Mar. 22, 2010


by Connie Wanek

We used to play, long before we bought real houses.
A roll of the dice could send a girl to jail.
The money was pink, blue, gold as well as green,
and we could own a whole railroad
or speculate in hotels where others dreaded staying:
the cost was extortionary.

At last one person would own everything,
every teaspoon in the dining car, every spike
driven into the planks by immigrants,
every crooked mayor.
But then, with only the clothes on our backs,
we ran outside, laughing.

"Monopoly" by Connie Wanek, from On Speaking Terms. © Copper Canyon Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the best-selling poet Billy Collins, (books by this author) born in Queens, New York (1941). He thinks that too much modern poetry lacks humor. He said: "It's the fault of the Romantics, who eliminated humor from poetry. Shakespeare's hilarious, Chaucer's hilarious. The Romantics killed off humor, and they also eliminated sex, things which were replaced by landscape. I thought that was a pretty bad trade-off, so I'm trying to write about humor and landscape, and occasionally sex."
He was in his 40s when he published his first book, The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988), and he has become one of the country's most popular poets. His book Sailing Alone Around the Room (2000) has sold almost 200,000 copies, more than any other book of poetry in this century. His collection Ballistics came out in 2008.

It's the birthday of novelist Louis L'Amour, (books by this author) born in Jamestown, North Dakota (1908). He was the author of many novels, including How the West Was Won (1963) and The Quick and the Dead (1973).
In Ride the Dark Trail (1972), L'Amour wrote: "I just pointed my rifle at him … and let him have the big one right through the third button on his shirt. If he ever figured to sew that particular button on again he was going to have to scrape it off his backbone."

It's the birthday of one of the most important translators ever of Spanish-language fiction into English: Edith Grossman, born in Philadelphia (1936). She has translated the works of Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, Spaniard Julián Ríos, Cuban-Puerto Rican Mayra Montero, and every one of Colombian Gabriel García Márquez's books since Love in the Time of Cholera in the late 1980s. A few years ago, she did a new translation of a Spanish novel written 400 years ago, Cervantes' Don Quixote.

She studied Spanish in high school, college, and grad school, and became a professor of Spanish literature. She especially liked teaching recent Latin American fiction, stuff like the writing of García Márquez. She told her students that they were "allowed to say anything they wanted except two words in combination: 'magic' and 'realism', because the term really annoys her. Apart from her professorial duties, she began translating stories for a literary journal for fifty cents a line. She did a few novels, and then decided to take on a translation of Love in the Time of Cholera.

She knew that he really admired William Faulkner, so she decided to use Faulkner's style as a guide for her own translation of García Márquez. She said: "I didn't use any contractions in the narration, and I used Latinate words, polysyllabic words, instead of German monosyllables. Any time I could, I chose a longer word rather than a shorter word, as if Hemingway had never lived." It was a huge hit. She quit teaching and began translating full time.

The idea for her to do a translation of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote came from an editor at HarperCollins, who contacted her about it in 2002, about the same time that 100 major writers from around the globe had voted the 17th-century book the greatest novel in history. She said she was terrified at the thought of translating what was almost a "sacred text," with legions of scholarship already devoted to it. She said she had bad dreams at night, "of hordes of indignant Hispanists attacking my translation."

Then a Latin American writer whom she translated, Julián Ríos, told her: "Don't be afraid. Translate it the way you translate everybody else because he's the most modern writer we have." And besides, she realized, "Don Quixote is not essentially a puzzle for academics, a repository of Renaissance usage, a historical monument, or a text for the classroom. It is a work of literature." And so she went to work on it.

She works from her first-floor apartment on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, decorated with prints of Picasso and Frida Kahlo and Latin American crafts, and rarely travels outside of New York City. Every day she goes for a walk and does the crossword puzzle before she sits down to work on translations, and generally translates for about six hours each day.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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