Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

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We are back with literary news you simply cannot miss! This week we will take you to Romania where MARGENTO will help you discover the intricate networks of performance art. Also reporting from Europe is Fiona Le Brun who discusses the eclectic list of recent French literary prize winners, while subtly underlining the theme of migration that cuts across the various literary events. Far away from Mexico, Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn will highlight the increasingly important role of translation in its contemporary cultural landscape. 

Editor-at-Large from Romania and Moldova, MARGENTO, provides us with an insider’s view of the exciting world of Romanian artistic experimentation:

The Bucharest International Poetry Festival featured last month an impressive line-up of international writers and performers, among whom were Christian Bök from Canada, LaTasha Nevada Diggs from the US, Steven Fowler of the worldwide prolific Enemies Project, Max Höfler (the tireless organizer of the yearly Text-World—World-Text Symposium in Graz, Austria), the multilingual performance vocalist Maja Jantar of Belgium, the Bucharest-based American poet and translator Tara Skurtu, and many more, alongside local poets such as Claudiu Komartin and Razvan Tupa.  Organized by London-based Romanian poet and curator Simona Nastac, this annual event has grown more and more visible and central in a country where the tradition of performance poetry going at least as far back as Tristan Tzara’s DADA seems to be thriving more than ever, with festivals thrown from Craiova in the south to Brasov and Sibiu in Transylvania to Cluj and Iasi up north (some of them performance-driven events, other more standard literary ones with a strong reading or performance section).

Petrila is a one-of-a-kind venue among all of the above, both in Romanian and international terms.  The derelict milltown riddled with condemned coal mines and shutdown falling-apart factories has been transformed over the last two decades by visual artist, political caricaturist, and curator Ion Barbu into a mecca of non-conformist festivals (initially thrown in his own backyard), eclectic or scandalous arts events, and improbable post-communist absurdist or faux-kitsch museums (including one that has resonantly revived the memory of once-censored outstanding dissident writer I.D. Sirbu).  A competitor—or rather concurrent event—has been the CUCA Festival organized over the past couple of years in Cartisoara, up in the mountains of Sibiu County, where cutting-edge and indie performances and installations converge with Romanian traditional architecture restoration work done by international volunteers.  A long-feature documentary titled Planet Petrila casting Ion Barbu in the lead role and portraying his eclectic personality and work against the background of the (post)communist history of his hometown has recently been widely praised and awarded at the international film festival TIFF.

Film has fused with performance art before in Romania, while acts involving cross-artform and multimedia performance have gained both national and international recognition.  Recently, a piece from a team led by internationally active poet and performer Iulia Militaru has been selected to feature in a project directed by no other than Lars von Trier.  Militaru is meanwhile, as editor in chief of frACTalia, a co-curator together with Asymptote past contributor Felix Nicolau of the recently revived Blitz Show, the Bucharest performance poetry series that Nicolau, a foremost performer in his own right, has curated for over a decade now (aided on and off by younger writers like Andrei Zbirnea).  What distinguishes Blitz Show from other reading series—such as the similarly long standing Institute Blecher for instance—on the fervent Bucharest literary scene is its unrelenting focus on performance poetry and multimedia/transmedia performance art in general, in a dialogical interactive and culturally/politically critical format.

Moreover, what perhaps really makes Romanian performance poetry & art stand out in Europe is, on the one hand, its intimate intertwining with theory and, on the other, its consistent spilling out into seemingly traditional publication formats.  Both Felix Nicolau and Iulia Militaru for instance are outstanding theorists who prolong both their theoretical poetics and their performance work on page in their experimental writing.  The wider constellation involves the internationally known journal Revista ARTA edited by poet, art critic, and curator Magda Carneci, who recently launched an issue on hybrids, and has been widely cited for previous issues on topics such as performance in Eastern Europe or conceptualism in Central and Eastern Europe (a more in-depth review of these recent issues is forthcoming on our blog).  On the up-and-coming end, the young neo-avantgarde/post-conceptualist poet and critic Yigru Zeltil has recently launched an indie press—Khora—that specializes in available for free PDF books with a pervasively performative and postdigital ethos involving “xeno-cantos” and the “poetics of the interface.”

The internationalization of Romanian performance poetry and cross-artform experimentation across media—including print—has been made perhaps most apparent lately in the poetryartexchange project, a book-exhibition-performance reuniting 9 writers from the UK and Romania, coordinated by London-based visual artist-poet-musician Steve Rushton, and described by David Baker of The Kenyon Review to be ultimately “dynamic—as in drop-the-mike—as in dynamite…”


Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors-at-Large from Mexico highlight the role of translation in sustaining its linguistic diversity:

As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations, on June 15 the Maya cultural organization CELALI (Council for and Cultural in the State of Chiapas) held a book presentation for one of its most recent publications, Kuxinel Bit´il ka aljk´/Live like Fire by the Tseltal poet Antonio Guzmán Gómez. In press leading up to the event, Enrique Pérez López, CELALI’s director, praised Guzmán Goméz’s work for “the simplicity of its language, the harmony of its rhythms, its levity, and the way it takes us to a place of spiritual contemplation.”

In translation news from Mexico, Juan Rulfo’s classic Pedro Páramo was published in a Nahuatl translation in May. One of Mexico’s over 60 officially recognized indigenous languages, Nahuatl has around 1.4 million speakers. Given Nahuatl’s overall steadily declining number of speakers, Nahuatl linguistic activist Victoriano de la Cruz calls his translation “an act of rebellion.” He also refers to the translation a “necessary act for the survival of Nahuatl,” and the book itself a “miracle.”
Finally, in El Salvador US-based Pipil Nahua author Jorge Argueta, who recently published the bilingual En carne propia/Flesh Wounds, began a campaign to expand what he calls the “Library of Dreams.” Inaugurated in 2016 as “a place where children can dream, strengthen their spirits, and learn about their culture in a multilingual environment,” Argueta opened the space as an alternative to gang violence in his hometown of San Jacinto. To date, Argueta’s GoFundMe page has collected almost $2000 towards its $5000 goal.

Fiona Le Brun, an Asymptote contributor, reports from France:

There is lots to report from the world of French literary prizes! Maryam Madjidi’s Marx et la Poupée published in January, received the Prix Goncourt du premier roman in May and the Prix du roman Ouest-France Étonnants Voyageurs in June. Madjidi’s first novel tells her own exile story from revolutionary Iran to Paris. Screenwriter, director and writer of Iranian origin Négar Djavadi was awarded the Prix de la Porte Dorée for her first novel Désorientale. This annual prize rewards a work of fiction written in French on the theme of exile, immigration or plural identities. Vietnamese writer Anna Moï won the Prix littérature-monde for her book Le venin du papillon (Gallimard). Franck Venaille, one of France’s major contemporary poets, was honored with the Goncourt de la poésie for his writing career.

Each year, the “Printemps de la traduction,” a literary event organized by Atlas, the Association for the Promotion of Literary Translation, promotes exchanges between translators and their readers. This year for its third edition, the event began with a tribute to Bernard Hoepffner, a famous translator, who recently disappeared at sea.

Like each year in the coastal French town of Saint-Malo, international literary festival Etonnants Voyageurs took place at the beginning of June. For its 28th edition, this unique festival brought together 250 writers, filmmakers and artists from 37 countries to discuss the state of the world. On the second day of the festival a special event was dedicated to migrations, with guests including writer Patrick Chamoiseau.


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