|home paraverse press PARAVERSING EG'S: watt's tao te ching dogen's devil issa's fartbug hyakuninishuu silentslug.htm poem clusters|
And one more thing. If any visitor thinks he or she would like to run the paraversing show, I would be happy to hand over the reins, so long as you keep me on in an advisory capacity!
A paraverse is not a composition that appears ab nihilo from the mind of the creator, alone, but is more an improvisation of selected material. It is an alternative way to present a poem or any other idea. Where there is one alternative way, there are usually many, so the act of paraversing quickly triggers one’s divergent creativity. The rush is almost spooky.
That thrill is part of it. But it is also my experience that when translating poetry between exotic (rather than cognate) tongues, only multiple translations, each bringing out different aspects of the original can transmit the rich layers of meaning yet not be boring. I example this in Rise, Ye Sea Slugs! and will continue to do so in dozens of books of translated haiku that, hopefully, will soon follow (NEW: Fly-ku! also is out). So, I do not think of paraversing as merely a game but a necessary method of interpretation, or, as the English put it, reading literature.
NEW: IF YOU DO NOT HAVE MY BOOKS AND WISH TO SEE HOW MULTIPLE TRANSLATION LOOKS WHEN PROPERLY ARRANGED IN CLUSTERS, PLEASE GO HERE.
But, what a game it is! Readers who fancy themselves word-lovers, should take note. When you work out crosswords or rhyme some dumb thing for the sake of rhyming, or fill in acrostics, what do you end up with? You know the answer. Nothing. The pleasure is all in the doing. (I exaggerate, for it does exercise your mind, as gum does the jaw.) But if you take a good piece of prose or poetry and create paraverse/s from it, you will experience the same stimulation – or, more, I think – and you will end up with something worth keeping, something you can call a work, though you did it in play.
As soon as I find an assistant capable of speeding up my preparation of books, I will open up a bbs (live page) for paraversing. I plan to provide a seed poem or a page of prose from which poems may be made (If anyone has a copy of Dillard’s Tinker Creek, I would like the page or two where the Mockingbird sings through the chimney scanned in – likewise for a few pages of Muir where he spends a night riding out a storm in a tree.) For the time being, I fear, there is no live page. For now, I can only give a handful of examples of what can be done with short prose and poetry. When you peek at my efforts, please bear in mind the fact that what you see has been done by someone with a mediocre vocabulary and little poetic sense. Imagine what a true wordsmith (you, perhaps?) could do with the same attitude.
I grant you, Aldous, it may not be possible, much less desirable to rewrite To be or not to be . . . “in your own words” as teachers request, but most writing, including much Shakespeare, can not only be equaled, but improved. Why? Because few lines are polished to perfection and, usually, there is no single best answer, anyway. In an exotic language, where transliteration is impossible, "To be or not to be" is not quite the same question: it can be written in dozens of ways. (Japanese readers, see paraverse. jp / shake)
Practically speaking, rewriting another's prose is a waste of time, unless you make a living as an editor, a teacher, a translator (good plots poorly written turn into best-selling novels in the hands of the right translator) or a plagiarist. While not always boring, rewriting is relentless, grinding work. No one does it for fun. Unless you are a masochist with nothing better to do, or a very sweet person happy just to be doing something of service (despite being paid minimum wages for work that is far more specialized than that of most well-rewarded professionals), you go from sentence to sentence dreaming of the last one, your final parole.
No, short rhymes and pithy sayings are what you want to play with. Life is brief, too brief; for we are all born with bigger eyeballs than stomachs, and teeth with an uncanny ability to bite off more than we can chew. As we work toward big things, impossible things, we need little things to complete, our day to day "refreshment" (to borrow Twain's term for orgasms). If you are at all like me, you will find the creative rewriting of tidbits, what I call paraversing, one of the two most delighting intellectual fixes in town (the other being musical improvisation). You will find it addictive, in the best sense of the word. You will forego the crossword puzzle or the novel you were going to read --- what good is a solved puzzle or a read novel, anyway? --- and paraverse. Then, you will then get your mental refreshment AND, the satisfaction of having something to show for yourself: at best, a work of literature, at worst, a source of amusement for others.
Dogen.htm paraverses an aphorism by Dogen, a Zen monk, Fartbug, a haiku by Issa, Hyakunin, a famous waka (5-7-5-7-7) poem included in a hundred poem anthology, Riposte, my reply in verse to a poem by Marvell, Theway, the 6 Taoist characters found at the Welcome mat of this site, and Silentslug, an example from Rise, Ye Sea Slugs! which will be very hard to rearrange by htm.
I also copy on the right something written in 1997 or 1998. It was an overambitious start for a huge paraversing site I never found time to make. The links are only (imagined), not real, so do not try clicking!
The drawing below gives an idea of what it is to live in freezing weather without heating as I did in Japan. I have a T-shirt on my head and a bamboo grove out the open window. When a table has rows and columns with Frontpage, I just learned one must fill them completely or the lines won't rise to the start of each row, so I use pictures for filler. It is also why I made the links above so ridiculously large! The countless hidden rules of Software force one to improvise in this way. You might say it teaches us why Mother Nature had to make weird things whether she wanted to do so or not.
The cat below is Han-chan, a cat who thought so much he shook the snow off his feet before going out into it to do his business and scratched the newspaper to cover up un-needed food before it was served, etc..
9 ways to paraverse (note: links are fake)
1. Translations of the same verse by different people are compiled and enjoyed. Famous poems or anthologies of poems in foreign languages (including our olde tongue, for the past is a foreign country) generally have more than one English translation. Literary critics have long compared translations from classic tongues (paraverse.classic.homer.davenport, martial [[later]]). But, as far as I know, the first person to argue for diverse translations of a singular text as a matter of principle was Alan Watts, when he sampled dozens of translations of the six-character-long first line of the first book of the Way: Taoism. (paraverse.ch. tao.watts) Still, Watts did not so much espouse multiple versions as a way of translation, as a way of translation for classical Chinese, which, being all bone, left considerable latitude for tissue reconstruction. Eliot Weinberger (& Octavio Paz) edited a short book called NINETEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT WANG WEI (1987), which actually has 22 translations of Wang Wei’s four-line “Deer-park.” His introduction and the afterward hint at the existance of the Paraverse, but the examples (with the possible exception of Octavio Paz’s contributions) are so boring that demanding readers might well wonder why even one translation was needed! (paraverse.ch.deerpark [[later]]) The same thing can be said for Joshua Mostow’s PICTURES OF THE HEART (1996) which gives ten translations each for a hundred famous Japanese poems (paraverse.jp. hyakuninisshu.rostow) A far larger collection of translations of a single poem, the world’s most famous haiku (Basho’s plopping pond) in Hiroaki Satoh’s ONE HUNDRED FROGS is much more interesting (paraverse.haiku.frog.basho [[later]]). If you know of other examples of paraverse collections, please write: email@example.com.
2. Start your own paraverse collection by soliciting rhymes from a single seed-poem. This is the active way to do 1), above. As an experiment, I requested a handful of people for a rhymed translation of "The Scholar and His Cat," using a prosaic English translation of the very alliterative Gaellic original (c.1_00) --- and the original, for the sound effect if it was wanted ---as the seed-poem (see paraverse.poem.cat.pangur). See our paraverse.seeds.competition, if you would like to participate and/or contribute to a collection! Or, send us your independently solicited collection for inclusion in our paraverse.collections.(firstname.lastname@example.org).
3. Make many versions of a short text all by yourself. Alan Watts' above-mentioned translations of Laotzu are what got me started. Country music star Ernest Tubbs (19__ -) once boasted that his homely voice was responsible for the careers of many fine country artists, who heard him on the radio and said "Jeeze, I can do better than that!" (A Japanese proverb says a white skin covers all sins; a bass does that for singing, and Tubbs could drop his clear to Australia --- so he didn't have to be a fancy singer). Most of the translations Watts assembled (or made up, since he gave no names) stunk. Reading them, I knew I could do better; I did. (paraverse.ch.tao.watts) Later, I did the same for Reginald Blyth's translation of a Dogen saying (paraverse.saying.god.dogen). More recently, translating haiku and senryu, I found that paraversing was often better than the accepted practice of settling upon a single version, because all too often the only way to include all the information from the original in a translation is to sacrifice its brevity --- which is to say, wit --- while paraverses could transmit that information (and even add some found between the lines) while retaining it, the wit, separately. (paraverse.deathpoem.kyowa) In fact, the stereo-effect of the set of paraverse created, in some cases, something more interesting than the original! (see paraverse.haiku.oldfart, ~senryu.bachelor, ~manyoshu.sourwine) But, this need for multiple translation does not have to be justified. One may simply do it because the best can, in reality, be plural, and there is no rule saying we are allowed only one translation per poem! (paraverse.haiku.yearend.issa)
4. Simply versify, haiku or epigram sundry pieces of text. The original need not be in a foreign language, need not be a poem, nor even something brief. It could be prose and pages long. You smelt ore into gold or polish rock into gem. I don't know why, but with found verse, I usually like to settle on one version. Since an original text is being reproduced in an alternative way, one verse --- call it a monotype --- would still be a paraverse. My personal preference is finding haiku in nature-writing or nature poetry. This can be done alone, or in competition with others, where competitors hunt for haiku, which they must write, in a given chapter of nature-writing (paraverse. competition.haiku.nw). Sometimes a sentence or long phrase of the original may be reworked Or, Phrases or bits of phrases may be built-up or combined and polished (paraverse.muir.storm). Finally, whole paragraphs, pages or the whole damn book may be condensed into a single poem. (paraverse. condensing.horiguchi[]) Or a long poem shrunken into a haiku. (paraverse.poem.wordsworth.[])
5. Parody and takeoff. Poems in the style of so and so are not paraverse (see: paraverse.notparaverse.kipling.cars). However, if an extant poem is redone in a manner that those who know it may recognize the original, then, that is paraverse, or at least close enough to deserve a place in this netsite. The difference between a parody and a take-off is mostly in the intent. A poem that pokes fun at the original or brings out some unintended irony in it, is parody (~satire.poem.billboard), while a poem inspired by the original but casting no doubt upon it is a takeoff. Martin Gardner has published a fine collection of take-offs --- and, what might better be called ethnic adaptions (yet another form of paraverse!) -- on what is probably the most paraversed middle-length poem in the English language, "The Night Before Christmas" (paraverse.takeoffs.nightbefore.gardner). When the intent of the paraverser is unknown and the original unknown to most readers it is sometimes hard to say which, if either, of these definitions fit. (~ paraverse.problem.issa.fly).
6. Ripost. Light verse, in particular, often cries out for reply. Good poets not infrequently replied to their own poems, supplying both sides of the story in an equally dramatic manner, rather than fudging them together in a balanced but boring compromise. (paraverse.ripost.swift.cloudsandwomen). It goes without saying, that the format of the reply should match the original. Country music "answer songs" using the same melody are the best modern example of this art (Paraverse.ripost.countrymusic.honkytonkangel) I once countered a poem by a metaphysical poet (paraverse.ripost.poem.marvell.sweetneglect). The ripost need not be limited to poetry. Nowadays, catch-phrases used in advertising are the most deserving of a counter-punch. (examples, anyone? ed.@paraverse.ripost.ad.contribution)
7. Filling in or adding an envoi. This is like the last way, but the object is not to reply to or contradict a poem, but to complete it. Parts of an old poem --- not just the rhymes, for that would be a mere quiz --- could be blanked out and competitively re-invented. New poems could be left undone or unstarted and finished in as many versions as there are contributors. Unlike the case with the surrealist experiments, the results would have to make sense. (True nonsense --- rather than the hyperlogical poems of, say, Shel Silverstein --- for the most part only works with pictures). We could do linked poetry as the Japanese did (and some people still do: renga. ),but in parallel rather than in serial. I imagine a broadening evolutionary sequence, which would begin with one couplet or triplet. The best two or more continuations to it could be selected, then the best two or more for each of them, etc until the one original poem gave birth to a million poems . . .
8. Culling and parsing. This is a more passive version of the third and fourth ways of paraversing. Rather than using ones own words, we hold the line at selection and minimal arrangement of another's work. This has been done, and done well, by[name later], in his collection which brings out the poetry in the prose letters of Dorothy Wordsworth, the bearded Nature poet's perceptive sister. (paraverse.parsing.dorothy). It could be done with great effect for many fine nineteenth century writers, who are too wordy for the modern or post-modern sensibility. (~parsing.competition.burroughs) (~muir,~thoreau, ...).
9. Collage. Like the last way, but the order of the original words would not be preserved. Sentences and bits of sentences could be moved around as freely as pictures in a collage. A page might allow too much freedom --- paraversing requires resemblance and that might be lost in the abundant opportunity --- but competition using a sentence or paragraph-length text should allow the editorial poet to show his or her stuff. As far as I know, no one has done this yet, so in this art, we all have an equal start! (paraverse.collage.competition.thoreau)
To this, we need to add that in the meantime – as I did nothing -- Douglas Hofstadter wrote and published a book called Le Tonbeau de Marot which goes much further than the above-mentioned Sato and Weinberger books. Indeed the entire book is based on what I would call paraverses of one French poem. Hofstadter is brilliant, as always, but for all of his insights, I am not certain that he has grasped the potential of the paraverse as serious literary art.