Anne Tardos' Uxudo. O Books/Tuumba Press, 1999.
With Anne Tardos' The Dik-dik's Solitude: New and Selected Works due to be published by Granary Books any minute, this is perhaps the last possible moment to write about her previous book, Uxudo, unless the poems in the Selected from Uxudo are not republished with the original graphics. Uxudo is a book rich in fonts and graphics and polyglot poetry.
The graphics lead the reader through the translations in the book: on page 20, there is the beginning of a brief conversation, and a photo of a neck with a necklace. On the following page, page 21, where the conversation is rendered in German, a "zoomed out" version of the same graphic shows the woman's face, neck, and necklace, and more of another person's face in profile. The central image, a woman with her lips parted, seems to be speaking. In important ways, the left-hand picture on page 20 does not precede the less-cropped right hand picture on page 21, as a reader completely controlled by the order of a codex book might think. The picture on page 20 is a small portion of the picture on page 21, but expanded, and therefore more grainy / of lesser quality. The picture which comes second, and accompanies German text, precedes the first picture in its making.
Each picture in the book appears at least twice, once with some effect applied to it, once without such an effect. In another example, on page 47 is printed a collage of a photo of pages of a book which also appears on page 48 and page 90; the text from page 46 with a different line break; and a photo of a child, perhaps a grandchild, reflected in a convex mirror (reference to John Ashbery), which also appears on page 78. The text on page 47, entitled "Love," reads
Il y'a longtemps que je t'aime,Which translates, roughly, as an idiomatic ("Il y'a longtemps que") and slangy (no "pas" on the negative, familiar "you", "te"), "I've loved you a long time / I will never forget you." On page 48, the text (without the title) reads, "Il y'a longtemps que / je t'aime, jamais je ne / t'oublerai." The next two sets of pages do not have translations: they are accompanied by graphics alone. The photo of a book, in its most abstracted version, due to Adobe PhotoShop effects applied to it, looks like paint brush strokes. It is also the cover image.
Jamais je ne t'oublierai.
As the author explains in her preface, the book is ordered so that each left-hand page and each right-hand page are, together, an art work. The pictures are captured from videos taken of family and friends after the author's mother's funeral. The poems were written during the same time period. There is also a preface by Caroline Bergvall, who is, of course, well known for her own negotiation of these issues. Bergvall mentions in her preface that the ordering of the graphics and versions of graphics mirrors the question of a "first" language which the text raises. The other important question the text raises is the question of how poetry does or will use the visual vocabulary we now have in this post-television age.
Anne Tardos writes in French, German, Hungarian and English. The non-English in her books generally directly relates to the English: for example, in Uxudo, "Essayons-ça-1" on page 74 is titled in French. In the first line, an equation, "Poésie de pouvoir = Machtdichtung" separates French from German with an equal sign. On the next page, page 75, "Let's Try This - 1" translates the title of the poem into English. The equation is rendered, "Good, good, good, many worlds, good. / Power poetry."
The equal signs are both the formula underlying metaphor itself and indicators of the impossible equivalences of translation. Not all of the facing pages translate each other in some way. Some chains of equal signs separate the same word or "new" word (i.e., the title, "Uxudo," which is a new word made through error or accident) with different font styles applied: the differing effects, bold, italic, bold + italic, etc., are leveraged for the shifts in tone they usually indicate, something which is not easily captured in mere metaphor.
Although some recent, but controversial, research indicates that Finnish, Hungarian, and other languages traditionally considered to have roots in completely different languages than French and German (and hence from English) actually are related to the other languages, Tardos respects the difficulty most of her readers will have with Hungarian. Nevertheless, she coaxes readers through their own understandings of these languages as well as their own understandings of visual effects, whether from film (close up, panning, applied to video stills) or graphics (emboss, relief, brushstroke, applied to video stills).
Are these pre-verbal or non-verbal vocabularies, and in what ways are our translations of pictures we experience complementing our spoken languages? Odd as it may seem, we negotiate the same types of snapped logics whether we are reading poetry or international sign symbols in an airport. Perhaps the illusion of understanding Tardos regards at her mother's funeral, and generously supplies to readers, is the same maya of reading and writing. And perhaps we are reading and writing more than ever, as we become more visually sophisticated.