Augustus Young - Diversifications



Available only direct from Shearsman Books.

Augustus Young - Diversifications

Paperback, 88pp, 8.5x5.5ins. Not for sale in North America.

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"All mankind is one author… When one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language… some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice… for that library where every book lies open to one another." —John Donne (from Meditation XVII, 1624)


No poet is an island. Making poetry is a matter of promontories. Imitating fellow practitioners is the sterile one. The fertile promontory is engagement with poets who seem to offer a promised land. My pont d'amour has lead me to Mayakovsky, who brought me closer to the tundra of the personal in an impersonal world, and Brecht, who drew me towards the confines of intimacy and work, and the outreaches of the political.

Brian Coffey regarded translation as a poet's means of understanding another. In the nineteen seventies, over several years, we delved into Mayakovsky's 'A Cloud in Pants'. Mayakovsky's topography particularly preoccupied us. It was like pouring over the contour map of his bizarre inner world. Our negotiation with Mayakovsky broke down somewhere between French and English literal translations. But the experience influenced Brian Coffey's work and I got to know the poem like the back of my hand.

I resumed the quest after Coffey's death in the mid-nineties. This time I threw caution to the wind and let fly. Making the poem come alive in English for a new century demanded risks. My approach was a form of manic Braille. As though I was tracing the meaning and significance of the poem with bare hands, feeling for its shape and sharpnesses. I took liberties with terminology, layout and prosody (though I kept to rhyme). It was completed in a few weeks.

The full range of Brecht's poetry only became apparent in the late seventies. I began to make versions of them. Most were not translations per se, rather adaptations or a one-sided collaboration. A Brecht poem triggered a response. In this short selection the emphasis is on the work related poems. Some are in the style of Brecht rather than influenced by a particular poem. For example, I didn't think the poem Brecht wrote on the suicide of Walter Benjamin did justice to their collaboration, and worked one of my own by drawing from Mayakovsky's famous poem reproaching Esenin for killing himself. My 'version' is perhaps the one Brecht might have written if his friend was there to read it.

This promontory hopping has been a negotiation which has extended into my own poems. At sixty I moved to France where I had to learn to live with a new language. The experience of my engagement with Mayakovsky and Brecht gave me courage. My mainland expanded to include French poets, most particularly Baudelaire and Verlaine. Poets of mortality. Something which had to be faced. So I wrote 'The Long Habit of Living'.

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