To celebrate our seventh birthday here at Asymptote, the blog editors have chosen some of our favorite pieces from the Winter 2018 issue to showcase. This issue truly shines with a diversity of voices and literary styles, including a special feature on micro fiction, and it was such a pleasure for us to read through it. With work from thirty different countries, this issue has been gathered under the theme of “A Different Light.” Enjoy these highlights!
I’ve always admired Asymptote‘s advocacy for literatures that not only are underrepresented, but that take chances, resist easy reduction or interpretation by the reader. Poems that dare to be “the awkward spectacle of the untried move, not grace” (to borrow a phrase from American poet Don Byrd). Poets like Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine. The poems from Arachnid Sun shock me with their bold imagery, impelling me to read again and again. I latch on to certain repeated images: insect, illusion, blood. And definitely a noticeable theme of authoritarian rulers: “spider-eggs perfuming the silence the dictator” and “harpoon the king-shark who flees the riverbeds of polar scrubland.”
“Description of a Flag” got me thinking about flags as the symbols of these authoritarian rulers. It reminded me of a line from the Swedish poet, Tomas Tranströmer, about a flag “that’s so frayed by the wind and smoked by the funnels and bleached by the sun that it could be anybody’s.” Whereas in Tranströmer, we see the erasure of these symbols by indifferent nature and the elements, in Khaïr-Eddine, it is the poet himself who does the erasing: “I erase the oblique note of your righteousness / & hoist a casket of mint & thyme.” The poems’ “guerilla linguistic” mode thus champions the agency of the colonized: “I’m going to stomp you out / arthritic-sleepy-silo-man.”
The Moroccan poet’s conflicted relation to Europe comes out in the following lines: “Europe fabricates you into an asthma of sand /& gutters / Europe / with its fatal rat tail.” A similar dynamic emerges in Tijan M. Sallah’s essay from the Gambia, where the poet Momodou Sallah writes: “I drink the Atlantic / And eat the Sahara / I swim with sharks / To escape the economic barks / I must go to Barca or Berserk.” Both poets are choking on the sands of the Sahara, and Sallah’s “I must go to Barca[lona] or Berserk” encapsulates the unfortunate dilemma facing young migrants trying to make a desperate journey across the Mediterranean.
—David Smith, Assistant Blog Editor
Maxim Osipov’s short story, “The Mill,” feels anything but short. Somehow, the passage of time here doesn’t cut lengthways, but rather ripples outwards—the paths of people’s lives converge in a present and past that are vastly different yet also interchangeable. In a space that would normally give us sufficient insight into the mind of a single character, we are introduced to roughly five, all living in a provincial Russian city that was once wholly dependent on the functioning of an industrial paper mill. Curiously, the collapse of the Soviet Union is not mentioned—instead, the turning point in the lives of these characters is triggered by a certain Sashka Oberemok, who “after some time away…came back into town and made it clear just who the boss of this mill now was.” This sets into motion a chain of events that provide glimpses into the lives of a qualified, yet insecure, doctor; a Russian policewoman and her Tatar husband; and of course, Oberemok, whose legacy still looms over the city. In prose that is casual—even gossipy in an epic, generation-spanning way—we are treated to innumerable descriptions filled with subtle details and impressions. Yes, a paper mill went some way towards creating these characters, but Osipov makes certain they couldn’t be further away from being cardboard cut-outs.
—Stefan Kielbasiewicz, Assistant Blog Editor
The Winter 2018 is full replete with the diversity of language, voice, and style that we all love about the journal. I found myself drawn to Abigail Wender’s translation of Iris Hanika’s excerpt from The Essential for the way that the author examines the ways that contemporary Berliners relate to their own history. Roberto Arlt‘s subversion of theater practices in 1930s Argentina is masterfully rendered in English so that the English reader can see the ways that the author is playing with genre. Finally, the special feature on microfiction is a delicious way to sample various authors.
The piece that most stood out to me were the series of poems excerpted from At Your Feet, written by Ana Cristina Cesar and translated by Brenda Hillman, Helen Hillman, and Sebastião Edson Macedo. Cesar was a prominent figure in Brazil’s marginal poetry scene, primarily because of her thematic focus on gender and for her unique style. “Summary” caught my attention because of the suppression of verbs, allowing the poet to recreate a scene from images alone. The polyphonic “Ladies’ Talk” is striking for the intimate conversations and thoughts women have about encounters with men. The poem feels just as relevant today as it did fifty or so years ago. I think we all have a lot to look forward to with the publication of the full text of At Your Feet this year.
—Sarah Booker, Assistant Blog Editor
Read more about international literature and translation:
- Announcing the Winter 2018 Issue of Asymptote
- Translation Tuesday: “I’m Scared of Those Dots” by Mirka Szychowiak
- Asymptote Book Club: An Interview with Chris Andrews, Translator of The Lime Tree
 From Baltics, translated by Samuel Charters.