Visual Poetry

Louis Luthi

Basic Anna Livia Plurabelle [PDF, 27.2mb], 2011.

Basic Anna Livia Plurabelle centers on the Basic English translation of (a part of) the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter in Finnegans Wake. It is, in a sense, an encounter between these two extremes of the English language: at one end, there's the drastically pared-down vocabulary and syntax of C. K. Ogden's Basic English; at the other, there's Joyce's polyphonic dream-language. But I suppose both are guided by an essentially Humanist principle: that of universality – the former achieves this through a process of exclusion, whereas the latter does so through inclusion. And it's this clash that I'm interested in, because Ogden met Joyce on several occasions and together with Sylvia Beach arranged for him to do a recording of "Anna Livia Plurabelle" in Cambridge, where Ogden had a state-of-the-art recording studio at his disposal. Ogden wrote the preface to Tales Told of Shem and Shaun and, later, "translated" a passage from "ALP" into Basic English. Basic English is essentially English stripped down to 850 words and 10 rules of grammar: an entire language that fits "on the back of a sheet of notepaper." Ogden's "translation" of "ALP," then, is what I've given a visual form to. So for example, "Ah, but she was the queer old skeowsha anyhow, Anna Livia, trinkettoes" (Joyce) becomes "Ah, but she was a strange little old woman, anyhow, Anna Livia, with drops from her toes" (Ogden), which is what I've mapped out, as it were, on the first page. And so on, sentence by sentence, more or less, using a pencil and an old compass. The entire passage, which touches on translation and recurrence (plus "Ho, Lord!" is, remarkably, translated as "O, Laws!"), is as follows: "Ah, but she was a strange little old woman, anyhow, Anna Livia, with drops from her toes. And Dear Dirty Dublin, he, on my word, was a strange fat old father to his Danes light and dark, the female and male. Old girl and old boy, their servants are we. Hadn’t he his seven women of pleasure? And every woman her seven sticks. And every stick its seven colours. And every colour a different cry. Washing for me, a good meal for you and the chemist’s account for Joe John. Before! Before! His markets were married, the cheap with the bad, like Etrurian Catholics of hated religion in their light reds, light oranges, light yellows, light greens, and the rest of the seven the rain gives. But in the animals’ time, where was the woman? Then all that was was good. Land that is not? A number of times, coming happily back. The same and new. Vico’s order but natural, free. Anna was. Livia is, Plurabella's to be. Our Norwegian Thing-seat was where Suffolk Street is, but what number of places will make things into persons? Put that into Latin, my Trinity man, out of your Sanscrit into our Aryan. Hircus Civis Eblanensis! He was kind as a she-goat, to young without mothers. O, Laws! Soft milk bags two. O, Laws! O, Laws! Hey! What, all men? What? His laughing daughters of? What?" -- Louis Luthi