Monthly Archives: July 2014

Krumping in Translation: Interviewing Aditi Machado, Asymptote’s Poetry Editor

On reading translated poems: "It’s a dangerous, unsettling world—that’s why it’s fun."

Asymptote’s poetry editor Aditi Machado has curated across the gutter and five continents. In light of Asymptote’s July issue, I interviewed Aditi, and her responses run the gamut: what follows is an in-depth interview with insight into arranging an issue, poetry in translation, and embracing vulnerability when reading. 

Many think that reading poetry requires a specific literacy—is the same true for reading translation, or poetry in translation?

Reading anything requires specific forms of literacy, even reading a newspaper. With poetry, I think we’re less aware of skills we may already have or of those that may be gained. Additionally, we’re extremely sensitive about our lack in these skills—or, if we feel we do have them, we might be able to articulate how we learned them and how much further we have to go. It’s a special privilege, being literate about one’s literacy. READ MORE…

6+ Top-Notch Translation Picks from The New Yorker Archive

Hot tips for translation fiends—from The New Yorker's just-launched online archive

About a week ago, The New Yorker delighted droves of readers by opening a great deal of its archives to inaugurate its website redesign. But a summer spent sifting through thousands of back articles, essays, fiction, and poems sounds nice only until you realize time is limited. Not to worry: Eva and Patty, brave Asymptote blog editors, have combed the magazine’s darkest depths to select some of The New Yorker’s best pieces—in translation.  READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “A Brief Life” by Carlos Labbé

A young man's decidedly uncanny encounter at the beach

One summer I was at a beach in Mar del Plata with a group of young Argentine friends, around ten men and women, the majority attractive, at an age with more than enough time to spend hours arguing about unimportant matters as if they were the most profound things in the world. I remember that I was fresh out of University and had traveled to Argentina for the summer. My principal interlocutor, strangely, seemed older than I, although in reality he was quite young. He was bolder in the discussion, he seemed to know the names of many more books and authors, his hair was long, his voice husky, his face angular, his body athletic. He was drinking maté and his name was Julio. Everyone else was lying around on towels with dark sunglasses, bikinis, beers, CDs, and cigarettes. Every now and then one of them would enliven the discussion with a favorable comment for Julio or for me, with objections or laughter.

– No, loco, you’re wrong. Or, are telling me you want to write like Oliverio Girondo? Man, you’re bitter.


From the Orbital Library: Gert Jonke’s “Awakening to the Great Sleep War”

"In the morning, the walls blow their noses, hanging their bleary eyed bedding out of the windows."

In the science fiction of movies and television, the future looks more or less uniform. Digital technology is (somehow) even more omnipresent than it is today. A continuous mosaic of audio and video spills across every available surface. A glass skyline stretches toward the horizon with sleek automobiles gliding past the frame. If human culture has existed, say, for more than a few decades, the evidence of that is not visible.

This kind of scenario is a reflection of contemporary reality, of course. Science fiction has traditionally dressed up the future in contemporary styles. And this presentism seems justified today. In our swiftly urbanizing world, the built environment often appears as if it had emerged overnight, without precedent. The megalopolises of Asia and Latin America, with their endless high-rise apartment blocks and elevated thoroughfares, seem to presage something universal for humankind, at least while we can keep industrial civilization going.

But there is another kind of future city, one defined by the accretion of time, where reality is defined by the weight of history rather than its absence. The late Austrian polymath Gert Jonke made a career evoking such places. His complex, often bizarre novels explore how the past continually impinges on the present, particularly in Awakening to the Great Sleep War, first published in 1982 and brought to English last year by Dalkey Archive Press.


Weekly News Roundup, 25th July 2014: Bookin’ it, Icy lit

This week's literary highlights from across the world

The Man Booker Prize decision to include all English-language pieces of fiction (not just those in the Commonwealth or Ireland) caused quite a stir last year. Since the longlist has been announced, take a look at what it means to include writers from the United States among the Bookish. That being said, the English novel as we know it is dying, or dead already (for better or for worse: doesn’t this mean new opportunities for translated lit)? And another English-language prize, longlisted: the so-called “International” Dylan Thomas Prize has announced those in the running for the 30,000-pound award. READ MORE…

Borges, the Quixote, and Two Street Markets

The author of "The Antiquarian" tackles Borges, contextual understanding… and the singular joys of book shopping

The first time I read “Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote,” I was seventeen and in my freshman year in college in Lima. As anyone who reads Borges for the first time, I was dazzled by the story of a fictional French writer who, at the beginning of the twentieth century, wants to write once again, without plagiarizing or recovering it from memory, Cervantes’s Don Quixote. The most memorable passage of the story comes when the narrator, a friend of Menard’s, and very likely a French fascist, analyzes one paragraph from the novel in two different ways. First, assuming that Cervantes is the author, he concludes that the paragraph is rhetorical and verbose, when written by a seventeenth-century Spaniard. Later, assuming the author is Pierre Menard, a contemporary right-wing surrealist poet, he finds that the same words are fantastically counterintuitive and herald a new form of understanding the world. Since the narrator is a fascist, one suspects that his interpretation is an overinterpretation, the grotesque imposition of ideas that were not there in the original text.


Publisher Profile: Bloomsbury Publishing

"I don't publish literature from other languages as a translation. I publish it as literature."

Founded in 1986, Bloomsbury Publishing is an independent publishing house dedicated to promoting quality literature. During the editor’s week of the Buenos Aires Book Fair I met with Bill Swainson, Senior Commissioning Editor of the Adult Editorial Division at Bloomsbury Publishing in London. 

Bloomsbury logo


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.”


NYC Mayor de Blasio to Stop at Carlo Levi’s Grassano

"I never saw other pictures or images than these: not the King nor the Duce, nor even Garibaldi; no famous Italian of any kind."

When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio visits Grassano, the birthplace of his grandmother Anna Briganti, he’ll be walking in the footsteps of not only his forebears but also an Italian author whose first book was a cornerstone of one of New York’s best-known publishing houses. The coincidence is more than a geographic one: the reforming mayor will be returning to a family hometown, but also to a place that led to a masterpiece of social reporting and reformist philosophy.

Carlo Levi’s book, Christ Stopped at Eboli (Cristo si è fermato a Eboli), published in 1945, was one of Roger Straus’s first acquisitions: it was “a harbinger of things to come,” according to Hothouse, a history of the publishing house FSG, “a critical triumph and best-seller in 1947.”

The book was written by Levi, a Turin-born Jewish doctor and painter, who recounts a year of his internal exile in Grassano and a neighboring village, Aliano (called Gagliano in the book), for anti-Fascist activism.  


Weekly News Roundup, 18th July 2014: New Asymptote, so many prizes!

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Unless the underside of a rock is the roof of your home, chances are you’ve already checked out Asymptote’s stellar July issue. This summer’s pickings include some of the greatest: César Aira, Sergio Chejfec, Raúl Zurita, and Christina Peri Rossi figure as highlights from our sparkling Latin American feature. And elsewhere, the sights are no less spectacular: French author Violette Leduc, blog alum Faruk Šehić, and translators Daniel Hahn and J. T. Lichtenstein. READ MORE…

Marcel Schwob’s “Mimes” – Mime X and XI

"The inhabitants bore their heads where we keep our stomachs; when they waved at us, they bowed their bellies."

Read all previous posts in Asymptote’s “Mimes” translation project here.

Mime X. The Seaman
(trans. Hannah Embleton-Smith)

If you doubt that I have plied the heavy oars, look at my hands and my knees: you will find them worn as ancient tools. I know every weed of the underwater plains that are at times purple and at others blue, and I have absorbed the science of every coiled shell. Some of the weeds are endowed with human life; their buds are transparent eyes, like jelly, their bodies like the teats of sows, and they have scores of slender limbs, which are also mouths. And among the punctured shells, I have seen some that were pierced over a thousand times; and from each little opening came and went a fleshly foot upon which the shell would move.

After crossing the Pillars of Hercules, the ocean surrounding the land becomes strange and wild.


Asymptote Summer 2014 Issue – Out Now!

Three cheers for great literature!

Hot off the e-press: Asymptote’s July issue is now live! The star-studded issue reads like a cool glass of water, and with good reason: the cold-as-ice cover is inspired by Latin America, currently in the dead of winter and the subject of this issue’s special feature.

Highlights in this Latin-American edition include writerly tributes to Osvaldo Lamborghini (by César Aira), Julio Cortázar (by Sergio Chejfec), and Gabriel García Márquez (by the legend’s very own Portuguese translator Eric Nepomuceno), alongside poetry from Chilean prizewinner Rául Zurita and fiction by Uruguayan author Cristina Peri Rossi. We’ve even got a video trailer for them!


Translation Tuesday: Selections from Anna Akhmatova’s “Requiem”

A new translation by John Gallas

“You cannot leave your mother an orphan.” Joyce


Not some other country’s sky,

Not some other’s housing wings –

I was there, with them, my them,

my own misfortunates.


An Other Introduction

In the ghastly years of the Yezhov Terror, I passed seventeen months standing, waiting in line outside a Leningrad prison. One day, somehow, someone “identified” me. And a woman behind me, her mouth blue with cold, who, of course, had never heard of me, started out of her numb and shared distraction, and said to me, quite close (we all whispered, there) :

Ah, can you write this ?

And I said, Yes.

And something nearly a smile slipped across her face, and made it one again.


In Review: Mahmud Rahman’s “Killing the Water”

"Rahman, who is also a translator, shows a translator’s knack for knowing when to deploy the kinds of sentences that beg to be underlined."

From August through December 2012, I was almost physically unable to read books. Picking up a book, I found myself incapable of the sustained concentration necessary to make sense of phrases, sentences, paragraphs. I would read the same thing over and over again, my mind wandering into blankness. It felt, in a very real way, as though my eyes were slipping off the page. Reading books had always been a means of sustaining myself, and so forgetting how to read was very much like forgetting how to eat.

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t frightening. The qualitative aspect of this bizarre reading aphasia (for lack of a better term) was a persistent feeling of restlessness when I was trying to engage with a book—as though my brain would rather be doing something, anything, else.

This condition mostly persisted until late April of last year, when I moved from the countryside of Pennsylvania—where I’d lived within a stone’s throw of dilapidated barns and old orchards—to Oakland, California. I had hoped that the warmer weather, the change in time zone, and my new proximity to an actual city would shake something loose in my head.

Within a few weeks of my arrival, I’d found and finished Mahmud Rahman’s Killing the Water, a collection of short stories that moves from Bangladesh to Boston to Detroit and finally to Oakland. READ MORE…