Kevin Riordan, artist/writer extraordinaire and founder of Stare Magazine (and who also designed the cover of my last and a number of my previous books), sent the poem below in response to an earlier post that referred to Keats' " Ode on a Grecian Urn." He tells me it's by Desmond Skirrow, a British Ad Exec and Mystery/Spy writer:
Ode on a Grecian Urn Summarized
What charmed me about this piece (included in the Oxford Book of Light Verse) is that, as a copywriter, it reminded me of a particular aspect of the job. Often we're asked to translate the most ornately beautiful ideas and concepts into common talk.
I've always loved how scholars describe what St. Jerome did when he turned the Bible into the common language of the time. "He translated it into 'the vulgate'" is how it's put. Some of my favorite poems and literary exercises do something similar.
Here's the first scene of The Skinhead Hamlet by Richard Curtis, found in The Oulipo Compendium. The editors call it an example of "translexical translation" -- or "a form of ... translation that preserves the sense and structure of a source text but substitutes a vocabulary drawn from a radically different semantic field." (p. 234)
ACT 1, SCENE 1: The battlements of Elsinore Castle.
Enter HAMLET, followed by GHOST.
GHOST: Oi! Mush!
GHOST: I was fucked! [Exit GHOST.]
HAMLET: O fuck. [Exit HAMLET.]
The complete, "translated" play runs two pages. (235-6)
One more example. This one by Rachel Loden, found in her very cool book, Dick of the Dead. This isn't a translation into the colloquial--Creeley's "I Know a Man", its host text, was already plain spoken. This piece "modernizes" the original poem in a different way.
To my mind, it captures the historical shift between Creeley's halfway commodified culture (60s/70s) and our own, where we all live inside a huge ad:
I Know a Brand
As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always shopping, -- John, I
sd, which was not his
name, the market sur-
rounds us, what
can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a Jaguar XKR,
floor it, he sd, for
christ's sake, 4.9
seconds to 60 mph.
One of the aspects I've found attractive over the years in work produced by writers catergorized loosely under Flarf or the Unbearables is that both groups (though in very different ways) sometimes play off "literariness" against the contemporary (online and off) vulgate, to hilarious effect -- a little like the "translations" I mention do. By exposing the idiocy of both lexicons, they help keep writing fresh and the satiric tradition alive.