Editor's Note

This April 2016 issue of Asymptote is bursting with world literature, including interviews with novelist Ha Jin and translator Ann Goldstein (of the Ferrante tetralogy), the winning translations of our (now yearly!) Close Approximations competition, a powerful monologue by writer and disability activist Khairani Barokka, poetry by the late Tomaž Šalamun, a thrilling video translation by Laura Marris and Matt Kenyon, and much more, all wonderfully illustrated by guest artist Gianna Meola. (Video trailer here.)

When history seems to be repeating itself like a Fox News pundit, the value of reading histories becomes more and more obvious—especially the hidden histories, the stories we haven’t read before. Translators help coax these stories into reading experiences that are as much like our present as they are entirely other. Whether poetry, fiction, or nonfiction, the best writing plunges us elsewhen: amid an Aztec army, singing pre-Cortés; a courtly road trip in Thailand, 1807; dazzling women artists in early twentieth-century Mexico; Dachau and Munich in the 1940s; at the siege of Vukovar, 1991; Tahrir Square, 2012; a hanging in Iran, 2013; and even a futurist’s Venice, rebuilt in Murano glass. In the right hands, it seems, history can break your heart (to borrow a phrase from featured artist Kemang Wa Lehulere, just named Deutsche Bank's 'Artist of the Year' 2017!).

This issue also presents the glorious winners of our second Close Approximations competition for emerging translators, with each winner awarded $1,000 and each runner-up $500. Poetry judge Michael Hofmann awarded top honors to the Swedish poet Marie Silkeberg and her co-translator Kelsi Vanada for their rendition of Silkeberg’s rapid-fire prose poetry. Out of more than two hundred fiction entries, Ottilie Mulzet singled out Ruth Diver’s translation of Sophie Pujas’s novel Street Rounds in Paris as the winner, particularly praising its balance between domesticization and felicity. Judging the nonfiction submissions, Margaret Jull Costa was struck by Sean Bye’s convincing voice in his powerful excerpt from Filip Springer’s novel Miedzianka: The History of a Disappearance, about the fate of a Polish town at the frontline of World War II. Read all the judges’ citations here. Our 2017 competition will be announced soon, so subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed!

Counterweighing the heavy history elsewhere in this issue, the poetry section is especially alive with sexuality, with a lush excerpt from Vicente Huidobro’s epic 1931 poem as its headiest of attractions: “For this flesh reddens, martyred by language, and thought swells, fed by subterranean streams.” Female sexuality takes center stage in Allan Popa’s Filipino poetry, as Lilith licks her wounds; in the poetry of Maiko Sugimoto, writing of the “little handclap” below her spine; and in a marvelous sequence from Swedish poet Aase Berg’s hag-meets-tech collection Hackers, which flings the accusation “You have no idea / what beautiful breasts I have / What pale hands / slink sensually through nets.” And at the end of the section, sated, Czar Gutiérrez describes his lover: “Blue / Foamy and molecular / She was of space: of snow.”

Reading through this sprawling issue, you realize that, like sex, history more than haunts literature, history animates it. What’s more, literature is essential in warping the faux-objective “straight line of history”—as one of this issue’s star poets, Galina Rymbu, would have it. Werner Kohler, for instance, jags that line by speculating about what happened to the Queens of the Night in Nazi-era Magic Flute productions, and Margo Rejmer diverts that line when she explores Ceauşescu’s obscene palace still obstructing Bucharest. In other diversions, we have our first writing from Moldova (playful poet Emilian Galaicu-Păun), Alina Timofte’s essay about Abasse Ndione (a first to write about illegal immigration to Europe from an African perspective), Dylan Suher’s essay review of Ji Xianlin’s memoir of the Cultural Revolution, plus enticing reviews of many more new books. 

We are thrilled to announce our October issue’s Special Feature, focusing on Canadian poetry—not just as translated from the French, but particularly also from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis voices. Read (and share) our call for submissions here, stay in touch via Facebook, Twitter, and our daily blog, and consider a monthly donation of $5 to keep us going. For those of you looking to contribute in other ways, you’ll find this page useful. Lastly, if you joined our recent worldwide fifth-anniversary celebrations, photos and event summaries are already up on our Events page—may the memories linger! To paraphrase Asymptote contributor Lin Yaode: “If literature's history is really a history of readers, then a journal’s history is a history of its readers too.” Thank you for reading and supporting us all these years, we hope you enjoy this new issue!

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue April 2016

Editor-in-Chief: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Assistant Managing Editors: Sam Carter (USA) and Justin Maki (USA)

Senior Editor: Florian Duijsens (Germany/The Netherlands) 

Senior Editor (Chinese): Chenxin Jiang

Section Editors:
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Aditi Machado (India/USA)
Joshua Craze (UK/USA)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)
Ellen Jones (UK)
Henry Ace Knight (USA)
Luisa Zielinski (Germany)
Eva Heisler (USA)

Assistant Editors: Alexis Almeida (USA), K. T. Billey (USA), Julia Leverone (USA), P. T. Smith (USA), and Lin Chia-wei (Taiwan)

Contributing Editors:
Ellen Elias-Bursac (USA), Howard Goldblatt (USA), Aamer Hussein (Pakistan/UK), Sylvia Lin (Taiwan/USA), Sayuri Okamoto (Japan/Italy), Sim Yee Chiang (Singapore), Antony Shugaar (Italy), Dylan Suher (USA) and Adrian West (USA)

Chinese Contributing Editor: Francis Li Zhuoxiong (Hong Kong/Taiwan)

Spanish Contributing Editor: Soledad Marambio (Chile/USA)

Commissioning Editor: J.S. Tennant (UK)

Blog Editor: Patricia Nash (USA) 

Assistant Blog Editor: Allegra Rosenbaum (USA)

Interview Features Editor: Ryan Mihaly (USA)

Chief Copy Editor: Diana George (USA)

Assistant Copy Editor: Will Rees (UK)

Podcast Editor: Daniel Goulden (USA)

Educational Arm Assistants: Claire Pershan (Abu Dhabi/USA) and Lindsay Semel (USA)

Incoming: Assistant Managing Editor (Julia Johanne Tolo), Executive Assistants Theophilus Kwek (Singapore) and Nozomi Saito (USA) and Spanish Social Media Manager Kateryna Pavlyuk (UK)

Editor-at-large, Australia: Beau Lowenstern
Editor-at-large, Belgium: Veronka Köver
Editor-at-large, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Mirza Puric
Editor-at-large, Canada: Marc Charron
Editor-at-large, Egypt: Omar El Adl
Editor-at-large, Hong Kong: Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Editor-at-large, Hungary: Ágnes Orzóy
Editors-at-large, India: Naheed Patel and Poorna Swami
Editor-at-large, Indonesia: Tiffany Tsao
Editor-at-large, Iran: Poupeh Missaghi
Editor-at-large, Israel: Yardenne Greenspan
Editor-at-large, Poland: Beatrice Smigasiewicz
Editor-at-large, Romania and Moldova: MARGENTO
Editor-at-large, Slovakia: Julia Sherwood
Editor-at-large, South Africa: Alice Inggs
Editor-at-large, Taiwan: Vivian Chih
Editor-at-large, UK: Megan Bradshaw

Masthead for Issue April 2016

Fiction: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction: Joshua Craze
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
WoW: Luisa Zielinski
Criticism: Ellen Jones
Visual: Eva Heisler
Interviews: Henry Ace Knight
Illustrations and Cover: Gianna Meola
Chief Executive Assistant: Dallin Law
Executive Assistant: Laura Garmeson
Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan
Proofreaders: Alexis Almeida, Megan Bradshaw, Georgina Berry, Diana George, Julia Leverone, Matt Phipps, and Will Rees
Technical Manager: József Szabó
Head of Programming, Events: Thomas Flynn
Marketing Manager: David Maclean
Graphic Designer: Geneve Ong
Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan
Video Producer: Daniel Chi Cook
English Social Media: Sohini Basak, Hannah Berk, Georgina Berry
Chinese Social Media: Zhang Zhuxin and Zhang Lingyu
Spanish Social Media: Selina Aragón

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Masafumi Takagi (Shichōsha), Filippo Piazzoni Marinetti, Francesca Barbi Marinetti, Ann Goldstein, Natasha Wimmer, Frederic Tuten, Dominic Pettman, Rachelle Rahme, Andrew Hertzberg, Ros Schwartz, Deborah Smith, Hamid Ismailov, Caroline Bergvall, Tena Štivičić, Tan Puay Shian, Priyanka Pandit, Bruna Lobato.

For their generous donations, our heartfelt thanks go too to Nathaniel Jones, Mark Cohen, and Dmitry Garanin.



Ivana Simić Bodrožić, from Hotel Tito

Translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac

I come to the brink of the abyss, sniff the stench of death, stand for a minute or two and run back.

Werner Kofler, Speculations About the Queen of the Night

Translated from the German by Vincent Kling

As she was leaving the building, the Queen of the Night was arrested for aiding and abetting the escape of a man on the wanted list.

Youssef Rakha, from Paulo

Translated from the Arabic by Robin Moger

I understood that the bullet entered his back and exited through that circle in his chest, but where was I exactly?

Ramapada Chowdhury, from India

Translated from the Bengali by Arunava Sinha

The next time the train came, the next time it halted, I found the boy standing near the barbed wire once again.


Vicente Huidobro, from Sky-Quake: Tremor of Heaven

Translated from the Spanish and French by Ignacio Infante and Michael Leong

—Isolde, Isolde, how many miles separate us, how much sex between you and me.

Galina Rymbu, Three Poems

Translated from the Russian by Jonathan Brooks Platt

There isn’t one single metaphor here

Aase Berg, from Hackers

Translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson

cat-soft from / toxoplasma / schizosex // Endorphoria / never kills / its host-world

Allan Popa, from Us from all Evil

Translated from the Filipino by Marc Gaba, Jose Edmundo Ocampo Reyes, and Allan Popa

She mounts trees. / Rocks on them as on the laps / Of husbands and young men hard / Near dawn.

Emilian Galaicu-Păun, iov & vio

Translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Diana Manole

So then I divide it, the grave, into smaller graves / like the pills in an empty blister-pack

Various Aztec Authors, from Songs of Mexico

Translated from the Nahuatl by David Bowles

You, King Nezahualcoyotl, / Wrap yourself round / With dead, desiccated blooms.

Jorge Gimeno, Unpainted Walls

Translated from the Spanish by Curtis Bauer

Entangled in the winding of a watch. / Your mouth full of lupines.

Tomaž Šalamun, from Opera Buffa

Translated from the Slovenian by Matthew Moore and Tomaž Šalamun

The snout loses its fragrance / and spring and all.

F. T. Marinetti, from Venezianella the Futurist

Translated from the Italian by Jennifer Scappettone

—In the manner of indulgent and hygienic philosophical systems we advise you o inventive Studentaccio

Phu, from Poems from the Buddha’s Footprint

Translated from the Thai by Noh Anothai

I’ve been summoned into this wilderness.

Maiko Sugimoto, from Hemflower

Translated from the Japanese by Sim Yee Chiang and Sayuri Okamoto

see, one day, a shadow run by with hysteric chestnuts

Czar Gutiérrez, from Fall of the Tightrope Walker

Translated from the Spanish by Marta del Pozo and Nicholas Rattner

I feel the shard of glass travel under my skin—oh fearful, exploring diaspora—


C. F. Ramuz, Beauty on Earth

Translated from the French by Michelle Bailat-Jones

A review by Patti M. Marxsen

If beauty has vanished, what are we to make of its passing?

Emiliya Dvoryanova, Concerto for Sentence

Translated from the Bulgarian by Elitza Kotzeva

A review by Alex McElroy

“When it’s about music, it should only be about music, about that moment when the notes are driven deep into us."

Georgi Tenev, Party Headquarters

Translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel

A review by Pete Mitchell

Like its language and folklore, the physical world of Communism persists in ruins and junk, the abject and the obsolete.

Ji Xianlin, The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution

Translated from the Chinese by Chenxin Jiang

A review by Dylan Suher

The fact that historical understanding only comes belatedly does not excuse anyone from moral responsibility—if it did, it would excuse everyone.


Knud Sønderby, A Man and His Great-Grandfather

Translated from the Danish by Michael Goldman

They were my father’s eyes that man was walking around with.

Anzhelina Polonskaya, The Street

Translated from the Russian by Andrew Wachtel

The German language, which I was trying to learn in order to fill my head with something other than my upcoming divorce, refused to stick.

Joël Gayraud, Selections from La peau de l’ombre (The Shadow’s Skin)

Translated from the French by S. D. Chrostowska

When I look at myself reflected in the eyes of my beloved, the distance from which I see myself is double that from which she sees me.

Elena Poniatowska, from María Izquierdo: Left, Right and Back Again

Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney

María Izquierdo sews her own clothes, doctors her family with wild herbs, she eats up her own work and it does no harm to her stomach.

Margo Rejmer, from Bucharest

Translated from the Polish by Olga Drenda

How to build a new Bucharest, when the old one is still there and doesn't want to disappear?

Vali Khalili, Report of a Public Hanging

Translated from the Persian by Poupeh Missaghi

"Why in front of our house? There are so many other spaces, we don’t even know these kids, this is a calm neighborhood, everyone minds their own business."


Maxi Obexer, Glacier

Translated from the German by Neil Blackadder

Time doesn’t pass. It goes inside you. It grows inside you, time, and sticks to the life inside you.

Khairani Barokka, Anathema

Will you recall your emissaries and send them right back? Will we wrap our songs around our backs, and wrap you in ours as well?


Laura Marris and Matt Kenyon, Bad Language

Translated from the French of Paol Keineg

Each poem displaces the one before, / they all want to remake / the world from top to bottom.

Peyman Hooshmandzadeh, Memories

I hope that one day I can have a book about my own life that will not include a single story but just be a book of images.

Kemang Wa Lehulere, History Will Break Your Heart

Using chalk for me speaks to history—history as written, history as revised, history as to be revised and should be revised.

Special Feature

Boris Dralyuk on Julia Nemirovskaya

An elided preposition has landed the speaker not just in boiling water, but in the water’s tender, bursting skin

Alina Timofte on Abasse Ndione

Before the boat takes off at midnight, life vests—supposed harbingers of catastrophe—are to be removed, passports burnt.

Close Approximations Contest Winners

Marie Silkeberg, The Cities

Translated from the Swedish by Kelsi Vanada and Marie Silkeberg

examine how it feels. to be able to feel such confidence. to tell a sad story about a family in peacetime.

Uljana Wolf, Subsisters

Translated from the German by Sophie Seita

i work out our tactics: resemblance. that way everyone sees us, and no one can take what isn’t ours.

Sophie Pujas, from Street Rounds in Paris

Translated from the French by Ruth Diver

It was an unpleasant day, and deserved to be paid back in kind. It had started hostilities with a nasty little drizzle, too sneaky and gutless to be real rain.

Kim Kyung-uk, Spray

Translated from the Korean by Jason Woodruff

His chance to fix his mistake had disappeared forever. And it was all because of that damn cat.

Filip Springer, Miedzianka

Translated from the Polish by Sean Gasper Bye

They could pack all of Kupferberg into train cars and send it all West. But the town will stay. Only they will disappear.

Albert Casals, The World on Wheels

Translated from the Catalan by Ona Bantjes-Ràfols

I have finally understood what THE way to hitchhike is, THE way to travel. In one sweet word: chairhitching.


An Interview with Ha Jin

Every time a book of mine was published in mainland China, some words and phrases were cut. As a result, I felt that the teeth of those books had been pulled.

An Interview with Ann Goldstein

No matter how many times you go over a translation, some improvement almost always occurs to you. Similarly, in almost any manuscript there is likely some small mistake, a pothole or pratfall.