Translations

Translation Tuesday: “wrong connections” by Andra Rotaru

she sits on a tuft of grass: drying under her.

The results of our Close Approximations contest winners are in! Find the official citations as well as links to the winning entries here. For the next two months, we will spotlight these contest winners as well as their work. First up, we present an excerpt of the top entry in the poetry category. Judge Sawako Nakayasu says: “I’m thrilled to have selected this year’s winner for poetry: ‘wrong connections’ by Andra Rotaru, in Anca Roncea’s excellent translation from the Romanian. I love how this work reads like a film that can only take place in the mind of the reader. The scenes (I read them like scenes) carry you through a changing landscape that can be menacing, historical, scientific, or downright violent all in torqued connection with each other like the ‘incorrect connections’ of the tribar.”

“In the British Journal of Psychology R. Penrose published the impossible ‘tribar.’” Penrose called it a three-dimensional rectangular structure. But it is certainly not the projection of an intact spatial structure. The ‘impossible tribar’ holds together as a drawing purely and simply by means of incorrect connections between quite normal elements. The three right angles are completely normal, but they have been joined together in a false, spatially impossible way.”

—Bruno Ernst, The Magic Mirror of M. C. Escher

she sits on a tuft of grass: drying under her. even her clothes dry on her. make some wishes when throwing something in the water. rust solders iron under water, no one passes, sounds of bursts of water.

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Translation Tuesday: “Initials” by Xurxo Borrazás

A Borgesian metafiction featuring a twelve-kilogram head of lettuce

This week’s Translation Tuesday treat comes by way of translator Jacob Rogers—step into the Borges-infused metafictional world conjured by Galician author Xurxo Borrazás, in which literary analysts play crime detectives, and the rug can be pulled from under one’s feet by unreliable narrators.

The policeman grasped the folder, flipped it open with his fingers, and contemplated the note.

“What might you all know about Pierre Menard?”

It was blank on the back and had no return address. He considered throwing it into the trash, but in the end decided to pass it on to the commissioner, who was reading the papers in his office. He typed Menard into the computer, then Pierre, French, psychopath, and pervert, without the name appearing in any file, neither in anonymous nor in see here.

While drinking coffee with a colleague they determined that there was a question in it, and that such things are formulated in search of answers. The matter found them in a playful mood, and as always they turned to the mainstream media to sound it out. They fabricated a report that a French farmer, Pierre Menard, had grown a head of lettuce which would enter The Guinness Book of Records for its twelve kilograms of weight and its eighty centimeters of diameter, with a photoshoot and statements from the proud record-holder included. A letter arrived two days later:

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Postmortem: A Poem by Maya Tevet Dayan

you were no longer breath/ just the hovering wing beat/ of a fluttering heart.

Maya Tevet Dayan’s poem lays bare the loneliness of grief. Uniquely about the state of being un-mothered, it is universal in conveying intense emotional loss. The nuances of feeling and sentiment have been expertly translated from the Hebrew by Rachel Tzvia Back. 

1.

It was evening, it was chaos, it was edge of the abyss.

And the quiet stood still.

A young doctor walked in and walked out

and was unable to say

if you had left or if

you were still here. Because at your end

you were no longer breath

just the hovering wing beat

of a fluttering heart.

Remember?

Exactly as I once was

in your belly. Heart and heart,

no breath.

 

My beginning was a fetus of life.

Your ending was a fetus of death.

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Translation Tuesday: Two Poems by Kimo Armitage

Recollect this moment, when obstructed/ Observed by the beach-goers of Kaloko

The poems by Kimo Armitage bring alive Hawai’i gently: through effortless descriptions of the rain and honey creepers, the mist and breadfruit. It is a intimate portrait painted by one who is most familiar with the landscape’s myths and realities.

Haliʻa Aloha | Remembrances

Kakuhihewa’s Oʻahu Beholds 

Kakuhihewa’s Oʻahu beholds
The woman of the heavenly mist

The woman of Kalimukele sits
With her filled calabash

The star, Keawe, shimmers in the lofty heavens
Casting a light on her face

She is adorned with the anise-scented fruit
Giving greetings to Laka, the deity of dance

Glance toward the Kilihune rain
That dampens the leaves of the breadfruit and pandanus

Majestically, the ‘Āpuakea rain reaches toward Mololani
Relax to the enchantment of the honeycreeper

For you is this affection
A name song for Noelani

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Translation Tuesday: “Punctuation of Life” by Lidija Dimkovska

Now we meet in front of the immigration desks

In this poem by Lidija Dimkovska, the full stops at the end of each word raise more questions than the simple answers they appear to be. These categories create both lack and excess in meaning when stripped from their contexts—there is a sense of isolation but at the same time a certain kind of clarity that in life, for better or worse, we often move from having just one home to having many. 

Punctuation of Life                                                 

“Those who forgot me would make a city.”
Joseph Brodsky, May 24, 1980

Home.
Fatherland.
Language.
Family tree.
Individual and collective memory.
Archetypes.
Atavism.
Uniqueness.

Ah, a misprint.

Home?
“Fatherland”
Language!
Family tree;
Individual and collective memory…
Archetypes –
Atavism:
Uniqueness.

Complaint.

Those who have forgotten me, Joseph,
would make not one but three cities,
except the citizens have either died or moved away.
Now we meet in front of the immigration desks
at the border of the earthly, or the heavenly kingdom.
One alien is akin to another,
so we all fill in the forms together
passing the same pen from one to another.
It’s only the punctuation of life
that we all, covering the form with our hand,
write
for ourselves.

Translated from the Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and Patricia Marsh

Lidija Dimkovska was born in 1971 in Skopje, Macedonia. She is a poet, novelist, essayist, and translator. She competed her PhD in Romanian literature at the University of Bucharest, Romania where she worked as a lecturer of Macedonian language and literature. She lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia and translates Romanian and Slovenian literature to Macedonian. She has published six books of poetry and three novels, translated to more than 20 languages. She received the German poetry prize “Hubert Burda,” the Romanian poetry prizes “Poesis” and “Tudor Arghezi”, the European Prize for Poetry “Petru Krdu” and the European Union Prize for Literature, among others. In the States, The American Poetry Review in 2003 dedicated the cover page and the Special Supplement to her. In 2006 Ugly Duckling Presse from N.Y. published her first collection of poetry in English, Do Not Awaken Them with Hammers, and in 2012 Copper Canyon Press published her second book of poetry pH Neutral History (short-listed for the Best Translated Book Award 2013). 

Ljubica Arsovska is editor-in-chief of the long-established Skopje cultural magazine Kulturen Život and a distinguished literary translator from English into Macedonian, and vice versa. Her translations from English into Macedonian include books by Isaiah Berlin, Toni Morrison, Susan Sontag, and plays of Lope De Vega, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Tom Stoppard, and Tennessee Williams. Her translations from Macedonian into English include works by Lidija Dimkovska, Dejan Dukovski, Tomislav Osmanli, Ilija Petrushevski, Sotir Golabovski, Dimitar Bashevski, Radovan Pavlovski, Gordana Mihailova Boshnakoska, Katica Kulafkova, and Liljana Dirjan, among others. 

Patricia Marsh is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, author of The Scribe of the Soul and The Enigma of the Margate Shell Grotto, and translator of a number of plays and poems from Macedonian into English. She lectured in English at the University of Skopje for a long period before returning to live and work in the UK in 1992. 

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Translation Tuesday: Two Poems by Andrés Sánchez Robayna

far away, the shapeless clouds slide off at their leisure

Andrés Sánchez Robayna’s poems are a treat — in delicately constructed verses, they evoke deeply visual associations. The lines are startling in their clarity, and yet succeed in wrapping the reader in their complex ambiguities. 

The Sleeper Who Heard the Most Diffuse Music

The delicate backstrokes of sleep
rise red over the ocean,

thick, warm clouds
on the far side of the vaulted day,

the sea in this summer breeze.
The most diffuse music, in a dream,

the most intense vision, he dreams
the ebbing waves, the sun, the pines

twirling amidst these swells and drafts.
His back dissolves into clouds.

Neither the sun nor the dawn will be for him
the illusion of sun or dawn or blue.

On a Swimmer’s Shadow

not in living rock: out of granite
sculpted angles of the pool

the shadow on the mosaic below
sketches the figure above

far away, the shapeless clouds
slide off at their leisure

in the blind light of the edges
labile light, still shadow

so his written body flees
sculpted thus, the light dives deep

 Translations from the Spanish by Arthur Dixon & Daniel Simon

Editorial note: From Al cúmulo de octubre: antología poética, 1970–2015 (Madrid: Visor Libros, 2015). Translated by permission of the author.

A prolific author, editor, critic, and translator, Andrés Sánchez Robayna has published more than sixty books of poetry, essays, and translations. He completed a PhD in philology at the University of Barcelona in 1977, directed the magazines Literradura and Syntaxis, and is currently professor of Spanish literature at the University of La Laguna.

Arthur Dixon works as a translator and as managing editor of World Literature Today’s affiliated journal Latin American Literature Today. His translation of Andrés Felipe Solano’s The Nameless Saints (World Literature Today, September 2014) was nominated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize. His most recent project is a book-length translation of Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza’s Cuidados intensivos (World Literature Today, September 2016). He is Asymptote’s Spanish Social Media Manager. 

Daniel Simon is a poet, translator, and the editor in chief of World Literature Today. His latest verse collection, After Reading Everything, has been nominated for the Forward Prize, the T. S. Eliot Prize, a Pushcart, and several other awards. His translation credits include Ramón Gaya, Eduardo Mitre, Mario Arteca, José Mateos, Abdellah Taïa, and Boualem Sansal.

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In Review: Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop

Jessie Stoolman on the first book ever to be translated to English from Wolof, an indigenous language of Senegal.

Doomi Golo is the first book to be translated into English from Wolof, an indigenous language widely spoken in Senegal. In its interesting linguistic journey, the Francophone author Boubacar Boris Diop has also personally translated the novel from Wolof to French.

The protagonist Nguirane Faye’s six notebooks written for his grandson compose the heft of the novel. One of the many iconic passages in the book tackles a central question facing the decolonizing world:

I am perfectly aware, Badou, that turning one’s back on the outside world is tantamount to the kiss of death.  It’s bound to be a good thing if a nation lets the winds that are blowing from all corners of the globe expand its chest, but not unless we do what we can to preserve the crucible destined to receive its breath when they are blowing.  Life, after all, is not born out of the void.

Every aspect of Diop’s masterpiece, from its content to choice of language to its translation, addresses this struggle to preserve marginalized identities in a globalized context. It is unsurprising that this pioneering novel was a finalist for the Best Translated Book Award 2017, founded by Three Percent.

Interestingly, Diop decided to translate Doomi Golo from Wolof after being “inundated with requests,” according to Vera Wülfing-Leckie, one of the two translators of the English version. Adding intrigue to the situation, Wülfing-Leckie notes in her captivating introduction that some scholars argue that the French version, entitled Les petits de la guenon, “was a new novel that merely bore close similarities to the original.“ As for the English translation, Wülfing-Leckie mainly worked with the French version. However, El Hadji Moustapha Diop, Boubacar Boris Diop’s son and the second person in the translating duo, consulted the Wolof version as well.

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Translation Tuesday: “The Woman in Tula” by Kang Unkyo

"the sunset which used to come running, when she smiled carefully"

Kang Unkyo is a veteran Korean poet whose poetry, like all great art, has evolved in response to the times. From nihilistic political verse to “People’s Poetry” of abstractions, she has refreshed many traditional forms. Known for her lyrical touch, the poet here creates a sensory pastiche of the woman in Tula. 

That woman in Tula who used to blush,
that woman in Tula who used to ask the menu carefully,
that woman who used to put on a red-apple-patterned apron
and make red salad,
the sunset which used to come running, when she smiled carefully,
the woman in Tula who used to turn over and wipe the reddened tables,
that woman, red glasses, red curtains, red calculator

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Translation Tuesday: The Scent of a Dream by Alberto Ruy-Sanchez

The unorthodox torment of Don Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo

The feelings of guilt and uncertainty that dominate this stand-alone addendum to Alberto Ruy-Sanchez’s 1987 novel, Los demonios de la lengua, wrestle with the tension between religion and eroticism that was central to the author’s Jesuit upbringing. The story’s prose-poetry style prioritises diction and imagery over narrative, making for a complex and rewarding read.

Among Apples

Not words but serpents emerged from his mouth. And some of these vipers had the heads of goats, of iguanas, salamanders, toads; they were eagles without wings, fish without rivers, tongues without saliva. One tongue divided in two, in three, in ten, in six times one hundred and eleven nightmares. And the odor that emanated from these tongues, reminiscent of the rotten fish that serve as a delicacy in Sweden and an omen of tragedy in Denmark, was so dense as to be visible—and it looked back at us. It was a cloud with eyes, horns, jaws, a bristly beard and pointed ears. It looked like Satan on the verge of unleashing his fury, but it was only the scent of Don Marcelino’s breath as he dozed at midday.

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Translation Tuesday: “Icelanders” by Vanda Rozenbergová

But it’s wintertime, it’s been snowing a lot and as long as the weather stays like this the sky will be the same every day.

Shortlisted for Slovakia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Anasoft Litera, it will not be unfair to say that Vanda Rozenbergová is a master of the short story form. In this story, she explores domestic tensions and dashed dreams through the skillful use of a child narrator.

I was in my room playing with my toy cars but Becko kept taking my black sports car away so I had to give him a slap on the hand, Stop it, Becko! I said. I’d been working on a racetrack for my lorries but because it was a Sunday I had to listen to my mum cursing ‘cause the kitchen is next to my room. “Bloody Sundays,” she said, then I heard a pot lid bang on the floor and a knife strike a chopping board. I used to think she was crying but she was just moaning aloud about having to cook. “I’m as lonely as little orphan Annie,” she kept shouting but Daddy and I had no idea who little orphan Annie was. And there’s another thing I don’t get: why does my mum keep doing stuff she hates, why does she keep roasting meat, peeling potatoes, grating carrots, baking and frying, and why does she always clean up afterwards but never sit down with us to eat and instead say she’s had her fill, having breathed in all the cooking smells. And then in the morning she pulls my trousers up to my ears, bundles me into the car and starts doing her hair as we’re driving and tells me with hairpins in her mouth to eat all my sandwiches at school ‘cause she made them for me even though she didn’t feel like it, she hates making sandwiches, as if I didn’t know she hates making them. I’m sure by next year I’ll be making my own sandwiches. But why does she keep on doing stuff she hates? Why doesn’t she just stay in bed and rest and receive visitors, why doesn’t she give me, Daddy, and Becko a hug and ask us to bring her a cup of tea?

When I ask her about it she blames it all on Daddy, but he’s totally not like her, he loves to lounge around and crack jokes, never in a hurry to go anywhere, not even to work. All my friends like him, and sometimes they go to see him for a chat ‘cause he works in the kebab shop next to our school. He doesn’t serve people at the counter, he’s at the back prepping vegetables. He brings home kebabs and doughnuts but Mum doesn’t eat that kind of stuff so it never makes her happy. Becko is not my real brother, I’ve made him up. I told Dad about him and he said that it was OK, that there was this other world and Becko does exist there. When he said that he was lying on a rug under the window looking at the sky, and then he told me a secret, which is that sometimes on his way home from work he stops by the hospital to see his friend who’s sick. I didn’t know what to say so I asked if at least his friend had a nice room, if it had a telly and stuff like that. Of course there’s a telly, said Daddy, and went over to the next room to put some Icelanders on the stereo. Because my Dad loves Icelanders. He loves Icelandic music and Icelandic people.

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Translation Tuesday: Two Poems by Kim Haengsook

My nostrils were buried. I had breakfast in a world which didn’t smell at all.

In these two poems, the acclaimed South Korean poet Kim Haengsook focuses on the human face and its excess of meaning in a world where meaning itself is volatile and unstable. The face, always at the center of human relations, can signify the deepest feelings of happiness, loss and confusion, yet its silent vocabulary collides with the world of objects and our desire to communicate with other people. It is a pleasure to feature Haengsook’s thought-provoking work on Asymptote, translated by Lei Kim. 


The Fall of a Face

The face that stayed with me, like a brother-in-arms, ran away like another brother-in-arms into the skin of the infinite, placid night.

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Translation Tuesday: A Poem by Elena Fanailova

No one can bear it, physiologically, Except for perverted aesthetes

Elena Fanailova has been one of the most boundary-pushing poets in the contemporary Russian poetry scene for over twenty years. Known for her keen observations of both Russian authorities and her own peers in the intelligentsia and art world, Fanailova shows off the height of her incisive yet colloquial, even witty, narration style in “masha and lars von trier,” a poem in which everyone is complicit in the crimes of their culture. 

—Madeline Jones, Blog Editor

masha and lars von trier

          Diary, summer 2006

1.

The Russian after-party is fucking up the championship
Russian Masha is losing Wimbledon
To a wooden machine by the name of Amélie
Behind whom stands a thousand-year-old blitzkrieg
And all of France, the Church’s eldest daughter

Russian Masha is getting nervous, you can tell,
No matter how loud you yell.
Her powerful serves splinter against the mechanics
Of the still more powerful machine and its instruments
Here nothing will come of it
Except her volleys,
Lesser versions, knockoffs,
Pitiful byzantinism

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Translation Tuesday: Poetry by Nazih Abu Afash

The worst thing a ewe can do: / Seek refuge amidst the flock.

In these poems, published in the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar under the overarching title “An Incomplete Diary”, the renowned Syrian poet Nazih Abu Afash dissects the benign indecisiveness of human nature by seeking refuge in the quietness and silence of words, his words, in the face of the noises generated daily by the ongoing war in Syria.

Abu Afash, like a lonely shepherd, counts his flock with no intention of committing remembrance to the act of existence per se, but to remind us of one thing: I am returning to die in the forest. The following are translations of this vulnerability into another form of vulnerability where contemplation can be as valid as involvement.

 

All were human: some returned disfigured, with incomplete eyes, incomplete shoulders, and incomplete dreams. Some still clutched their wilted flags envying themselves for the kisses, tears and garlands awaiting them. Some stopped in the middle of the road to stare at the buses, the processions and the women inhaling air outside the cage of chastity. Some were overcome by tiredness. Some despaired of everything and believed in nothing. Some blamed themselves for falling for hope. Some realised they had been betrayed. Some said: So we were told. And we believed. Some watched over the front lines hoping to witness peace break out of the remnants of their lives and the piles of their enemies’ empty cartridges. Some sat weeping. Some, who were apt only for forgetfulness, the dustmen buried under the sand of their trenches, as though returning a lost child to his family, in the hope that they might one day return to the arms of their old life with the simplest of reasons and the lowest of costs…

 

All: were

 

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Translation Tuesday: Two poems by Lee Seong-Bok

That day the sun beat down on the blue china shards, all day long, and the blade of grass, slightly wilted, was a blade of grass.

Courtesy of Literature Translation Institute of Korea, we are pleased to showcase the work of Lee Seong-Bok, translated by Yea Jung Park. Wistful for lost opportunity, these urgent, insistent prose poems hark back to a time of youth, and are sure to evoke strong personal memories.


1) Sister, the boat we rode on that day

My love, my sister,
do dream of the sweet happiness
of going there and living, just the two of us!

— Charles Baudelaire, “Invitation to a Voyage”

That year in late spring, one night spent in the bungalow by the reservoir. Tens of thousands of stars whizzing above the campfire. The night-long cuckoo cry engraved a tattoo on my forearm in the shadow-shape of a heaving wooden ship, and sister, in the morning all those day-lily blossoms, I did not know where to find your eyes among them. Eyes with yellow petals hung like the wings of a fan, eyes rolling like iron hoops to the sound of buzzing. Even now, at the cuckoo’s cry my crazed arms will mimic the rowing of a boat, and sister, the boat we rode on that day advances carefully through the buzzing day-lily stars, searching for the eyes you have lost in the night.
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