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This review is taken from PN Review 239, Volume 44 Number 3, January - February 2018.

Cover of Fastness: A Translation from the English of Edmund Spenser
Andrew HadfieldMetamorphing

Trevor Joyce, Fastness: A Translation from the English of Edmund Spenser (Miami University Press) $17.00 (US)
What is at stake in translation, especially from an older form of one language to a later? Modern adaptations are usually designed to help contemporary readers access a difficult work and/or enable a poet to grapple with a particular favourite, a good recent example being Lavinia Greenlaw’s A Double Sorrow, a translation/adaptation of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (reviewed in vol. 226). Trevor Joyce’s version of Spenser’s ‘Two Cantos of Mutability’ is different, in purpose if not effect, as his fascinating prefatory essay explains. A distinguished experimental Irish poet, Joyce argues that his adaptation is a response to Spenser, one which answers the poet back as a mode of criticism as well as transforming his language into something new: ‘The most adequate, fully engaged response… is another poem that picks up all the carefully distributed threads of Spenser’s utterance and gives them back radically altered in many ways, but recognizably chiming with the original, and adding new meaning.’ Joyce is descended from the family which included the great scholar P.W. Joyce (1827–1914), whose work on place names included an extended essay on Spenser’s Irish rivers, as well as Robert Dwyer Joyce, author of a ballad on the burning of Kilcolman, Spenser’s Irish castle. This history provides him with a personal stake in responding to the erudite English settler, as well as a desire to wrestle with Ireland’s colonial past, because, as he concludes his essay, ‘It is up to each of us to make what we can of the legacies that come down to us.’

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