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New Installment by Guest Blogger Idra Novey

[caption id="attachment_228" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Goethe"]Goethe[/caption] On Poetry Translation, Health Care, and Conversations with the Visionary and Deceased Have you seen a review of poetry in translation in a major newspaper lately? I haven’t either. Apparently, American aren’t interested in poetry from the rest of the world until the poet is old and bald or wins a Nobel Prize, but I wonder if that’s true. People love reading about the infra-realists in Bolano’s novels from an older Mexico City poetry scene. Isn’t it possible they’d also be interested in hearing about current poetry movements in China and Mexico, movements that reflect the huge changes happening in those countries, and which are changing things here, in our own? Of course, to have more discussion of poetry in translation, we’d have to have more poetry translated. If it weren’t for university and independent presses like BOA, we wouldn’t even have the 57 books of translated poetry that came out this year in the U.S, and that's 26 fewer books than in 2008. (For more info on these books, check out the blog Three Percent: Our progress in the U.S. in bringing the rest of the world’s literature into our collective imagination is almost as slow as our progress on health care. In 1916, an American economist named Irving Fisher said he thought universal health coverage was just around the corner. And way back in 1827 Goethe predicted a world-wide explosion of poetry translations was bound to begin any moment. What might Goethe say to Irving Fisher if they could see how much progress we’ve made on their predictions nine and eighteen decades ago? Who knows, but below is an attempt to imagine it: Fisher: Goodness, Johann. What do you think is taking them so long? Goethe: View it to thy sorrow, Irving, grey thou'lt be tomorrow. Fisher: What’s that? Goethe: Small is the ring enclosing our life, dear Irving. Fisher: Only if you can’t get a bigger, better ring, my good man. And isn’t the US all about bigger and better? I mean really, what’s the hold up? Look at your country, Johann. Germany set up a universal system in 1883. As an economist, I can’t understand how the US has let itself get this behind on so many fronts. How can the country stay ahead when we translate less than any other developed nation, and allow companies to charge so much for insurance 46 million people can’t afford it? Goethe: The end of the castle soon gaineth. Fisher: Well, I’m not sure what you mean by that. I do know I was also right about fruits and vegetables and the Americans are still struggling with that idea, too. At least they didn’t resist my idea for the Rolodex. Goethe: Indeed, dear Irving, so why not let the wine unsparing run. And let it be our precept ever to admit no waverer here—for to act the good endeavor, none but rascals meek appear. (Many thanks to Edgar Alfred Bowring for providing the translations for this interview, and to Jill Lapore, for her research on Irving Fisher in the December 7 issue of the New Yorker.) --post by Idra Novey
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