Thursday, October 3, 2019


A Double Life: In Poetry and Translation by Stuart Friebert, one of the last books Gary Entsminger, editor and publisher of Pinyon Publishing, worked on before he died last month, appeared on Pinyon’s publishing list this past week. Susan Entsminger, co-editor and publisher of Pinyon, never missed a beat as she carried on the press’s work, executing Gary’s wish to publish the work of distinguished Stuart Friebert, a poet translator and co-founder of the Field Translation Series, Oberlin College Press, and Field Magazine. Friebert’s credentials are formidable, and this collection of memoirs and “late poetry” give the reader double magic in Friebert’s encounters with famous writers; e.g., Gunter Grass, Maya Angelou, Hilde Domin, Michael Mann, and other literary noteworthies. 

A touch of Friebert’s wry sensibilities introduce this volume as he recounts his experiences in an MI (military intelligence unit) in which he is left standing alone when every man receives a sharpshooter medal except him, and a man in another unit shreds the human hand holding a stick at which the sharpshooters fire when it strays above the sight line. Friebert follows this accessible essay with more solemn interviews about his visits to German poets when he receives a grant to publish poets in a textbook containing the poetry of Gunter Grass, Paul Celan, Karl Krolow, Hilde Domin and other authors who he writes were on their way to illustrious careers. The textbook never materialized, but Friebert’s narration of his encounters with these renowned German writers constitute legendary material.

During Friebert’s interview with Hilde Domin, readers share his enjoyment of her pot of tea and ginger cake before hearing her recite her famous “Only A Rose For Support,” which Friebert describes as a poem without metaphor and written in plainspoken diction. The poem begins with the lines: “I make myself a room in the air/among the acrobats and birds/my bed on the trapeze of feelings/like a nest in the wind/on the outermost tip of the branch…” Domin’s poetry reflects an immediacy indicative of several other poets Friebert has translated during his career as a translator: Karl Krolow and the Romanian poet, Marin Sorescu.

Friebert relates that although he and David Young never got around to publishing the aforementioned textbook on which they had based their grant application, “other fruits were harvested”: many translations the Field Translation Series published and the actual stimuli to publish that was engendered through interviews with imminent German poets.

Friebert’s interview with Gunter Grass in Berlin included Grass’s approval of the poems Friebert and Young had chosen to translate, via a donation of cognac and cigars from the interviewers and Grass making sure they understood his poems, “stopping painfully short of suggesting we were dumbing them down,” Friebert relates. Later, in the 90’s, when Friebert revisits Germany to work with Karl Krolow on translations of his poetry, he reads that Grass is having a noon reading in Reichelsheim and attends the event, after which Friebert joins a line of congratulators and is crushed when Grass doesn’t remember him or the cigars and cognac he and Young had provided the writer. Friebert’s wit forms the tone of this essay, as is manifested in many of his narratives.

The above is only a peek into Friebert’s encounters before he concludes with a “how-to-teach” essay on literary translations, followed by a section of Friebert’s late poetry. As I am reading Michael Cunningham’s The Hours alongside A Double Life, I was drawn to the introductory verses of Friebert’s “Cowbelly”: “Look it up: ‘Patches of superfine silt/in the slowest part of rivers.’ Can’t help/thinking Virginia’s last step might have/sunk pleasurably and brought her to/a stop till the stones pressed against/a hip, jolting her on down to the bed./A life spent looking at things less simply/than the rest of us, once tuned up won’t /stop playing…” For me, this is Friebert at his most reflective best, written with his typical spirit of irony.

Friebert creates humorous visual images in “Universal Rights,” relating his discovery of a live mike in a gazebo on the town square where he warbles The longer you live, the sooner you’ll bloody well die,” an Irish ballad that draws an audience of an albino squirrel, tourists, and a cop who asks ‘Are you all right buddy? Need me to call your wife to pick you up?’” That’s Friebert — lively, outrageously authentic, magical, and engaging.

Readers can double their reading pleasure with this volume that Gary and Susan Entsminger produced — one of Gary’s many legacies, carried on by Susan, where they “glide on thermals /for hours, nary a flap, mated for life.” (from Friebert’s “For Life” at the conclusion of A Double Life.

Order from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403. 

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