Posts featuring Michael Hofmann

Winter 2014: A Rookie Among Giants

Living now under the shadow of Trump, the contents of the issue seem even more desperately near to us.

It takes a while for the blog to hit its stride. Editing to a quarterly schedule is different than editing to a daily one, we quickly discover. It does not help that both ‘founding’ blog editors jump ship within three months (Nick’s elegiac last post goes up on 30 October; Zack’s 31 December). Fortunately, the rest rally and get us through. (One bright spot from that time is Patty Nash’s breezy roundupsa breath of fresh air.) Five weeks after it inaugurates, Aditi Machado’s post on the blog gets picked up by Poetry’s Harriet Blog, joining mentions in BBC Culture and The Guardian. The Guardian article gives a nod to Asymptote’s first-ever London event in January 2014, also the first of many multi-continental events in honor of our 3rd anniversary. These go on to include panels and readings in New York, Zagreb, Boston, Philadelphia, Shanghai, Berlin, and Sydney over the next three months. A point of pride: determined to organize an event in Asia, I somehow manage to pull off a reading without a single team member on the ground, thanks to NYU Shanghai, contributors Eleanor Goodman and Eun Joo Kim, and a friend who happens to pass through. In New York, under real threat of snowpocalypse, Asymptote supporters Eliot Weinberger, Robyn Creswell, Idra Novey, Jeffrey Yang, and Daniella Gitlin all show up to our anniversary event at Housing Works emceed by then Assistant Managing Editor, Eric M. B. Becker, to read alongside Cory Tamler, first prize-winner of our inaugural Close Approximations translation contest (as written up in WWB Daily’s dispatch here). Here to get you excited for the Winter 2014 issue (featuring, among others, a translator’s note that I got J. M. Coetzee to write) is Alexander Dickow, runner-up to that very contest and Asymptote Communications Manager since April 2017. But, first, check out Winter 2014’s issue trailer—probably our best ever—by then Video Producer Sarah Chan.

I knew of Asymptote since its inception in 2011, but it was only in January 2014 that I was named runner-up in the first edition of Asymptote’s Close Approximations translation contest. That contest has had a lasting impact on my work: I later won a Pen/Heim Translation Fund Grant to finish translating Sylvie Kandé’s Neverending Quest for the Other Shore, which was first showcased in Asymptote and is now under consideration by a major publisher. Evoking the Winter 2014 issue of Asymptote, then, cannot not be a little about my own relationship to Asymptote, even though I was an eager young rookie among the issue’s giants— J. M. Coetzee, Jana Beňová, and Michael Hofmann, to name a few. READ MORE…

Revisiting the Winter 2011 Issue: Asymptote’s Origin Story

On the occasion of our milestone 30th edition, some reflections on form—#30issues30days

This September, we interrupt our usual blog programming to celebrate Asymptote’s 30 issues since our debut in January 2011 and draw awareness to National Translation Month while we are at it!  Whether you discovered Asymptote early on or just recently, we invite you to join us as we retrace the steps that brought us here. Beginning with the inaugural Winter 2011 issue, we will work our way chronologically through the archive, weighing in both as editors, shedding new light on how our editions are assembled, and as readers, drawing connections within each issue. There’s also another reason to stay tuned: we will shortly be launching a giveaway contest with a top prize of USD200 that involves casting votes for your favorite issues. Finally, don’t forget that you too can play a part in catalysing the transmission of world literature: share this #30issues30days showcase (and the actual issues themselves) far and wide! 

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

 

“Congratulations on taking on the formidable task of launching a journal dedicated to translation. You’re a brave man!” said the translator of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera to me in December 2010. So I can’t say I wasn’t forewarned.

The idea for Asymptote had come out of a meeting at Singapore’s National Arts Council in June 2010. How to turn Singapore into a hub for literary translation? was the topic du jour. I mooted the idea of a platform that would identify and showcase talent in translation. Several seemed enthusiastic, but in the end, no one lifted a finger. Supposedly the go-to person for literary translation in Singapore, D., who was one of ten people at the meeting, did not deign to reply to the two emails I sent him.

The original team I assembled around July 2010 was lackluster, lackadaisical. Admittedly, I didn’t know these Singaporean team members very well, nor it seemed they me. Having just returned from eight years of overseas study (I owe much to my teachers Robert Coover, Mary Gaitskill, Dale Peck, and Michael Hofmann, but it was the lovely Sidney Wade who turned me on to literary translation), I was trying to connect with the local literary scene. Although the dispatches written by our current Singaporean editor-at-large might suggest otherwise, there really was not much of a scene back then, around a decade ago. The main players were aloof. Although I contributed to nine consecutive issues of the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore—Singapore’s only literary journal back then—no one seemed to have read my work.

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Hands Across the Water: A Dispatch

Jen Calleja dispatches from "Don't Mind the Gap: An Evening of British/German Literature at King's Place" in London

‘Don’t Mind the Gap: An Evening of German and British Literature’ at King’s Place, though clocking in at two hours, had an energetic, celebratory and comfortable atmosphere from start to finish. Though the venue was larger than the ICA’s cinema where I’d attended ‘Found in Translation’ the previous evening, it also felt like the more intimate of the two events.

Reading one after the other for ten-to-fifteen minutes apiece were some of the finest English- and German-speaking poets and writers working today: Durs Grünbein, Terézia Mora, Simon Armitage, A L Kennedy, Imtiaz Dharker, Marcel Beyer, Don Paterson and Alfred Brendel. All the authors’ texts were projected onto an updating screen, in English for the British writers to help German-speakers (which made a couple of the writers a little nervous, and even confused when they saw English behind them but half-expected to see themselves in German), and in English translation for the German writers. READ MORE…

Poem as Firework, Poem as Bone China: A Dispatch

A dispatch from the "Found in Translation" event at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London

We run through groups of snail-paced tourists from Trafalgar Square to arrive just in time for the start of “Found in Translation” at the ICA, almost walking directly into Michael Hofmann on entering the filling cinema. We take our seats just as he walks down to join fellow poet and literary translator Jamie McKendrick and German poet Jan Wagner on stage. While everyone settles down to an ominous soundtrack straight out of Star Wars, I take in the two rows of bulbs, like the lights that surround the mirror in a theatre dressing room, running the length of the ceiling. Some of them are out, which fits an event that glows but never quite reaches its full brightness.

In the introduction, Jan Wagner is sprightly and upright with a schoolboy haircut, Jamie McKendrick cradles his leather satchel before sliding it onto the floor, Michael Hofmann plays with his hands, lets them hang down either side of his chair, then finally folds them in his lap. Microphones are reluctantly taken up. McKendrick hugs his to the side of his head, Hofmann whispers to his like a little friend. READ MORE…