Aug 3, 2010

Margaret Atwood's "Rat Song." Jacques Brel and The New Criticism.

Indian Falls, Owen Sound, Ontario

Let's stay Canadian a bit longer. And in case anyone has fallen into the shakes from an absence of poetry, here is "Rat Song" by Canadian novelist, Margaret Atwood. I didn't know she also wrote poetry, and I kind of like her curious venture here. What do you think?

Rat Song by Margaret Atwood : Poetry Magazine [poem/magazine] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

I'm not sure I'm finished with Jacques Brel, but I know I was long-winded in my Sunday review, so the above is my effort to be brief once again.

Let me add one more note on Brel in case I don't get back to it (your wishes will help me decide). At the risk of becoming obnoxious about The New Criticism, I must toss out something I came across while meandering through Jacques Brel commentary. In the Stratford Program Notes, Lois Kivesto, PhD, writes: “In 1969, Brel himself attended and exclaimed to Blau [who was responsible for the English version]: ‘You have really done it. You have separated me from the work. The songs have a life of their own. I really enjoyed them.’”

Maybe that's all my version of the New Criticism amounts to: both reader and writer recognize that the artist has birthed his baby--his work--into the world. Now he and we must see what and how it goes about being that which it is.

Studies of the author's life, region, period in history, culture, ethnicity, and so forth might be interesting or helpful, but they must not supplant the-baby-the-work as the primary subject. We can have a meaningful experience with a Brel song without knowing anything about Brel the man, or his love life, or Belgium, or the particulars of two World Wars. Conversely, we can know a lot about that background material, but without the song itself, it means little.

For those who have been on this ride with me before, I'll stop and thank you for your patience. But the quotation about Brel is, from my perspetive, just too good to pass up.



Brenda's Arizona said...

What does it mean to be separated from your work? I'd admire the ability to sit back and enjoy the newly discovered songs. The few times I have been separated from my work - I hated it. And to discover that 'my' work went on did show me its beauty, but I resent the song it created without me.

The Atwood poem is kinda creepy??!! I really liked it and could envision the damn mice (NOT RATS, I insist!) that have lived in my closets and cupboards. But when it looks at your throat? NOOOOOOO!!

Thanks, Banjomyn, for the new experiences!

Anonymous said...

I wonder if that comment attributed to Brel is true. Blau is often criticized for losing much of the poetry and irony in his translations.

A prof at one of your Michigan uni's, last name Johnston, is supposed to have done a much better job at taking Brel from French to English.

gothpunkuncle said...

Okay. Help me out. Is that Terry Jack "Seasons in the Sun" tune from the '70s a Brel song? An old French tune that Brel at least performed? I've had more experience translating (with huge liberties) his contemporary, Serge Gainsbourg.

I thought Brel's translator was over at Western Michigan, hmmm....

You just kind of assume Atwood sold her soul to the devil to be that prolific and kind of write her off -- but so much of what she does is better than so much of what the rest of us do.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

It's become painfully clear to me. I'm a complete rube. I thought the guy was alive and "young Wallache" was he.

What is a girl to do but take the wikapedia tour (and brainy quotes...don't and now I know where AH get's her Michigan insights. Yes sister, if I'm going down in flames I'm taking you with me.

Impressive; he's buried near Gauguin (who is dead)

Marcel Broodhaers: dead or alive? same time/same country

I like Margaret Atwood. She's testy. I also believe one of her ancestors survived being hung during that nasty little Salem episode

Banjo52 said...

GPU, I only know the songs in the play, and that's not one of them. I know nothing of Serge.

AH and now you have sent me to Wiki for Dr. Johnston at Western Mich. There I found it was Brel's wife who preferred his translation. They also offered a comparison b/t Johnston and Rod McKuen, who they say was a good friend of Brel's. That comparison certainly gives the nod to the professor, image over sentimentality.

I don't know that I ever wrote off Ms. Atwood except that I thought Cat's Eye was a good 40% too long. But I think that about most novels.
Was it kinda preachy too? It's been too long.

PA, welcome to the rube club. How many times have I thought such things. Brel is a bit of an exception for me, but I knew nothing except the grouping of his songs for the play. Now I've picked up a few more things.

Say what you will (anybody) about Wiki's lack of authority, it's a helluva convenient STARTING point on a topic.

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, it is indeed a test to witness (SILENTLY!) others' reviews of your work. That's what most writing workshops do, and I think they're tremendously valuable, albeit traumatic as well. My rule for students was/is that the writer under discussion cannot speak (or gesture manically!!!) until the last 5 minutes of class.

Thanks for hitting the nail on the head re: "new experiences." That's a large part of what I'm going for here--and often new experiences for me as well, including "Rats."

Banjo52 said...

Brenda and PA, a "rube" point that hits me every once in awhile is that visual artists have to give away their babies, literally hand them over, maybe never to see them again. A physical object leaves their possession, unlike writers.

I guess musical composers are in between; they can keep their scores, but they (might have to) endure hearing their babies performed (badly? surprisingly?) by others.

As basic as that is, it floors me.

Anonymous said...

No, I wasn't smart enough to wiki. A few years ago a friend of mine got sick of my bitching about the translations and sent me an article from somewhere.

I recall, Banjo, I sent you a vid or two from Brel awhile back and you were kind of "ewww." so clearly some people enjoy the play versions more than the originals.

It's just, I don't get it.

Brenda's Arizona said...

I went to Wiki's page on Brel after listening more to your links. Like GPU, I wondered about Terry Jacks until I got further down in the Wiki page - and YEP, it is the same guy/song.

Incredible how JB lives on... in ways he can't imagine, I am sure!

Banjo52 said...

AH, I remember your videos. I don't get it either unless it's just that personal, subjective thing I mentioned here today or on Sunday. With any art, it's bound to come to that, I think. I can go through the motions of admiring Picasso's ingenuity, but in the end, I love him not. I don't trust Rothko or Pollock, but I do in fact like some of the work (which does not equal understanding it).

Also, I'm not clear on whether you've heard the 1960s "Alive and Well in Paris" collection by Blau/Shuman/Stone or anyone else as a comparison.

I was shocked to read that "Ne Me Quitte Pas" is Brel's most famous song. I find it melodramatic (and therefore haven't looked or listened as much as I should) compared to other slow ones that I mentioned Sunday, as well as "Madeliene," which makes me dance down the street when I listen on my ipod. Well, figuratively, spiritually dance.

Here's an example of how tricky it gets. In their version of "Timid Frieda," Elly Stone (or was it the other '68 female?) gives a very smooth rendering of "she can take her / Brave new Fuck You stand." Maybe my only quibble with the Stratford production was Nathalie Nadon's giving a bit too much attitude, a bit of spit and hiss and chin thrusting to "Fuck You." I don't think that's the way Frieda would have thought, felt, or said it.

I have NO qualifications to assert any of that, but there it is.

Who says quantum physics is complicated?

PJ said...

I jumped into Atwood poem and looked around for a while but I'm going to have think about "if you could afford to share
my crystal hatreds." Although, now that I think about it I think she's being cheeky. No silly pleas for love from Margaret. Or maybe she hates diamonds. Could it be that literal?

Banjo52 said...

Paula, I like "jump in and look around" for any poem. That's precisely what a lot of what poems offer compared to longer works.

Poetry Foundation isn't opening for me this morning, so I don't have access to the poem itself. I think I'm remembering correctly when I say I didn't see diamonds, per se, in "crystal"--just hard, pure stone of any kind. I'll try to remember to revisit the poem itself--feel free to nag me.

Banjo52 said...

Paula, I like "jump in and look around" for any poem. That's precisely what a lot of what poems offer compared to longer works.

Poetry Foundation isn't opening for me this morning, so I don't have access to the poem itself. I think I'm remembering correctly when I say I didn't see diamonds, per se, in "crystal"--just hard, pure stone of any kind. I'll try to remember to revisit the poem itself--feel free to nag me.

Lovers' Lane