After reading Weinberger’s An Elemental Thing, I knew that, sooner or later, I’d have to have more of Weinberger’s work under my belt. After biding my time, watching for an inexpensive used copy and to make up a minimum order that qualified for free shipping, I finally ordered and received this one. Good for me.
I’d read the GR description of 19 Ways, but somehow I’d decided it would be ‘about’ Wang Wei’s short poem in the same way that An Elemental Thing is about whatever-the-hell-it’s-about comprised of incredible writing on various topics presented in prose, sorta, and poetry, sorta. (I’d encourage any fans of writing to give AET a fair shot.)
But the fact is, the description of this one is exactly as it says—EW provides 19 translations and elaborates on their successes and failures, often with humor, always with insight. Versions by Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, and Octavio Paz (the three most recognizable names to American readers) are among those considered; Snyder’s seems to fare the best.
So says the first line of this very brief and precise volume. Kind of a slap in the face for someone like myself whose impatience with poetry I’ve documented in other reviews. The statement is something I’d like to believe, but I have my experience to contend with. This book is a reminder that poetry must be interpreted (s-h-u-d-d-e-r) before it can be claimed as our own. In the Further Comments by Octavio Paz—at times a tribute to the translation of Cathay by Ezra Pound, at other times a description of his own (Paz’s) considerations while translating and retranslating the poem—is this aside on Pound’s translation: Nothing could be more remote from the prose chopped into short lines that today passes for free verse. I like that, even with the repeated kicks to the shins which Bolaño’s ghost delivers under my desk.Poetry is that which is worth translating.
Most readers will likely prefer An Elemental Thing, and for good reason; most poets should read both.