Posts filed under 'german'

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…

Translator’s Profile: Mirza Purić

Q & A with Bosnian translator and Asymptote editor-at-large Mirza Purić

Mirza Purić (b. 1979) is a translator and musician. A graduate of the University of Vienna, he has been an Editor-at-Large with Asymptote since 2014.

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Who are you and what do you translate? 

Out of necessity, I’ll translate whatever will bring home the bacon, but what I am is a literary translator. When I set out years ago I worked on fiction almost exclusively. These days I mostly do poetry, I don’t know how that happened. I also play obnoxious music on a bastard instrument which is neither a bass nor a guitar. I’m not sure if this answers the first question.

Describe your current/most recent project. Why is it cool? What should we know about it?

I’m working on a selection of poems by Yusef Komunyakaa, who is one of my favourite poets. There’s this sad cliché that says you can’t write about music just like you can’t dance about sculpture, or something to that effect. Whoever came up with that nugget of brilliance has obviously never read Komunyakaa. Apart from that, I try to make myself available to young, up-and-coming authors, people who swim against the tide and/or operate outside of the mainstream, so I’m always on stand-by for Sarajevo Writer’s Workshop, a group of promising young writers and poets founded by the American writer Stacy Mattingly (check out her essay on a project she led for the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program). As Asymptote’s editor-at-large I constantly snoop about for new talent. This country being what it is, a lot of gifted people don’t have a platform. Asymptote provides one, and I do what I can to help these people hop on it. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: from Looking at Pictures by Robert Walser

“When he felt his earthly end approaching, it irritated him somewhat that he had evidently produced, alas, almost a little too much.”

Diaz’s Forest

Translated by Susan Bernofsky

In a forest painted by Diaz, a little motherkin and her child stood still. They were now a good hour from the village. Gnarled trunks spoke a primeval tongue. The mother said to her child: “In my opinion, you shouldn’t cling to my apron strings like that. As if I were here only for you. Benighted creature, what could you be thinking? You’re just a small child, yet want to make grownups dependent on you. How ill-considered. A certain amount of thinking must enter your slumbering head, and to make that happen, I shall now leave you here, alone. Stop clutching at me with those little hands this instant, you uncouth, importunate thing! I have every reason to be angry with you—and I believe I am. It’s time you were told the unadorned truth, otherwise you’ll stay a helpless child all your life, forever reliant on your mother. To teach you what it means to love me, you must be left to your own resources, you’ll have to seek out strangers and serve them, hearing nothing but harsh words from them for a year, two years, perhaps longer. Then you’ll know what I was to you. But always at your side, I am unknown to you. That’s right, child, you make no effort at all, you don’t even know what effort is, let alone tenderness, you uncompassionate creature. Always having me at your side makes you mentally indolent. Not for a minute do you stop to think—that’s what indolence is. You must go to work, my child, you’ll manage it if you want to—and you’ll have no choice but to want to. I swear to you, as truthfully as I am standing here with you in this forest painted by Diaz, you must earn your livelihood with bitter toil so that you will not go to ruin inwardly. Many children grow coarse when they are coddled, because they never learn to be thoughtful, thankful. Later, they all turn into ladies and gentlemen who are beautiful and elegant on the outside but self-absorbed nonetheless. To save you from becoming cruel and succumbing to foolishnesses, I am treating you roughly, because overly solicitous treatment produces people free from conscience and care.” READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Chairs and Sentences” by Anna Weidenholzer

"Ferdinand only likes the thin straws, and he likes it when a straw bobs back up after being submerged in a beer bottle."

A brown leather sofa, on it a man, below it a Lurch. A Lurch is a bundle of dirt made of dust, fluff and hair. A Lurch is what I call a Wollmaus. Because the chairs are never cleared away I have a lot to do, the man says. Because the chairs are never cleared away I get angry. But because the chairs are never cleared away I have a job to do. It’s better to have a job than not having a job. Because what would I do if I didn’t have a job. I would just sit at home, sitting at home is nothing, what do you do when you don’t have a job. It’s better to work even if I get the same money I would get if I didn’t work.

The man takes his left hand from his stomach, lays it behind his head, moves his thumb back and forth. Ferdinand watches the man move his left thumb back and forth. Ferdinand watches TV. It’s after ten pm, Ferdinand prefers serious programmes, he appreciates their seriousness and while watching he frequently looks past the television. Is there a hole in the air? A student asked him once; no, a lake, Ferdinand had answered.

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Translation as Firework: A Prismatic Rendition of Anna Weidenholzer

"The original is dead. Long live the original."

For my latest event as the Austrian Cultural Forum London’s guest literary curator, I commissioned and curated work for an exhibition presenting multiple translations of a short story by Austrian author Anna Weidenholzer in forms including sound, ceramics, textiles, video, sculpture, photography, text, and even tattoo designs and recipes. A reading and performance event in the ACF’s Salon celebrated and closed the exhibition this week and let the audience all be translators for an evening.

The incredibly affecting short story “Sessel und Sätze” (“Chairs and Sentences”) from Anna Weidenholzer’s collection Der Platz des Hundes (Where the Dog Sits) follows aging school caretaker Ferdinand Felser’s preoccupations with his passive position in the world. Having been mocked as a schoolboy by pupils and teachers for his dialect—and by his parents for trying to change it—Ferdinand is now secretly learning nine languages in his office and is troubled by the climate of xenophobia surrounding him at work, in the news, and among close friends. You can read the story tomorrow on the Asymptote blog.

Posing as a metaphor for the multiplicity of possible translations of any story, the exhibition on display in the ACF’s gallery encouraged the visitor to see how each “translation” altered and added to their reading of the story (which they also read in translation) or how the exhibition could be one multifaceted translation. It considered a translation as a personal reading, extension, destruction or an attempt at honing into an essence of the original text by a “translator,” and also explored the fallibility/adaptability of linguistic translation by further experimenting with alternative translations. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Multilingual Poems by Ann Cotten

In honor of our July Issue, a super-special multilingual Translation Tuesday—Ann Cotten translates Ann Cotten, and back again!

Ann Cotten is a multilingual poet based in Berlin. These poems hail from Fremdwörterbuchsonette, her first book of poems. Inextricably multilingual, maddeningly compelling, borderline cantankerous—her poems are all unique valences of self-translations that interrogate place and language in way that evokes both the familiar and the jarringly new.

Select translation:

nonesuch I (from Fremdwörterbuchsonette)

 

The ghost entered me like a kind of shirt.

It hung next to the dancefloor and was opposite

to all. That sounds a bit odd, not quite

credible, certainly I cannot say it right.

 

Something was backward in the whole construction

of what I happened to be working on.

Time seemed to have some purpose further on

with me, wrung me and couldn’t work it out.

 

And so I leant against the wall and smoked,

and watched the Russendisko on and on and smoked

too much. And I was much too bored to write.

Still not at all ill at ease, squandering my light

I thought of never going home to better-lighted dirt

and suddenly began to see the ghost in the shirt.

 

“O ghost,” spake I, “please understand my wonder!

I didn’t know that ghosts would deign to wander

casting their eyes perplexingly asunder,

in shirts, our fears and echoings to pander.”

 

The ghost just stared at me. A girl came over

and asked me for a light. My boyfriend came

and told me he was going home. It was the same

to me. I nodded, quite the midnight rover,

 

knowing myself to have become rather a dud,

my self’s long-empty shell, and how my words

rustled and shifted, like rice in gourds,

vague and conceited like smoke from a cigarette,

cold and precise like condensation.

 

And I awoke, as cold as ash, in my own tub.

***

nonesuch II (from Fremdwörterbuchsonette)

 

In my own tub I lay and dreamt of girls

who come around and ask you for a light.

Their little souls rotate inside their eyes

as my lighter renders them closer than the night

 

which is the reason why I love these rituals

in which the incomparables and I unite.

And all the while I know my cigarettes are all

exactly the same length, and they seem to invite

 

their and my own interconfoundability,

white, lightweight, full of discontent,

rattling and wheezing when they’re full of tea

and, taken, all desire just to be spent,

as air races through them, they wake the ghosts

and attract minutes, posted between the lips’ red boasts.

 

The ash upon the water forms a brittle film.

Mein Liebling, erklärst du dich zu meiner Giraffe,

verspreche ich, dass ich dich immer lachen mache.

The past has risen and is lapping at my chin.

Die Biber haben alle Bäume abgenagt, mein Lieber, sieh,

noch während wir hier stehen, beknabbern sie meine Knie.

 

The tap presses a lullaby into my nape,

the boiler hums a low and dismal tune,

I watch myself scratch myself like an ape,

and fall asleep into the arms of monster rune:

 

It isn’t realistic to be lying here.

In all the fog and damp time seems to override itself.

I cannot reach you, not with beer, nor animals, nor jokes;

everything runs out; the ghost of the night lives to side with itself, but chokes.

nonesuch I (from Fremdwörterbuchsonette)

 

Der Geist betrat mich wie eine Art Hemd.

Es hing am Rand der Tanzfläche und bildete

den Gegenpol zu allem. Das befremdet,

wirkt unerklärlich, wenn ichs schildere.

 

Es war etwas verkehrt an dem Gebilde,

an dem ich zu der Zeit gerade arbeitete;

die Zeit führte mit mir etwas im Schild,

wrang mein Gebein und kriegte es nicht raus.

 

Und so lehnte ich rauchend an der Wand,

schaute der Russendisko zu und rauchte

zu viel. Zum Schreiben war mir viel zu fad.

Ich war trotzdem nicht unzufrieden, dachte

entfernt daran, eher nicht heimzugehen,

plötzlich begann ich diesen Geist im Hemd zu sehen.

 

“O Geist,” sprach ich, “verstehe mein Befremden:

Ich wusste nicht, dass Geister auch in Hemden,

die großen Augen gegenteilig wendend,

Widerhall, Trost und Unbehagen spenden.”

 

Der Geist indessen starrte mich nur an.

Ein Mädchen kam zu mir und bat um Feuer.

Meine Begleitung kam und sagte, dass er heimgeht.

Ich nickte nur, als ging es mich nichts an:

 

Ich war schon lange nur mehr eine Panne,

die Schale meiner selbst, und ausgehöhlt

klimperten geistermäßig meine Worte,

vag und geziert wie Zigarettenrauch,

kalt und präzise wie Kondensation.

 

Ich wachte auf, wie Asche kalt, in meiner Badewanne.

***

nonesuch II (from Fremdwörterbuchsonette)

 

Ich badete und träumte von den Mädchen,

die herkommen und mich um Feuer bitten.

In ihren Augen rotiern ihre Seelchen

in meinem Feuerschein in kurzen Augenblicken.

 

Deswegen liebe ich ja diese Sitten,

in denen unvergleichlich sich vereinen

jene und ich. Und meine Zigaretten

sind glatt und alle gleich lang. Bescheinigen

 

sie ihre und meine Vertauschbarkeit,

weiß, leicht und voller Unzufriedenheit,

klappernd und rauschend, wenn sie altern,

und jung voller Verlangen, wenn der Atem

sie schnell durchzieht, so wecken sie die Geister,

binden künstelnd Minuten, an Lippen gekleistert.

 

Die Asche auf dem Wasser bildet einen Film.

My darling, if you will be my giraffe,

I’ll promise to do things to make you laugh.

Mir reicht Vergangenheit bis an mein Kinn.

The beavers, dear, have gnawed off all the trees,

and as you look at me they’re working on my knees.

 

Der Hahn drückt mir ein Schlaflied in den Nacken,

der Boiler summt den Bass betrübt und wüst,

ich schaue mir beim Dösen selbstgesprächig zu,

gleich wird das Brainmap mich mit den Tentakeln packen:

 

Es ist nicht realistisch, hier zu sitzen

im Dunst, im Nass hebt Zeit sich aus den Angeln.

Erreich dich nicht mit Tieren, nicht mit Witzen, es läuft aus und

der Geist der Nacht sitzt tief im letzten Gurgeln.

Ann Cotten, born 1982 in Iowa, U.S., grew up in Vienna, Austria and moved to Berlin in 2006. Her first book of poems—excerpted here—consisted of 78 double-sonnets and made waves in the German poetry scene. She then published her diploma thesis on concrete poetry (Nach der Welt, Klever Verlag 2008), a second book of poetry and prose ostensibly written by a palette of characters (Florida-Rooms, Suhrkamp 2010), a 1-Euro elegy (Das Pferd, SuKultur 2007), part of an underground-bibliophile "Schock" edition (Pflock in der Landschaft, 2011), and a book in English: I, Coleoptile (Broken Dimanche Press, 2011). In 2013, she published The Quivering Fan, a collection of short stories with erotic, philosophical and political content. In 2014, she started a project on mnemotechnical poetry working with Japanese Kanji. This year will see her second English-language publication, Lather in Heaven (Broken Dimanche Press).

July Issue Highlight: “Excerpt” by Cia Rinne

A look at one of our multilingual feature's star poems.

Hands Across the Water: A Dispatch

Jen Calleja dispatches from "Don't Mind the Gap: An Evening of British/German Literature at King's Place" in London

‘Don’t Mind the Gap: An Evening of German and British Literature’ at King’s Place, though clocking in at two hours, had an energetic, celebratory and comfortable atmosphere from start to finish. Though the venue was larger than the ICA’s cinema where I’d attended ‘Found in Translation’ the previous evening, it also felt like the more intimate of the two events.

Reading one after the other for ten-to-fifteen minutes apiece were some of the finest English- and German-speaking poets and writers working today: Durs Grünbein, Terézia Mora, Simon Armitage, A L Kennedy, Imtiaz Dharker, Marcel Beyer, Don Paterson and Alfred Brendel. All the authors’ texts were projected onto an updating screen, in English for the British writers to help German-speakers (which made a couple of the writers a little nervous, and even confused when they saw English behind them but half-expected to see themselves in German), and in English translation for the German writers. READ MORE…

Publisher Profile: Ariadne Press

Karl Johns and Jorun Johns of Ariadne Press on Austrian literature in translation

Ariadne Press has been publishing translated Austrian literature since 1988 from Riverside, California. Their 260 titles range from exciting new fiction to autobiographies, pioneering critical work, and plays, on diverse subjects from Nazism to science fiction to music and humor. I spoke with editor Karl Johns and founding editor Jorun Johns on the phone about Ariadne, Austria’s modern literary masters, and the intersection of Vienna and California.

***

Eva Richter: How did Ariadne Press start?

Karl Johns: That’s interesting, how everything starts. The International Arthur Schnitzler Research Association was founded in 1962 to celebrate the 100th birthday of Arthur Schnitzler. When all the German-language refugees came to the United States, California was actually the second most popular goal after New York, in spite of the fact that the Midwest and Chicago already had German speakers and German newspapers and all that. So there were a lot of people in California and Los Angeles. Many of these people survived as psychoanalysts. They were the ones who were most prosperous, maybe. Some of them were the admirers of Arthur Schnitzler, and that’s how that was started, and that led to the journal, which became more and more general, not just Arthur Schnitzler but all of Austrian literature, and it was called Modern Austrian Literature. My mother, Jorun Johns, was one of the editors of that. It sort of grew, and it became the standard place for people to publish articles about modern Austrian authors.

The logical thing was that these people needed to publish books for their academic credentials. And it’s always difficult to find a publisher! So my mother founded Ariadne together with two colleagues, Donald Daviau at UC Riverside and Richard Lawson at San Diego State University. The first book they published was the memoir of Leon Askin, who had begun as an actor in Vienna and emigrated. Since then, Ariadne has put out 260 titles, and we have a number in the pipeline, including Shaking the Empire: Shaking Patriarchy, an anthology of feminist writings from Eastern European languages. All our books are translated into English, with one exception, and the idea is to make Austrian literature, authors, and studies of them available to the English-speaking audience. The Library of Congress does not distinguish Austria from Germany, but it really is a separate tradition.

READ MORE…

This Monster, the Volk

At the Pegida demonstrations, the soul of Dresden has been revealed: reckoning with the mentality of my native city

Monika Cassel translates Durs Grünbein’s op-ed, which appeared on the front page of Die Zeit’s weekly magazine on February 12, 2015, the day before the 70th anniversary of Dresden’s bombing. 

Every year, the city I was born in falls again. On the one hand this is a ritual (of commemoration), and on the other hand it is a reality (of history). All over the world, people know what happened to Dresden in February 1945, just before the great turning point in history when Germany was given the opportunity to better itself. The city lost nearly everything that had once made her charming and was from then on condemned to live on, severely handicapped, hideously deformed, and humiliated. Where once courtly splendor and stone-hewed bourgeois pride had delighted the eye, now desolate wastelands unfolded as I wandered through my city as a child. It is hard to imagine that this was where Casanova contracted a venereal disease and Frederick the Great, when he was still the crown prince, lost his virginity. According to legend, one of the delectable ladies-in-waiting pulled him through a concealed door and initiated him into the Saxon mysteries of love. I still remember imagining the Marquis de Sade visiting the city on the Elbe. In one thing, at least, historians are in agreement: what was supposedly once the most beautiful Italian city north of the Alps was a paradise on earth for all of the libertines of aristocratic Europe.

But it all turned out differently. Lately I have seen a monster in Dresden—it calls itself das Volk (the People) and thinks it has justice on its side. “We are the Volk,” it yells, shamelessly, and it cuts anyone off mid-sentence who dares disagree. It presumes to know who belongs and who does not. It intimidates those from foreign lands because—in the extremity of their plight—they have nowhere else to go, those who come in search of a better life. I can identify with these asylum-seekers. I was once a person who felt trapped in his country, in his native city. Who wanted to escape from a closed society—precisely the kind some wish we could return to again. Was I an economic refugee, driven by political dissent against the system that had planned my whole life for me, was it a yearning for foreign cultures, or all of these? Who can say?

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Translation Tuesday: (More) Poems from “Dickicht,” by Ulrike Almut Sandig

had he just heard that said or / read it in the books of his friends? / what had gone wrong? had it gone wrong?

noon

 

outside the shadows are dwindling

but we are so tired again.

 

above us the sun stands at midday

around us the thicket of high

 

buildings: inside couples lie close

and barely know one another.

 

we are there too, you and me too

on the floor. my skin cools against

 

yours, outside as always the heat

but I am as always too cold. are you

 

asleep, my friend? one clock hand stopped

dead on top of the other and someone

 

shouts NO and then again NO and

the shadows between us start to grow

 ***

‘write down what we had.’ we had

one or two poems, three or four weeks

 

the city towers as our primeval forest

and burrowed inside we two in the

 

yellow light of a streetlamp, between

the tree trunks cast of metal and glass.

 

there was no sun, for the time I was with

you, for that time the rain held us at bay

 

for that time everything drifted away: all

your money, my shoes, the time and my

 

dream of animals in a totally rain-swept zoo:

 

a unicorn out for the count, motionless bears

a dripping-wet peacock. high above us flew

 

a swarm of foxes, we hardly heard them at all.

for, whatever you say, there were two of us,

and everyone else was lost without trace.

***

first she took him by the hands

then she left him by the ferns

 

in the furthest part of the forest

alone. time passed in an instant

 

between the birches the heat flared

then night fell hard one more time

 

birds swivelled their heads to face him

slowly two-hundred and seventy degrees

 

but he had not marked his way back

to the glittering cities of central Europe

 

with a single crumb of bread.

mushrooms sprouting round his feet

 

the feel of fur brushing past him

out of nowhere, front and behind

 

shadows, above him trees creaked

the southern sky kept on turning

 

and kept on turning in circles or

had he just heard that said or

 

read it in the books of his friends?

what had gone wrong? had it gone wrong?

***

Read the poems in their original German here, and listen to the author read her work here.

***

Ulrike Almut Sandig was born in 1979 in Großenhain, Saxony, and now lives in Berlin. In 2005 she completed a degree in theology and modern indology and in 2010 she graduated from the German Literary Institute in Leipzig. Alongside various editorial activities, she has published three volumes of poetry—Zunder (2005/2009), Streumen (2007), and Dickicht (2011)—and Flamingos (2010), a collection of short stories, as well as radio plays. She has been granted residencies in Helsinki and Sydney and won numerous prizes, including the prestigious Leonce-und-Lena Prize (2009) and, most recently, the Droste Award for Emerging Talent (2012). 

Karen Leeder is an academic and writer. Her translations of German poetry have appeared in a variety of journals including Poetry Review, PN Review, Domus (Italy) and MPT. Her volume of Evelyn Schlag’s Selected Poems with Carcanet in 2004 won the Schlegel-Tieck Prize in 2005, and her translations of Durs Grünbein’s “Childhood in the Diorama” won the Times Stephen Spender prize in 2013. Her translations of Sandig poems have appeared in MPT (UK) and SPORT (New Zealand) and she received a Deutsche Übersetzerfonds award in 2014. She will translate Sandig’s Flamingos for Liverpool University Press in 2015. 

Published with permission from: Ulrike Almut Sandig, Dickicht. Gedichte. © Schöffling & Co. Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, Frankfurt am Main 2011.

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Translation Tuesday: Poems from “Dickicht” by Ulrike Almut Sandig

"i will / act like only that flickering, fevered light / embroidered into the tips of the fir trees is real."

Although Sandig was born in former East Germany, one would not necessarily recognise that immediately from any outward aspect of her poetry. Rather it is present in occasional turns of phrase, and perhaps in a residue of longing for a disappeared world. On the one hand, her poetry deals in the recognisably real: from the city or landscapes of the south to the minutiae of the everyday. But hers is also a voice tinged with nostalgia and a sensibility for landscape that harks back to models from the past, a compass needle finely tuned to an existential north that is overshadowed by absence and loss. Her language reflects this dichotomy: splicing contemporary slang with snippets of children’s rhymes, fairy-tales, or quotations from a nineteenth-century canon with a telling irony. Hers is a quiet voice in many ways: without showy metaphors or obtrusive forms, but with a profound sense of music, as demonstrated by the fact that some of her poems appear with musical settings on her recent CD with musician Marlen Pelny Märzwald (March World, 2011). Dickicht (2011) takes us into a “thicket” that is at once the world, the psyche, and language itself. The poems explore language at its most slippery (testing out idioms, playing with the lack of upper case to exploit multiple meanings, riffing on the formal and intimate second person address). Many poems appear in opposing pairs and insist on the mutability of what appears to be stable polarities. And if the poems always seem to go in search of a self, a home, they are also simultaneously and teasingly aware that, as Sandig put it in a recent interview, “at its best a poetry collection becomes the place where you yourself can disappear.”

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Allison M. Charette answers our Proust Questionnaire

A "Lydia Davis" Questionnaire

Who is your favorite fictional character of all time?

Seriously? That’s not fair, is it? This questionnaire is hard. Although now that I think about it: Death. I’ve never met a portrayal of Death that wasn’t incredible.

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