Found in Translation: The Poetry of Art Beck

Summer_with_all_its_clothes_off Some writers pick pen names in order to write with a greater sense of freedom.

Some writers, like Centrum creative resident Dennis Dybeck, pick them because they work as a bill collector.

Dybeck selected the pseudonym Art Beck in his early twenties, when he worked for a bill-collecting agency. "The collection manager told us “no one’s mother raised them to be a bill collector. To do the things I’m going to want you to do, you need to pick a phony name,” Dybeck says. He selected the named "Art Beck." Later, when he turned to writing poetry, he kept it as a nom de plume.

He felt the need to use a pen name not to hide his identity, but rather to liberate himself to write poetry without the need of cultivating the image of a poet. He was already struggling to play one role, working in a corporation, and didn’t need yet another persona.

“It’s not a pen name I would pick now,” Dybeck adds. “You need a distinctive pen name that shows up when you Google it.”

Dybeck comes from a literary family—his cousin is the writer Stuart Dybek—and he writes his own poetry, in addition to translating. He became enchanted with poetry as a college student. "It served as a way for me to chart my emotional growth," he says.

Commenting on the art of translation, he says: “I grew up playing jazz piano, where you would take the score and improvise on it.”

“Translation’s the same way. I’m less interested in translating a poet word for word than I am on getting back to the original text, taking chances. I try to re-imagine the text into contemporary English. I like to take leaps, and risks. What are the images, here? I like to get into the images, and try to find the original roots of the poem, try to re-create the landscapes, not just a map of them. Poetry is its own language that lives in every language. And in translating poetry, you have to try to reach down for that poem that will be as much at home in English as in the source text.”

Beck/Dybeck, whose own work includes collections of poetry, including the well-received Summer With All Its Clothes Off, spent his first Centrum residency in 2004 translating the work of German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. The time served more as a poetic retreat than as a potential publications project. He’s since returned to Centrum several times, usually also returning to Rilke. Those occasions when he feels he’s been successful with Rilke "are like getting the keys to a Ferrari,” he says.

Vor dem Sommeregen

Auf einmal ist aus allem Grün im Park
man weiß nicht was, ein Erwas, fortgenommen;
man fühlt ihn näher and die Fenster kommen
und schweigsam sein. Inständig nur und stark

ertönt aus dem Gehölz der Regenpfeifer,
man denkt an einen Hieronymus:
so ser steigt irgend Einsamkeit und Eifer
aus dieser einen Stimme, die der Guß

erhören wird. Des Saales Wände sind
mit ihren Bildern von uns fortgetreten,
als dürften sie nicht hören was sir sagen.

Es spiegeln die verblichenen Tapeten
das ungewisse Licht von Nachmitten,
in denen man sich fürchtete als Kind.

Before Summer Rain

All at once—who knows what—but
something’s gone out from everything
green in the park. You can feel it: Gathering
closer, silent at the window. In the thicket

a plover pipes, urgent and loud,
reminiscent of some Saint Jerome—
that same melange of loneliness and zeal wrapped
in one voice invoking the downpour to come.

The drawing room walls with their
paintings  withdraw from us,
as if they aren’t supposed to hear

things we might say, And playing on the faded
tapestry is the same uncertain light of those
afternoons it was so frightening to be a child.

Ranier Maria Rilke: from New Poems, 1907
Translated by Art Beck