Berlin seemed like the obvious choice. I had taken German classes for three years, and had been incubating visions of myself as an artistic, experimental person. Based on breathless reports from friends, the city seemed a stand-in for New York in the 70’s and 80’s. Cheap rent, temporary galleries, nightclubs that never closed—I pictured a city covered in the graffiti Giuliani had scrubbed away, yet cleansed of students from NYU—and paved with black leather catsuits and crushed bottles of pilsner.
To justify the trip, I had taken time off from school and secured an internship with a local arts magazine, called BPIGs, which somehow stood for Berlin Independents Guide. After a jet-lagged night in a hostel, I planned to wake up, drop off my giant backpack across town in my sublet room and then head to the magazine’s office. Without a smart phone, or even a cell phone that worked in Germany, I relied on print-out directions from Google. By the time I arrived at my sublet apartment on Weichselstraße, I realized I would soon be late for what was supposed to be my first official meeting. I threw my bag by my bed and ran out the apartment door, back to the U-bahn.
When I emerged from the station an hour later, I found myself on the gray banks of the Spree, in a neighborhood that seemed oddly starchy for an underground arts magazine. I ran up and down the empty street, tucking my chin against the January cold, scanning the building’s blank facades for the address, but none of them were quite right. It was now 3:00 in the afternoon, and I hadn’t managed to find the place. More than honesty or integrity, punctuality is the highest German virtue, and with each passing minute, I felt my chances of making a good impression dribble away. This internship was my only ostensible reason for being in the city, and it seemed I was going to squander it. READ MORE…
“Miss Chapati Queens” is part of a fiction manuscript titled The F.L.I.P Show, an interconnected collection of stories about the Filipino American community on the East Coast. The Philippines is an archipelago of 175 languages and/or dialects. Most of us are at least bilingual. In my household alone, five major Filipino languages, including English, are spoken. As a former colony of the United States, the Philippines has been using English as a lingua franca—the language of power, and of the media and the government—for over a hundred years, further complicating its multilingual tradition.
Although set in Queens, “Miss Chapati Queens” explores Filipino multilingualism. The protagonist, Rosario, is half-Indian, half-Filipino but grew up with a Filipino mother, and thus understands and speaks Tagalog. Her voyage into becoming more “Indian” coincides with her decision to join a beauty contest called Miss Chapati Queens. There are almost four million Filipinos in the U.S., some of whom are of mixed heritage, like the character in this story. These households reflect the multilingual backgrounds of the Filipino people. I speak English, Filipino (Tagalog), and Spanish, but understand Bicolano and Chabacano (language of my maternal heritage from Zamboanga City, a former Spanish port). READ MORE…
“So she’s asking the husband what his favorite vegetable is. And she’s cooking it for him,” a male teacher in Banswara District, Rajasthan is telling me in his home. I peer down at my notes. By the end of the session, I’ve realized a peculiarity: the lines he’s given me for the song being translated—grinning all the while—number far fewer than my lines of lyrics. A discrepancy calling for a more concerted effort, more translators, more women to tell their own tales.
Around this time last year, I was recording and just beginning to be enraptured by Bori Village women’s song-stories in Vagdi, an oral language under threat. As part of the EQUILIBRIUM artist’s residency at Sandarbh, working with women’s self-help economic groups as equals to create new artistic contexts, six songs were recorded by my friends from Bori in a studio—what became “The 12 Acres EP”—transcribed into Vagdi, then translated into English and Hindi, with the help of colleagues. The end goal, however, was to make these songs come to life in a wordless world, a picture book melange of visual imagery. READ MORE…
Happy Friday, Asymptote! This week marked the excited announcement of the poetry judges for our very-special-favorite book award—Three Percent‘s Best Translated Book Award. In the poetry-judging lineup is the blog’s very own co-editor and GIF extraordinaire Katrine Øgaard Jensen, among many other qualified and interesting names. But Katrine’s got plenty of award-reading experience: she judged last year’s BTBA fiction prize, too. If you’re interested in BTBA-buzz (the best kind there is!), it’s worthwhile to catch up on some early, “On Location” 2016 musings, featuring French writer Anne Garréta, William Burroughs, and Czech phenom Bohumil Hrabal. READ MORE…
Antena is a language justice and literary experimentation collaborative founded by Jen Hofer and John Pluecker, both writers, artists, literary translators, bookmakers and activist interpreters. Antena activates links between social justice work and artistic practice by exploring how critical views on language can help us to reimagine and rearticulate the worlds we inhabit. Antena has exhibited, published, performed, organized, advocated, translated, curated, interpreted, and/or instigated with numerous groups and institutions, including Blaffer Art Museum, Hemispheric Institute for Performance and Politics, and Project Row Houses. I recently spoke with Jen Hofer and John Pluecker over email.
Alexis Almeida: I’d like to start with Antena’s beginnings. It seems collaboration is a key element of everything you do. Can you talk a bit about how your different backgrounds/interests were able to coalesce in this project?
John Pluecker: As I’ve described previously in an interview Nancy Wozny did with Antena in 2014 for Arts + Culture TX, “Jen and I initially met in Tijuana, Mexico in 2006 at the Writing Lab on the Border, a six-week series of workshops organized by Mexican writer Cristina Rivera Garza. Jen’s ideas and thinking about translation, interpretation and writing blew me away from the very start. After our first meeting in Tijuana, we kept running into each other: as interpreters at the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the US Social Forum, as literary translators at various gatherings and as poets in readings and events. Over the years, our friendship grew to the point that we decided to join forces.” READ MORE…
Photographer Cody Cobb is Asymptote’s guest artist for the July issue. His poignant snapshots—a departure from the breathtaking landscape imagery that defines his practice—grace nineteen of our texts in the Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, and Multilingual Writing feature sections. I interviewed him about his artistic motivations, his affinity for landscapes, and his experience contributing to Asymptote.
Berny Tan: I’d like to start with a question about your own photography practice. You describe your photography as “attempts to capture portraits of the Earth’s surface, devoid of human interaction and interference.” What motivates and informs this approach?
Cody Cobb: Finding quiet places to be alone on a planet with over 7 billion humans is my motivation. This seems to be getting harder, so I end up trekking way out into the mountains and forests. READ MORE…
I’m about to fly off somewhere
and my fear of heights plus myself
finds me resorting to tranquillisers
and having confused dreams
If I should die
I want my daughter always to remember me
for someone to sing to her even if they can’t hold a tune
to offer her pure dreams
rather than a fixed timetable
or a well-made bed
To give her love and the ability
to look inside things
to dream of blue suns and brilliant skies
instead of teaching her how to add up
and how to peel potatoes
The Uncanny Listener: Stories from the Shadows (Part 2)
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We’re back with a second portion of scary stories! Following on from last month’s episode, part two of our audio anthology ventures even further into the dark and dingy corners of world literature. This installment features haunting tales from Japan, Egypt, America, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with writing by Franz Kafka, Yoko Ogawa, Dean Paschal, and Mansoura Ez-Eldin. Along the way you’ll find a hallucinatory giant, a doll with a mind of its own, a hideously disfigured carrot, and the Statue of Liberty as you’ve never seen her before. Plus there’s a conversation with cultural critic Adam Kotsko about the epidemic of creepiness on our TV screens, from Happy Days to Mad Men to the Burger King commercials. Join us as we continue exploring the questions: What is the uncanny? And why do we enjoy it so much?
Yay, it’s Friday! It’s a good Friday at that—this week marked the announcements for the American Literary Translators Association’s Lucien Stryk Prize shortlist. The Prize goes to literary translation from Asian languages, and with the exception of the Kalidasa, every single one of its nominees—both author and translator—have appeared on Asymptote‘s digital pages. We’re pretty chuffed about that—go ahead and check out the list or our archives, for what’s sure to be a star-studded reading experience (we recommend looking at Kim Hyesoon’s much-buzzed-about Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream to get you started).
This week was full of awards in general—the S.E.A. Write, or South East Asian Writers Award similarly announced its shortlist. Meanwhile, in other—Anglophone, more-or-less boring—prizes: the National Book Award announced its poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and young adult longlisted nominees—check them out! But we can’t say we aren’t a little baffled at what didn’t make the list (#Argonauts, anyone?). And in light of the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara, the London Review of Books offers a strongly-worded dissenting opinion.
Meanwhile, over at the Poetry Foundation, Robert Fernandez and Blake Bronson-Barrett describe what it’s like translating French surrealist Mallarmé (don’t you love this shop talk?). And just when it’s announced that another Seamus Heaney translation is slated to appear posthumously, the Irish poet’s last words are revealed to the public. And if we’re interested in peeking in/behind the writer’s veil, read Iranian writer, artist, and activist Shahirar Mandanipour’s interview with Little Village.
We reported last week on the terrible, repugnant Yi-Fen Chou debacle. This week, actual Asian poets continue to respond—and offer their work. Meanwhile, the New Republic suggests that cheating might be the only way to get published (say it isn’t so! It isn’t so at Asymptote). And it might be interesting to read Sherman Alexie’s private email to the group of poets accepted for Best American publication (“I’m sorry for this pseudonym bullshit,” he says).
Mercè Rodoreda, Death in Spring (Open Letter, September 2015). Tr. from the Catalan by Martha Tennant—Review by Ellen Jones, Criticism Editor
Martha Tennant’s translation of Death in Spring, the (posthumously published) final novel by Mercè Rodoreda, is republished in paperback this month by Open Letter, having been long out of print. Written while in exile from Franco’s Spain during the Civil War, the novel is considered Rodoreda’s most accomplished work, and can be read as an allegory of a repressive regime.
Told through the eyes of a nameless boy who seems perpetually on the cusp of manhood, the novel recounts the cruel, bewildering traditions of a village community constantly under threat of being washed away by the river that runs underneath it. The villagers’ brutalism is bizarre and often casual—they pour cement down people’s throats as they lie dying to prevent their souls from escaping, then bury them in hollowed out trees. A thief is imprisoned in a tiny cage until he begins to behave like an animal; children are locked in cupboards until they half-suffocate; and every year a young man is forced to swim underneath the village and endure inevitable mutilation or death.
One day last February, I found a few words by Gertrude Stein on the Internet, only to discover that the day happened to be the 140th anniversary of her birthday. The next morning, I reached for a collection of poems by the Czech Beat poet Vladimira Čerepková only to learn that—by chance—she would be celebrating her birthday on that day. The third day, I started to wonder if I could find a poet who was born that day, too. And I did. And only the devil knew why I decided to look for 365 poets, one for every day of the year.
This is how my blog, útržky (fragments), was born. At first, I looked only for Czech poets and/or Czech poetry translations, illustrating the poems with my photographs—most of them taken on the very day, but quite a few on my trips to (Jewish) cemeteries, Prague, Copenhagen and my walks around my city of Brno. READ MORE…
شیرین SHIRIN SHIREEN
The trees that stood guard on each side of the road that led to the house where شیرین and Farhad now lived had in recent weeks been stripped of their green girth, pared down to their brown skeleton, their branches stretching up to the sky in a plea for the sun to reappear.
شیرین left the house, immediately feeling her face grabbed by the icy palms of late October, her breath emerging visible in smoke-signal bursts. The few remaining leaves that hadn’t already been reduced to a mushy paste were scattered like the victims of a great battle over the winding bicycle lanes, amputees crushed under her boots, boots more utilitarian than anything she had purchased in a decade. Soon it would snow, the air had that singular electricity to it. Chilly pastels that hung lower than she was used to seeing in a sky threatened to erupt in a glorious display of technicolor.
Natasha Wimmer‘s translations include The Savage Detectives and 2666, by Roberto Bolaño. She lives in New York City.
Who are you? What do you translate?
In an attempt to avoid the obvious, I’ll borrow the 25-things-people-don’t-know-about-you meme from years ago. Except let’s make it five, and keep it translation-specific.
1) The first word I ever spoke in Spanish was ”hola”—except that I pronounced it ”olé.” 2) I learned lots of Spanish from watching dubbed versions of Highway to Heaven (Autopista hacia el cielo) and Murder She Wrote (Asesinato Escribió). 3) My first translation project was Pedro Juan Gutiérrez’s Dirty Havana Trilogy, which stretched my skills to the breaking point with its Bukowskian cool and scatological sex scenes. 4) I was once given the wrong draft of a novel and had to go back over every word of the translation to make sure it matched the proper version. 5) My working title for the translation of The Savage Detectives was The Wild Detectives. 6) (bonus point) I was convinced that American readers would respond better to The Savage Detectives than to 2666—the popular success of 2666 in the U.S. was a total surprise (to me, at least).
Hey Friday, hey Asymptote! Hope the week was all you’d hoped. It certainly wasn’t the week that the editors at Best American Poetry had hoped, as the literary Internet exploded with the revelation that a white, male, middle-aged poet named Michael Derrick Hudson had been publishing pseudonymously under the Chinese name Yi-Fen Chou. And a poem published under this name in Prairie Schooner had been selected for inclusion in the 2015 Best American Poets anthology. Sherman Alexie, the edition’s editor, defended the bad case of literary yellowface, to the chagrin of practically everyone with an empathetical bone. And then the real Yi-Fen Chou spoke up. And Jenny Zhang wrote a very smart thing. Side note: in light of all this depressing racial appropriation, it might be fun to test out the Asian-American Writers’ Workshop’s handy White Pen Name Generator). READ MORE…