by Uljana Wolf
Translated by Sophie Seita
“Two heads are better than ohne” writes Uljana Wolf, ohne meaning “without” in German. Yet these poems are the progeny of not two minds but four (at least), since both Wolf and Sophie Seita approach the original texts as well as their English versions from the dual vantage points of English and German, interlacing the slippages and misalignments between these and other languages into the poems’ fabric. This is poetry as translation, translation as poetry, and echolalia of the best sort. How fitting that one of this marvelous book’s subtexts (from the Latin subtextere, “to weave under, work in below”) be two-fold, twined: Benjamin’s dictum that languages are related in what they seek to express—the kin here being sisters—and that translation is the text’s afterlife. Read: its possibility to subsist. I’m ecstatic for it.
—Mónica de la Torre
This bi-floral or even tri-floral book of poems is for falselandy neighbouring nearspeakers who prefer to hold ear to phoneme to wit. Arranged according to the pleasures of a collaborative conversation between co-translating poets, sinuous between the structured palate and the muscular tongue, Subsisters coheres by means of a joyous principle of augmentation. Wolf and Seita have rendered authority moot; Value here is chosen conviviality. Lightness, charm and play clarify the discovery that all language is polylingual, all worth in shared joy only.
Uljana Wolf is resistant, even immune, to standard translation approaches: an ironic, if also iconic, state of affairs for a poet who is also a noted translator, and whose poetry thinks so doubtingly about translation, and about doubling in general. Her poetry violates standard ways of speaking and writing because she regards them as complicit in political and social domination. Sophie Seita’s witty and imaginative translations transfer the author’s methods to new territories, take up her process anew, position themselves as the subsisters of the original. Hers is a very contemporary and a very sophisticated way of conceiving translation as composition, conversation, and—above all—play.
March 1, 2017
Uljana Wolf is a German poet and translator, born 1979 in East Berlin. She published four books of poetry with kookbooks, most recently meine schönste lengevitch and SONNE FROM ORT, a collaborative erasure of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s sonnets with Christian Hawkey. A new English translation (by Sophie Seita) of her work under the title “i mean i dislike that fate that i was made to where” is out from Wonder Press, Brooklyn, in Fall of 2015. Wolf has received several grants and awards for her work, among them the Villa Massimo Residency in Rome, 2017, the prestigious Adelbert-von-Chamisso-Preis 2016, the Erlangener Preis für Poetry as Translation 2015, and the Peter-Huchel-Preis for her debut, kochanie ich habe brot gekauft ,in 2006. Wolf translated numerous poets and writers into German, among them John Ashbery, Charles Olson, Matthea Harvey, Christian Hawkey, Erín Moure, Cole Swensen, Yoko Ono. She teaches German and classes on poetry and translation at New York University, the Pratt Institute, Humboldt University Berlin and the Institute für Sprachkunst, Vienna. She splits her time between Brooklyn and Berlin.
Sophie Seita works with language on the page, in performance, and in translation. She has presented her work at the Serpentine Gallery, La MaMa Galleria (NYC), Company Gallery (NYC), SoundEye (Cork), Neue Töne Festival (Stuttgart), Goethe-Institut New York, and elsewhere. Her publications include Les Bijoux Indiscrets, or, Paper Tigers(Gauss PDF, 2017), Meat (Little Red Leaves, 2015), Fantasias in Counting (BlazeVOX, 2014), 12 Steps (Wide Range, 2012), and i mean i dislike that fate that i was made to where, a translation of the German poet Uljana Wolf (Wonder, 2015). Other writing and interviews have appeared in or are forthcoming from The White Review, Bomb, Mimeo Mimeo, Emergency Index, Lana Turner, 3:AM, PEN America, Currently & Emotion (Test Centre, 2016), and Raphael Sbrzesny’s artist book Service Continu 7/7 (Spector Books, 2017). The recipient of numerous awards and fellowships for her creative and critical work, she also received a PEN/Heim Grant (2015) for her translation of Wolf’s Subsisters: Selected Poems (Belladonna*, 2017). She is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Queens’ College, University of Cambridge, where she’s currently editing a facsimile reprint of The Blind Man (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2017) and finishing her first monograph on avant-garde little magazine communities.