What a wonderful, idiosyncratic book Weinberger has written. I say book, but the closest comparison I could make to other works being published right now are from Sylph Edition’s “Cahiers Series“—short pamphlet-like meditations by notable writers such as Ann Carson, Elfriede Jelinek, and László Krasznahorkai among the architects, playwrights, painters, and philosophers. Weinberger certainly belongs in such company; anything he writes can be assumed to be interesting, different, intellectually engaging. The essay collections he writes—and Elsewhere can be considered to be an extended meditation/essay—puts him as well alongside Rebecca Solnit, Lawrence Weschler, Sven Birkets, and Ilan Stavans.

Elsewhere consists of poems, all in translation, by writers of the Modernist era (by Weinberger’s use here roughly 1910s-1940s) illustrating a broad sensibility that Weinberger calls the sense of being “elsewhere”:

Victor Segalen, in China at the beginning of the century, writes of the “manifestation of Diversity,” a “spectacle of Difference”: everything that is “foreign, strange, unexpected, surprising, mysterious, amorous, superhuman, heroic, and even divine, everything that is Other.” Picasso put it more bluntly: “Strangeness is what we wanted to make people think about because we were quite aware that our world was becoming very strange.”

While certainly many English speakers/authors wrote poems about travel to foreign places during the same era, by relying on works in translation, of a Japanese traveler writing about Paris or a Senegalese poet in NYC for example, Weinberger doubles down on the foreignness, the dislocation and wonder of the experiences.

He organizes the selection of poems first into three geographical locations—Paris, NYC, and Los Angeles—then the experience of travel in a section “Trains and Cars,” followed by “Imaginary Countries,” and concludes with a coda about the end of journeying. With only a few poems in each section. Weinberger is neither trying to anthologize nor exhaust the poetic expressions of elsewhere; the prospect of doing so for any one of the cities for example—Paris—would require hundreds of poems to do justice. Instead Weinberger is free to choose unique poems, under topics specific to his interests without being tied down to any taxonomic-like system. Of the thirteen poems in total, Weinberger is the translator of four, along with others such as Thomas Merton and Langston Hughes.

The first poem, “Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain” (trans. Hiroaki Sato) is by Japanese poet Kotaro Takamura. I suspect that he is heretofore unknown to 99 out of 100 English readers (unless familiar with a Green Integer edition from 2007 of the poet’s The Chieko Poems). The poem lauds the Cathedral of Notre Dame in an extended address to it, a pattern of address that repeats several times throughout in this book; there’s an odd, quaint tone to the address to this “you” that is actually charming and engaging. The first stanza begins:

O another deluge of wind and rain.
Collar turned up, getting drenched in this splashing rain,
and looking up at you—it’s me,
me who never fails to come here once a day,
It’s that Japanese.

Takamura goes on to evoke the cathedral and immediate environment in the middle of a storm, outside weather in the real world perhaps mirroring the passion of the poet who describes the building in an affectionate embrace:

O Cathedral, you who at such a moment keep ever more silent and soar,
Cathedral, you who watch motionless the houses of Paris suffering the storm,
Please do not think me rude,
who, hands on your cornerstone,
has his hot check pressed on your skin,
it’s me, the drunken one
It’s that Japanese.

Yes, the reader comes to agree, this is truly an experience of elsewhere, “foreign, strange, unexpected, surprising, mysterious, amorous . . .”

Weinberger follows each poem with a quite brief biographical account of the poets. The choice to order this explanation after the poems rather than before brings a direct experience of the poems first. It is rewarding to read the poem, then the biographical context, and finally to double back and reread the poem.

Some readers might be familiar with Garcia Lorca’s poems about NYC, with one in this collection as selected by Weinberger, and others might even know Brecht’s poetry—although I suspect more know him as a writer of plays (albeit in the sense of Jeopardy answers rather than readers of the actual plays). Others might be familiar with the Turkish poet Hikmet, South African/Portuguese Pessoa, and French Apollinaire, I’m willing to wager that no one until Weinberger has brought together such disparate voices, added to by several other lesser-known Latin American writers, others from Senegal, Haiti and Austria. One of the great joys of reading this book is putting yourself in the hands of Weinberger and his selection of voices.


Comments are disabled for this article.

....

Elsewhere
By Eliot Weingerber (ed.)
Translated by Various
Reviewed by Grant Barber
97 pages, paperback
ISBN: 9781934824856
$12.95
Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .

Read More >

The Cold Song
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann
Reviewed by David Richardson

Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .

Read More >

This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >

A Dilemma
A Dilemma by Joris-Karl Hyusmans
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .

Read More >

Walker on Water
Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .

Read More >

The Nightwatches of Bonaventura
The Nightwatches of Bonaventura by Bonaventura
Reviewed by J. T. Mahany

Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .

Read More >

Pavane for a Dead Princess
Pavane for a Dead Princess by Park Min-Gyu
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .

Read More >