a pocketful of pebbles

After I finished Anna Karenina, as I mentioned, I had a few options for what to read, and I’ve followed up on a few of them. Here’s what I’ve thought:

Icelander by Dustin Long: I picked this up on a whim at Dog-Eared Books on Valencia; it’s published by McSweeney’s, so I thought it might be a fun, quick read, a change of pace.  It was pretty clever, if nothing earth-shaking, and I particularly enjoyed the author’s overt interest in Nabokov, so much so that a thinly fictionalized version of him is a major player in the book.

War Music by Christopher Logue: As Meggy would say, this one is a game-changer w/r/t my translation (thanks, Mordicai!).  If there’s such a thing as balls-out translation, this is it.  So, so inspiring and gutsy, very often right on point, and with a pretty amazing introduction by Garry Wills to boot.  Will talk more about this one when I’m back in CA and have it on hand.

Kalevala in translation by Keith Bosley: Good stuff!  Very different from the poem I’m working on, partly because it’s simply so wordy; as the narrator says early on,  “Shall I open the word-chest/ and unlock the box of tales/ unwind the top of the ball/ untie the knot of the coil?”  Even right there, he’s said the same thing four times, although very pleasantly.  What’s been best about reading this (I’m about 75 pages in so far) are little snippets of well-chosen words or phrases.  Bosley’s definitely possessed of a fine ear, and I’m gathering up the shiniest pebbles as they tumble off the page.  I just like the sound or the structure so much.

A funny thing is that I’m not a very good active reader; that is to say, I really hate marking up my books.  Maybe some of it is that I like books as artifacts and don’t want to mess them up, even cheapy paperbacks.  But I think more of it is that I’ll come back on a later read and realize I was dumb the first time through and the marginalia are an indelible reminder of that.  But my highlighter and I overcame it this time.  Here are some of those pebbles I mentioned:

upon my tongue they scramble/ along my teeth they scatter

luckless lands

a milk-bearded scamp/ a curd-mouthed toddler

honey-sweet hummocks

Bouncy the brindled

the froth-capped waves

in fiery birth-pangs/ in hard belly-woes…belly-throes

a clump of fresh sward

her skin is smouldering….all her sinews were melting

slid the lock of bone

the fellow in the billows

he lolled there five years

only the oak is shootless/ and rootless the tree of God

lay low the hundred-leaved….shatter the brittle tree

summer squirrel’s shank

a lean Lappish lad

grubbing the sea’s gulfs/ digging the fish-troughs

twisted his black whiskers

blaze-browed horse

whirl my holy words

up to his chin in the slime

prattle on benches

on turf to loiter

don’t lull your daughters

my whole body is blighted

in black worm poison

“Though it were twice over, let/ all our worldly joys be lost/ let all the songs fall!”

fists first plunged into the foam

Only sixhundy pages left to go!  My basket’s going to be very full.



  1. mordicai said,

    April 10, 2010 at 7:48 am

    I am active with notes, but like my books pristine– I just use an index card (or like) for a bookmark & write on that, with page numbers if I feel like it.

    I am glad you liked War Music– I’m really interested to hear your thoughts. Having only a passing interest in translation & little knowledge about Greek, I could only skim the surface (well okay, I’m being modest…). I look forward to more indepth consideration.

    • April 10, 2010 at 1:28 pm

      that’s a good idea! we should run some craft-type features…next up, how to make a bookmark!

      i’d love to talk more about war music, but will probably wait until i can lay it next to Fagles and really parse out some of the differences!

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