Adam Sorkin and Radu Andriescu


(About Limits)

About how the character, stuck in no-man's land,
gorged on cookies and poked holes in the sand with his fingers;
about the bewilderment of the border guards, who never
had seen anything like it in their villages and towns;
about how they all leaned up against the barbed wire
and stared at the character as he skinned
the cellophane from pack after pack of cookies
and rammed his fingers into no-man's land.

PREFATORY NOTE: The dialogue that follows was compiled directly from e-mail exchanges between Radu Andriescu and Adam J. Sorkin from roughly a year ago, discussing the problem of the title of our volume of Andriescu's poems in English, in which the works that appear in this issue of Metamorphoses will (we hope) eventually appear. This dramatization was arranged by Radu Andriescu, and I supplemented it with one e-mail he had lost. No, it's not very dramatic, except in form, but it represents a typical exchange between the two translators, especially during the later stages of doing the book over the past few years when we had gotten to know one another well enough to risk jokes and sarcasm, to complain, to criticize, to suggest changes both ways—a true collaboration by friends. We've done only slight editing for correctness and clarity. For the interested reader, I've added in square brackets a few of the Romanian terms we were referring to in the discussion, also one or two clarifying phrases. I've italicized words and titles in a way our e-mail programs would not permit.

The exchange begins with Andriescu criticizing what was then the tentative title of the volume and making a new suggestion from the short poem that we had just been working on after he sent it to me only a short while before--the poem that appears as an epigraph, above. Titles, as he had previously written to me, were one of his biggest hang-ups, and often, as in the case of this dialogue, he only decided upon them last-minute in the shaping of his own books. Picture the character Radu typing away on his clunky Windows clone with a sometimes recalcitrant keyboard in the bedroom of the house in which he lives in Iasi in northeastern Romania with his wife and son. Picture the character Adam in his study in Havertown, PA (near Philadelphia), an iMac with its mouse often well camouflaged by the clutter of papers and drafts on the surface of his desk, to its left a window overlooking a holly tree. Listen to the clatter of the keys. Sometimes the seven-hour difference between the two translators seems erased as e-mails show up bearing a time that indicates they had been written by Radu a number of eastward hours later than the reply Sorkin types back. Sometimes a day or two intervenes. The keys clatter on. —A.J.S.

RADU: As you know, I'm not very happy with that older title, Mythologies of Loneliness. It's too much, too "sweet," and I really don't believe in using very big words. Plus, it's way too explicit. And humorless... Another possibility would be: No Man's LandTara nimanui, which is a quote from "About Limits," the short text I sent you two days ago. I placed that text at the beginning of the first section (not at the end of it, as I first planned), for I wanted the book to open in a lighter tone. Moreover, the—now—second text, "Rhymes for a Boundary and a Stove," has to do with limits too. Speaking of which: in the title of this short poem we have "limits" ["despre margini"] while in the title of that prose poem there's "boundary" ["Rime pentru margine si soba"]. It would be best, in all three cases (section title, prose poem title and short poem title), to have the same word, "limit" or "boundary," whichever of them sounds best. Anyhow, No Man's Land has practically all the connotations of the former title (a place invented, which is on no map, and which is barren, that is, one feels quite lonely in it), but also some more meanings and a little smile stuck to it. What do you think about it? Maybe there already are books with this title, books I might not be aware of? I'll have to check that out.

ADAM: Two responses to two things. (1) The limits & stove & boundary or bounds: everywhere in the poem, except once, as I recall, I tried to keep different terms for forms of "margine" and "limita." In the title, I might well have switched them. I think the title works better this way, to my ear, but that may be from repeated hearing. I realize the two Romanian terms are more or less synonymous, and I think they occur often enough in the poem that either would fit in the title. But they are not completely synonymous in English to me. Boundary tends to be more physical, the line of demarcation, while limits may be imposed, to start; "limit" suggests something beyond which one cannot or should not go, that point up to which but no farther... "Margini," according to what I did in the poem, would likely be some form of bounds/boundary. (2) My immediate association with "no-man's land" is an in-between place, not a limit or boundary, just a liminal area. The no-MAN's might also present a problem in a mostly genderless language, and that would be a quick association that you might want to avoid, since it will throw the reader off. And by the way, it should be as I just typed it, with a hyphen: no-man's, not no man's, in this usage.

RADU: If I manage to build something out of these bits and pieces we have translated so far, I might even be able to find a title for the whole thing (you remember, I believe, my vain efforts to find one for the shorter, chronological version of the book).

ADAM: We can simply call it an untitled book by the poet previously known as radu andriescu, or maybe just Book by Poet Translated by Translator and Poet. More seriously, a good title is helpful.

RADU: No-man's land—in this case, in-between off-limits area (title is good, I guess; maybe a trifle too common? I found 10,000—at least—pages on the Web which have this phrase. That's a lot! I'll try to find something else. [LATER]: "Suddenly I realized" that I might have an idea for the title of the whole book: Jurnalul faptasului textual or The Diary of the Textual Transgressor; or, again: The Textual Transgressor's Notes). Is it good? Is it too strange? Have you any alternative? I mean, I would like the keep the "textual transgressor" part, because it says a lot about how I see poetry—and how I do it, with the multiple meanings of "transgress." However, I'm not very sure about "diary" (too worn out) or "notes" with the synthetic genitive. There's something else... I'm not very sure about "The Wholesaler's Poems" ["Poemele angrosistului"] (you remember they were in the initial "plan"). They are very good (certainly!), but they are very very long prose poems, four of them. Instead, I would prefer to translate two recent poems in lines from the book I'm working on, Puntile Stalinskaya (The Stalinskaya Bridges, or The Stalinskaya Catwalks—which has a nice touch). And this could round off our anthology and put an end (?????) to our ordeal. Right? ["Catwalks" was later discarded because the meaning was simply wrong for the poem, and five or six more poems still wormed their way into the collection.] You know about this Stalinskaya book: this is a vodka brand name, and I and my friend, the artist Burs (Badge), we might actually be sponsored by them to do a multimedia project, which would include the book, of course. Crazy? Well, I love the idea.

ADAM: Your plans for the book are fine. You're the boss... But I'm not sold on the title. Maybe you and I think of titles differently. It sounds, in all these versions, more like a book of intellectual (maybe French) essays. Confessions of the Textual Transgressor? Diary or notes is worse. I had sort of gotten used to the last title, but who knows? No phrase(s) from the book? The Book of Asphalt?

RADU: OK. What about these titles: "Mister popularity: mofluz si timid" = Mister Popularity: Sullen and Shy. Or from another poem: Dervish over Factory Sheds = "Dervis peste combinatul de utilaj greu." No. Nonono. I'd simply call it Ersatz, at this point.

ADAM: Well, we could just call the book Raduburger [saucily referring to the poem, included in Metamorphoses, "Hamburger, or the Way Back Home to His Digs"].

RADU: Are you joking about Raduburger? Because, "at this point," I might take it seriously.

ADAM: I'm not sure if I am. I would be joking if I said a Big Radu, or a Radu with Cheese, or a Bacon-'n-Radu Sandwich. Or a FunRadu meal. How would it go over as a title?—that's the worry. It might cheapen the book. [LATER]: Well, maybe they aren't that good but I have been thinking about titles while scrolling though my files. Here in no particular order is a list of possible titles (and if all are no good, fine—maybe one will spur you to think of something you like better). Many are phrases from poems or close to such phrases: Prisms in the Guise of Conclusions; Frost at the Borders; The Sky of Leaves; The Fishing Boat of Night; Happiness Read of in Books; Molecules the Counterfeit of Words; Apartment Towers out of the Pacific; Paying for Passage; The Message of the Horizons; What the Story's All About; You Can Do with Words What You Want; Any Passage Has a Point of Departure. I suppose you could just call it Poems. [ANOTHER E-MAIL, MUCH LATER]: As the book begins with "(About Limits)" now, No-Man's Land, you know, might not be bad as a title. But is it the in-between off-limits area, or the limits you want???? Limits, Off-Limits / Bounds, Out of Bounds, Beyond the Bounds. Nahhhh. Neither works, does it?

RADU: I read your titles, they're fine; I want something "light," not very heavy, not romantic or sweet or grand—that's the problem; I must be mad.

ADAM: I knew you wouldn't really like any of those titles. I wonder about "lightness" in a title—irony, play, yes, but too light, no.

RADU: About the title: whatever the word is, that describes it, I kind of know what I want. Moreover, Tara nimanui hasn't been used a lot in Romanian (much less than "no-man's land" in English), so it still sounds fresh. And it can have social and political connotations, which is not bad. In fact, that's why the phrase was not used before '89.

ADAM: The only phrase like "no-man's land" that I can think of is "no-man's land." Let me ponder and wander and wonder...
...And there the title has remained, illimitably nowhere.