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Two poems, one by Christopher Logue, the other by August Kleinzahler and dedicated to Logue.
I spoke to Christopher Logue twice, over the phone, while I was working for Red Pepper. He was quite a powerful presence even down the line. At that time we had a small regular feature where somebody would recommend a book, film or whatever which had meant a lot to them; they were only a couple of hundred words long, and I did them by phone interview. I didn’t have any contacts to speak of among eminent lefties myself, but somebody in the central London wing of the Red Pepper operation had a formidable address book, which I exploited to carry out a series of cold calls – most of which, perhaps surprisingly, went well.
One of the people I approached in this way was Logue, who ummed and aahed a bit and then said that he’d be willing to say a few words about the Ali/Foreman film When we were kings. I said that I hadn’t seen it. Oh, well, then there’s no use our talking about it. Go away and see it, and then call me back. You should see it anyway, it’s a wonderful film. He spoke curtly and seemed impatient to get off the phone, but his voice was authoritative and enthusiastic; I was instantly persuaded.
I got hold of a video and watched the film; I have to admit that I don’t remember much about it now, although I was suitably impressed at the time. Then I rang Logue back. Oh, I don’t think that’s really going to be possible… I’m not sure it’s a good idea. Sorry.
The odd thing is that even then I felt as if I’d come out ahead – I would never have seen that film otherwise, after all.
Christopher Logue also made a strong impression on me. I didn’t ‘meet’ him personally, but heard him speak around 1992 in a seminar series on translation. I’m usually very sceptical about anglophone writers claiming to ‘render’ poets into English from languages they don’t know, and I agree with Tim Parks’s critique of this practice (available currently on the NYRB website). But Logue showed amazing knowledge of previous translations, including the translators’ biographies and motives that influenced their choice of words. He made a memorable aside about young poets who, trying to be original, produced exactly the same kind of poem as everyone else, the short subjective lyric. He convinced me that his Homer was not a subjective identification or projection of his own ideas onto his source, but a real attempt to convey meaning across time and languages.
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