Reviews of "Stolen Air" : a follow-up

Here's the link to my review of Stolen Air (Christian Wiman's book of Mandelstam versions), in Critical Flame.   James Stotts also has a very different review of the book in the same issue. 

I admire James Stotts' clear analysis and fine writing here.  It's unusual to have two such opposing views in the same issue of a journal.  The chasm between our perspectives obviously points up some of the difficult, inherent ambiguities involved in translating poetry.  Stotts displays pretty convincingly just how variant are Wiman's versions of the originals.  But I think it's a little unfair of him to impugn Wiman's motives.  Stotts implies that Wiman is a literary opportunist, whose motive is simply to "align himself" (parasitically) with greatness; he claims Wiman's versions are so extremely inaccurate as to be unethical.

But Wiman, in his afterword, describes very clearly how this particular translation project came about, and his guiding principles.  He emphasizes that his are creative versions, and that he balked himself at calling them "translations" : he displays candor and humility in the self-characterization of his unusual method (but not unprecedented : see Robert Lowell's "versions", for example).

I also rate Wiman's results in English much more highly than my fellow reviewer.  I have to admit that when I first read them I had very mixed feelings myself : it was like hearing a sort of "simulation" or "virtual reality" Mandelstam : a transmogrification of my dear great Russian poet into a sort of angst-ridden 21st-cent. American hipster.  But the more I read these versions, the more I enjoyed Wiman's gusto and finesse - the obvious joy he was taking in finding parallels for Mandelstam by ransacking sounds from the great English/American poetic stream.  Rather than seeing this project as some kind of arrogant betrayal, as James does, I see it as a great homage to Mandelstam. 

Wiman's Stolen Air not the be-all and end-all : in fact, I think the great Mandelstam translations into English are yet to come.  But as I state in my own review, with Mandelstam, "there is always another facet to the crystal."  And Stolen Air is a lovely tour-de-force.

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