Place: Romania

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

In this week’s dispatches, literary highlights from Romania, Singapore, and the United States!

This week, join three Asymptote staff members as they report the latest in literary news from around the world. From the legacy of Romanian poet Emil Brumaru, to new releases of poetry, literary competitions, and the Iowa City Book Festival, there’s plenty to catch up and reflect on.

MARGENTO, Editor-at-Large for Romania and Moldova, reporting from Romania and Moldova

The most resounding recent piece of literary news in Romania is the passing of poet Emil Brumaru (born eighty years ago in Bessarabia, present-day Republic of Moldova), one of the greatest Romanian poets of the past fifty years. Superlative eulogies have inundated literary magazines and wide circulation newspapers alike, foregrounding both the vastness and the subtlety of the oeuvre, while also deploring the disappearance of a widely popular presence prolifically active in literary publications and even social media. Brumaru’s obsessively erotic verse, ranging from the profane and the pornographic to the angelic and the (still physically) mystical, comports a richness of nuances and a chameleonic craftsmanship that perhaps explain why such a huge voice remains for now largely unknown to the English-speaking world, except for a handful of poems translated in a couple of anthologies, graduate theses, or casual blogs.

While women are arguably the only—inextinguishable, nonetheless—subject of Brumaru’s poetry, women writers themselves are taking centre stage in Romanian letters as well. The first edition of the Sofia Nădejde literary awards—curated by poet and radio show host Elena Vlădăreanu—was in that respect a remarkable milestone. While doing justice to novels or collections by established writers such as Gabriela Adameșteanu and widely known young poets and critics like Teodora Coman, the judges also picked for the debut collection award a release significantly titled Kommos. A Hysterectomy Procession by Iuliana Lungu, an up-and-coming poet who has already won support and even accolades from living legends such as Angela Marinescu and Nora Iuga.

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“US” Poets Foreign Poets: A Computationally Assembled Anthology

Identities are analysed. Close neighbours may not be connected. Distant poems may be connected by one edge or less.

Computational poetry is possibly one of the most exciting literary developments of our technology-reliant age. Using algorithms and machines, digital poetry is a product of our modern world, its history stretching only as far back as the mid-20th century. In this essay, Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Romania and Moldova, MARGENTO, tells us about an even more radical anthology. “US” Poets Foreign Poets brings together the world of digital poetry with more traditional, page-based poetry, finding connections between wildly different poems, expressed in graphs as well as two languages (English and Romanian). Joining MARGENTO are three contributors to the anthology, as well as the anthology’s publisher, who reflect on the publication and the implications it has for translating, and for making digital and page-based poetry comprehensible and connectable to each other.

What is digital poetry? Simply put, it is poetry that fundamentally relies on digital media for its ‘composition’ and ‘publication.’ What do we mean by ‘fundamentally’? This refers to the fact that the (sub)genre would not be possible, would not exist if it were not for the digital. ‘Traditional’ poetry, also known as ‘page [or page-based] poetry’ could still be written (even if virtually nobody does that anymore) by ‘putting pen to paper,’ whereas digital poetry would simply not be around without digital technology.

But things—and distinctions—are not really as simple as they may seem, and (as is often the case with definitions), when looking closely these definitions actually branch out into both elemental and complex ‘undefineds’ or undefinables. The many questions above are only a crude testimony to all that (and it can only get worse, as you’ll see in a second). What does, for instance, ‘composition’ in our tentative definition above stand for? In digital technology, it has more to do with algorithms and machinic procedures than the imaginative and ‘original,’ or deeply ‘personal,’ human use of language. It is about manipulating a (mathematical and operational) language behind the ‘natural’ language that is thus artificially (re)generated.

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The European Literature Days Festival: Highlights and Reflections

As always, the highlights of the weekend were authors’ readings showcasing a variety of styles and talents.

 In today’s dispatch, Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Slovakia, Julia Sherwood, reports on the high points of the European Literature Days festival, which she attended in Spitz, Austria from November 22-25. This year’s festival, whose theme was “film and literature,” featured many of Europe’s best film directors and screenwriters alongside high-profile novelists and essayists. 

What is the relationship between film and literature? How does narrative work in these two art forms and what is lost or gained when a story is transposed from paper to the screen? These questions were pondered during the tenth European Literature Days festival, amidst the rolling hills on the banks of the Danube shrouded in autumn mists, on the last weekend of November. As in previous years, the weekend was full of discoveries, with the tiny wine-making town of Spitz and venues in the only slightly larger town of Krems attracting some of the most exciting European authors, this time alongside some outstanding filmmakers.

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Robert Menasse and Richard David Precht. Image credit: Sascha Osaka.

Bookended by two high-profile events, the gathering opened with a discussion between Austrian novelist and essayist Robert Menasse and German celebrity philosopher Richard David Precht, moving at breakneck speed from the theory of evolution to a critique of the current education system, sorely challenging the hard-working interpreters. The closing event saw Bulgarian-born writer Ilija Trojanow receive the Austrian Book Trade Honorary Award for Tolerance in Thought and Action and make a passionate plea for engaged literature: “As a writer I have to live up to the incredible gift of freedom by writing not about myself but away from myself, towards society.”

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of the world’s literary news brings us to Iran, Albania, Romania, and Moldova.

This week’s dispatches take us on a tour of November’s most important literary festivals. In an attempt to combat perennial issues of low readership and lack of access to literature, the festivals offered live readings, awards ceremonies, and discounted books to readers in Iran, Albania and Romania.

Poupeh Missaghi, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Iran

Since 1993, November 15th has been celebrated as the day of Books and Reading in Iran, ushering in a week of celebrations and events to promote literature. The slogan for this year’s Book Week was “The Great Joy of Reading.” Public libraries around the country offered free membership on November 15th, and the Books in the City Festival provided introductions to important Iranian literary figures through music and theatrical readings in subway stations around Tehran.

On November 18th, at the closing ceremony of the 17th Festival of Books and Media, the winners of awards in different media categories (including news, interviews, specialized criticism, humor, photography, websites, and audio and visual media) were announced.

The Imam Ali Society, a charitable foundation, took the occasion to invite its supporters, through the Kids Without Books Twitter campaign, to donate books for children. The campaign also published video in which children invited writers and public figures to donate books to the society’s library.

On the last day of the week, publishers also held readings and talks in different bookstores, creating spaces for readers and authors to come together in celebration of their love for books.

Similar events were held at schools, mosques, and other cultural institutions around the country. However, with low rates of readership and books published per edition, it is unclear how influential these symbolic annual gestures are in changing the reading culture of Iranian society.

In other news, a recent collective initiative has begun to bring together an informal archive of Persian language accents. On November 15th, translator and writer Erfan Mojib tweeted, “Let’s create a website, upload a text, and invite people to read the text in their various Persian accents.” The idea started as a curiosity, but Mojib hopes it can be developed and used eventually for systematic studies. He got so much positive feedback about the idea that he started a telegram channel (t.me/lahjeyab) and a Twitter account (@lahjeyab), and people have been sending him voice messages of themselves reading a text he posted about the diversity of accents in Iran and their unity under the umbrella of the Persian language.

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What’s New with the Crew? A Monthly Update

Delve into the latest literary news from our ever-industrious Asymptote crew!

Apart from working hard on the Fall 2018 Issue, Asymptote staff have also been busy making waves in the literary world. Join us in celebrating their achievements!

Poetry Editor Aditi Machado published a chapbook, Prologue Emporium, with Garden-Door Press. She also discussed her editorial work at Asymptote and her translation of Farid Tali’s Prosopopoeia with the Wash U Translators Collective.

Communications Manager Alexander Dickow reviewed From the Files of the Immanent Foundation by Norman Finkelstein for Rain Taxi.

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Documenting Translators: The Political Backstage of Translation

These films make protagonists out of the ultimate supporting actors in history, the translators.

Translators are often represented as mediators, actors in the communication of a text who are subordinate to the author. However, translators have often played crucial roles in politically pivotal moments. Denise Kripper tells us more about these translators, and the films in which their stories feature.

Coming soon this year is Les Traducteurs, directed by Regis Roinsard, a high-profile French thriller inspired by the true story behind the translation of Dan Brown’s novel Inferno. During this process, several international translators were shut away in a bunker in an effort to avoid piracy and illegal editions while aiming to launch the book simultaneously in different languages, all over the world. In real life, the book ended up generating $250 million, but in the action-packed film, “when the first ten pages of the top-secret manuscript appear online, the dream job becomes a nightmare – the thief is one of them and the publisher is ready to do whatever it takes to unmask him – or her” (IMDb).

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Summer 2016: In-Between Times

How can we get past a feeling of being shipwrecked among the intensity of our selves?

After our first mention in The New York Times in June 2015 (which merely notes that there is a real-life counterpart to the journal by the name of “Asymptote” in Alena Smith’s drama), April 2016 sees our second mention and two key members stepping down. The departure of Senior Editor Florian—a friend from my time at The New School whose support has been a great source of strength for me, personally—is a great setback. But April 2016 also ushers in our first-ever monthly report, a two-page summary of each month’s activities which I’ll make available to the public for the first time here. Designed by Theophilus Kwek to be easily skimmed, this internal report not only records Asymptote‘s progress across the board each month, but also represents my commitment to transparency of the magazine’s financials. After all, as any serious dieter knows, tracking stats that matter is the way to go. A quick glance reveals that we spent $1,798 (all figures in USD) in total over April, while only $247 has come in through small donations and the sale of one publicity package. This means that over the month of April, Asymptote has bled $1,551 (which I cover either with funds previously raised or out of my own pocket). For the first three monthly reports (i.e., from April to June 2016), these figures do not yet include wages for Asymptote‘s only full-time team member (i.e., me). It is only in July 2016, exactly six years after I conceived the journal and opened a tab in my name that would add up to 70,000 USD while also foregoing a full-time salary all these years, that I begin to stipulate my own remuneration. This obviously doesn’t change the fact that monthly incoming funds are still a trickle compared to monthly outgoing funds, but at least it sets up a proper accounting as to how much I am being owed by my own organization. Here to introduce our Summer 2016 issue—possibly our most diverse ever, with 34 countries being represented and featuring additional translations into Albanian, Bengali, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, Greek, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Slovak, and Tamil—is Assistant Editor Andreea Scridon.

What are our human perceptions made of? Water. Our nervous systems, the machineries of feeling, float in a quiet, dark world of water. Our most dramatic moments—at least in terms of development—take place in amniotic fluid. This quasi-godlike and continuous source of life is a trope that never runs dry. Yet in addition to its undeniable positive qualities, it makes for an inevitable metaphor for inner turmoil: after all, doesn’t turbulence stem from an aquatic scenario? The idea of fluidity, increasingly present in a contemporary world with an unstable future, further complicates things.

On the subject of “in-between times”, after finishing university a friend described herself as feeling as though she’d been soaked and left out in the sun to dry. Yet for a good writer (the kind I’d like to be), anxieties of this sort can acquire a kaleidoscopic quality on the page. How do we anchor ourselves to the world? How can we get past a feeling of being shipwrecked among the intensity of our selves? Can we even psychologically approach that which seems beyond our conception and our control? Finding myself too drenched by such ruminations to draw any conclusions, I turned to the varied readings of Asymptote’s Summer 2016 Issue. READ MORE…

Spring 2016: Going Places

You [write] to orchestrate what it is about the world that hurts you.

92,400 words—if an Asymptote issue could be held in your hands, it would be a book with 92,400 words and 368 pages (based on the typical range of 250-300 words a page). And it would be a free book, since, to catalyze the transmission of world literature, we don’t charge for access and hope it always remains that way. That’s 92,400 words that have to be solicited, considered, selected, edited, uploaded, formatted to both our house style and the satisfaction of contributors, and then fact-checked and proofread by four to six pairs of eyes. Out of the 44 articles that these 92,400 words constitute, eight might require extensive footwork for rights, ten commissioned from scratch, and as many as 18 illustrated by a guest artist. Then newly appointed chief executive assistant Theophilus Kwek obtains this figure of 92,400 (for the English text alone) “by copying the entire [Winter 2016] issue into a word document, and rounding off to the nearest 100 for footnotes [he] may have missed.” The occasion for this? We have been invited to submit an application to a grant administered by Singapore’s National Arts Council (NAC), and one of the requested data is wordcount. How this comes about after five years of no official contact between Asymptote and NAC goes like this: In February 2016, back in Singapore to visit with family over Chinese New Year, I send out a batch of solicitations. One is addressed to Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, who played a major role in facilitating the June 2018 Kim-Trump summit, the costs of which (twelve million USD) the Singaporean government willingly absorbed. On 14 February, 2016, I receive a call at 8 a.m. by someone from Balakrishnan’s office encouraging me to take up the matter with NAC instead. I mutter something about NAC being unsupportive, and put the phone down quite quickly. The next day, someone more senior—an actual spokesperson from the Ministry—calls. Charmed by her diplomacy, I agree to “allow [myself] to be approached.” On February 16, an email entitled “funding for Asymptote,” pops up in my inbox. Negotiation takes a protracted seven months, during the course of which my case is rotated between four different officers, and in the process of which hopes are raised only to be dashed—with even the acting director of NAC’s literary arts sector development admitting to me that they had changed their mind (i.e., that it is not a matter of one officer’s stance being discontinuous with another). The long and short of it is that funding is allotted to Singaporean writers and translators of Singaporean work only; support for literary editors only extends as far as sponsoring workshops or mentorships. This was NAC’s policy in 2011 (and one I was well aware of); if it hadn’t changed, why make contact? She sends me off with a one-time grant to the tune of 8,800 USD, tied to publication of Singaporean content on Asymptote platforms in the fourth quarter of 2016. In April, at the invitation of AmazonCrossing and with partial support from the Translators’ Association of the Society of Authors in the UK, I speak at a London Book Fair panel on “Discovering Stories from Asia, Africa, and Turkey”; despite the geographical reach of the subject matter, I am the only person of color represented on the panel. Unlike, say, an all-male panel, this goes unremarked, underscoring a troubling diversity problem in publishing that I’ve tried to counter with my own magazine by appointing section editors from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Here to introduce the Spring 2016 edition—that I launched from the couch of my college friend Vanessa’s apartment in Brixton, London—is Visual editor Eva Heisler:

Revisiting the Spring 2016 issue, I am struck by how far-ranging and innovative the work is—and how moving. Through the inspired efforts of Asymptote’s translators, I am transported across cultures and geopolitical contexts as I gain access to poems, stories, drama, creative nonfiction, and criticism originally written in Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Filipino, Nahuatl, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, and Thai, to name just a few of the languages represented in this issue.

As editor of Asymptote’s visual section, I am interested in featuring artists who explore issues of text, narrative, linguistic identity, translation, or voice. One work that explores language as shifty, always on the move, is Bad Language, a collaboration between translator Laura Marris and video artist Matt Kenyon. The video, which documents Marris’s process of translating a poem by Paol Keineg, presents the poem as a moving entity animated by possibilities, the page rippling with adjustments and substitutions. This “moving translation” is particularly suited to Keineg’s French since the writer, who was raised in Brittany, often integrates Breton vocabulary. As Marris explains, “I wanted to translate in a way that could accommodate shifting linguistic loyalties, rather than delivering one authoritative version.” READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Constantinople” by Flavia Teoc

More fragrant are the grapes slowly growing sour on a vendor stall in Yerebatan

We are thrilled to feature Flavia Teoc’s poetry for the first time on Translation Tuesday. Teoc’s lines visit Yerebatan—the magical site in Istanbul where the Basilica Cistern hides a special sighting of Medusa. Under the dim lights of Yerebatan, Teoc’s fragrant lines shine brighter. 

Constantinople

More fragrant than the righteous ones perfect in all of their ways
Are the grapes slowly growing sour on a vendor stall in Yerebatan.
Under their cracked skin a sweet potion of sounds is distilled,
Memories from back when they were early sour berries or less,
An equal proportion mixture of screams from a woman flogged
Up against their vine, the bell of a leper who took shelter in the split leaves’
Shadow one late afternoon, and a stray dog’s quick nap nearby.
I’m telling you—
More fragrant are the grapes slowly growing sour on a vendor stall in Yerebatan,
For those perfect in all their ways will never touch them.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Romania, Mexico, and Singapore.

We are in the thick of the World Cup, but that does not mean that everything else stops! We are back with the latest literary updates from around the world. MARGENTO reports from Bookfest Bucharest on the latest of Romanian publishing and Romanian-US connections that emerged during the festival. Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn discuss the latest publications from the Yucatan Peninsula, focusing on indigenous writers. Finally, Theophilus Kwek tells us about recent news in the Singaporean literary world. Happy reading!

MARGENTO, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Romania: 

Bookfest Bucharest is one of the largest international book festivals in Europe, growing larger and larger by the year. This year it featured over 150 publishers. Although expanding, the festival seemed less loud this time for a quite mundane reason: the organizers placed the beer patios further away from the pavilions than they did in the past. The atmospherics and the events felt really animated, though, and sometimes even intense. The guest of honor was the United States, with a centrally placed and welcoming space hosting four to six events every day. One of the most popular panels was chaired by the ambassador himself—HE Hans Klemm—on the life and work of Romanian-born American critic and fiction writer Matei Călinescu (and the dedicated Humanitas series).

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup lands us in Romania, Moldova, India and Egypt.

Prizes, events, book publications, festivals—whatever you can think of, our Weekly Dispatches have you covered from one end of the world to the other. This week our editors are focusing on the most exciting news from India, Romania and Moldova, and Egypt. 

Janani Ganesan, Assistant Managing Editor, reporting from India: 

When everything is sponsored by a multinational company, from football to governments, literature is no different. India’s richest literary award was announced this March by JCB group. An annual prize money of INR twenty-five lakhs (USD 38,400) for a fiction book could have only come from a company manufacturing construction equipment.

(The DSC Prize, which was the most generous literary award in the country till its prize money was reduced from USD 50,000 to USD 25,000 in 2017, is also funded by a company specializing in infrastructure.)

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of the world's literary news brings us to Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, and Iran.

This week, we bring you news of literary festivities in Romania and Moldova, a resurgence of female writing in Slovakia, and the tragic loss of a promising young translator in Iran. As always, watch this space for the latest in literary news the world over!

MARGENTO, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Romania and Moldova:

A book of interviews with Romanian-German writer and past Asymptote contributor Herta Müller came out in French translation from Gallimard just a few days ago (on Feb 15). The book has already been praised for the lucidity showed by the Nobel-prize winner in combining the personal and the historical or the political.

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Translation Tuesday: The Strawberry Pickers by Felix Nicolau

freedom is expensive, paid up front!

This Tuesday, we’re excited to share a new poem by the Romanian poet, Felix Nicolau, whose work is a cutting and humorous comment on life for those crossing borders and coming into contact with other cultures, yet who are still at the very bottom of the social ladder. 


The Strawberry Pickers

is President Iliescu around—the sun will come out!
on Christmas we took our measure of freedom
seriously, didn’t the Star Poet of Pit Coal and his miner comrades from Jiu Valley invade
the capital?
didn’t they march through the springtime quarter or through the slums?
Hooray President Goatee!  Did he eat salami with soy like all of us?  Boo, Goatee!
we won’t sell our country out!
back then we had the means but no beans
now there’s lots of beans but no financial means
we’ve been hit by a nuclear bomb of whiskey and cigarettes
is President Iliescu around—the sun will come out!
the retirees applaud the miners the students heckle their grandparents
the scenery’s cleared of railroad locomotive plants
the sea is cleared of our fleet
freedom is expensive, paid up front!  Give us money to stay up front!
finally we can buy and sell the best football players
more powerful than the Chinese—we take all the strawberry picking jobs in Europe
we pick the strawberries on the bottom of the Atlantic
we emerge on the east coast and keep picking
watch out Alaska—WE’RE COMING!

Translated from the Romanian by MARGENTO and Martin Woodside


Felix Nicolau
is Professor in the Faculty of Theology and Literature, Lund University, Sweden. He is the author of eight books of literary and communication theory,
 five volumes of poetry
(Kamceatka—Time IS honey, 2014) and two novels. He is member on the editorial boards of The Muse—an International Journal of Poetry and Metaliteratura magazines. His areas of interest are translation studies, the theory of communication, comparative literature, cultural studies, translation studies, British and American studies, and Romanian studies. He is also swims, rollerblades, and rides a scooter. Sometimes he even reads more than writes.

MARGENTO (Chris Tănăsescu) is a poet, performer, academic, and translator who has lectured, launched books, and performed in the US, Southeast Asia, Australia, and Europe. His pen name is also the name of his multimedia cross-artform band that won a number of major international awards. He is co-author of poetryartexchange, his co-translations with Martin Woodside from Gellu Naum’s poetry (Athanor and Other Pohems) were nominated by World Literature Today as Most Notable Translation in 2013, and he has written the libretto for a rock opera composed by Bogdan Bradu. He deploys networks-of-networks and natural-language-processing algorithms in his collaborative poetry, and continues his work on the graph poem project together with Diana Inkpen and their students at the University of Ottawa. MARGENTO is Romania & Moldova editor-at-large for Asymptote.

Martin Woodside is a writer, teacher, scholar, and founding member of Calypso Editions. He is an interdisciplinary scholar who earned his MFA and a certificate of specialization in Children’s Literature from San Diego State University and his Ph.D. in Childhood Studies from Rutgers-Camden in 2015. He ​has written five books for children, a chapbook of poetry (Stationary LandscapesPudding House), and a full-length collection of poetry (This River Goes Both Ways, Wordtech). His translations of Romanian poetry have appeared in several books and journals, including The Kenyon Review Online, Asymptote, and the Brookyn Rail’s inTranslationHe’s published two collections of Romanian poetry in translation: Of Gentle Wolves, an anthology of contemporary Romanian poetry, and—along with MARGENTO—Athanor & Other Pohems, collecting the work of the brilliant surrealist Gellu Naum.


*****

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The most important literary news from Hong Kong, Romania, Moldova, and the UK.

It’s Friday and that means we are back with the latest literary news from around the world! From Hong Kong, Editor-at-Large Charlie Ng brings us the latest on theater, literary festivals, and poetry readings. MARGENTO brings us exciting news about past Asymptote-contributors and other brilliant writers from Romania and Moldova. Finally, our own assistant blog editor, Stefan Kielbasiewicz shares news about poetry in the UK. 

Charlie Ng, Editor-at-Large, Hong Kong

November is a month filled with vibrant literary performances and festivals in Hong Kong. On stage from late October to early November, a Cantonese version of The Father (Le Père) by French playwright, Florian Zeller, winner of the Molière Award for Best Play, is brought to Hong Kong audiences by the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre for the first time.

The seventeenth Hong Kong International Literary Festival kicked off on November 3 with a grand dinner with Scotland’s well-loved crime fiction writer, Ian Rankin, who also attended two other sessions as a guest speaker: Mysterious Cities: the Perfect Crime Novel and 30 Years of Rebus with Ian Rankin. Carol Ann Duffy was another Scottish writer featured in this year’s Festival. The British Poet Laureate read her poetry with musician John Sampson’s music accompaniment on November 9. The dazzling Festival programme includes both international authors such as Hiromi Kawakami, Amy Tan, Min Jin Lee, Ruth Ware, Hideo Yokoyama, and local writers and translators such as Xu Xi, Louise Ho, Dung Kai-cheung, Nicholas Wong, Tammy Ho, and Chris Song.

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