Last week, we recommended readings from Asymptote‘s summer issue, “The Dive”. If you are still uncertain about where to take that first plunge into our jam-packed issue, take guidance in this week’s recommendations from some of our Section Editors. What’s more, definitely don’t miss the coverage of the issue in “This Week in Short Fiction” at The Rumpus!
“A Man Composing a Self-Portrait out of Objects,” from The Absolute Gravedigger, by Vítězslav Nezval, tr. Stephan Delbos and Tereza Novická. Review: Aditi Machado, Poetry Editor.
I like weird poetry. Poetry that enacts the essential weirdness of trying to figure out stuff. For instance, when language tries to work out what a thought is or what thinking feels like, that’s weird. All of this seemingly abstract, matter-less matter turns into an ungainly body of odd parts that keeps connecting and breaking off and turning into other, still odder, parts. That’s what Vítězslav Nezval’s poem, “A Man Composing a Self-Portrait out of Objects,” feels like to me. To paint this internal picture, the man has to handle the external world of solid, but changeable, things:
“Dismantling / A very intricate clock / Assembling from its gears / A seahorse / That could represent him before a tribunal / Where he would be tried / By five uniformed men from the funeral home / For his pathological absent-mindedness.”
Nezval’s translators have done an excellent job of embodying in English the slippery act of cobbling together what can never entirely cohere—a self. I recommend this excellent poem and eagerly await the book in which it will appear, The Absolute Gravedigger. (Twisted Spoon Press, forthcoming in 2016.) READ MORE…
Mario Bellatin, The Large Glass (Eyewear Publishing, February 2016, United Kingdom and Phoneme Media, January 2016, United States). Translated by David Shook—review by Alice Inggs, Editor-at-large, South Africa
Can a life be expressed in a single narrative, or a single form; can it be confined to a single genre? Mario Bellatin’s experimental autobiography (or is it autobiographies?), The Large Glass, employs three different ways of writing a life, challenging the accepted idea of what constitutes biography, and therefore self-expression.
This is not the first time Bellatin has engaged with the genre. His 2013 novel, Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction, is a satirical biography of a fictional Japanese author, which includes excerpts, photographs and a bibliography. As critic Diana Palaversich explains, “With Bellatin you are never on solid ground”.
The Large Glass is non-linear, and at times almost nonsensical, rendering memory as character. Bellatin’s style has been described as hewing closer to that of avant-garde filmmakers—Lynch, Cronenberg—than anything literary. This brand of inscrutability or opacity—inherent in all three sections of The Large Glass—means that to distil meaning from Bellatin’s work it is necessary to rely on aspects of the author’s “objective” biography. This has something of a Lazarus Effect on Barthes’s dead author. But to what end?
The Large Glass magnifies those fundamental philosophical questions: Are we the same person throughout our lives? How do experiences and the manner in which we experience them and remember experiencing them shape our understanding of ourselves? How do these memories fit into the narrative of a life? Does a life have a single narrative? Bellatin seems determined to “reach that point where only language acts, ‘performs,’ and not ‘me.’” READ MORE…
David Shook is a poet, translator, and filmmaker in Los Angeles, where he serves as Editorial Director of Phoneme Media, a non-profit publishing house that exclusively publishes literature in translation. Their newest book is Like a New Sun, a collection of contemporary indigenous Mexican poetry, which Shook co-edited along with Víctor Terán.
Seven translators in total—Shook, Adam W. Coon, Jonathan Harrington, Jerome Rothenberg, Clare Sullivan, Jacob Surpin, and Eliot Weinberger—translated poets from six different languages: Juan Gregorio Regino (from the Mazatec), Mikeas Sánchez (Zoque), Juan Hernández Ramírez (Huasteca Nahuatl), Enriqueta Lunez (Tsotsil), Víctor Terán (Isthmus Zapotec), and Briceida Cuevas Cob (Yucatec Maya). I corresponded with Shook over gchat to speak with him about the project.
Today is Columbus Day, a controversial holiday in the United States. Several cities have recently adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day over Columbus Day, clearly a victory for recognizing indigenous cultures in the United States. Which leaves me wondering: how are the indigenous Mexican writers recognized today in the Mexican literary landscape?
As someone who regularly visits Mexican literary festivals and also translates from the Spanish, I’ve observed the under-appreciation of indigenous writers firsthand. Mexico’s indigenous communities make up 10 to 14% of its total population, and you certainly don’t find anywhere near that percentage of literature being published in Mexico today. READ MORE…