What’s New in Translation? May 2016

Asymptote's own read this month's translated releases

Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale that Begins with Fukushima by Hideo Furukawa, tr. Doug Slaymaker with Akiko Takenaka, Columbia University Press. Review: Justin Maki, Assistant Managing Editor.

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The nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi power plant—triggered by the magnitude-9 offshore earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011—created a rift in the country over its use of nuclear power and a major loss of faith in plant operators TEPCO as well as national and local government. Many protested the 2015 resumption of nuclear operations across the country, claiming safety regulations remained inadequate and that the government had rushed to cover up past failures rather than making honest efforts to learn from them. In light of this recent example of the world’s “tradition of nuclear forgetting,” as Robert Jacobs puts it, “we have to do more than remember Fukushima, we have to learn how to remember Fukushima.”

Hideo Furukawa’s newly-translated Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure: A Tale that Begins with Fukushima offers some hope in this capacity. Written in the first months after the triple disaster struck, the Fukushima native’s literary response works to complicate and deepen what it means to “remember” an afflicted region. Rather than engage in only the personal side of remembering (his own childhood in the area and his relatives with contaminated farms are both kept to rather brief passages), Furukawa brings the reader into contact with the region in a variety of ways by using multiple genres—literary reportage, imagined scenes, alternate history—and perhaps most notably by invoking Gyuichiro Inuzuka, a character from one of his earlier novels, whose voice and “memories” of northeastern Japan appear at various moments throughout the book.

Due to this connection, Horses, Horses has been called a sequel of sorts to The Holy Family, Furukawa’s 2008 epic novel in which the Inuzuka brothers go on a crime spree in Fukushima and its neighboring prefectures. The earlier book has yet to appear in English translation, but from details mentioned in Horses, Horses, the Inuzuka brothers seem to have been stolen in infancy by a group of warrior-monks whose secret lineage goes back some 700 years into the region’s history. In an inspired turn, Furukawa allows the older brother to appear in the present volume, showing up in the midst of the author’s visit to disaster-hit areas in early April 2011. The character draws on his “deep memory” of the region to narrate an imaginative history of its horses, from war horses at the fall of the Kamakura shogunate in 1333 to the traumatized tsunami-survivor horses the author meets at an abandoned shrine during his trip.

By pairing observation and imagination in this way, Furukawa acts against two major pitfalls in the wake of an internationally-known crisis. First, he circumvents that awful shorthand whereby a place name comes to represent only a war or disaster that took place there; instead, he acquaints us with local geographies and strands of culture within the prefecture known for its long tradition of horse-breeding. In addition, while he doesn’t skimp on describing the damage wrought by the disaster and the scope of its human tragedy—in tandem with his own feelings when watching from afar and visiting up close—Furukawa also positions it in a much larger timeframe so as to avoid yoking the region to a single historical moment. The author, who prefers not to be labeled a Fukushima writer, makes the locality unforgettable by complicating rather than simplifying, giving the reader more to experience in prose and “remember” about the region than its direst hour—an effort far more promising than the crisis-driven news cycle in building lasting empathy.

Translator Doug Slaymaker, with assistance from Akiko Takenaka, does an excellent job of keeping the various threads of the text in balance. Given the amount of extra information necessary for an English-language reader (religious terminology, place name meanings, historical references, etc.), it is admirable that the translation moves along at such a good clip and preserves the agility of Furukawa’s voice(s). Horses, Horses is an essential text from one of Japan’s most prolific and inventive novelists, likely to remain important long beyond our current five-year remove from the events of 3/11.

Slow Boat to China and Other Stories by Ng Kim Chew, tr. Carlos Rojas, Columbia University Press. Review Hannah Vose, Social Media Manager.

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As far as anyone knows, in 1945 the Chinese poet and author Yu Dafu was executed by the Japanese military police, for whom he had secretly been acting as an interpreter during the War of Japanese Resistance. As translator Carlos Rojas explains it, one evening “a visitor came to Yu’s home [in Sumatra] and asked him to step outside, and he was never seen again.”

Half a century later, Malaysian author and professor of Chinese literature Ng Kim Chew is obsessed with the possibilities. What if Yu survived? He was a polyglot, he had all the promise of an amazing writer—he could have been the Great Author that China was searching for. What if he escaped the Japanese and went on with life elsewhere? In Slow Boat to China and Other Stories, we see an array of vastly different realities.

Now, not all the stories in Ng’s collection concern the possible fates of Yu Dafu, although they represent a sizeable portion. Slow Boat to China leads off with “The Disappearance of M,” which chronicles the public frenzy—and personal obsession for our protagonist—of trying to determine the identity of the author behind the critically acclaimed novel Kristmas, which is written in what amounts to a completely new language; its base is English, but it includes Arabic, German, Javanese, and Chinese oracle bone script among many other languages.

In searching for the identity of the anonymous author, all the world has to go on is the letter “M,” a West Malaysian postmark and a charge to a Chinese deposit company. Native Malaysian writers and Malaysian writers of Chinese descent both claim the author for themselves, but no one is really sure. With the sophisticated linguistic background required to craft such a work, they must be a very special person indeed. Questions arise about the legitimacy of claiming the work for any one national heritage: can something written in English really be considered to be a great work of Chinese or Malaysian literature? A Chinese writer’s group decides that the real task is to find the original Chinese version of the work, which must exist, and work from there.

It’s hard not to be reminded of the furor in the literary community which gets stirred up every now and then when someone engages in amateur detective work and points the Finger of Ferrante at an unsuspecting colleague or mild-mannered professor of Italian literature. A scene at a “National Literature Discussion Panel” is especially amusing in this regard, with authors analyzing Kristmas and positing others present as possible “M”’s only to come across new evidence and whip the compliment out from under their fellows a second later. The protagonist of the piece, a reporter, has his own suspicions, and follows a trail back to the possibility that Yu Dafu lives on and is fulfilling his literary destiny from the anonymity of the Malaysian rubber forests. (Reporters, it’s worth noting, are particularly intrigued with the whereabouts of Yu Dafu in Ng’s writing.)

The concern with Yu Dafu and his possible relocation to Malaysia speaks to something beyond a personal obsession with a probably long-deceased author. The Malaysian identity—and specifically the identity of the Chinese Malaysian—is at the forefront in much of the work here. “A Chinese. . . But what is a Chinese?” the narrator of “Allah’s Will” asks. If Yu Dafu fled to Malaysia and settled down, would he be a Chinese author or a Malaysian author? In “Allah’s Will,” the narrator thinks:

“For thirty years I haven’t spoken Chinese, haven’t written Chinese, and haven’t read Chinese. Instead, I have spoken Malay, taught Malay, have abstained from pork… Yet that Chinese flame in my heart hasn’t been extinguished. I often wondered why couldn’t I become completely Malay, given that I was no longer able to be completely Chinese? Was it because of the unerasable past?”

“The unerasable past” wouldn’t be a half-bad alternate title for this collection. Everyone is haunted by their past, whether the past is the past where Yu Dafu disappeared, the past where they left their homes for a new country and new opportunity, or the past where they lost someone or part of themselves. Heritage and history, especially the melding of different cultures and ethnicities and all the creativity and conflict that this can cause—look no further than the debate over “M”’s identity for evidence—are at the forefront in every piece here.

It is less the themes and more the character of the writing in this collection that really drew me in, however. Ng’s experimental writing trapises on the borders of reality, as though everything that happens is distorted by the swampy, thick air of the forest where much of his action takes place. Dream is indistinguishable from fact until the last second, woven into the narrative seamlessly only to set both reader and character up for an abrupt drop into reality. Dream and Swine and Aurora implements this in a way which is genuinely, stiflingly terrifying: a seemingly infinite Russian dolls of a dream of waking, each layer slightly more surreal than the last. Memory and conscious thought get tangled up all the time, and keeping track of reality sometimes feels like trying to breathe under water. It’s hard to read, but it’s rewarding. This is definitely not a one-sitting kind of collection. You will need some time to recover.

As a whole, the collection is nicely curated and all the stories fit together in a sensible way. Carlos Rojas, Chinese translator extraordinaire, doesn’t disappoint in his masterful rendering of Ng’s tricky prose. The only piece I felt was slightly disjointed was the first story, the aforementioned “The Disappearance of M,” which seemed to me a little choppy and awkward. Given the linguistic complexity of Ng’s writing, however, this is the smallest of foibles. Rojas’s introduction is an invaluable part of this collection, both setting up the cultural context for Ng’s work, and explaining some of the linguistic trickery that needed to be accounted for in translation. As an English introduction to a great Malaysian author, I could hardly ask for better.

Bardo or not Bardo by Antoine Volodine, tr. J.T. Mahany, Open Letter. Review: Laura Garmeson, Executive Assistant.

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The opening of Antoine Volodine’s novel Bardo or not Bardo, translated from the French by J. T. Mahany, hurls the reader headlong into a murder scene amid agitated hens, errant gunshots, and vegetables. An assassination attempt near a Buddhist monastery is witnessed by a hapless nonagenarian monk, ‘touched more by Alzheimers than grace’, who hurries over to the victim. Elsewhere, the ceremony of the Five Precious Perfumed Oils is underway, leaving this monastic wing vacated but for our monk, who had been confined to the lavatory thanks to the ill-judged ingestion of fermented milk. His duty is to recite passages from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, known as the Bardo Thödol, to the dying man, providing him with much-needed guidance for his journey through the dreary posthumous smog, an infinite world of darkness that is the Bardo.

There are precious few European books that really upset the tedious binaries of the Western Christian afterlife (the doomed torpor of Sartre’s 1944 play Huis clos is a renowned exception) but Volodine’s universe certainly does. According to the Bardo Thödol, after forty-nine days spent wandering the Bardo’s sprawling sweat and soot-infused tunnels and black charcoal plains, souls shall submit to either salvation or a rebirth. This provides Volodine with a predictably cheery platform for fiction: characters dully await something unknown which may or may not happen, experiencing a slow ebbing of memory in a barely visible landscape described as an ‘arid parade of blacks’. This is a hell so monotonous that the dead often fail to recognise they have entered it, but it gives rise to a gleefully disorienting work of black comedy.

The seven sections comprising Bardo or not Bardo scuttle in and out of the ‘hermetic darkness’ of this spiritual limbo, which is also Volodine’s metaphysical arena of choice in which to play out the existential crisis vaunted in the title. The irony of such a title, of course, is that the deceased have no choice at all; they are irredeemably trapped in the Bardo, where chances of salvation seem doubtful. Volodine’s consistent use of the present tense throughout the book confirms this sense of suspension the Bardo confers, that of a ‘floating world’ in which past and future are not only non-existent, but crushingly irrelevant.

More monks and lamas populate this book, as well as suicidal clowns, ethereal feathered bird-women, and an increasingly absurd series of characters who share the name ‘Schlumm’. In the fourth vignette, ‘The Bardo of the Medusa’, a particularly poignant episode sees the writer and actor Bogdan Schlumm stage and single-handedly perform a series of ‘Bardic playlets’ to a sparse audience of slugs. His valiant efforts to publicize his theatrics prompt Volodine’s narrator to declare ruefully, ‘I have always regretted that only a handful of minor invertebrates […] in general devoid of literary savvy, were witness to this brilliant performance.’

The Volodinian narrator is, naturally, an ambiguous character in itself. This is due in part to the fact that Antoine Volodine is the primary pseudonym among many belonging to this French author, whose other works have appeared under the names Manuela Draeger, Lutz Bassmann and Elli Kronauer. Volodine has described the literary corpus of these heteronyms as works of ‘post-exoticism’, a self-coined phrase which constitutes a war cry to ‘official literature’. His extensive literary output is gradually being translated into English, and J. T. Mahany’s relaxed, playful rendering of Bardo or not Bardo is a welcome addition.

*****

Read more from New in Translation:

Weekly News Roundup, 27 May 2016: Scrabble Champs

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote readers! Nearly a year ago, the Asymptote blog published an interview with book artist Katie Holten, who “translated books into trees” with her Broken Dimanche Press book, About Trees Now that very same book is in its second printing—a feat that is seriously nothing to sniff at in independent, artist-book publishing! And famed translator-slash-friend-of-Asymptote-anniversaries Edith Grossman is featured in the Los Angeles Review of Books‘ “Multilingual Wordsmiths” series, in an interview by Liesl SchillingerREAD MORE…

In Review (again): Best Translated Book Award-winner Signs Preceding the End of the World, by Yuri Herrera

"Lisa Dillman’s recreation of Herrera’s Signs in English is deserving of its own neologistic praise."

Signs Preceding the End of the World begins with a gaping sinkhole, swooping to rush open, our protagonist Makina deftly moving away and  on with her day. So we might consider the language of Yuri Herrera’s writing and Lisa Dillman’s translation into English: opening up before us, perhaps cataclysmic, rushing, yet simultaneously unruffled, pithy.

As Dillman notes, it is especially timely for this book to come to fruition. In this era of extreme fear-mongering, insisting on farcical walls being erected at illusory borders, this novel ventures into themes and questions of migration, immigration, transnationalism, transculturalism, language hybridity, and, of course, death and the end of the world—which these days seems to be looming ever-closer on our horizon.

We follow Makina as she journeys to track down her brother on the other side of the US-Mexican border. Makina is a character eluding cliché and expectation, with a sort of quiet, no-nonsense demeanor but also a brittle resilience that manages to subvert machismo and, furthermore, the eye-roll-worthy genres of feisty damsel or unrealistically sexualized waif. Makina is dexterous in her actions, observations, and expressions. Dillman writes her reflections with pointed beauty. For example, once Makina reaches US territory:

They are homegrown and they are anglo and both things with rabid intensity; with restrained fervor they can be the meekest and at the same time the most querulous of citizens, albeit grumbling under their breath. Their gestures and tastes reveal both ancient memory and the wonderment of a new people. And then they speak. They speak an intermediary tongue that Makina instantly warms up to because it’s like her: malleable, erasable, permeable; a hinge pivoting between two like but distant souls, and then two more, and then two more, never exactly the same ones; something that serves as a link.

READ MORE…

On the Anniversaries of Dead Writers: Make Room

"There is something to be said about the Western world constantly emphasizing its own literary canon and even more so the canon of dead authors."

Shakespeare is celebrating the 400th anniversary of his death this year and Cervantes is as well. England and Spain are having their respective celebrations. I set up news alerts for these kinds of updates in hopes to find out about literary events around the world. It keeps me in the know to a certain extent.

As I looked through my news alerts for World Literature over the past few months, I was unsurprised by the continual focus on the West, specifically these two writers. I’m not against it. I’m a huge fan of both of these writers’ works. Of course their works have influenced countless writers and of course literature would not be the same without them. Shakespeare and Cervantes are some of the largest names in the canon.

That doesn’t mean the emphasis should consistently be on the canon.   READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt of Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay’s Panty

"The panty seemed to offer itself as a second presence in this solitary place. A feeling of companionship."

I entered the apartment at eleven at night, unlocking three padlocks in succession. The flat took up the entire first floor of a tall apartment building. I paused for a few moments after entering, trying to make out my surroundings in the light coming in from the passage outside. I found the switchboard near my left hand. Stepping forward, I turned on all the switches. One after the other. And not a single light came on. But I could tell that a fan had started whirring overhead. Once my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I found myself standing at one end of a hall. The main road below me had begun to quieten down. The light from the street lamps filtered into the dark hall through large windows, creating an unfocused chiaroscuro that came to my aid. Advancing in this hazy glow, I realised that there were doors running down both sides of the hall. On a whim I turned towards an open door on the left.

The room I entered was a large bedroom, with an ensuite. This time, too, I succeeded in locating the switchboard. I swiftly flicked all the switches on. Still not a single light came on. But this time, too, the ceiling fan began to rotate. I tried to understand the layout of the room. It wasn’t empty like the hall; rather, it was crowded with furniture. I found myself standing before a mirror stretching across the wall. The reflection didn’t seem to be mine, exactly, but of another, shadowy figure. I touched my hair. Eerily, the reflection did not. I paid no attention. Setting my bag down on the floor, I returned to the hall.  READ MORE…

“Good Books Make Good Neighbours”: Slovak literature makes its mark on Hungarian writers at the Budapest International Book Festival

"Slovak literature seems to have made its mark."

Mačka/macska (cat); cukor/cukor (sugar) pálenka/pálinka (fruit brandy);  kabát/kabát(coat); taška/táska (bag); palacinka/palacsinta (pancake); bosorka/boszorkány (witch). These are just a few of the words that sound the same in Slovak and Hungarian. The surprisingly long glossary formed a witty and poignant visual backdrop to the main stand at this year’s Budapest International Book Festival, held 22-24 April, which had a focus on Slovak literature.

What did this mean in practice? Quite a lot: an audience of potential new readers in a neighbouring country; forty books by Slovak writers translated into Hungarian specially for this occasion; debates, book presentations, readings, discussions with authors, translators, publishers, journalists, scholars, historians—plus concerts, media interviews and interactive events for children. All that followed by receptions, informal conversations, fun.

Never has Slovak literature been presented abroad on such a massive scale. Never before have so many Slovak books been translated into any other language. And it is unlikely that such an event will happen again anytime soon.

The Budapest Book Festival is a major European literary event, with over 60,000 visitors every year. In the past guests have included such stars of the literary firmament as Umberto Eco and Paolo Coelho. This year it must have seen the greatest concentration of Slovak writers per square metre.  READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 20 May 2016: Oh Man, Book!

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Hey Asymptote, happy Friday! This week’s big news is big for everyone in lit, not just translation—but we translators are extra chuffed. The Man Booker International Prize is one that’s raised the visibility of books in translation (perhaps contributing to the last week’s reported overall increase in translation sales?), and this year’s winner—Korean author Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, translated by Deborah Smith—is no exception. Pore through the journal for an essay by Smith, on “Translating Human Acts,” Kang’s latest translated tome, an altogether difficult translatorial endeavor.

READ MORE…

In Conversation with Yumiko Tsumura

"...she values the translation of her poetry into English, as well as into other languages, to plant her poetry on the globe."

Yumiko Tsumura’s translations of poems by Kazuko Shiraishi, also known as “the Allen Ginsberg of Japan,” appeared in our Winter 2016 issue. Recently Tsumura corresponded via e-mail with Interview Features Editor Ryan Mihaly.

Your first book of translations of Kazuko Shiraishi’s poems dates back to 2002. When did you first meet Kazuko, and how did you begin working with her?

I met Kazuko Shiraishi on September 30, 2000 in Tokyo. My co-translator, Samuel Grolmes, my late husband, and I had been working on a translation of Ryuichi Tamura’s poetry, ever since he was the first guest to the International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa established by Paul Engle. I was working on my MFA in poetry and translation and Sam was an assistant director to Paul Engle, and we started translating Tamura’s poetry during his stay at the IWP.

Tamura’s “The World Without Words” was published [in] New Directions Annual 22. When our book Tamura Ryuichi Poems: 1946-1998 was published early September 2000, Shichosha, the publisher of modern poetry, held a symposium in Tokyo called “How to Surpass Tamura” on September 30, 2000. Kazuko Shiraishi was a great admirer of Tamura’s poetry and one of the panelists. During that meeting she came to ask Sam and me to translate her poetry. READ MORE…

In Conversation with Peter Constantine

"The only role I filled in my Chekhov translations was that of the translator."

Peter Constantine not only speaks German, Russian, French, Modern Greek, Ancient Greek, Italian, Albanian, Dutch, and Slovene, but he translates them as well. He has translated Machiavelli, Sophocles, Mann, Rousseau, and a host of others. As a translator from Russian, he has an interest in translating the lesser known, early works of Anton Chekhov.

In the West, Chekhov is known primarily as a playwright, but he was equally accomplished short story author. Peter Constantine’s most recent translation, Little Apples and Other Early Stories, out now from Seven Stories Press, is a collection of Chekhov’s early works, when he wrote under a pen name to support his family and put himself through medical school. These stories are tragic and comic; gut-wrenching and laugh-out-loud funny. Constantine’s translation captures the wit and skill that would make Chekhov known as one of the greatest writers of all time. I discussed Little Apples with him through email.

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Daniel Goulden: What drew you to translating Chekhov, particularly his early stories?

Peter Constantine: Chekhov is one of the great stylists of Russian literature. His range and creativity present an interesting challenge for a translator; particularly his early stories of the 1880s, where every week he would publish several pieces in a number of literary magazines, sometimes two or three pieces per magazine, writing under different pseudonyms: Mr. Champagnsky, Man Without a Spleen, My Brother’s Brother. He had a great facility for writing fast and well and with spectacular energy and creativity. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt of Fernando Royuela’s A Bad End

"A man is the hunger he has suffered—whatever the hunger, whoever the man."

I’ve known an endless string of bastards in my lifetime and not wished a single one a bad end. I won’t make you an exception. Human beings roam this world blissfully unaware of the tragedy that’s lurking around the corner. Some invent gods to help soften the pain, others, meanwhile, seek out the immediacy of pleasure to keep the inevitable at bay, but all are finally measured by the yardstick of death. I’d been warned about my fate, but I never thought it would happen the way it did.

I know why you’ve come, but I’m good. Till now I’d never faced up to the implacable advance of nonexistence, and that’s why your presence belittles rather than terrifies me. I now realize that from the very beginning my life had pointed to our meeting, that my steps were doomed to reach this moment, that I couldn’t possibly escape my fate, however ridiculously hard I tried, that nobody, not even those I have loved, will ever be able to mourn my departure. I know you have come to relish the spectacle of my death, I’ve seen that in your rust-veined eyes, in your grisly fascination, but I no longer fear the end. People say that at the moment of death, scenes from one’s life dizzily return like the stills of a film. They say that once you have seen them, consciousness shuts down. That may be true, and right now I may be witnessing the accelerated passage of memories of a blurred past. The likenesses of the faces of the dead underline the continued presence of the spirit and can help the living unpick the conundrums posed by awareness of their finite nature. That will be where I will overcome. Nothing else matters; it’s idle chatter and conjecture. READ MORE…

A Dispatch from the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair

"Languages are not islands. Relationships between languages are necessary for one another’s growth."

Although it may not yet have the statistics or the industry renown of the Frankfurt or London book fairs, each year the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair attracts writers, readers, and book folk from across the world, from wherever Arabic is spoken, and then some. The event was held this year for the 26th time—not bad for a country that’s only 44 years old—and boasted a record number of exhibitors (1,260), as well as 500 cultural initiatives, 600 authors, 20 artists, and a handful of 3 star Michelin chefs. This year booksellers from 63 countries set up their stalls in the ADNEC convention center, in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, which is itself emerging as an important location for conversation and cultural exchange. For Lebanese publishers and Sudanese translators, for Indian illustrators and Nigerian publicists, the Abu Dhabi Book Fair provides a place to meet in the middle.

I spent the better part of a week wandering through the massive convention hall, who’s striking resemblance to an airport reminded me just how much, and how rapidly, this city is redirecting flight paths and avenues of discussion and innovation. I was able to navigate by flipping between my four overlapping program guides, and weaving through the rows and rows of Arabic books—contemporary, mass market, antique, translated, children’s, cooking, coloring. Fortunately, the hall was never too crowded; the only occasional traffic came from groups of children wheeling suitcase-shaped book carts, courtesy of the event, that rivaled them in size.  READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 13 May 2016: My Niece, Johanna Bach

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy lucky Friday, Asymptote friends! If you’re feeling unlucky, Google might suggest otherwise. But translators (and their authors, if they aren’t Anglophone) are certainly feeling lucky—or at least relieved, as the Guardian dropped the spectacular news this week that translated titles sell better than their untranslated counterparts. And publishing in translation has grown overall—while the rest of the literary industry struggles (perhaps it’s all this IKEA writing)… READ MORE…

Asymptote Podcast: Literature in Transit

A new episode goes live!

What ever happened to savoring the moment, or better yet, the moment in between two others? Why don’t stories ever focus on the euphoria of transition? There’s a lot to be learned in between point A and point B that we might not recognize. Today on the Asymptote Podcast, Blog Editor, Allegra Rosenbaum brings us literature in transit; literature from the places in between places, where the rules and regulations that govern our lives disappear behind us, as new ones loom up ahead. Allegra has spent most of her life traveling and with the help of Ezra Pound, Blaise Cendrars, Agustín Fernández Mallo, and Teju Cole, she tries to figure out what is going on in those moments of transition. This is the Asymptote Podcast.

Variations on a Theme: Carolina Schutti & Joanna Walsh on Poetic Prose

"Poets have long been questioning the usefulness/uselessness of the label 'prose poem.'"

When I was invited to create a miniseries of semi-regular author events as translator in residence at the Austrian Cultural Forum London, I wanted to make sure that the Austrian author would always be in dialogue with a British counterpart about something they have in common in their writing. My motivation is to juggle the foreignness and uniqueness of German-language literature with where it meets and overlaps with literature written in English in order to show that writing comes from a specific linguistic, cultural and literary context, but one that connects and communicates with others. As journalist Judith Vonberg summed it up in her review of the event for Literaturhaus Europa: “it’s a simple but unconventional idea. Instead of highlighting the differences between British literature and literature made on the continent, the starting point is similarity, which opens up far more interesting discussions.”

The first of these events brought Austrian writer and musician Carolina Schutti and author and illustrator Joanna Walsh together to discuss poetic prose and how poetry permeates their writing in terms of language, effect and form with me in the ACF London’s Salon back in February. As a writer of both poetry and short fiction, I’m interested in why sometimes one form does and then other times won’t do at all, and why it sometimes happens that I can read the poetry and prose of others interchangeably as if in the other form. What are the markers and where is the boundary? READ MORE…