What the doctor said

15. Juli 2011 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

“You don’t mess with a Katrin”, said Kenau laughing. They had hit upon the nametag-swapping game and the discomfort of our painfully specific professional interests was falling away from us. “A Katya’s different altogether, you can tell a Katya a lot of things, but you don’t fucking mess with a Katrin.” This led on to a pleasant exchange about the myriad of connotations surrounding the more American  verb, “to fuck with”, compared with the more coy, more British, “to fuck about with”. “All material for my blog entry” I was thinking – I’d said in advance to the blog workshop master that I’d write about what literary translators talk, when they’re not talking translation and they’re not talking books. Such material had been thin in the weekend’s early hours, so this name-tag swapping lark was a godsend.

Though Ivan had also already gambitted, entering Ione & my own gap-filled coffee chat with his Billy Connolly anecdote, which must be one of Ivan’s party-pieces – a story carrying the patina of twenty years retelling. Ivan was talking the bonding language of home – I’m a Scot, Ivan Glasgowed for a year in his youth, Ivan knows I know that. Connolly – for those who haven’t yet heard – is a living folk hero, a comedian and an actor; you just hear his name mentioned and you smile. Back to Ivan’s anecdote: Billy Connolly & his pals are off camping for a weekend away from Glasgow. Finally, after hours on the Strathclyde buses, they manage to make it out to a scrap of midge-thick boggy hillside, somewhere – where else – with views up to the peak of Ben Lomond & a grand look over the loch. Billy exclaims: “This is beautiful!” But only twenty seconds later, the existential reality hits him. Billy cries out – “But where the fuck are we?”

The London Julie was asking a similar question when the dinner-table talk turned to the German woman’s football team & their beguilingly revealing / cheaply pornographic photo shoot for Playboy? Where, as a society, are we – Julie was arguing –  when those women go & do that & the liberal press chats on with their pseudo debate about how much premature sexualisation we want for our daughters? “Like, mums & dads, everyone put their hands up who supports more sexualisation of childhood!”

This rant hung tight over the table’s air; the men suddenly needed to look closely at their own shoes, while remembering the football team photos, that had been in all the papers; other rants swum up amongst the first, gasped in enough oxygen for a few sentences & collapsed again out of our consciousness, in the moments in which they were spoken. Politics disappeared & we were back again, playing with words.

(Photo: Kings)

With words coming out of translation, where else? I’ll allow myself this one exception to my brief – “broken crop rotator” is the translation of a broken German phrase someone at the table had had to translate. The dinner-table society then filled fields with these broken crop rotators & had low-flying planes drop bags & bags of poems upon them. Kenau from Kansas – all similarities to real people entirely intentional – seized the job of spontaneously delivering the poem to us that was dropped upon those broken crop rotators. In his not very good – but very entertaining – go at an Oxbridge English accent. In parody of my pathos-burdened English translation of a German political poem he’d only first heard at my reading the night before. His verse flowed through our ears, wafted through the party’s warm-airs and seeped out into Wolfenbüttel’s night.

Henry Holland


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