ANCIENTS/MUTHAFUCKA: an irregular, locationless journal of the arts

I'm not entirely sure how, or when, I first stumbled across ANCIENTS. I think poet Brandon Shimoda originally told me about it; the journal features an old photo of his grandfather Midori Shimoda on the cover. Anyway, I got the last copy. It came in the mail one day, thick as a steak: a photocopied reproduction of a stack of 100 pieces of paper originally assembled and printed in 2013, featuring drawings, film stills, poems, travel notes, and translations by artists and writers from around the world, such as contemporary poets Corina Copp, Phil Cordelli, Leopoldine Core, Dot Devota, Sandra Doller, Brenda Iijima, Bhanu Kapil, Lucas de Lima, Lynn Xu, Karena Youtz, and a host of others. 

I was immediately struck by its appearance. It reminded me of a large mimeo journal that might have come out in the 70s filled with rough drafts, scribblings, works-in-translation, and unpublished poems that may, or may not have been intended for publication in the first place. The way it's put together---so simply---leaves a striking beauty upon the reader; something about the pictures and the sparseness of the words upon the page. In many ways, I can't overstate how much this journal has been an influence in the vision I have for OOMPH!'s annual journal. I believe ANCIENTS encompasses the spirit and idea that language, no matter where, or in what form it exists, can connect and inform our world; there are difficulties in the space between words, but seeing this difficulty as an obstacle rather than an opportunity detracts from the power and beauty of it entirely. 

Some notable pullouts from ANCIENTS include Phil Cordelli's pictures and frenzied scribblings, and Erin Moure's translations of Galician poet Chus Pato:


the pain of death is my pain when light sections the eyelids
the eyes, the voice
we direct our gaze to the ABCs and the letters give us our voice back
it is a touch
you say, we say, you say
the iconic band
It’s an eye
a sonorous light or a voice of light
for the effort of intelligence

a word can be abandoned, you can fail to explain that the year of your birth is a border   because it separates the postwar hunger from a smaller hunger, as if we can fraction hunger

There are also particularly beautiful pieces by Unica Zürn, with anagrams and translations from German by Yanara Friedland:


Unika’s heroes murdered – scratch
in cold earth – listen! Thank it M – 
Manitou, the cold executioner of 
the dream of Aztecs. KO-HIR-
KUNAS-KIMHONA, last of the earth. 
SUNA, the red eagle limps. KEZ-ME,
the circling cold fury. THU-MA,
stone heart and ALKAE murdered. 
Unkas the last of the Mohicans 
talks to me. Listen to him: Cold, 
sick, old is the mouth, o heart
in earth’s ore. Unkas, Thokane,
noble tomahawk of kin – Zuern – 
the last moon – he sank. (Hakirer) 

(Ile de Re, spring 1964) 

Also available on the ANCIENTS site is a .pdf of MUTHAFUCKA TWO, an "irregular, locationless journal of the arts." Like ANCIENTS, it originally appeared as a side-stapled stack of paper, with a two-layer transparency/cardstock cover, in 2010, featuring poems, collages, essays, installations, cats & horses, letters, illustrations, and drafts by host of people including Etel Adnan, Michel Deguy (translated by Wilson Baldridge), Angel Escobar (translated by Kristin Dykstra), Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine (translated by Pierre Joris), Hoa NguyenAlice NotleyKazuko Shiraishi (discussed and translated by Tomoyuki Endo and Forrest Gander), and more. I'm particularly drawn to the term "locationless" in its description; something that exists within itself, outside of place and specificity. 

MUTHAFUCKA TWO presents us with a collected collage-work of words, images and experimental writing. It begins with a piece by John Niekrasz that I think I can say---without reservation---defies classification. "Composition 39: Syllabic Etude for Drumset" is exactly what it sounds like: a poem-song that can be executed by the reader as a syllabic exercise. It's too intricate to reproduce an excerpt here (it's painstakingly notated by hand) but it's inventiveness in both articulation and instruction, makes it a wonderful segue into the rest of the journal. 

The journal also includes three poems from Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine, arguably one of the most notable Moroccan literary figures of the 20th century, translated by Pierre Joris. The poems, from Soleil Arachnide / Arachnid Sun, are such strange and beautiful gems:


the morning of the blood has powdered the sagas born from the slag of stars
deflowered full throttle
and raises my blood like a mustang racked by eagles

from the high plateau where your fingers fold the fire of sumacs
to the steppe fractured by the beak of bald eagles
my question fists mark the sky

morning of milk salt of argotides and lilies
the abyss gratifies us with the belly of an antelope killed in the thousand

but no word
no word except the flour of the lycti on these male days
and by sheaves the fleas of the wind below the catnip

too bad if alone too bad if I falsify the public shop sign of dawn I rub my eye
with it before entering into the inextricably clear customs of the time

MUTHAFUCKA TWO also has a wonderful collaborative translation of the Kazuko Shiraishi poem "The First Wind Began to Blow from the Stone Country," by Tomoyuki Endo and Forrest Gander. We're presented with a draft of Endo's translation, in which portions that gave the translator difficulty are highlighted. Accompanying the first-draft is a letter, addressed to Gander, which includes several questions and the following preface:

Dear Mr. Forrest Gander

The following are the questions that I would like to ask.

But before that, I have to tell you that I began this translation trying to not use subjects and to make the tense vague (both of which are the characteristics of Japanese). But as I translated, I came to find out that it did not work in English. So, I am not very much sure if my usage of subject and tense is correct through the piece…

Endo then elaborates on the questions he has about the highlighted portions of the poem, ending his letter by saying, "Of course, you don't have to answer the questions. All you have to do is to brush up the poem, which is the answers to me." Following the letter is a second draft of the portions that presented Endo with difficulty, and then the final draft of the translation with both Endo and Gander's names attached. Through this, we're able to gain insight into the problems that frequently crop up when translating poetry. It is a rare glimpse into something we, as readers, are rarely privy to: the difficulties language creates, and how those obstacles are overcome through collaboration. What we're left with is a beautiful poem "woven out of the poet's experience in Israel where she saw white spots on the bare hills suddenly begin to tumble down, or move up the hills and suddenly stop". (Endo's Translator's Note)

Although I'm not sure whether we can look forward to another physical copy of ANCIENTS or MUTHAFUCKA, the journal continues to exist online as RECORDS of ANCIENTS MATTERS, and is a regularly updated treasure trove of translations and ephemera available on the web. 

--- Daniel Beauregard