This week, we dock first in Romania, where Editor-at-Large MARGENTO updates us on the political climate and how it’s influencing literary output. Then we sail southwest to Cuba, where we’ll hear from Blog Editor Madeline Jones about the foreign diplomats barred from an awards ceremony, as well as highlights from the International Book Fair in Havana. Finally, back across the Atlantic, M. René Bradshaw, Editor-at-Large for the UK, maps out the best literary events taking place in and around the capital throughout March and April.
MARGENTO, Editor-at-Large for Romania & Moldova, catches us up on the Romanian literary scene:
The recent wave of rallies that have swept Romania, where hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest the government’s decrees decriminalizing certain corruption-related offences, has sparked reactions both on social media and in literary and creative circles. The “light revolution” received huge global media coverage when tens of thousands of smartphones converged their glows outside the government building in Bucharest, sending a blinding anti-graft message while also forming the image of a huge national flag. The true hallmark of this revolution has been internationally perceived as the deployment of digital apps and catchy, pun-filled slogans in both English and Romanian, inundating social and mass media with what hip-hop star Călin “Rimaru” Ionescu has termed the new “OUGmented reality” (OUG being the Romanian acronym for a governmental decree). As #Rezist has gone viral across digital media channels, it is apt to share from our past archives a celebration by Asymptote contributor Ruxandra Cesereanu of what she sees as a revival of the anti-Soviet and anti-communist rezistance, a Romanian partisan movement that heroically lasted from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s.
In a similar vein, American poet and translator Tara Skurtu—currently in Romania on a Fulbright grant—has revisited the Romanian gulag in a poem inspired by the recent protests and published in the Huffington Post. A couple of days later, the same publication ran an interview on similar issues with Radu Vancu, also an Asymptote contributor. Still, one of the authorities on modern and post-communist history Mircea Stănescu, who has consistently and shrewdly chronicled and analyzed the protests, maintained a cautionary stance, pointing out the generation gap strongly manifest in the current movement and warning about deeper political and educational issues that might remain unaddressed and resurface later. Yet it seems that the ongoing rallies and sense of solidarity are a breath of fresh air that has already inspired a great deal of writers. Poet, novelist, and essayist Cosmin Perța has already announced a forthcoming #Rezist literary anthology.
It’s been a big week in literature around the world, with major awards, book fairs, and new publications vying for media attention in a particularly crowded news cycle. But the book world keeps turning even when it seems like everything else has come to a standstill. Blog Editor Madeline Jones reports from south of the border in Mexico, Editor-at Large MARGENTO gives us the update on Romania, and Contributor George Kirkum checks in from Ecuador.
Madeline Jones, Blog Editor, brings the literary update from Mexico:
Hundreds of Mexican artists have been mocking the President Elect of the United States, Donald Trump, by way of political cartoons. Now that he’s clinched the elections, the value of the peso has plummeted and Mexicans on both sides of the border are speaking out about their disapproval of Trump’s platform as well as their own fears for the future. Poet, novelist, and activist Javier Sicilia told El Universal, “This man unified fragments of fascism that were scattered throughout North America. And he’s creating proposals for destruction…it doesn’t matter if Trump wins, the theme is systemic.”* Well-known Mexican author and historian Enrique Krauze’s op-ed in The New York Times also captures the sentiments of many, in Hank Heifetz’s translation from the Spanish.
Eduardo Lizalde, who is recognized as one of the most important living poets in the Spanish-speaking world, was awarded the Premio Internacional Carlos Fuentes a la Creación Literaria en el Idioma Español this week. The judges said that his collection El tigre en la casa [The Tiger in the House] is “one of the most influential and poignant books in several generations.”*
2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the reopening of diplomatic relations between Mexico and Spain after the Franco regime ended. Last week, the organization la Cátedra México-España, which was founded with the purpose of studying and fomenting the historical, cultural, and linguistic links between the two nations, celebrated its tenth year. Attendants at the anniversary conference noted that the international relationship is still in its “honey moon” phase and the first ten years of the organization’s work have seen significant academic collaboration across the Atlantic.
Happy Friday, readers! The Asymptote team has some exciting news: starting this week, we will be replacing our Friday literary news round-up with a more diverse and decidedly international column, brought to you by our team members around the world. We’ll have the latest and most pertinent updates on the literary scenes from various regions each week, from national trends to local events. This is your one-stop, world tour!
Starting this week in India, Poorna Swami, Editor-at-Large for India, updates us by region:
Noted Assamese poet Nalinidhar Bhattacharya passed away on September 2 in Guwahati at the age of 95. The Sahitya Akademi Award winner’s books include five poetry collections, five essay collections, and even a translation of Dr. Zhivago into Assamese.
But while the country lost a literary great, it also regained one. Tamil writer Perumal Murugan ended his self-determined literary exile on August 22. His reentry in to the literary world comes a year and a half after he publicly declared to quit writing because his book, Madhorubhagan [One-Part Woman], faced attacks from Hindu fundamentalist and caste-based groups. He had said on his Facebook page: “Perumal Murugan the writer is dead. As he is no God, he is not going to resurrect himself.”
Wayward Heroes, by Halldór Laxness, tr. Philip Roughton. Archipelago Books.
Review: Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-large, Australia
The process of reading literature in translation is to dip into the perennial pool: possible meanings are compounded by language, we splash and struggle and only when we begin to get on our feet do we realise how much deeper and longer the cave goes. Often great writers see only a tiny fraction of their oeuvre translated for a wider audience—as a reader, we must play a game of guessing the size and shape and clarity of the submerged iceberg from only its superficial crown. Not to mention the person we all know who constantly admonishes us that if we had only read the original…
Iceland’s Halldór Laxness falls into this lamentable category, with the majority of his collection of stories, essays, novels (including a four-volume memoir), plays and poetry frozen in time to all bar those with a blue tongue. Published in Iceland in 1952 as Gerpla, The Happy Warriors was the title of the original, sparsely recognised English translation, though it contributed to his body of work for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955.
Have you ever thought of starting a poetry crowdsourcing? While contemplating writing on Alexandru Muşina’s magnetic personality (as a tie in to Ruxandra Cesereanu’s article in our July issue), the idea presented itself to me as the best way of introducing him to Asymptote’s readers; definitely an exciting opportunity to bring people together around the work of this amazing poet. Why? For at least two reasons. First, Muşina is one of the most important poets of Generation 80 (the poets that changed the face of Romanian poetry starting back in the 1980s), and arguably its most influential theorist, teacher, and public figure. Therefore, given the writer’s impressive public profile, crowdsourcing arises as a truly viable option in trying to unveil the many facets of his personality as mirrored by poets, critics, and theorists from various schools and walks of life. Second, taking the pulse of the current literary scene by asking some of its most outstanding representatives for input on the matter would obviously provide remarkably candid insights into the writer’s legacy, but it may also add up to a quick x-ray of Romanian letters, a sort of present-day portrayal of a young literature as revisiting an established man…; this latter aspect may prove of interest particularly since Cesereanu’s article focuses mainly on the place of Muşina’s poetry (and specifically his poem “Budila Express”) in the historical context of the communist regime and Ceausescu’s dictatorship (when the poem was first published). READ MORE…
A few weeks ago, we at Asymptote blog highlighted the importance of vibrant, youthful literary journals—in exchange. In that post, we featured Fleur des Lettres, from Hong Kong, and the fruitful artistic encounters that partnership has yielded.
This week, we highlight another budding intertextual friendship, namely that one between Asymptote and Romanian lit-mag Steaua. Contemporary literature is scarce and relies heavily on exchange. This could hardly be truer than with international literature—where impediments like translation, marketing, and the consumer publishing culture risk obscuring gems we should all be watching out for. Here’s Romanian editor-at-large MARGENTO’s take on what looks to be the beginning of a long and fruitful cross-journal collaboration. READ MORE…
MARGENTO (editor-at-large, Romania): “Eutychia,” from our July 2012 issue, has been identified by Simona Popescu—poet, critic, and the foremost authority on Romanian poet Gellu Naum’s (1915 – 2001) work and life—as the Naumian poem par excellence, not in the sense that the rest of his huge oeuvre is contained in it, but because it stands out as one of the most comprehensive and emblematic expressions of the poet’s creed and poetics. And, more importantly, it highlights the unmistakable way in which his work was not only an art but a mode of existence.
A visionary, a great shaman—le grand chaman de Roumanie, as a French critic once called him—whose poems have always worked as Pythic oracles, Naum was also an incredibly shrewd and inclusive craftsman. The very personable and humorously playful person that he was in everyday life was the same as the artist who integrated biographical details, political critique, and popular culture (along with erudite and alchemically-oneiric intertexts) into his mesmerizing rhythms, expansive diction, and enthralling imagery. Although—or rather particularly because—he was a true poeta vates, a poet-prophet, he did not look down on the trivialities of common existence. His corrosive ironies never settled upon postmodern detachment, and, instead of rendering the verse flat, his absorption of the ‘insignificant’ actually turned the everyday into something magical, miraculous, and overwhelming.
the tapping july hail
puts me in mind
of how this salsa dancer used
to break my windows twice a month
with the stiletto flipped off her lil left foot