||Letters To The Editor
by C.W. Hodgson
As a Cree Elder, I am grateful for A Story as Sharp as a Knife, by Robert Bringhurst, which was reviewed by Brian Brett in the October issue of Books in Canada. I read the book several months ago, and I consider it to be a gift to First Nation peoples across this land, as well as to those others who are interested in our languages and literatures, especially as, for the most part, the works written about us have been disheartening for me and others of First Nation ancestry.
The translations nearest to accurate are those done by speakers who grew up in completely bilingual environments. Even then, nuances are lost, and changes in tone alone can distort the context and meaning of words. Yet, I am in favour of the continuing efforts of translations such as that by Robert Bringhurst. The quality of his work is, in my opinion, on a par with the work of Drs. Freda Ahenakew and H.C. Wolfart, whose extensive collaboration in the translation of Plains Cree texts is highly regarded and well-known.
I read Brett’s review of A Story as Sharp as a Knife with the growing sense that it had been written by two people with starkly different opinions. While the first voice appreciates Bringhurst’s scholarly work for what it is—a careful, respectful interpretation which uses all the nuances possible to accurately translate the prose of the Haida poets—the other borders on being hostile toward Bringhurst. This second voice sneaks in like a trickster to do a little smearing of Bringhurst’s efforts.
I agree with Brett when he says that Bringhurst’s book will “make academics tremble with jealousy”, so I was somewhat puzzled by his negative commentary that presumes to include other readers and academics. The review is suspiciously out-of-balance; in fact, it vacillates too far to the extreme, flattering to the utmost, then reverting to comments about Bringhurst’s “attention to detail” which Brett, in a change-of-mind, decides are “silly remarks” and are “faltering”. Brett’s comment about Bringhurst’s overly effusive praising of the myths left me with a sense of outrage at the furious swing of his scripted pendulum.
I have read Bringhurst’s previous works and have always appreciated his impeccable attention to creating the purest translation possible. I believe that it is his work as a poet that enables him to move so comfortably in other languages. He, too, we must realize, is aware of the limits of the work he undertakes; yet because of him, we can now read the stories of Haida poets Ghandl and Skaay which otherwise may never have seen the light of day. And there is still an appalling lack of the old stories some us grew up with, available in translation for the present and future generations. Written work after all becomes the source of education in every aspect.
That Brett chose to bring Bill Reid into the review I found distasteful. There is a new proclivity amongst reviewers to dismantle the reputation of people after they are dead. This is the worst kind of bullying. That Reid was “only half-blood”, as Brett states, is a ludicrous point. For what purpose does Brett dredge this up? What fodder, Brett!
A Story as Sharp as a Knife is truly a masterpiece in the growing genre of spoken texts. And Bringhurst’s efforts are clearly informed with the kind of integrity that all translators might strive to emulate.