Today’s mail brought a very welcome package: a copy of Trevor Joyce’s Fastness: A Translation from the English of Edmund Spenser. The “About the Author” page begins “For fifty years, since publication of his first book in 1967, Trevor Joyce has been a unique voice in Irish writing,” and the second paragraph reads:

His early work explored possibilities of the lyric, and began a lifelong engagement with translation. In the mid-seventies he gave up publishing and turned instead to the study of Chinese poetry, while working as a systems analyst in industry. His later work, following twenty years silence, is unparalleled within Irish poetry. Successive books explore the possibilities of found text, computer-mediated composition, writing under constraint, and radical approaches to translation.

All of which is to say, he’s an interesting guy and the perfect person to do what he’s doing here, which is to rethink and rewrite Spenser’s Mutability Cantos (original and “translation” are presented en face). Some quotes from the introduction will give you an idea of what perfect LH material this is:

Prose delivers events, dates, ideas, and opinions clearly and in sequence; the poet creates a whole in which everything resonates at once: the individual sounds of the consonants and vowels and their rhythms as they interrupt each other, the dictionary meanings of the words and the associated meanings they’ve gathered through ordinary and specialist use, the whole spectrum of registers from high courtly politeness to low growled threats and back again through slang and vulgarities. Poetry is a complex instrument, and a poet like Spenser knows how to play it to the full, and any response needs to take account of all that. The most adequate, fully engaged response, I would argue, is another poem that picks up all the carefully distributed threads of Spenser’s utterance and gives them back radically altered in many ways, but recognizably chiming with the original, and adding new meaning. […]

Like Spenser, I’ve made for myself an artificial dialect. I’ve tried to dilate my own everyday language, including not only traces of Spenser’s lexicon, but also slang, both recent and outmoded, alongside the jargons of journalism, advertising, politics, and business. I’ve reached after vulgarisms and low catchphrases, and seized on every register that seemed to resist authority. With them I’ve tried to make a better case for Mutability, and to allow her, now, a jury of her peers. […]

I have introduced one slightly ostentatious pun of my own in using the term spenser to translate Spenser’s dairying huswife (48,1). As a spenser or spencer was someone whose job it was to dispense provisions in a household, I have taken the liberty of reinserting the poet into his own text at another point than the privileged one he has chosen for himself, framing the entire action from his own privileged perspective. The role of dutiful assassin of vermin strikes me as neatly rhyming with his land-grabbing activities.

As a sample, here’s his version of the stanza beginning “For, she the face of earthly Things so chang’d”:

She altered the whole set-up.
Everything laid out in proper order,
she delinquently deranged. The frame
of things, which looked too good for gods
or men to fuck with, she switched
utterly, and then what God had blessed,
made cursed, and put an end to all
such happy ever afters.

I’ve never been able to hack my way through Spenser in the original, but this I can read with pleasure. I might add that the physical book is gorgeous, and it’s available for pre-order (pub date is October 15).

By the way, I was so caught up in finishing an editing job that I failed to notice that July 31 was the fifteenth anniversary of this blog. Happy belated birthday, LH!


  1. Happy 15th LH! Don’t do drugs, and stay in school!

  2. I met him a couple of months ago at a poetry reading (his); we struck up conversation and he has a lot of miscellaneous interests, he ended up giving me a signed copy of this book. Nice fellow.

  3. Lucky you! I hope I run into him sometime.

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