The Culture of War: A Must-Read Journal
Consequence is a literary journal which claims to be devoted to focusing on the culture of war. I approached this theme with some unease. A literary journal? Devoted to the culture of…war? Wouldn’t a strong journalistic piece be a better medium? I was happily mistaken.
Perhaps what will strike readers the most about Consequenceis the many pieces in translation it contains. As a writer, I can attest, it is hard enough composing a poem, thinking about the style and conveyance of things. As a reader, I can complain, it is hard enough reading a poem, interpreting and understanding meaning. But a translator is simultaneously faced with both these tasks: reading and then re-writing in a completely different language. A good translator must not only retain the essence of a work, but also the natural rhythms and ebbs.
While I cannot offer any analysis on the contemporary poetry written in Vietnamese, the translations offered in Consequence were unlike and more beautiful than anything I have read in a long time. For instance, in “Evening,” which was translated by Martha Collins and Ngo Tu Lap, the speaker proclaims:
I cursed you this morning, Hanoi
Your scars: human faces
Your fragments of glass: hostile eyes
By reflecting on the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi, Collins and Lap create almost Poundian verse. This reminds me of “an apparition of faces in the crowd: petals on a wet black bough.” The anthropomorphic quality the images posses enliven them, but also enliven the speaker’s sense of Vietnam. The city becomes a living, breathing being, with a face and eyes.
In Seashore*Seawind*Ship, translators Stephen Haven and Wang Shouyi write:
I tend to grind myself into pieces
Scatter them along the beach
I tend to feed the hungry sea
My own blood, my own flesh
Besides for the sadomasochistic quality the speaker evokes, there is also a sense of return to a simpler essence. Man which rises from earth returns to the earth and sea. Intriguingly, the sea is “hungry” for this return.
While the poetry was my favorite part of this literary journal, the fiction is also fabulous. It is evident that these this theme is a current and relevant one, which allows writers to paint potent and provoking portraits.
In particular, one story which stood out to me was Amy Tudor’s “Elegy with Wings Rising Inside It.” (Yes, the haunting and beautiful title only reveals a fraction of the story’s poetic quality.) The narrative language in this piece and the evocative discovery characterize this piece. The story, of course, its plot, is about September 11, 2011. Tudor achingly creates an image of a man fleeing from the building:
Daniel walked through the city, unseen. People stood shading their eyes, cordoned off from subways and the Empire State. He looked up to the golden tower of it, the building as alone as he was with the people on the street, gold against the blue and white, black smoke rising behind him.
Though Tudor rarely tumbles into long and heady prose about “feelings,” in this brief passage, the reader can undoubtedly sense Daniel’s feelings. By invoking the use of color, Tudor has not only portrayed an outer world, but also a vivid inner one.
The essays in this journal are also great. Sven Birkerts’s “How to Write a Sentence” stood out to me. In this almost satirical piece, Birkerts explicates the mechanics of writing a sentence with humor and creativity, “a million monkeys typing on a million computers for a million years might in that time […] produce the following sentence but never with dynamic intent.” He goes on to quote Fitzgerald. For Birkerts, intent underlies the core of writing.
This intent, this soul-searching quality sears the pages of Consequence. A must read, not only for those who desire to study the culture of war, but for those who desire to study culture.