For the 2021 cohort year translator, activist, and designer Mathilda Cullen brings two linked translation projects to the OS, from Ernst Toller’s and Dada poet Emmy Hemmings.
Vormorgen is a more typical, traditional translational model. Aiming to collect all of Ernst Toller’s poetic works in a single volume; the first to appear in nearly a century. Vormorgen includes Toller’s three principle poetic works: Vormorgen, The Poems of the Imprisoned, and The Book of Swallows, as well as his scattered, uncollected poems. Toller was a Jewish anarchist working in Munich, and was briefly the president of the Bavarian Soviet Republic (Münchner Räterepublik / Munich Worker’s Republic), which was predominantly organized by poets and playwrights, so it’s often been referred to as the regime of coffeehouse anarchists. The occupation began peacefully, with the anarchists occupying Munich without firing a shot, but was ended brutally a month later, on May Day, when the Freikorps were sent in. Over 600 people were killed, half of which were citizens killed in street fighting. Some were sentenced to death by firing squad, others were sentenced to prison. Ernst Toller was sent to Niederschönenfeld prison for five years, where he began working on the majority of his poems. When he was released, he was exiled to the UK, and later to the States. While living in New York, he received word that his mother and sister were sent to concentration camps, and he took his life in 1939.
Emmy Hennings is a lost figure of the Zurich avant-garde. She was a cabaret dancer, a sex worker, singer, and a poet. Her life and work is largely shadowed by the legacy of her husband, Hugo Ball, who has been memorialized and anthologized far more frequently than Hennings. The violence of the anthology is felt acutely in the translational gap. As with Toller, Hennings’ work was in the eyes of Anglophone scholars, but has since been left to library dust or digital neglect (or immortality). No matter who you read, the stories are largely the same: everyone came to Cabaret Voltaire to see her. Zurich was a hub of political and poetical development, seeing Tristan Tzara and Vladimir Lenin in the city at the cabaret gleichzeitig. Emmy was the star of the show, and yet we have none of her works from this time. Her works are largely what we would call performance art. Ephemeral dances, interpretative and choreographed to poems by performers or live music. None of these are with us today. We are haunted by the impression of her ghost in the archive: the felt lack of this work. Her poems trace something of this ghost’s outline, and yet I can understand why she has not appeared often in English. It is hard to tell what is dada about Emmy from her poems. At least in English, they lose their linguistic velocity; her paintings become dulled by our lack of rhyme for her words. Ava Hofmann has written on this problem and my method better than I can:
There is, I think, a greater fidelity to depicting the forces which erase and conflate us and turning them on their head: the translation is there but not there, an undertranslation that lets the illusion of translation slip through our fingers in order to surface the textual and artistic inequalities that have made Emmy Hennings’s poetry more obscure. When Hennings/Cullen writes “my body is split” or “ich, i, eye”, we become conscious of the fact that the “I” is unlocatable, distributed between both authors. The body is split — by the gap between Cullen and Hennings, by textual injustice, by sexism and transphobia, and by the gap between the reader and the writer(s).
As with all OS projects, these will be offered in dual-language editions, including the original German for both texts. Process and contextual notations around the history of these projects will be included as well.