I looked at the poetry of Ross Sutherland before deciding to accept the invitation to translate it. I tried to look at these poems in a context-making way. Pompously I call that interpretation. My translation of it can only be of some worth if it is my translation, only when I am able to perform it, not just read it. The only difference between prose and poetry could be the fact that you can give a plain reading of prose without getting feedback: That’s a bit much! (Bookishness)
There are considerable differences between Ross’s poetry and my poetries, but nevertheless I admire his poems, and my admiration was confirmed during the process of putting the translation into writing. Of course you can do a different version, Stefan Mesch. So what? But one simple distinction must be accepted, because otherwise every discussion is unproductive in more than one way: There is poetry and its exact counterpart , its simulation – cheap showmanship, odd attitudes, encoded language of employers, the infringement of advertising, strategising claptrap: Poetry Slam, Poetryschlamm, Poetry Sludge. I can’t see what makes my translation a simulation of something.
I also admire Ross Sutherland for his encouraging involvement in creative writing, in which he helps people find their way through a shitty reality to poetry without any blacking from state institutions. Thus he shows an open-mindedness and love for poetry that have been completely lost by all those here in Germany and elsewhere who rubbish contemporary poetry, complaining of its oversupply, or even its export surplus, its coolness, they say, all-consuming as a tapeworm. Some German masterminds can obviously think in no other terms than economic or medical ones. Their numbers are growing rapidly. Of course this is a battle of mid-career-artists against emerging-artists. Communication has become a matter of strategy in Germany’s poetry industry (Literaturbetrieb). Dear Ross, you have to bear things like that in mind when you discuss poetry with German poets and feature writers. …
There are two dominant modes of speech. One has clearly autobiographical features with the claim to be authentic expression, confessional; the other mode is a hyperbolical ‘I’ in the tradition of carnevalesque speech (Michail Bachtin). I resist not a little an understanding of these as contrasting or even as contradictory attitudes such as clown v. revolutionary. For Sutherland, elegy and satire, and punishing satire at that, form not a dialectical structure but a wilful conflict situation. This often results in a brutal shifting from image to image; formally speaking, Sutherland partakes of the fruits of Naturalism as much as of those of Expressionism, whether he is aware of it or not. These traditions have not found a wide reception in Anglo-Saxon cultural circles. This opens the door to misunderstandings, which could lead to accusations of kitsch being levelled at their British practitioners. There could be similar reception problems in the affinity of a few British groupings with Marxism, such as the Cambridge School (cf. Norbert Lange’s preface to the selection (known lovingly as the “Brit Dossier”) of contemporary British poets featured in Schreibheft 79). Hadrian’s Wall fell long ago; the border within Germany, popularly known as “The Wall”, is still firmly fixed in German minds as a bogeyman figure, as a projection, a figure of pride and/or terror. Ross Sutherland is at least one escalation stage behind those who describe themselves as “political”. That, of course, makes it just that little bit more difficult to present him to the Hanseatic literary season as a sensation and a new discovery and slap a uniqueness label on him. A problem for journalists, not for me. Perhaps one shouldn’t go after these poetries with the genre-triad programme of über-poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe in the back of one’s mind; but that is exactly what Stefan Mesch is tacitly doing when he accuses Ross Sutherland of playing a cat-and-mouse game in his poem ‘Imfinite Lives’ (Mesch says, “only I don’t understand the eureka moment of the poem (or at least the outtake-bartender-beer- bar situation) myself in the slightest and that’s why I’m annoyed by this “Okay I finally get it” at the end of a text that I don’t get, and which is perhaps just written too simply or unclearly for any reader to get it…?”). In Politique de la littérature, Jacques Rancière finds a formula for the “literary misunderstanding” to which I have already referred in my commentary on ‘Nude III’:
This misunderstanding, just like the [political] breakdown, is played out to the detriment of the same paradigm of order, the beautiful life, seen as harmony of the members and functions in an organic whole. This model of the beautiful life is also the paradigm of correspondence and satiety. In this community there can be no names of bodies circulating as excess to actual bodies, no floating and supernumerary names which might be capable of constituting new fictions which would divide the whole and dissolve its forms and functionality. Nor can there be any superfluous bodies in the poem in relation to those necessary for the cohesion of meanings, no physical situations which are not connected to a meaning situation via a certain relationship of expression. (Rancière, The Politics of Literature, p. 58 in Richard Steurer’s German translation, Passagen Verlag, Vienna 2008)
This kind of perspective clearly gives poetry more licence than Stefan Mesch would like it to have. He likes it ambiguous, but not too ambiguous, please, “because poetry lives from open and contradictory meanings, gaps, either-ors; if a line has too many possible readings, it becomes arbitrary; if the words are well-behaved within the literal meaning and all in the right place, it becomes banal”. Namely the poem ‘A Second Opinion’. I have always distrusted titles. In his thorough reading of Gunnar Ekelöf, Norbert Lange has developed a possible way out of the verdict of incomprehensibility: “The particular quality of such a poem – or its darkness, as some would say – is not in transporting certain information of varying degrees of comprehensibility, but more perhaps in the fact that it does not make manifest sense. Instead, the poem makes an emphasis, a sense of urgency, possible, which generates meaning in the first place – not from the words but via or by means of the words.” (http://signaturen-magazin.de/gunnar-ekeloef–xoanon.html) This would then be the end of comfortableness and of difficulty-bashing,
A communicator bears a responsibility which is not a small one, because, if I have not completely misunderstood it, this is where, after all, a writer is supposed to be mediated to the German literary and discourse industry. I cannot unfold any frivolity here. Admittedly, Stefan Mesch also mentions positive aspects; but, and I mean this as an open question and not a suggestive one, is what Mesch says perceived as what I take it to be, namely as as hoc thoughts, or as literary criticism? This should not be misconstrued as a demand for shameless advertising for a certain writer, in this case Ross Sutherland; I mean this in a media-critical way. The suspicion of arbitrariness that clings to all collections of ideas cannot be shaken off by the flamboyant collection of ideas of Stefan Mesch either. It is hard to get into disputes over heuristics, as they are after all just preliminary stages for an essay or for maxims and the like. This tends to make the discussion difficult more because it thinks in categories such as “keeping the upper hand”, or “offensive-defensive” and is supposed to make non-committal and retreat possible, finally resulting in skirmishes of a merely rhetorical nature, which do not interest me because I am neither a rhetorician nor a journalist.
British poet and activist Sean Bonney writes about “simple anticommunication, borrowed today from Dadaism by the most reactionary champions of the established lies” (‘Letter on Poetics’, in: Happiness – Poems After Rimbaud, Unkant Publishing, p. 64), convinced of having to read Rimbaud via Marx’s ’Capital’ he can’t hope for any applause or even interest from “reading Germany” (Martin Mosebach, a conservative novelist from Frankfurt in Hessen). I suppose there’s a relationship between Ross Sutherland and Arthur Rimbaud, but without the aspects of decadence Bonney has diagnosed in regard to Rimbaud’s last poems. Only a man of great gifts can write a poem like ‘Jean-Claude Van Damme’ at the age of seventeen! The insurrection after a huge disappointment or trauma is more worth my respect than this chatty-chatty-bang-bang of a poetry that is called ”political” by its very own poets, well-behaved ones running from one awards presentation to the next awards presentation. Bonney in contrast describes his situation in London as “contra-legal”: “I ran out of normal life around twenty years ago. Ever since then I´ve been shut up in this ridiculous city, keeping to myself, completely involved in my work. … But now, surprise attack by a government of millionaires.“ (‘Letter’, p. 65) […] I’d really like to hear Ross’ opinion on the following dicta:
I dunno, I´d like to write a poetry that could speed up a dialectical continuity in discontinuity & thus make visible whatever is forced into invisibility by police realism, where the lyric I – yeh, that thing – can be (1) an interrupter and (2) a collective, where direct speech and incomprehensibility are only possible as a synthesis that can bend ideas into and out of the limits of insurrection and illegalism. The obvious danger being that disappeared ideas will only turn up ´dead´, or reanimated as zombies: the terrorist as damaged utopian where all of the elements, including those eclipsed by bourgeois thoughts are still absolutely occupied by that same bourgeoisie. I know this doesn´t have much to do with ´poetry´, as far as the word is understood, but then again, neither do I, not in that way. (Bonney, ‘Letter‘, op. cit., p. 65)