|David Orr dressed for work
as the NY Times Poetry Columnist
I found this review online a few weeks back, in which David Orr focuses mostly on Robin Robertson‘s versions of poems by Tomas Tranströmer, gathered under the title The Deleted World. After pointing out numerous mistranslations*, Orr makes these odd statements:
The Deleted World is pleasurable whether or not it’s a good translation of Tranströmer. […] Is that enough? In some ways, certainly — we read poetry for entertainment, not nutritional value.
It’s insult enough to our intelligence for Orr to say that “in some ways” it’s all right if the translations at hand are no good. But to offer as support the idea that poetry is “entertainment” and need have no “nutritional value” is an insult to poets everywhere. Surely one reads Mandelstam (to pick just one) for more than amusement; and one distinction between bad and good poetry is the former’s lack of “nutritional value.”
This is a nutshelling of the argument Orr makes elsewhere, in yet another book of his I will never bother to read, to wit: ” Poetry is pointless.” At least we know this is bound to be true in his case.
* Robertson, according to a writer in the Times Literary Supplement, “does not [read Swedish], but works from a crib provided by a native speaker.”