MIRRORS is available in two versions
MIRRORS is available in two versions
MIRRORS is the original 2011 memoir of my translation of the pidgin poetry of aborigine Eldred Van-Ooy.
These haunting translations have a peculiar magic all their own. You can feel that magic if you read the pidgin silently with one eye and the English out loud with the other. Pretend you're wearing 3-D glasses and that I've brought you into a particularly enticing garden and left you there for a few moments, alone, wondering, looking up at the leaves.
2016 REVISED EDITION: MIRRORS: THE ABORIGINE POETRY OF ELDRED VAN-OOY
This is the 2016 expanded, revised version of my 2011 translation of the pidgin poetry of aborigine Eldred Van-Ooy. In this revised version, I explore how Van-Ooy's work was instrumental not only in changing my view of the nature of poetry but also in unconsciously guiding me in the creation of a contemporary version of pre-literate oral poetry I call SOULSPEAK and a related video version of SOULSPEAK I call Dreamstories. These are two new, revolutionary forms of poetry that I believe some part of poetry will follow in the future. Like the pidgin poems themselves, the 2016 revised version will leave you in a particularly enticing garden, wondering, looking up at the leaves.
Some Previews of my Comments About the Poetry of Eldred Van-Ooy
MIRRORS is a short memoir of my very mysterious encounter with the poetry of the Australian aborigine Eldred Van-Ooy. It also contains translations of four poems written by him in Melanisian pidgin (Tok Pisin). The poems were published by Van-Ooy in a socialist
"The Worker" on January 27, 1960. I do not know if these poems have
ever been formally translated elsewhere. Brisbane
All that I had when I started were some “Worker” microfiche containing the poems and an editorial on Van-Ooy, all of which had been forwarded to me in 1985 by an old Australian computer acquaintance who had come across them during the conversion of some old microfiche files belonging to “The Worker”.
I was able, however, to glean several biographical facts from the editorial. A pure-blood aborigine, Van-Ooy was taken from the outback at birth in 1891 and subsequently raised by a white, middle-class couple, Cinque and Mildred Van-Ooy, on the outskirts of
Brisbane. As an instructor at the Queensland
Institute of Technology, he achieved a modicum of local fame by designing an
ingenious waste-pumping system of vacuum and ball valves that continues to
function in the Southern Queensland Water and Sewage Management District
despite the fact that it makes minimal use of the force of gravity, the
mainstay of all such systems past and present.
It's important to remember that Van-Ooy was as well educated as the average Australian college graduate of his time. His frame of reference was not that of a bushman, but an educated Westerner. Some have found my translations of the intensely literal pidgin a bit too polished, but, alas, that is how they came to me, that is to say, my inherent sense of the "English version" of Eldred was of a man who read newspapers and drank tea on his patio in Brisbane, rather than someone who lived in a hut and speared pigs, while at the same time, my inherent sense of the “pidgin” Eldred was of someone much more primal and mysterious. For those who prefer a more “primitive” translation—and who's to say that they're wrong—I have supplied a literal translation of each poem in a separate section. Here is a sample of a finished translation of the "English version" of Eldred.
Baimbai ol waitman i-singawt long mi: "Eldred."
ELDRED THEN BECAME MY NAME.
long skul, em i-singawt: "Van-Ooy."
VAN-OOY AT SCHOOL.
Behain mi go long haus, em i-singawt: "Abo."
"ABO" WHEN THE DAY LET OUT.
Yar kam na go. Olsem san. Olsem mun
THE YEARS PASSED BY. LIKE SUNS. LIKE MOONS.
Drimtaim i-kam. Drimtaim i-go.
DREAMTIME CAME. DREAMTIME WENT.
Na ol waitman i-no tokim mi em i-saevi Drimtaim.
BUT NO ONE SPOKE OF DREAMS TO ME.
Em i-tokim nem bilong olkain samting.
THEY ONLY SPOKE OF NAMING THINGS,
Em i-tokim: wan, tu, tri, wan, tu, tri, tasol.
Wantaim long skul mi tokim drim bilong mi.
ONE DAY AT SCHOOL I SPOKE OF DREAMS.
Tisa i-tokim mi olsem: Mi nogat saevi.
THE TEACHER ASKED
Yu tok Drimtaim long mi, orait, Drimtaim i-stap olsem ,
IF DREAMTIME ALWAYS STAYED THE SAME,
Drimtaim i-no stap, olsem de?
OR CHANGED, LIKE DAY?
Mi tok: Drimtaim i-stap olsem de:
I encountered several problems in translating the pidgin.. First of all I had to find a way of truly understanding the pidgin. Many words and phrases can be intuitively grasped, but some can’t. For a while, I had no choice but to guess at meanings and then I somehow managed to locate several dictionaries, one in particular being a dictionary on a Melanesian pidgin called Tok Pisin, which is the pidgin Eldred had used.
But there were other problems. There was no history, no tradition of pidgin poetry to give me some feel for what Van-Ooy was trying to do. Pidgin, to put it bluntly, is a very strange language with which to create a written poetry—a poetry in which the words on the page have to do everything—because pidgin always seems comic to us. Many times I had to make instinctual decisions as to the essential emotional tone of a poem. This is always potentially dangerous business for a translator, i.e., bleeding into the original, but pidgin is so elemental I had no other choice. I bled all over it.
Despite these inherent problems, I am sure that Van-Ooy’s decision to write the poems in pidgin was deliberate. Expressing sophisticated emotions in pidgin can create an incredible tension, because it stretches the language to a point where you think it will break, or fail, and then somehow, something in the language finds a way to say what has to be said. Van-Ooy’s use of pidgin lets us really feel that dangerous, beautiful tension that is at the heart of every act of true artistic creation.
I have come to the conclusion that Van-Ooy felt, and wanted his readers to feel the beauty of this "birthing" process: the beautiful danger of trying to express very complex emotions in a very simple language. You might say he wanted to remind us of the essential creative fire within us and was willing to offer us a piece of himself to do so.
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