No Equivalent


from unwritten histories, Eugenijus Alisanka,
translated from Lithuanian by H.L.Hix
(174pp, $15, Host Publications)


I wonder has anyone researched and considered and written about poems employing a the total lack of punctuation. And lack of capitalisation as well. Does anyone know who started it, or in what culture? 

Eugenijus Alisanka's poems (original publication 2002) are of this kind, the only letter in capitals being the 'I' in the translation, which seems to have no equivalent in the Lithuanian, I suppose the first person singular built into the (lower case) verb.  The original and translation face each other.

The review copy is an uncorrected proof 7" high by 5 & a half wide, large pocket size.

The poet (born1960 and lives in Vilnius) is new to me but a web search suggests he has wide circulation and significant status. I'm confused these days about such things: the 'poetry world', the wider world, the internet, how and why, who knows, who cares.

Having no knowledge of Lithuanian I am curious to find lines that tally. Here are two from part 3 of '16 ways to kill poetry':

     su retorika onomatopeja metafora
     imperatorius megsta rafinuota erotika

(My underlined 'a's here have a tail and the underlined 'e's have a top dot not available on my computer). These lines can in part be guessed at, translated as:

with rhetoric onomatopoeia metaphor
the emperor loves refined erotica

The grammar looks a bit suspect but there is an interesting correspondence of root language, at least in part. Most of the original language cannot so easily be recognised. Often there is a correspondence of overall shape, while sometimes the English stretches a line well beyond its original.

Part 4 of that same poem is one line:

     crucify her on the semiotic square

the original giving away only 'semiotinio'. There is an elusiveness about the whole book, and where a translation reads like this following (the opening of 'the letter of eugenijus ališanka to himself'),

     I can't write a poem like bloze    [z circumflex, e with dot]
     the world is big more things than people
     even they mostly the dead the hanged
     the shoulders breasts foreheads of others

there is a game of voice, grammar, punctuation, that perhaps gets the original 'right' or not. I can only guess that bloze (with accents) is if capitalised another writer.

The translator's introduction locates the poems in 'the lives of the saints', Augustine's in particular, for whom 'everything is divine revelation', whereas for Alisanka 'the tenuousness of his own existence brings everything, even the most universal, to a human scale.' For him, ambivalence (I suppose) is everything, while (I quote Hix) 'nothing in the external world sanctions or validates the inner impulse to speak.' But speak he does, even, it seems to me, with a rushing into speech, again and again. If there is uncertainty, if there is ambivalence, then he can't stop going on about it. The insistent 'I' in these lines, for instance (towards the end of 'in the middle of the afternoon I sat in the don quixote cafe and sampled sherry'),

     I will betray others and be betrayed
     I will stroll through cities in undarned socks
     I will visit my sons-in-law all over europe

seems to close off rather than be open to possibility, divinely opened or otherwise.
  
    I have to be curious that the repeated initial 'I' here seems to have no equivalent in the Lithuanian, which appears to work quite differently. Someone will know.

      David Hart 2011