Responding to my interview with the poet and Celan-translator Pierre Joris, the writer and publisher Anthony Rudolf (of the excellent Menard Press) has written me this lovely note, which I'd like to share:

I would like to gloss Pierre Joris's comments on Celan translations and exclusivity, made during the fascinating interview posted on RSB. I'm glad he put the word 'official' in quotation marks concerning Michael Hamburger for, during the nearly forty years I have known him, Michael has always insisted that he is against exclusivity on principle when it comes to poetry translation, although he can see why other considerations enter the frame with a long prose book.

Gisèle [Celan-Lestrange], herself a distinguished print maker and artist, exasperated by the amount of time she had to spend dealing with copyright questions, anthology requests etc, asked me in the early 1980s if I thought Michael would agree to be the exclusive translator of her late husband; it would simplify her life no end, she said. I told her about Michael's honourable attitude and that what she proposed was not the solution.

Allow me to mention a memory triggered by this communication. Gisele and I were friends for a number of years, but we lost touch, as sometimes happens. Later, I attended the funeral of my friend Edmond Jabès at Père-Lachaise in January 1991. I half-recognised a woman who looked ill and strained, a shadow of the beautiful and elegant person she had been. I went up to her, and said: Gisèle? There was a pause -- as if to complete my half-recognition and make it whole -- and then a reply: Anthony? We embraced. Less than a year later, she was dead.

Two more comments: Paul Celan and Edmond Jabès were close friends. One day, perhaps, Celan's heavily annotated copy of Le Livre des questions will be published facsimile with a commentary (Pierre is surely too busy to edit it). Lastly, for those with the requisite French, the two-volume boxed edition of Paul's correspondence with Gisèle, published by Le Seuil in 2001, is essential reading.

PS a pertinent extract from a draft memoir:

Some years ago, I was about to publish my own translations of Claude Vigée’s poetry and prose. As an old friend, I had long known about his version of Four Quartets, which had lain untouched in a drawer for half a century because T.S. Eliot had agreed to exclusive rights in the translation by Pierre Leyris about three weeks before he read (and admired) Vigée's translation. I told Claude that the time had come to mount a campaign to find a publisher for his version. There was no problem at Faber and Faber, and Valery Eliot and Kathleen Raine wrote supporting letters. But the French publisher of Leyris was adamant that there could not be a rival version in France. I said what about Menard, which is a UK publisher? To this suggestion, they said yes, but only if Leyris agreed. Naturally, I wrote to the master translator of English poetry (Eliot, Hopkins, Shakespeare etc) in appropriate and respectful terms. He replied with the sweetest letter, saying that it was impossible for him to say no but that I should make sure that Vigée drew a distinction between “durée” and “temps” when translating the word “time”. And so the book was published, with the bonus of one of Gabriel Josipovici’s best essays, which was specially written for this book and translated into French for the occasion. He later published it in English in PNR, as I recall. The Menard book also contains a previously unpublished letter by T.S. Eliot.

Readers Comments

  1. Tony Rudolf's comments were, as usual, pertinent and of great interest, and it's very good to have such information recorded. And I especially liked (in context) the little slip of 'Valery Eliot' for 'Valerie Eliot'. As Kingsley Amis might have said, Uncle Siggy would have had a word to say about that!

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