Monthly Archives: April 2016

Weekly News Roundup, 29th April 2016: 400 Years Without Cervantespeare

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Hey, happy Friday, Asymptote! This week marks two extra-special, European four-hundred-year anniversaries: it’s the week of Spanish literary icon Miguel de Cervantes’ death, and there’s all sorts of commemoration: Spain celebrated the Don Quixote author with national celebrations and literary awards, but if you’re unable to make it in person, take a virtual trip to La Mancha. And English poet/thespian/legend William Shakespeare, too, died four hundred years ago (1616 was a killer year, huh?), so the commemorations are similarly virtual and literal (in case you’re curious, here’s a Proust Questionnaire with the Bard). And lest you forget (as much of Shakespeare and Cervantes can be found in the open domain) April 23 was also the UNESCO’s world book copyright day.


What’s New in Translation? April 2016

This month's hottest new releases in translation—reviewed by Asymptote's own

Night Sky Checkerboard by Oh Sae-young (Phoneme Media), translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé. Review: Theophilus Kwek, Executive Assistant


More than three decades after arriving in Korea, and two decades into a rewarding career in translation, Brother Anthony has crafted yet another elegant and necessary rendition of contemporary Korean verse: his first collaboration with Oh Sae-young, and only the second full-length volume of the latter’s poetry in English translation. This book provides timely insight to a prolific artist whose work, in the words of fellow poet Ko Un, is suffused with a “thirst for the universe beyond the generations.” READ MORE…

An Excerpt from Prince as the Post Civil Rights Archetype

" can still hear his “voice beating in the chest” of American music. He has done too much to be forgotten."

In the same manner that African Americans were forced to create the only original American language, Black English, Prince is a prime example of the creation of a new form, through amalgamation, which evolves from a need to survive.  In his article “The Musical Alchemist,” Luis Hidalo states that what sets Prince apart is “his influences, his musical inspirations, the ease with which he assimilates them and then reinvents them with his own personal imprint.  Prince has created his own unique style… an incomparable way of making music, a style you can distinguish by the second verse.”

What are Prince’s accomplishments? What did he achieve?  First and foremost, his individual freedom. Second, being an encyclopedia of American Music, to paraphrase music critic Nelson George, Prince simultaneously continued the legacy of the African American tradition of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone, Maurice White, and Parliament Funkadelic while adding to its narrative the discourse of the post-Civil Rights (which is something completely different than post-racial) African American grappling with place and space in a world of hopes, new opportunities, and continued racial limitations.  While Prince was not interested in denying his blackness, per se, he was definitely interested in pondering ways in which he could discuss blackness on his own terms. Next, Prince takes a page from the punk-rock movement of the late seventies and early eighties and fashions what almost becomes a category of alternative music for African Americans. Without this, there would be no Lenny Kravitz, no Terrence Trent D’Arby, no Toni, Tony, Tone, no Me’Shell NdegeOcello, no D’Angelo, no Fishbone, no Living Color, and no Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, at least not in the manner in which we think of them and the manner in which they create and present music. Thirdly, Prince was one of the lone voices of the eighties who wanted ownership, continuing the legacy of Stevie Wonder and passing it on to Jam and Lewis, L.A. Reid and Babyface and Master P. Paisley Park Records attempted to be a real player in the game, signing new acts as well as working with established acts such as George Clinton, Mavis Staples, Miles Davis and Patti LaBelle. Fourth, his work with drum machines and synthesizers expanded on the work of Wonder and revolutionized the technology used in Hip Hop, paving the way for producers such as Dallas Austin, one of the first super-producers of Hip Hop. Austin affirms Prince’s importance and influence on all who follow him by stating, “He’s my total influence in production and songwriting.” READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt of Sophie Pujas’s Street Rounds in Paris

"Something has stopped him in his tracks, but he doesn’t know what to call it. And then it comes back to him: Today the world is possible, almost."

Last Translation Tuesday, we brought you the nonfiction winner of our annual Close Approximations translation contest, picked by Margaret Jull Costa. This week, we present the fiction winner: Ruth Diver’s translation from the French of Sophie Pujas’s fiction, which marks the first time her work has been published in English. Judge Ottilie Mulzet, an award-winning translator herself who has translated László Krasznahorkai’s fiction, chose Diver’s entry because it “combines excitingly experimental writing in a wonderful translation. To me the English version reads perfectly, truly attaining that marvellous balance where, as readers, we are well aware of being privy to a textual world otherwise not available to the Anglophone reader: Diver steers well clear of over-domesticization, and yet at the same time, her translation never contains the infelicity of a clumsy rendering. The author’s voice—a combination of lucidity and ironic sympathy for her anonymous characters intersecting with the urban geography of Paris—is captured magnificently. I truly hope this work will find a home with a book publisher.“

The editors at Asymptote



Rue de l’Odéon (6th)

Life rushes around him, but he’s not involved. The city rumbles comfortably, but he doesn’t belong. Homeless? What a joke. He’s already been here eight years. On the same ventilation grille. Staring at the window of the same café. The passersby grow old and die. He is eternal, stuck under a trapdoor in time. The devotion of those who wanted to help him has worn out. Nobody can imagine any other life for him now. He doesn’t care. He knew it could never happen.

Sometimes he throws insults randomly about. It’s relaxing, this sudden emptiness around him.

He carefully avoids seeing himself. A beard and long hair, just to be on the safe side. Even if he had a face, there’s no chance he will ever see it again. READ MORE…

Publisher Profile: New Directions

"This is going to sound really Pollyanna, but things have gotten better recently."

Frances Riddle: Can you tell us a little bit about how New Directions got started?

Barbara Epler: We were started by James Laughlin in 1936 and he had gone to study with Ezra Pound; he was bored at Harvard and went to study with Gertrude Stein first and then with Ezra. And J.L. always wanted to be a writer. And Pound, seeing a rich kid, probably had an idea, and he said “No, you’ll never be a very good poet, why don’t you do something useful and go home, finish Harvard so that your parents will give you money, and start a publishing company.” Or assassinate the reviewer he hated at the Saturday Review of Literature. But do something useful. So J.L. came back and when he was still in college started New Directions. J.L. passed away in 1997 but he created a trust so that we could not be bought or sold but we have to stay the same size. He didn’t believe in the capital growth thing which I think is correct—that’ll kill a literary company. And we have to publish books of the same quality. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 22 April 2016: NEWruda, Pulitzer,

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote friends! Our new issue is all of a week old, but if you haven’t dived in yet, be sure to start with the blog’s issue highlights—which features the Close Approximations Prize-winning piece by translator-poets Kelsi Vanada and Marie Silkeberg, who are also featured this week in an interview on the blog.

We’ve been promised more work from Chilean poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda for longer than I can remember, but it looks like new work of his might finally see the light of (published) day. Also from Chile: artist Cecilia Viduña is featured on the Poetry Foundation’s “Harriet” blogREAD MORE…

In Review: It’s No Good by Kirill Medvedev

"Medvedev uses everything as 'an opportunity to think a little' about what is in the world and is the world around him."


It’s no Good is a collection of Russian writer Kirill Medvedev’s poems, essays, actions (mostly reports of his protests), and obituaries, taken from his published books, blog, websites, and Facebook account.

Perhaps reading what appears in the copyright page of the book (“copyright denied by Kirill Medvedev”) and the first lines of the first poem in the collection “I’m tired of translating / I probably won’t translate / anymore” will be enough hint that we are in for a ride that will demand us to look, question, rethink, and look again and again. A writer who makes the choice to leave the literary scene behind is not one you can read and walk away from unscathed. READ MORE…

Opening the Voice to the Other Sound: A Conversation with Marie Silkeberg

"I believe you must invest your own body in relation to otherness. You can’t choose what’s 'other' to you."

In addition to winning this year’s Close Approximations contest (in poetry, judged by Michael Hofmann), Swedish poet Marie Silkeberg is the author of seven books of poetry and many other works, including essays about and translations of Inger Christensen and Rosmarie Waldrop. She also works on sound compositions and makes poetry films, often in conjunction with other artists. She was born in Denmark and teaches at the University of Southern Denmark.

I translated eight of Marie’s poems into English while she was completing a residency in Iowa City as part of the International Writing Program in the fall of 2015.  The poems form a series called “Städerna” (“The Cities”), and comprise one section of the book Till Damaskus (published in Stockholm by Albert Bonniers Förlag in 2014), a collaboration between Silkeberg and Syrian-born Palestinian poet Ghayath Almadhoun (now based in Sweden). The book explores city spaces across the world and asks questions about belonging, immigration, and identity. As we collaborated on the translations, Marie described her process and her goals for her poetry, as well as her goals for translation. In this conversation, I asked Marie to tell more about some of the initial ideas she shared with me during the translation process.


Kelsi Vanada: The eight poems in “Städerna” are written in what you’ve called “blocks.” They are composed by many short phrases, separated by periods, which are the only kind of punctuation that mark the poems. In addition, there is no capitalization in the Swedish poems, and many of the phrases separted by periods seem to either extend the thought of the previous phrase, or bleed into the following phrase. Why the choice of this form?

Marie Silkeberg: I’d like to revise that, actually. I want to call them “squares.” They are related to the black square of Malevich. He was a Russian painter, early 20th century. He was extreme; he made black squares on white. It is the extreme part of representation that I’m interested in. Some of the first poems I wrote were in these squares, and I didn’t know what I was doing. The space of a poem is a geometric figure for me. Or the movement in a geometric figure. These squares were invaded by a circular movement; it was a feeling of a circle inside a square.  READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt of Filip Springer’s Miedzianka: The History of a Disappearance

"You don’t negotiate with a horde; with a horde you fight to your last breath..."

For this and the next two Translation Tuesdays, we are thrilled to bring you the winners of our annual Close Approximations translation contest, judged by Margaret Jull Costa, Ottilie Mulzet, and Michael Hofmann. First up, Sean Gasper’s Bye translation from the Polish of Filip Springer’s nonfiction. Margaret chose Bye’s entry as the winner “because I found the subject matter totally gripping—it’s set in 1944, when the Soviet counteroffensive has reached the Vistula River—and the prose itself is satisfyingly dense, and it has what I look for in any good translation, a very convincing voice.”

The editors at Asymptote


O Lord, Make No Tarrying

Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O LORD.
Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul: let them be turned backward and put to confusion, that desire my hurt.
Let them be turned back for a reward of their shame that say, Aha, aha.
Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: and let such as love thy salvation say continually, Let God be magnified.
But I am poor and needy: make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer; O LORD, make no tarrying.

Psalm 70, King James Version

[. . .]


The situation beyond the mountains is getting worse. By 1944, the Soviet counteroffensive has reached the Vistula River. It stops there, though not for long. On January 12, 1945, at 5 a.m., “Stalin’s organs” begin to play on the banks of the Vistula. A thousand Katyusha rockets give the Red Army the signal to attack. It won’t stop until it reaches Berlin. Over the next few days, panic breaks out in the furthest-flung eastern provinces of the Reich. Since mid-January, hundreds of thousands of refugees from Upper Silesia—mainly women and children—have already been heading west. On January 20, all across Breslau the civilian population is ordered to abandon the city immediately. The scene on the streets is like Dante’s Inferno. There’s not space on the trains for everyone, so thousands set off on foot in sub-zero temperatures.

Helena Szczepańska is also among the refugees. She’s eight years old and the youngest of five siblings. Until now, she and her mother have lived in Niklasfähre, on the border of Upper and Lower Silesia. Thanks to their German ancestry—and despite their de facto Polish ethnicity—they are evacuated along with the other Germans. They stop for a day when they reach Schurgast, and then walk westward for almost two weeks. On February 1, 1945, they reach a small town on top of a hill—Kupferberg. Helena will remember this place well, for during their almost three-week trek through Silesia, Kupferberg is the only place she and her family get to sleep in a heated building. Everywhere else they sleep in barns, sheds, cellars, and God knows where else. READ MORE…

April 2016 New Issue Highlights!

Superstars from the star-studded sky of this April's issue

Asymptote‘s latest issue hit the digital shelves on Friday, and there’s so much to read: in addition to featuring poems by the late Tomaž Šalamun and brand-new verse from Aase Berg’s Hackers, (translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson), you can read interviews with Ferrante/Levi translator Ann Goldstein and literary heavyweight/literary “improbability” Ha Jin. But it doesn’t end there: at long last, this issue features the winners of our Close Approximations contest, but among so many other “regular” journal offerings, it’s hard to know where to start. In true blog tradition, we’ve picked favorites from the latest release. The list, we insist, is by no means exhaustive; you really can’t go wrong at all—dig in! READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 15th April 2015: So. Many. Shortlists.

This week's highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptoters! This Friday’s an especially good one, because if we’ve timed the post correctly, because it means a new issue is totally live! There are so, so many gems in this issue, (as per usual). But this one also features the winners of our Close Approximations contest—be sure to check out the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry winners (and runners-up)!

This week, our very own Megan Bradshaw reported from the (frightening) field at the 2016 London Book Fair. Other notes from the (not-so) Fair: translators champion books in underrepresented languages and literatures. And the Book Fair announces its International Excellence Award winners: Words Without Borders is this year’s winner of the Publishers Weekly Literary Translation Initiative Award—the very same prize we won last year!—big congrats, WWB!

Speaking of prizes: the Man Booker International Prize has announced its shortlist, which includes Italian anonymon Elena Ferrante, South Korean trendsetter Han Kang (for The Vegetarian, translated by Deborah Smith), among others. The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction has similarly announced its shortlist. And yet another shortlist, this time for the 100,000-pound International Dublin Literary Award: featuring Jenny Erpenbeck, Marilynne Robinson, and many others. And shortly after the American PEN awarded its prizes this week, English PEN reflects on the notion of “reputation” with regard to non-Anglophone writers.

Also,  at the Rumpus, a look behind-the-scenes: here’s an interview with writer and translator (from the Korean) Minsoo Kang, translator most recently of The Story of Hong Gildong. If you’re interested in what goes on in one of the biggest (or perhaps *the* biggest, full stop) powerhouse publications, read this interview with the editor of the New York Times Book Review, Pamela Paul.  And if you’re still thinking about the Close Approximations prizewinners—don’t worry, we won’t judge you—read about our poetry judge, Michael Hofmann, here portrayed as a kind of literary daredevil of sorts.

Notes from the 2016 London Book Fair

"There is something unavoidably, well, icky, about book fairs: it is the necessary monetization, and inevitable corporatization, of art."

If we took Lemony Snicket creator Daniel Handler’s cautionary advice at face value—“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them”—then, at the least, we should not fear the Book Fair as a den of thieves and our attendance an exercise in tiptoeing above and around winking blades.

Quite the opposite: we are among the international literati of the first order, and we are free to ecstatically smile and sniff the books and promotional materials—like an American woman visiting a French perfume shop. On opening day, Guardian columnist and high-flying London salonnière Damian Barr dispensed more practical guidance particular to British connoisseurship. “#LBF16 have a great fair everyone! Remember to sneak out for gin/fags/sunshine,” he tweeted. READ MORE…

What’s at Stake in Translating Slang? Postcolonial Plurilingualism in Rachid Djaïdani’s Boumkoeur

"...verlan lacks both context and an equivalent in the English language."

In 1999, French author Rachid Djaïdani published his first novel, Boumkoeur. In it, a young French Arab named Yaz writes the story of his daily life as an adolescent in the projects outside of Paris, known as the banlieue. His narrative describes growing up in public housing, dropping out of the education system, living off the streets after his “foreign” name excluded him from the workforce, and the tenuous relationship between troubled youths like himself and the national police. Today, seventeen years after the publication of Djaïdani’s novel, this story is familiar: it is the cornerstone of the French postcolonial literary genre, including the roman beur, as well as the setting for a number of recent, political and historical events in France, such as the 2005 Paris Riots. Boumkoeur called to me as a translator not merely because of its engaging, heart-wrenching story, but also because of its unique relationship to translation. In the novel, language is not merely the medium used to tell the story, but also a literary device that delivers an astounding postcolonial critique of 20th century French society. In the following essay, I investigate the challenges posed to translation by Yaz’s language, as well as the solutions I offer in my own translated excerpt of Djaïdani’s novel. In this way, I attempt to answer a question that is much more complex than it may initially seem: what’s at stake in translating slang?


Translation Tuesday: “A Corpse” by Hamid Ismailov

"Looking from behind his son’s shoulder to the small pile in front of them, he saw a naked arm protruding from the snow."

Let him who gives me a shadow not hold me.
You know the breadth of a star
is not equal to the embrace of the ray.

Let me go, blue holy light,
my shadow is in torment on the black earth.
Am I drunk, or is my road drunk? 

The snow flows, the earth is white and black.
The word ‘I’ is a wanderer like I,
you are eternal as an icy, cracked puddle.

 Did we trip over our shadow
or did the mirage melt in the icy pupil—
a roof, holding up a lamp, when the house moved.

As the day approached noon, Zamzama awoke, and walked into his smaller bathroom to wash himself for the day. The light happened to be on in the narrow room, and he stretched his hands out towards the tap. At exactly the same point, his still-sleepy eyes happened to notice a naked adolescent lying in the bath. Maybe he realised that it was an adolescent due to the fact that the whole body could fit into the bath. Maybe also due to him lying in an empty bath naked, Zamzama purposefully didn’t look in that direction, rather washing his hands with soap and distracting himself with the trickling tap. ‘Perhaps I should have knocked, although he seems to be keeping silent,’ he thought for a moment, though this thought appeared and disappeared just as fast as the flowing water, circling down the drain.

The boy indeed kept silent. In order to avoid bad luck, he didn’t want to shake his hands dry. Therefore, trying to locate the towel in his mind, he unwillingly glanced at the figure in the bath. Was he one of the unmannered friends of his son? For some reason, his vision fell onto their fluffy crotch, jumping back up to the boy’s slanted, closed eyes. Whilst rushing out of the bathroom trying to make no sound, the fact that there was no water in the bath astounded him. Had the young man fallen asleep, and if so, how could he? Was he drunk? Only having just seen his fluffy groin, he thought, are his legs a little disproportionately short? Maybe they were just going into the dark bottom of the bath… READ MORE…