An Essay on Done into English: Pearse Hutchinson’s Collected Translations

An essay of mine about the translation work of Irish poet Pearse Hutchinson was published on transtudies.org this week, a journal dedicated to “creative non-fiction essays and scholarly articles, as well as hybrids of the same, pertaining to the trans-personal, trans-cultural, and trans-national, with an emphasis on synthesis and contemporary relevance.” (In editorial guidelines.) I could have sent the essay to a Hispanist journal, but given the fact that the essay is directly concerned with hybrid themes (Spain, Ireland, Galician, Gaelic), I’m glad it’s in good hybrid company (How many times can I say hybrid? Transport me to a postmodernist conference, oh, fly me to the moon, or a representation thereof…) I’m especially happy with it, because it brings together a few of the strands that my work is concerned with: writing, of course, travel, translation, minority languages, and various aspects of “Spanish” culture. (Quotation marks to signal that Spain is a multifarious beast, as my friends the Catalans, Basques and Galicians often say. And, they’re right.)

Pearse Hutchinson, by Michael O'Regan(An aside: by Spanish, I mean a certain section of Iberia, not East Harlem or the Lower East Side. I mention this by way of having noticed a curious phenomenon in New York whereby folk of Latin American origin say “yeah, I’m Spanish.” This of course is a red rag to my inner pedantry bull, which immediately starts charging around, even as I, on the surface, say, “oh, you are from Castile? Or perhaps from Extremadura?” All the while placidly drinking from exquisite bone china (not really). Then again, Irish Americans do it all the time. “I’m Irish, dude! Fuck yeah!” “So, you’re from Mayo, then?” “Oh, yeah, I like mayo with everything. Mix it with a little English musta’d, especially on dawgs on Saint Patty’s [sic] Day” [See a future post regarding this dreadful rending of Patrician nomenclature. See also a future post about the snobbishness of the piggies that never left home to those little piggies that did. I myself am a little piggy that did both, and thus shouldn’t be so mean to other little piggies.].

I am also chuffed with the essay because, in an age (of what Bowie calls “grand illusion”) when editors no longer seem to edit, transtudies’ editor, Michael Broek, said yes to the essay, with the proviso that some changes would need to be made. I accepted, and was happy to see that ever last one of them made the essay better, while making sure that it remained my own. No better salve to the writing ego than that.

So, here ’tis.

I am also happy to do just honour to a great poet, a good mentor, and a good man. (Pearse Hutchinson, died 14th January, 2012.)

(Photo source: Michael O’Regan. I suspect it was taken at Pearse’s home, “Findrum”, in Rathmines, Dublin.)

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I Own It With My Eyes

Late September, 2010

Brooklyn Heights. Such a strange lull. I’ve walked all the way from Red Hook’s decomposing, rusting, Captain Hook sea-going charm, to above the Brooklyn Bridge. Some beautiful red brick 19th Century houses in their own grounds, with mature trees. Today’s one of the first days that feels like autumn, accentuated by an orange sun going down in the Hudson, or is it the East River? – The Jersey side, over there; today, leaves, not many, lie in the monied gardens of Brooklyn Heights like gold coins. That is what the houses are, must be: monied, though that isn’t primarily what I think of when I look at them.

But you see, I own them too, with my eyes, for a second or two (“that’ll be 250$, please!”). These houses with their gardens remind me of aspects of London: West Hampstead, the same red brick churches with old gardens, and those cast-iron benches overlooking the sky scrapers of lower Manhattan. With their night lights coming on, the lines of the black buildings are stirring, but leave me cold, like a Blade Runner tableaux. I turn back to the houses, where you can see people preparing dinner in kitchens the size of whole studio apartments. But it isn’t economics, primarily, that it’s about, even though I am a snob. It’s what we all aspire to – the idylls, if not of a king, then of – a squire? Knight of the Realm? – or a Man at Arms: to belong somewhere concrete, have a measure of peace somewhere, “Un Lugar en el Mundo”, as the classic Argentinian film put it, “a place in the world”.

But I possess that right now, in this little promenade among trees and benches that remind me of my French and Spanish Europe, and houses matured through generations of money. Well, they’re still here, bougie though they may be. Peaceful, though. That’s the main thing: as valuable in this city as a quadruple-distilled drop of a precious liquor, or restorative cordial.

There’s the sound of kids playing, and footsteps passing, as the sun sets and silhouettes the people against the always-on skyscrapers’ electricity bill.

*

What a fool! I was in a nook of Brooklyn Bridge park, saw a black helicopter come in to land on some heliport pad across the bay, walked towards the view, and the whole thing opened up, as far north as the Empire State with white light consuming the top 6th of it,  the Chrysler Building, the Bridge lit white, yachts like Junks in the water, and, is that Ellis Island? The Statue of Liberty’s red torch, and the rusting blue-grey gantries of Red Hook to the left.

A woman in tracksuit and baseball cap passes talking on her phone, afraid of loneliness, maybe; maybe afraid of being in the moment. A well-dressed middle-aged couple is getting their photo taken by a passer-by. The woman’s New Yorker-ness struggles to break through: “are you done?” No, the kind girl will take another. “‘Kay. Okay.” The woman repositions herself, shakes herself off, smiles, breaking free of Pavlov, realises that there’s no rush. Her tall, patrician escort with the yellow button hole and grey suit elegantly thanks the photographer. He has a better grasp on time. I almost have a stress-by-association heart attack watching the transaction. Back, as quickly as possible, back to that nook where there’s only the view of au pairs, or maybe the women and men of their own houses, preparing dinner. The view, maybe, of an illusion. In Spanish, “ilusión” also means hope.

Leitrim / Ditmas Avenue / Mexico City

An Orthodox man comes out of “Laundry Mania” with a white shirt draped in plastic, freshly-laundered and ready for tomorrow. A thin, young Hassidic man in a brown, furred hat like a lamp shade has his crying daughter firmly clasped in his arms. He’s marching ahead, wheeling a suitcase. It’s the eve of Sabbath, much work still remains to be done before the sun goes down, to prepare for when work must cease. There’s no mitigating circumstances when it comes to the Law. Auburn-wigged young wife walks behind in black, registering the argument in her demeanour, registering the husband’s stress in the downward-looking gaze and gait of her wife’s body.

Seriousness struggles with another kind of vigil: Friday night, and cheesy, sweet Latin American music pipes out of the shops, floating on the air. Clutches of Uzbek men in plastic leather jackets and 70s ‘taches, smoking rancid fags, eye the young women, who shun them with a self-turning shoulder. Some of the men feel like mafia, probably because they’re always around, doing nothing specific. They’ve claimed this pavement; you have to walk around them. Same with the Poles. (Hipsters, beware. Locals Rule here enough to resist gentrification. Ah… but gentrification is like Manifest Destiny. An inevitability in the U.S., and its empire abroad.)

A Mayan boy on the pavement in three-quarter-length khaki shorts is blowing bubbles upward into the Indian Summer evening sky, and I cross into Latin America. Passing the barber shop, Abel the barber from Mexico gets up from his ruminations to greet me: perfect grey flat top like a 50 year old punk, he wears a bone necklace, and has features like Quetzalcoatl. His wife is Irish. “David? si. Yo estaba pensando. el nombre de mi suegro es Mc…Dermott: y es de una ciudad que se llama Leitrim. Si, Leitrim.” (“David? Yes. I was thinking. My father-in-law’s name is Mc…Dermott, and he’s from a city called Leitrim.”) I go up the rickety wooden steps to the subway, laughing to myself and, in fact, some tears of connection squeeze their way out with the laughter: about how only New York, perhaps, can connect the watery fields of Leitrim (otters and loneliness), to Mexico via Brooklyn.

Abel’s daughter cut my hair the other day: “Blade 1? Easy haircut.” And yet, she dedicated a plethora of blades, scissors and talc, a wealth of pleasant attention to my pate, my beard, my neck. She taped old style, elasticated tissue around my throat; a sharp, pleasant, wet straight razor gliding down the back of my neck. Her hand adjusted my head with a firm, woman’s touch. She was wearing a water-based cologne that opened a wound of nostalgia for Spain. In the background, heroes and heroines swooned on soap operas piped in via satellite from “el D.F.” (Say it Day F-Aay, bud.) I get a chill when Mexicans say, “Soy del D.F.”, in response to my inevitable, “¿de dónde eres?” / “where are you from?” The sound values of those sibilants contain something of the day-to-day heroism and chaotic aliveness of Latin America: it’s Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Cuzco, it’s Asunción; it’s Sao Paolo, and of course it’s the Distrito Federal. New York may be the shit, but the true motherlode, the big hearted Mother City, is “el D.F.“, homes. Mexico City, baby.

First Annoyingly Bloggy Post

I give in. This is my first “bloggy” blog post. I have not quite sunk to the level of, “I am cutting my toe nails while talking on the phone to Philipa about The Sopranos” / “my daily post-prandial poo had a nice consistency”, but I’m getting close.

Writers’ delaying tactics have manifested as multi-tasking (i.e., watching The September Issue on Netflix while eating french bread and shop-bought humus (no chance that I would have cooked it: since moving to NYC, my store cupboard has been old Mother Hubbarding, and the fridge, with its unidentified secretions and green stains from dead vegetables, hasn’t been the most attractive place to put food. Solution? Spend around 10$ at lunch for expensive posh sambo and coffee, and 10$ to 15$ to dine alone at Dojo at Washington Square, on yakisoba, another 10$ for two pints of Japanese beer – it has to be done.) – so: eating humus at my desk with a cup of coffee; pausing film to check FBk, emails, blog stats, and if there were any other networks, pulse flickrs or twitters, I’d be checking them. All the while listening to Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü fame.

(“Why don’t we put it on Facetube?” I heard Irish poet Gerald Dawe say at the Patrick Kavanagh weekend in November 2008; an ironic twitter went through the technophiles in the audience, and panel members. Someone pulled out their Iphone and put it on twitter.) Since 1 p.m., a coolly-sinister breeze has been blowing, within, or threading through, the carpet of dirty humidity that has held over the city the last two days, rain and heat in equal measure at this late date in “autumn”: fall failing to materialise. I have just checked weather.com, and verified a comment overheard from the balcony – “yo! We got a Taw-nay-do comin’, bro!” “No shit, Anthony? You fuckin’ with me.” (I’m exaggerating – they weren’t mafioso.) – “AN ISOLATED TORNADO IS STILL NOT OUT OF THE QUESTION. A TORNADO WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 6 PM.” according to Weather.com.

In the shops of Ditmas avenue, Jewish women in headscarves who looked like cancer patients – due to shaved heads – were conscientiously shopping for vege, and saying “Doris, we got a big taw-nay-do comin’; how much is dat? Oh, I tawt it was .99 cents?”; the daily scene of Hassids brushing shoulders with Mesopotanian, totally-burka-ed women; in the hardware store, someone was talking Brooklynese to the shop owner, while two ferociously-bearded Orthodox men in black wearing what looked like brown, furred lamp-shades from my 1970s Balinteer Dublin suburban childhood stood by, waiting, talking together cautiously, maintaining their conscious separation via the low tone of conversation (idea: perhaps Bin Laden is hiding in plain view, as an Orthodox Jew?)

I was (1) bringing 2 weeks’ worth of laundry to Laundrymania!, a 30-washing machine operation run by Latin American women under pictures and shrines of the Virgin of Guadalupe, clashing with broadcasts of corny, breast implant soap-operas from Colombia and Mexico. I left my 16 pounds of dirty socks and jocks with them, went to various 1$ shops to buy Woolite (because the laundry ladies shrink anything they possibly can with their high power dryers), bleach (because the fruit flies, according to Katie, are breeding down the sink again), and various cleaning items to do, some day, the big clean on the general manky-ness of the public spaces in the apartment. (I had intended to get up early to write, and then do the clean, but since I woke via the snooze button at 1 p.m., the clean must go by the wayside in favour of delaying-to-write.) I also braved the crush of “Grannies of all nations”, the united front of all forms of headscarves (from the Silk Road to Asia Minor to the Near East and indeed Middle East) in the vege shops -“the ubiquity of sparrows” is what one learns most from travelling, wonderful U.S. poet Craig Arnold has noted; I notice the ubiquity of the Pushy Granny. In Spain, France and in the boroughs, the guild has mutual respect and, per capita, more influence and power than the white-vest wearing Yakusa. Shoppers, particularly men, from outside the guild, are invisible, and can be gone over like tank fodder: ethnic grannies as a form of subtle tank.

So, I returned an hour ago loaded down with vege and fly-bleach; and after I finish this post, I’m going to delay a little longer, and then write. Finally. After pouring another cup of coffee, and watching another 10 minutes, no, 15, of the film. The sky’s clearing now. Looks as if the potential tornado is dissipating.

Three Boroughs – Acrostically

Because the streets are ethnically exciting, and

Rare with the mingling of many nations –

Of Islam, Israel, Palestine; silver Silk Road beards;

Oman, Oviedo, Spain, even, because

Kurdistan is a real Love, and invisible passion,

Longing that does not go away, although divided;

Yurts and many traditional dwellings of their fathers

Nurture their sleep to help them through their waking exile.

*

Quests are under estimated things these days.

Uruguay. Ah, to say it. Paraguayans are here, like this borough

Even though New Yorkers tend not to holiday in Asunción, prefer

Europe, the usual, even though the dollar weakens.

Never mind – there’s still the undiscovered country of

Staten Island: “she says ‘for Chrissake Mikey,wear something other than sweat pants!'” you heard on the ferry.

*

Many of us are here. We know what we want, don’t know where we’re going.

(Anthill? No. Centre of Empire.) Anyway, it doesn’t matter

Neither does anyone in the world apart from Himalayan gurus in ice caves.

Here at least there’s pleasures varied:

Arctic berries flown in from

Tromso, edible Cacti from many Guatemalan territories,

Things for just us to sample, on our island.

And, luxuries of time, or space? – that’s for retirement, baby.

Nor should you fret. When you get to here, you deserve the best ramen, best sushi. Farm tuna when the Japs eat the last Blue Fin.