Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your Friday update from Spain, Morocco, and Slovakia!

This week, we begin our world tour on the Iberian Peninsula in the midst of political unrest—Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James is on the ground in Spain with the full report. Then south to Morocco: we’ll catch up with Editor-at-Large Jessie Stoolman about the latest book fairs and literary trends. And finally, we’ll wrap up in Slovakia with Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood, who has the scoop on the latest Slovak poetry available to English readers and more.

Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James reports from Spain:

Political actions and gestures have been more overtly woven through the Spanish literary scene as writers seek to speak back against increasingly divisive governments. Writers called for remembrance of fifteen people killed in Tarajal on the two year anniversary of their deaths on February 6, 2014; a documentary about the tragedy was made to both inform the public and denounce such instances of institutional racism in the country.

Amidst celebrations of women’s roles in science, Bellver, the cultural journal of the Diario de Mallorca, highlighted three recent anthologies written by women: Poesía soy yo, 20 con 20,  and (Tras)lúcidas.

Another recent book has been getting a lot of attention not for its political weight, but because of the strange circumstances under which it’s being published. Michi Panero, who came from a very literary family but died young in 2004 has had his first book, Funerales vikingos, published by Bartelby Editores. La Movida madrileña called him the writer without books, as he had famously shunned the writing life. He wrote in secret, however, and eventually entrusted the work to his stepson, Javier Mendoza, who has finally sought to publish the unedited stories, together with his own work narrating his relationship with Panero. The product is bound to be an interesting read.

Similarly mysterious and posthumously discovered is a recent gift to the Madrid art world: drawings and sketches by the painter Francis Bacon that were previously unascertained. Bacon had also famously declared that he did not sketch or plan in this way, but some nearly 800 drawings were given to Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino, the journalist and a partner of Bacon’s for some years. The works will be on display in the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid until May 21.

And in Morocco, we hear from Editor-at-Large Jessie Stoolman:

If you can handle crowds exceeding a quarter of a million, take a trip to the 23rd annual Casablanca Book Fair, which opened officially on February 9.  This year’s fair boasts participation from over 700 publishers representing 54 countries.  Perhaps due to Morocco’s recent entrance into the African Union, approximately a third of the participating publishers hail from other African nations.

While you are in Casablanca, stop by L’Manga Day, which will include workshops on the history of Manga, an art exhibition, and musical performances.  Organized by L’Boulvart, a non-profit focused on developing modern music and urban culture in Casablanca, L’Manga Day joins a seemingly growing list of events hosted in Morocco that are dedicated to celebrating this style of graphic literature.  In just the past few months, there have been two similar events in Tangier and Tetouan—though fans in the area are still waiting to hear about the next edition of Manga Afternoon, which for years has attracted thousands in Morocco to celebrate all things Manga.

If you find yourself further north, check out the last event of “Encuentros Argentinos con Santiago De Luca” at the Librairie des Colonnes in Tangier.  Santiago de Luca is an Argentinian author currently in Tangier completing a writing residency.  His previously published work on the region includes Dos Ríos (2007), a genre-bending piece that explores encounters between ‘East’ and ‘West’.  On February 28, De Luca will discuss another Argentinian author, Roberto Arlt, and his relationship to Morocco.  After spending over a year there and in southern Spain, Arlt wrote prolifically about the region, including a book about orality in Morocco (El narrador de cuentos) and another about child exploitation (Noviazgo moro en Marruecos en el año 1935).

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-large for Slovakia, sends us an update:

Imunita [Immunity], the latest poetry collection by Mária Ferenčuhová (samples from her previous collection, Threatened Species, are featured in the current issue of Asymptote, tr. James Sutherland-Smith) has been voted Book of the Year in the annual survey of the daily Pravda. As its title suggests, the collection was inspired by medical terminology but the author also said in an interview, “in the case of ‘Immunity’ it was the experience of extreme empathy, which may have contributed to the fact that I, too, fell ill.”  A review of the collection as well as several poems appeared in the Czech literary bi-weekly Tvar, whose February 2017 issue is devoted to Slovak literature. It showcases work by seven poets, together with some reviews and a survey article by Michal Jareš. Interestingly, the Slovak texts have been left in the original Slovak, as editor Adam Borzič explains in his editorial:  “Although we are aware that especially the younger readers of Tvar are no longer used to reading in Slovak, I would appeal to them to make that effort… There is hardly a language closer to Czech than Slovak! It is therefore worth reading Slovak authors in their native tongue, a beautiful and flavourful language that comes to us virtually as a free gift.”

Krvavé sonety [Bloody Sonnets] (1914) by Pavol Országh-Hviezdoslav is a seminal work of Slovak poetry that might have gained wider recognition had it been taken more seriously by the Czech literary establishment a hundred years ago.

“If a gifted translator had discovered the sonnets in the 1920s and given them the powerful French, English, or German rendering that they deserved, they would surely have won European fame. But that did not happen. One might have expected the Czech critics, at least, to show appreciation. But although Hviezdoslav was given a Czech literary prize for the ‘Bloody Sonnetsin 1919, afterwards it seems that the Czechs, with their peculiar arrogance towards the ‘provincial dialect’ of the Slovaks, ignored the work completely.”

This is how John Minahane, an Irish poet and translator of Slovak literature, explains why this powerful poetic indictment of the horrors of war remained relatively obscure. Minahane has now published his numinous new translation of Bloody Sonnets in issue 3 2016 of The Heidegger Review, an Irish philosophical and historical journal that focuses on World War I. Unlike the previous translator, Jaroslav Vajda, whose 1950 translation stuck to Hviezdoslav’s Petrarchan rhyming scheme, Minahane has decided to use the Shakespearean sonnet form, hoping that “this will allow me to stay closer to the thought in these concentrated and charged poems. They ought to be fresh and topical. If they aren’t, the fault is mine.” What a modest statement: in fact, this translation has made Hviezdoslav’s poetry more accessible even to native speakers who struggle with its convoluted syntax and its many neologisms that never really caught on.

More Slovak poetry, curated and translated by Ivana Hostová, appears in English in volume 4, issue 2, of Poem, an international literature quarterly. A few snippets from poems by Katarína Kucbelová, Nóra Ružičková and Peter Macsovszky are available online.

Last but not least, Slovakia has been declared a paradise for book lovers for having the most libraries per 100,000 residents although, unfortunately, the authors of the survey, the Online Computer Library Center and the World Bank, have kept the actual figure to themselves.


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