Eighty-one-year-old Duane Pasco — white-haired, chisel-faced — is a striking presence. He is one of several white artist-elders who have helped raise awareness of Northwest coastal art and culture since the 1960s.
Pasco’s carvings include totem poles, canoes, masks, rattles, painted boxes and chests, and they’re beautifully displayed in “Life as Art: Duane Pasco,” co-authored by Barbara Winter, in which Pasco recounts his early life and times.
The Poulsbo resident, born in 1932, was raised in Alaska and Seattle. His artistic integrity and teaching roles have created a coterie of younger Native and non-Native artists in the region who regard him as a kind of North Star.
Sherman Alexie, asked at a Seattle reading how white culture could show respect to his, replied: “Leave it alone.” A good answer, and one non-Natives should respect. But then there are white artists like Pasco who are the exceptions who prove the rule.
Pasco’s narrative is informal and learned. Here he is on first meeting white artist and historian Bill Holm, author of the seminal “Northwest Coast Indian Art,” first published in 1965 and still in print. The meeting took place in Pasco’s shop in the 1960s. Pasco asked Holm what was wrong with his work.
“What can be wrong?” Holm replied, his eyes roving from piece to piece in the room.
Finally, Holm settled on a model canoe. “I was quite proud of the piece,” Pasco writes. “Bill offered the only criticism of our short visit. ‘Your canoe is wrong,’ he announced, without volunteering what was in error. And that was that.”
Pasco, like a Zen monk, has worked all his life to get things right.
“Life as Art” is a gorgeous volume. That’s no surprise: Seattle’s Marquand Books produced it.
“Duane Pasco: Life as Art,” by Duane Pasco and Barbara Winter, published by JayHawk Institute; produced by Marquand Books. 192 pages; 140 color illustrations. $50 hardcover.
Poetic translation is a touchy subject, and puts considerable pressure on what, exactly, the word “translation” really means. Ezra Pound’s creative mis-readings from the Chinese got that debate rolling in 1915.
Port Townsend’s Copper Canyon press has brought out “W.S. Merwin: Selected Translations,” which ranges more than two-dozen languages and 2,000 years, bringing together the work from his three books of “Selected Translations,” beginning in 1968.
Merwin, one of this country’s most esteemed poets, is fluent in Spanish and French, as says in his forward, but certainly speaks no Chinese, Irish, Welsh, Egyptian, let alone Occitan or Urdu or any number of other languages brought over into English here.
Translation can happen by other means, as Merwin explains. For the reader, the gathering of Merwin’s translations into one volume is something to celebrate. Among the poets: Tu Fu, Catullus, Neruda, Borges, Lorca, Dante, Buson, Rumi, Antiphilos and plenty by Anonymous.
Merwin’s poetry is clean and stripped of ornament — so are his translations.
To whatever degree these poems constitute scrupulous translations or loose versions, they are something. And they’re worth having.
“W.W. Merwin: Selected Translations,” published by Copper Canyon Press. 407 pages; $40 hardcover.