Glottal Stop / Edition 1

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Paul Celan s widely recognized as the greatest and most studied post-war European poet. At once demanding and highly rewarding, his poetry dominates the field in the aftermath of the Holocaust. This selection of poems, now available in paper for the first time, is comprised of previously untranslated work, opening facets of Celan’s oeuvre never before available to readers of English. These translations, called “perfect in language, music, and spirit” by Yehuda Amichai, work from the implied premise of what has been called Intention auf die Sprache, delivering the spirit of Celan’s work—his dense multilingual resonances, his brutal broken music, syntactic ruptures and dizzying wordplay.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In ‘Glottal Stop,’ the translators…take greater risks…but the poetic rewards are…at times breathtaking. One senses the originality of Celan’s language in an English that is resourceful and adventurous, not strained. Language comes alive on the page as both vision and sound…” —Mark M. Anderson, The New York Times Book Review

"Heather McHugh, herself a renowned poet, has an ear for the dense and difficult music of Celan's language, and one can hear overtones of her distinctive voice . . . Nikolai Popov, a Joyce scholar, is present here too, bringing his 'logician's nature' to bear on Celan's labyrinthine philosophical gestures. The tug-of-war between these impulses toward lyric intimacy and analytical distance mirrors the tension between Celan's love of language and his knowledge of its limitations. The result is something like a volume of Heidegger into which someone has slipped a handful of achingly beautiful love letters . . . It is a broken, distinctly human music that Popov and McHugh render in English in Glottal Stop." —Voice Literary Supplement

"The solutions that Popov-McHugh find to the problems set by Celan are sometimes dazzlingly creative."—J.M. Coetzee, New York Review of Books

"If any American poet can render Celan's knotty German into English it's McHugh, who's justly praised for her linguistic facility and quickness. Couple this with Popov's scholarly notes and annotations — he seems to have tracked down nearly every conceivable reference embedded in these poems — and the result is a thrilling excursion that gives the lie to the long-standing belief that late Celan is untranslatable."—San Francisco Chronicle

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Though fluent in a number of languages, Celan (1920-1970), who had come to Paris from Romanian Bukovina, pointedly wrote in German after WWII. His decomposition and recasting of that language, through a style that can seem dizzying in its complex poly-referentiality, was compounded by his erudition, by his own history as a Holocaust survivor whose parents were murdered in the camps, and finally by his suicide. For many, he one of the major poets of the 20th century. Though Celan's work presents obvious difficulties for any translator, his English-language readers have long been well-served by Michael Hamburger's starkly graceful selected translations (Poems of Paul Celan, Persea), which remain the best available, and more recently, by Pierre Joris's acute renderings of Celan's later work. Of the new collections here, the volume from Celan biographer and critic Felstiner is easily the most comprehensive, containing ample cullings from all of Celan's books, including many poems not included in Hamburger's selection, along with previously untranslated early and late work and four prose pieces. Felstiner handles these translations competently, rendering Celan in a somewhat more colloquial style than Hamburger or Joris. But his shifting diction (including "Thou") and his tendency to capitalize nouns and to let German words stand untranslated in the English text can make for a distracting admixture, as it does in Celan's much-anthologized early work, "Deathfugue": "Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night/ we drink you at midday Death is a master aus Deutschland." On the whole, Felstiner's efforts often pale beside those of Hamburger and Joris, but the page count of this dual-language collection will make it the default choice of those who will buy only one Celan volume. Popov and McHugh's collection also ranges over Celan's oeuvre, but far less comprehensively or successfully. Unlike Felstiner and Joris, Popov (The Russian People Speak: Democracy at the Crossroads) and poet McHugh (Father of the Predicaments, etc.) don't present the German texts en face, a practice they regard, in their preface, as a potential distraction from the reader's experience of their renderings. It would indeed be a distraction, making painfully clear just how far they depart from the originals to arrive at their idiosyncratic versions, which alter Celan's precise line and stanza lengths significantly, and forsake Celan's vertiginous difficulties for a more simplistic--sometimes macabre or witty--style that's littered with heavy-handed gestures. One poem, for example, contains an ex nihilo insertion gleefully riffing on a German pun, others tip the scales of Celan's carefully weighted pronouns into one viewpoint or another. Even when hewing closer to the source text, Popov and McHugh incessantly heighten the poems' language, degrading their thorniness with more traditional sentiments. Fortunately, many of the poems translated by Popov and McHugh can be found in Joris's new volume, or in his 1995 rendering of Celan's Breathturn, both of which present entire books in razor-sharp, finely nuanced translations. Threadsuns represents the continuation of a marked turn in Celan's poetics--away from lusher effusions to intensely compressed, increasingly stark investigations of language, history and the poet's own capacities. Because much of this later work is serial in nature, Joris's decision to render the books in their entirety is profoundly important, and helps to make them necessary complements to Hamburger's selections. While it may not consistently attain the dazzling heights and depths of Celan's finest work in Breathturn and 1963's The No-One's Rose, Threadsuns contains an abundance of brilliant poems and provides ample evidence for the magnitude of Celan's stature in the last century, and in the one to come. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Mark M. Anderson
In Glottal Stop, the translators Heather McHugh and Nikolai Popov (she is a poet, he is a professor of comparative literature) take greater risks than either Joris or Felstiner but the poetic rewards are incomparably greater, at times breathtaking. One senses the originality of Celan's language in an English that is resourceful and adventurous, not strained. Language comes alive on the page as both vision and sound: ''Voices, scored into / the waters' green./ When the kingfisher dives, / the split second whirs.'' Dispensing with Celan's German on the facing page, McHugh and Popov demand that their English versions be read for themselves, without the line-by-line comparison with the original that ''fatally distracts'' the reader's attention from ''the experience of a poem's coursing, cumulative power.'' Their endnotes, more copious than the occasional glosses provided by Joris or Felstiner, give the reader a real sense of the German poem, its philosophical depths as well as the concrete difficulties it poses to translation.
New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819567208
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2004
  • Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Meet the Author

NIKOLAI POPOV teaches English at the University of Washington in Seattle. A James Joyce scholar and translator, he also co-translated with Heather McHugh a collection of the poems of Blaga Dimitrova (Wesleyan, 1989). HEATHER MCHUGH is Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington. In addition to seven acclaimed books of poetry and the collection of essays Broken English: Poetry and Partiality (Wesleyan, 1994), she has translated poems by Jean Follain and Euripides’ Cyclops.

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Read an Excerpt

Wet from the world
the scrapped taboos --
and all the bordercrossings between them,
meaning, fleeing
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Table of Contents

Voices, scored into 1
Summer Report 4
With wine and being lost, with 5
Threesome, Foursome 6
Erratic 7
Hand- 8
To one who stood outside the door, one 9
Flung wood 11
How low could it go, my once immortal word 12
Pain, the Syllable 13
La Contrescarpe 15
Floated down blackwater rapids 17
Gray-white of sheer 18
(I know you: you're the one who's bent so low) 19
Singable remainder - trace 20
Flooding, big 21
Go blind at once, today 22
Ring-narrowing Day under 23
At high noon, in 25
The hourglass buried 25
Behind the charcoal surfaces of sleep 26
Go back and add up 27
Half-mauled, mask- 28
From fists white with the truth 29
Noisemakers shoot into the light: it's the Truth 30
You forget you forget 31
Crackpots, decomposing 32
Lichtenberg's heir- 33
The sight of the songbirds at dusk 34
Gurgling, then 35
Frankfurt, September 36
Coincidence staged, the signs all 38
Who 39
Spasms, I love you, psalms 40
Night in Pau 41
Later in Pau 42
The ounce of truth in the depths of delusion 43
Lyon, Les Archers 44
Sleep-pieces, wedges 45
Attached to out-cast 46
Graygreens 47
Chitin sunlings 48
Eternities dead 49
Hothouse of an asylum 50
Lucky, the 51
On the rainsoaked rutted road 52
White noises, bundled 53
Your heart manholed 54
Here are the industrious 55
When I don't know, when I don't know 56
Gigantic 57
Day freed from demons 58
Husks of the finite, stretchable 59
Wet from the world 60
Hush, you hag, and ferry me across the rapids 61
Eyeshot's island, broken 62
Eternity gets older: at 63
It's late. A fat fetish 64
Come, we are cutting out 65
Free of dross, free of dross 66
Soul-blind behind the ashes 67
Next-door-neighbor Night 68
The ropes, stiff with salt water 69
Out of angel flesh, on 70
Upholster the word-hollows 71
Walls of speech, space inwards 72
Four ells of earth 73
Naked under death leaves 74
Stone of incest, rolled away 75
As loud colors, heaped up 76
The chimney-swallow, sister 77
White, white, white 78
Haut Mal 79
The golfball growth 80
Windfield bound for winter: this 81
Who stood that round? 82
Audio-visual vestiges in 83
Knock out 84
Eternities swept 85
She of the freckled farewells 86
Degenerate 87
Assembly- 88
Weather hand 89
Nightsources, distant 90
Unwashed, unpainted 91
Lilac twilight daubed with yellow windows 92
You with the dark slingshot 93
I gave a chance 94
Proverb on the Wall 95
The aural apparatus drives a flower 96
Open glottis, air flow 97
Raised bog, the shape of 98
Particles, patriarchs, buried 99
And force and pain 100
A reading branch, just one 101
The cables have already been laid 103
The splintering echo, darkened 104
Nowhere, with its silken veil 104
In the most remote of 105
O little root of a dream 107
Don't sign your name 108
Notes 109
Index of English Titles/First Lines and German Titles/Half-Titles 141
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