Nan Watkinsborn and raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Nan Watkins has degrees from Oberlin College and Johns Hopkins University with further study at the University of Munich and the Academy of Music in Vienna. Her lifelong interests include music, literary translation, and travel. Her writing has appeared in various journals, including Asheville Poetry Review, International Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Journal and Shearsman (UK). Her interest in Yvan and Claire Goll led to her essay, "Twin Suns," published in France in the catalogue of the 50th anniversary retrospective of Yvan Goll's work, and the translations of Claire Goll's poems in10,000 Dawns: Love Poems of Yvan & Claire Goll (White Pine Press, 2004). Her travel memoir,East Toward Dawn: A Woman's Solo Journey Around the World, was published by Seal Press in 2002. She lives and works in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. [TRC]
TRC | Let's begin by mentioning Floriano Martins's inclusion of Yvan Goll's work in his soon-to-be released anthology of American Surrealism as well as Márcio Simões's translation of Goll's book, Fruit From Saturn, which he is publishing through his Sol Negro Ediçiões. I know that you have communicated with both of them on each of these projects. What can you tell us about your conversations with Floriano and Márcio?
NW | I've enjoyed very much working with both Floriano Martins and Márcio Simões in their attempt to put some of the work of Yvan Goll before the Brazilian public. Floriano kindly asked me to write the introduction to Goll's work in his anthology. Though Goll was born in the disputed area of Alsace in 1891 and as a young man received German citizenship, his Jewish heritage later denied him that citizenship, and he fled to the United States in 1939 where he remained until 1947. During his exile Goll became an American citizen, and since he had published his own Surrealist Manifesto in October 1924, the same month that André Breton published his, Goll's Surrealist poetry qualified for the American Surrealism anthology.
I was happy to learn that Márcio was translating one of Goll's volumes of poetry, Fruit From Saturn, which Goll composed in English and published in New York in 1946. It is a late work, written after Goll learned he was dying of leukemia. In it he is crying out not only against his own death sentence, but against the American atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while also delving into esoteric mysteries of the Kabbalah and astrology. I wrote a brief biographical sketch on Goll for Marcio's translation, which is also due for publication soon.
TRC | Can you tell us something about who Yvan Goll is and why he is of interest to these editors? Why should he be of interest to people in Brazil?
NW | Yvan Goll, one of the great lyric poets of the first half of the twentieth century, wrote bilingually in French and German. His insatiable curiosity and his expansive world view led him to investigate and be part of both Expressionism in Germany and Surrealism in France. His large and diverse oeuvre includes poetry, drama, novels, essays, musical texts and translations.
While Goll spent the bulk of his life in Europe--moving first to Switzerland at the outbreak of World War I, then living and working in Berlin before settling in Paris--he also left his mark in the New World, the Americas. His global perspective was already evident in his 1922 anthology, Cinq continents: Anthologie mondiale de poésie contemporaine par Ivan Goll.
In fact, in Goll's very first published volume, the poem "Brasilianerin" appeared. Two more of his earliest publications, written when he was in his young twenties, were a translation of Walt Whitman's letters from the battlefields of the American Civil War, and an ardent poem, "Der Panama-Kanal," depicting the industrial marvel yet the wretched conditions of the workers during the building of the Canal. Goll also visited Cuba in the early 1940s and left an essay, "Cuba, corbeille de fruits," and a poem, "Vénus Cubaine," published in New York in 1946.
Another connection that may be of interest to Brazilians is that Goll's longtime confidante and muse, Austrian poet and painter Paula Ludwig, left war-torn Europe in 1940 and emigrated to Brazil, where she lived and worked among artists in São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, before returning to Europe in 1953. During the war, she was separated from Goll, and they never met again. One of his great cycles of love poems,Malaiische Liebeslieder and Chansons malaises was written to her in both German and French.
TRC | We know that Goll was influential in the French Surrealist Movement, but he was much more than that. Can you tell us why you were drawn to Goll and to his work and why you are dedicating so much of your time in an effort to translate his work from the German into English?
NW | I think it must be, at least partially, that Goll's cosmopolitan mind led him into so many different approaches to art and life, that he has not been claimed and promoted by any one particular group. As a result, his work suffers from being unknown, particularly in the English-speaking world. Wherever he was, he moved among the artists and writers of the day, searching and contributing, taking and giving his own wisdom. Yet Goll's life and work are not known to contemporary audiences. I want to help bring his work to life again, particularly beyond the borders of Europe. His enlightened ideas appeal to me.
Goll's Surrealist Manifesto begins: "Reality is the basis of all great art. Without it there is no life, no substance. Reality: that is the ground under our feet and the sky over our head." During his lifetime he expanded his view to include the entire cosmos, to question the rush of industry destroying the natural world, to record his wandering and questioning spirit in his poem cycles Jean Sans Terre. Goll took the side of the people, not the exploiters of the planet and mankind.
His pacifism caused him to speak out early against war in Requiem für die Gefallenen von Europa. His satirical drama Methusalem (in German) is an indictment against the consumerism and falsity of the life of the bourgeoisie. His Élegie de Lackawanna is a loving lament for the lost tribes of Native Americans who were displaced from the very piece of land he was living on in Brooklyn, New York, while in exile there during World War II.
TRC | Most translators have a certain way that they approach the task of bringing a work from one language to another. Do you have a formula or fashion in the way you work on any given project--in particular on translating Goll's Dreamweed book?
NW | Dreamweed is a late masterpiece by Goll. After he was diagnosed with incurable leukemia while he was still living in New York, he began imagining a strange plant that he called a Traumkraut or Dreamweed. It is significant that he imagined it in German and not French. Up until then, when he could no longer publish in German after the rise of the Nazis, he published everything in French. But when he had to grapple with the idea of his own imminent death, he needed to express himself in German.
My approach to carrying his German over into English for American and British audiences was to inhabit his German language and the thought behind his words as deeply as possible. I aimed to create a poem in English that Goll himself could have written. That sounds bold, but I don't know another way to express it. Along with searching for the right words, I was seeking the deep spirit, the anger, the despair, the saving grace of love that were fused into making his poems so beautiful. While a translator searches for the right word, she must go beyond words into the spirit of the work.
But pink almond trees
Grow from your heart
And larks chirp in your raspberry eyes
The whole of a Goll poem is far more than the sum of its parts. Because Goll chose German as his tool for these poems, I sought to use as many Germanic words as I could in English, rather than words of a Latinate base.
Dreamweed begins with poems dealing with the physical agony of Goll's fatal illness. As the book progresses, it moves into memories of love, into images of suffering from the Old Testament, such as the "Job" poems, and finally out into the cosmos, as if, as Jean Sans Terre,he knew his territory was the entire universe. The book takes the reader on a grand journey from tangible earthly reality into the unseen majesty of the poet's imagination among the stars.
Beloved, your hanging lamp of mourning
Beams to me through outer space
Like the reddened eyes
Of deeply anguished stars
TRC | I think the readers of Agulha would like to know some of the events of Goll's life surrounding the creation of the poems in the Dreamweed collection and why it is considered to be so special in the overall oeuvre of Goll's work.
NW | When Goll and his wife left New York and returned to Paris in 1947, he had to endure long periods of hospitalization to put his leukemia into at least a temporary state of remission. During his hospitalizations, he experienced great pain and was treated with drugs. One can imagine that this drugged state expanded his visions as he scribbled bits of poems onto any scraps of paper at hand.
When he was able to resume life at large during the last years of his life, Goll remained active publishing and promoting his work. Just a few months before his death, he attended a PEN conference in Venice, and on the way home to Paris, he stopped at the famous Beromünster radio station near Zurich and recorded some of his recently-written poems. He announced, "Now I will read poems from my last, still-unpublished volume, "Ðas Traumkraut." That was at the end of October 1949. In early November, the young poet Paul Celan visited Goll in his Parisian apartment, and the two formed a cordial friendship. When Goll entered the Hôpital américain de Neuilly sur Seine, near Paris, on December 13, Celan was one of a number of poets and artists who went to the hospital to offer their blood so that the dying poet could finish his last work. It was a significant tribute to a man who had worked much of his life to promote the work of others. His wife Claire was with him when he died on 27 February, 1950. Goll's final resting place is opposite the grave of Chopin in Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris. He did not live to see the publication of Traumkraut, but it appeared through Limes Verlag, in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1951.
Over the years since Goll's death, poets around the world have discovered and revered various poems in Traumkraut, but the book as a whole has never appeared in English. I'm hoping that the bilingual edition published in the U.S. in 2012 by Black Lawrence Press will enable poets and all people in the English-speaking world to experience one of Goll's masterpieces for themselves.
TRC | Looking at Goll's life and work, it is clear that he was an international figure. Can you tell us a little about that aspect of his biography and bibliography?
NW | When one reads about the work of other artists in the first half of the twentieth century, one can see that Goll's life intersected with many of them. In his publication of his own work and the works of other poets, both in Paris and New York, he enlisted many painters to illustrate his publications: Chagall, Tanguy, Dali, Picasso, Arp, Grosz, Delaunay. Chagall illustrated several of Yvan and Claire's volumes of love poetry, including eight drawings for the original French and German editions as well as the English translation of 10,000 Dawns: Love Poems of Yvan & Claire Goll,published here in the US by White Pine Press in 2004. These intimate artistic friendships lasted over the course of his lifetime.
Goll sought out new manuscripts when working for the Swiss publishing firm, Rhein Verlag; among them was the first German translation of James Joyce's Ulysses (by George Goyert). During this period Goll worked with Joyce and Samuel Beckett to translate into French a portion of the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter from Finnegans Wake. Among Goll's other translations from German into French was Stefan Zweig's novel, Le Brésil, terre d'avenir. When Goll lived in New York he worked with and befriended many American poets and writers, including William Carlos Williams, Henry Miller, Kenneth Patchen, and Philip Lamantia, whose work appeared in Goll's journal, Hemispheres.
It would take a lifetime to digest all that Goll wrote and to follow his nimble career as the wandering poet Landless John circling the globe. May the work that Floriano Martins and Márcio Simões and we ourselves are doing to translate and publish Goll's work inspire new and future generations around the world for many years to come. Let's close this interview by giving the last word to Yvan Goll. Here is a love poem he wrote to his wife a month before he died:
Did I pluck you in the gardens of Ephesus
The curly hair of your carnations
The evening bouquet of your hands?
Did I fish for you in the lakes of dream?
An angler on your meadows’ shores
I threw you my heart for food
Did I find you in the dryness of the desert?
You were my last tree
You were the last fruit of my soul
Now I am wrapped in your sleep
Bedded deep in your repose
Like the almond in its night-brown shell
Thomas Rain Crowe (U.S., 1949). Poet, translator and editor in chief of New Native Press: www.newnativepress.com. In the 70s of last century was the director of the International Poetry Festival in San Francisco and of the magazine Beatitude. Author of books like Water From The Moon (1995), The Laugharne Poems (1997), and Poems From Zoro’s Field (2005). Currently organizes together with Floriano Martins, an anthology of poets living in the United States, to La Cabra Ediciones, Mexico. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Page illustrated with works by Lucebert (Netherlands), guest artist this issue of ARC.