that bad artists do indeed affect opacity in order to increase the mysteriousness and percieved value and intelligence of their work.

Contrary to what you've been taught in school, art is not something that just anyone can do. Just like an ordinary person has limited skills in doing math, most people can to a limited extent make art. Have you ever in your life heard of anyone looking at a physics paper, throwing it aside contemptuously, and saying "pff. It isn't physics unless it's deliberately opaque"? Of course you haven't. Yet this argument is used about art all the time.

This is probably because artists are seen as effete, eggheaded hucksters who want to do nothing more than to fool the public into thinking that their art is more complicated than it is. In some cases, this is true, but not in every case.

The reason art seems opaque to you is because you are ignorant. You haven't been schooled in it. You haven't studied it. I'll even bet that you haven't really looked at all that much of it beyond what is well known. I myself cannot do differential equations. In fact, I'm barely proficient at division and subtraction.
posted by interrobang at 9:31 AM on July 18, 2007 [4 favorites]


Neither of my comments are specific to the linked page, which I did not read. I am only addressing the general attitude about art that so many, many people seem to have.
posted by interrobang at 9:39 AM on July 18, 2007


The reason art seems opaque to you is because you are ignorant.

and smell funny ... and live in a barn ... and count with your fingers and toes

let's leave, muffy ... i'm afraid the barbarians and plebians are far too thick, here

Neither of my comments are specific to the linked page, which I did not read.

but i hear it was terribly vulgar
posted by pyramid termite at 9:40 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I know how to punctuate, too.
posted by interrobang at 9:50 AM on July 18, 2007


@interrobang: I love your point. People expect to "get" art in a way they don't expect to "get" physics. Understanding something isn't a right, it's often something that must be worked for. "The reason contemporary art seems opaque to you is because you are ignorant" should be no more offensive than "The reason quantum mechanics seems opaque to you is because you are ignorant." The truth is, it doesn't take all that much work to understand either.
posted by silby at 10:22 AM on July 18, 2007


DO NOT WANT.

Ugh, modernism was always meant to shit on its genesis, but it doesn't have to do it so obviously.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:25 AM on July 18, 2007


Pyramid Termite: lol
posted by jouke at 10:32 AM on July 18, 2007


"... understanding has been deliberately prevented. If typing all the words on top of each other illegibly isn't an example of the latter, I have no idea what is."

Dude, given, the presentation is stupid but they are good poems, listen to the Mp3 of his reading them:(not a favorite, listening to poets read their own work), but if you like poetry and have a little patience, they are worth the time.

And hopefully, his next poems will be readable, because he's doing himself a disservice. (The whole evocation of Dadaists and etc. is relevant sure, but also not. Baudelaire's work pre-dates those ideas and jamming it into those parameters does it no good.)
posted by From Bklyn at 10:34 AM on July 18, 2007


It should read "Sean Bonney's graphic design piece inspired by Charles Baudelaire's poetry".
posted by SageLeVoid at 10:34 AM on July 18, 2007


Modernism ended with the Transatlantic Review. I've lost track but I think contemporary cutting edge work is somewhere in the era of Post-Post Modernism otherwise known as Post Mortem. We've killed the author, we've killed poetry, all that remains is the Text. Long live the Universal Transrational. Kruchenykh should be proud.
posted by memexikon at 10:34 AM on July 18, 2007


Mais oui, one must translate Baudelaire word for word and arrange it in a typographically harmonious manner in order for it to be truly and quintessentially Baudelaire!

Otherwise, c'est la merde et rien d'autre!
posted by blucevalo at 10:39 AM on July 18, 2007


De gustibus non est disputandum
posted by SaintCynr at 11:50 AM on July 18, 2007


DYR-BUL-SHCHYL

/BULYZH DYRU/
UBIL
SHCHELI
SHISH
PRYG
SHISKOV
posted by memexikon at 12:10 PM on July 18, 2007


onedit magazine says that they are "certainly the best translations of Baudelaire in English ever written."

I am currently under the impression that the people at onedit are idiots. They may not be, but such ridiculous statements make it difficult to resist considering the possibility.

I love Baudelaire. Love. His vulgarity, his impatience with the world, his fury at any limit whatsoever...and his love of language as he works it all out.

This...effort (it hurts to call it even that) is a frustrated scenester begging for attention, not a translation. And certainly not the *best* translation.

It's noise. And not the useful or interesting kind.
posted by batmonkey at 12:51 PM on July 18, 2007


misteraitch: The ‘semi-concrete’-ness of it all strikes my tired eyes as an almost quaintly old-fashioned affectation.

I sort of understood that to be the point :)

memexikon: Sometimes I have to wonder why anyone bothers posting literary links here.

I've had good and bad reactions to literary FPPs, but the same goes for posts that linked to browser games, history, humor and music sites.

pyramid termite: but i wish he wouldn't call these translations - improvisations might be a better word

I wonder if someone who's better with French than I am could check to see if the lines of Bonney's poems are translated from the originals. That would be interesting to find out.

Hypocrite_Lecteur: I've finally purchased an account just so I can say how great this post is.

Hurray! I win at MetaFilter!

I'm glad you liked it. Same goes for everyone else who did.
posted by Kattullus at 3:20 PM on July 18, 2007


>>I wonder if someone who's better with French than I am could check to see if the lines of Bonney's poems are translated from the originals

They're poseur CliffsNotes, with 'translator'-added "flavor text" not in the originals.
posted by SaintCynr at 4:56 PM on July 18, 2007


> the parameters have been drastically reconfigured.

So right. It's not Baudelaire, but I just translated Les Sœurs Vatard into recipes. Chapter 1 is profiteroles with fish sauce.
posted by jfuller at 5:38 PM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Reminds me why I find Baudelaire so tiresome. What a whiny weasel, precursor to goth & emo kids everywhere.

Give me some John Crouse or Toadex Hobogrammathon, some John Berryman or Jackson Mac Lowe.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:42 PM on July 18, 2007


this_thread_needs_more(parameters);
posted by psmith at 7:43 PM on July 18, 2007


All you haters can suck it. Baudelaire rocks and these translations are excellent, both in their own right and as re-interpretations.

For those of you asking if the words match the original French you can also suck it. Transliterating poetry is not the same as translating it. Despite what my French professors said, the most faithful translation is not the most accurate (or is it the other way around).

Perhaps translation (of poetry) necessitates borrowing from other disciplines (graphic design here). I know I wave my arms around a lot when I translate speech.
posted by grubby at 8:24 PM on July 18, 2007


I have trouble reading traslated (and transliterated) poetry. I don't think there is a solid way to get the nuance inherent in the writer's native tongue to cross a laguage barrier, the sound of words running over one another on the mind or on the tongue is going to be lost.

That said, this guy tries well. But I can't make myself read them, even though I know Bauldelaire well enough (in various translations) to know that this sort of layout fits the text well. But I have faulty vision and low patience for gimmicky presentation.
posted by Jilder at 9:29 PM on July 18, 2007


"Reminds me why I find translations of Baudelaire so tiresome. In the original it rocks in such a big way that if you can't notice you're probably the kind of person who could get into a ten minute argument with their waiter about whether or not three percent is a generous tip.

Give me some John Crouse ...(etc., etc.)"

There. Fixed that for you.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:18 AM on July 19, 2007


Reminds me why I find Baudelaire so tiresome. What a whiny weasel, precursor to goth & emo kids everywhere.

heh ... that sounds like a ridiculous statement, but ... i've MET goths online who WORSHIP baudelaire

but that's like hating rimbaud because all the punk rockers like him

For those of you asking if the words match the original French you can also suck it.

well, the fact that he boils down 35 lines of alexandrines into 17 lines of 3 to 5 words ought to tell you something about the liberties he's taken ... i don't read french well enough to judge a translation's accuracy - but i don't have to with something this obvious

this doesn't make them bad poems and i don't think they are ... i don't even think they're unfaithful to baudelaire's spirit ... but they are unfaithful to his words to the point where i can't call them translations
posted by pyramid termite at 12:41 AM on July 19, 2007


ya ya ya. some better recordings of Bonney, not Baudelaire tho, his own stuff.
posted by scissorfish at 7:34 AM on July 27, 2007


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