Aesthetically Pleasing Books
Marilyn Hacker translates from the French into English; that’s really nice of her. There are many French poets, now and from long ago, I and others can’t read because we don’t know French. We love poems, yet there are certain poems we can’t know. In the introduction to Vénus Khoury-Ghata book Nettles (Graywolf, 2008), Marilyn Hacker mentions that Vénus says: “My mother is illiterate in two languages.” I don’t want to even think about the languages I’m illiterate in! I’m just thankful people translate work they find important. Although, I don’t want to talk about translation here, and how things are lost, and how the original is so much better, because, basically, poems translated into English have moved me, have mattered, and have inspired me in the same fashion poems written in English have. There are only things to be gained! Translations are little windows overlooking a culture or a time where there was once no window. What I want to talk about here is far less important. I want to talk about books I can’t read, books I have purchased out of the sheer love of design, in languages I don’t understand. Maybe you, too, have done this? Maybe you have bought a book for its foxing, or for the way it smells, or because the sides of the pages are blue, regardless of how you are going to comprehend its meaning. Sometimes, I flip through their pages and (because I can’t read them) I stare at a poem as if it were a photograph in a collection of black and white photography, an abstract print that relates some obscure emotion through light and composition.