Monday morning we got up and I’m having breakfast and I’m all dressed up! Which was totally unusual for a kid. I’ve got my brand new, go-to-school clothes. My kid brother was sitting there at the breakfast table and we were both eating the oatmeal and he was mad.
And out we go. It was a beautiful sunny day. We went next door and knocked on the door and Bobby Twinerman, all dressed up, came out with his mother and we went down the street. There were a lot of other kids on the street with their mothers. We went along to the William McKinley School.
The next memory I recall was a lady—not my mother, but a lady now—was taking me and Bobby and we were walking along a hallway. She had each of us by a hand and my mother had disappeared. Now there was a moment of trepidation. We were in school, there’s all kinds of kids. I was figuring she was going to take us to where the school is, that room with the desks, and there would be this blackboard, there would be pencils, and we would read and we would do all these groovy things. She took us to a door and opened it, and there was another lady wearing a purple dress and with hair that was all fuzzy on top of her head and she had glasses. This lady took us right into that room. And that was the beginning—the beginning of the whole life.
That was actually the beginning of life itself. That was the first room, the first cube, that section of air, that little contained bit of space that I was to occupy. And all the other Clarences of the world beginning at that instant, were beginning the world of an official life. Offices, schools, auditoriums, all the things we occupy outside of our own little private world of home. The official world, those buildings, and those buildings will pursue us all the way to the end of our life. Those official places. This is the very first one.
I stood there for a second, and the lady said, “Why don’t you go down and get in with the rest of the kids. Now here, this is Jeanie,” she called me and from that day on I was plagued with that. “This is Jeanie and here’s Bobbie.” It was our first day of kindergarten.
And I remembered. I will always remember. And, in fact, vividly remember—the intense shock and great wave of disappointment. There were no desks!
There wasn’t a desk in the entire room! They never show pictures of kindergarten in magazines. It’s always the grade school they show. I didn’t know that. To me, school was school. This was kindergarten. And there were sandboxes.
Sandboxes! There were little girls sitting around cutting stuff out! There were thousands of kids all sitting around playing in sandboxes! And Miss Bundy took me over to a sandbox and said, “Here, I want you to meet another little boy. His name is Schwartz.”
Little did I realize that this was a life-long thing that had started. And there was this kid sitting in the sandbox looking mad too. I didn’t know what to do sitting in the sandbox. All the while other new kids were being brought in from the “induction center,” or whatever it was. About every couple of seconds another kid would come in with a stunned look on his face.
They brought in Helen Weathers. “This is Helen Weathers. I want you all to say hello to Helen, all of you,” and Helen sat down. They brought in Ester Jane. They brought in Flick, the whole bunch. It was our whole crowd at the beginning, but none of us knew each other before that. A whole big neighborhood. And so, sitting there in the sandbox I remember this terrible feeling of disappointment. I don’t know whether I played with the sand. I just remember being disappointed. I didn’t want to come to school to play in the sand.
Found in Translation—Part 1
The New York Times Magazine, November 22, 2015 had an article about Christopher Logue, an English poet who has been translating Homer’s Illiad into English. The thing is, the poet does not know any Greek.
Logue does it by reading all the existing translations into English and, having gotten from a producer of the BBC who was looking for a better translation for use on the radio, a word-for-word translation for him to work from (a “crib”). They hoped for something closer in meaning/style to the original than all the previous translators put together. Logue had found the previous translations boring and not poetic and not as powerful as what he feels that Homer had created.
(I remember the raconteur and wit, Alexander King, on TV once say that he had translated Ovid’s love poems into English without knowing any Latin, only seeing other translations. He claimed he’d gotten praise for his translations as being the best of Ovid ever!)
The problem of translation, I believe, is that a word-for-word version doesn’t work because of differences in grammar, sentence organization, alternate meanings of the same words and metaphors in the two languages, the conflict between direct meaning and the poetic niceties of rhythm, sound, and such. Different translators take different tacks and come up with results that never satisfy everybody.
This really struck me because I’ve done something similar with French (that I don’t know), and Spanish, which I know enough to carry on a conversation and surprise Spanish-speakers, but not enough to be a fluent translator. I also use a Spanish/English-English/Spanish dictionary.) I’ve done these “translations” as they relate to my interest in artists’ books.
A THROW OF THE DICE
One of the earliest of what I consider an “artists’ book” is an extended poem by French Symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme, “Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira Le Hasard” (1897) “A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance.” Experts are confused by the use of words and by the designed layout. They haven’t definitively figured out what the poem and its integral layout means. I think the layout may have something to do with a ship heaving to and fro in a storm.
One might say: “We speak our writing always not for comprehension easily.”
I know no French except parlay vu and silver plate. For whatever reasons I now forget, I decided to do my artists’ book of it in English. (I believe I was just intrigued by how the poet designed the look of his text.) I would study the English translations I could find and put together, based on them, my own “better” English version, which I would then arrange into my own artsy designs; one full-size book, and another version fitted into a CD jewel case in eleven double-page spreads. Seen here is my artsy jewel case cover (back/spine/front) and my “translated” version of the page shown in French, plus my next “translated” page.