By Cass Dalglish
Corvallis, Oregon: CALYX Books, 2008
Inspired by Nin-me-sar-ra, Enheduanna’s Song to Inanna
ISBN # 987-0934971-92-8
61 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
March 2012

This short book of poetry is meant to be read in the mode of playing modern jazz with riffs and all. The author Cass Dalglish is both a poet herself and a scholar of the ancient Sumerian language. The poem she is “translating” is actually a 4,000 year old document which is in cuneiform signs. Dalglish recognizes there can’t really be a “translation” in the more technical sense, but from the cuneiform signs one can get the “sense” of the story being told. However, Dalglish wants to go farther. She wants to try to recreate a richer “sense” of what the Sumerian writer, Enheduanna, intended.

The basic story is that Inanna is a Sumerian deity, very powerful and famous for her trip to hell and back again. Inanna controlled the world of the living, but were one to die and go to the underworld of hell, one could never return. She resolved to try. She made her plans, went to hell, where powerful spirits ruled and she was unable to return. However, she planned for that, and after three days her servant approached the area of hell and followed the instructions which Inanna gave her, resulting in the release of Inanna, alive and back to the world of the living.

However, the problem with “translation” is that the cuneiform signs can’t really be translated exactly and literally. Thus poet Dalglish decided to try to take the basic sense of the story and to translate it into a version that would be compatible with a modern jazz reading, including the jazz riffs and all.

Dalglish recognizes this isn’t what a “technical” translation would be like.

“A single Sumerian sign may have five, ten, twenty, or more values, and in literary texts these multivalent signs are set next to other multivalent signs introducing immense allusive possibility.”

She decided to follow those possibilities and recreate 19 “meditations” rooted in the original cuneiform carving.

Her work is fascinating. She had told us the basic story before she began her jazz meditation translations, so the reader already had the story. While I enjoyed her interpretative poetry, I wasn’t very convinced that she was being quite true to any attempted notion of getting at what the “text” intended. It seems quite a leap to me from what rules and directions a “jazz” reading would put onto the author, and I came away knowing that if she hadn’t given me the story in its more literal sense (she recognizes that) at the outset, I would not really have known what was going on. The text itself isn’t the basis of how she envisions the personality of Inanna, that comes more from Dalglish’s own imagination enriched by her translation of the signs themselves.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed her meditation poems. I liked the way she embraced the world of the Inanna story as it was originally written by the Sumerian poet Enheduanna. I read it a couple times, the second time trying to read it as I might have imagined jazz rhythms accompanying my reading, but I’m not sure I was very successful. I kept trying to get that picture of the more literal story Dalglish had given in her introduction.

I wished the small book had come with a computer disc containing a jazz version of the poems. No matter, it’s still well worth reading.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett