Editor's Note

Somehow, the year’s end always comes as a surprise. Suddenly, January is upon your doorstep: you’re another year older. This month, Asymptote turns five, a ripe old age for a literary magazine run entirely by volunteers. Yet we haven’t jaded a bit—heartened as we are by the success of our recent mini-fundraiser, and, of course, by this new issue (video trailer here). Aside from exclusive interviews with the great Junot Díaz and Yann Martel, this issue hails never-before-published material from thirty countries. Our star-studded lineup includes Ingo Schulze, Caroline Bergvall, Sibylle Lacan, Olga Tokarczuk, Toast Coetzer, Xiao Kaiyu, and, avid readers will recall, Pura López-Colomé, a Mexican poet who also appeared in our very first edition. Her work resonates beautifully with the clever ouroboros twist presented in our cover image, courtesy of guest artist Jensine Eckwall.

We may die, but our souls somehow survive, in images, in gestures, in words haunting the written page. This eternal return is borne out by our experimental translation feature (beautifully curated by our Poetry Editor, Aditi Machado), in which originals are chewed up only to miraculously transmute anew, inspirited by their originals. Jared Pearce, for instance, took words from ancient Sumerian cuneiform tablets and made them sing as though they’d just been hewn. 

The results are shockingly contemporary. From the kaleidoscopic haiku renderings by Martin Rock and Joe Pan, to Bronwyn Haslam’s virtuoso anagrammatic translations of Nicole Brossard or Victoria Cóccaro and Rebekah Boudon’s alphabetic English reordering of Pablo Katchadjian’s alphabetic ordering of Argentina’s epic gaucho poem, the works in this feature have but one thing in common: their sources are gorgeously mangled and truly honored. Too often, translators are seen as prissy, when most of the time, as Jennifer Scappettone says in our interview, they face the toughest of tasks: “Translation obliges that you be embedded, digging your way out of the enemy logic word by word.” Artist Caroline Bergvall also sees it as a big dig, “a construction site with no definite end in sight, a bit like Berlin in the 1990s.” A “border trade” on the tongue, as Greg Nissan’s Uljana Wolf translation might describe it, over in our Poetry section. Brandon Downing takes this trade a step further, as he knowingly layers songs and film footage, only to mistranslate the lyrics and create treasonous subtitles revealing truths lurking just between the frames.

As a religious and philosophical symbol, the ever-ravenous ouroboros is remarkably prevalent, appearing in Egypt, India, and Scandinavia. Reading through the many religious texts in this issue of Asymptote, the universal impulse to look closer, deeper, further, comes through powerfully—whether in Kanya Kanchana’s experimental yoga sutras, Paal-Helge Haugen’s interpolation of Martin Luther’s catechism, or the story of St. Martin as told through Venantius Fortunatus. Faith, it appears, comes in many forms; one character in Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights suggesting we replace the bibles in hotel rooms with books by Cioran. Slovak writer Marek Vadas, adviser to the Cameroonian king of Nyenjei, meanwhile, tells the story of a self-claimed "soul healer" under attack from diabolical forces. We can see how religion twists into myth in the miraculous lives of the fifteenth-century sisters of St. Katharinental, but also in Ottilie Mulzet’s translation of the Mongolian legend of the Dakini Ray of Sunlight. Yet myths also pop up in more secular tales, such as Kuei-hsin Chang’s story about a boy born in (and of?) a river, or in Frøydis Sollid Simonsen’s story about our role in the universe: “every morning I crawl out of the ocean, up from the duvet, sprout legs for walking, unfurl fingers, raise myself upright, put on clothing, slowly become a more and more complex organism.”

Water, too, runs through the work of Kazuko Shiraishi, Japan’s Canadian-born beat poet, who claims to be the “same as” the Hudson River. This issue of Asymptote notes other cross-cultural pollinations as well, what with Richard Wright speaking to a newly independent Indonesia in 1955, East-German author Wolfgang Hilbig raising his fist in tribute to Bob Dylan (in an essay by Ingo Schulze), young Soviet children debating the possibly explosive effects of American chewing gum (in a one-act play by Nina Kossman), or a young Polish architect bribing his way into Picasso’s studio with some chocolate (in nonfiction by Filip Springer). We also examine more direct chains of influence and legacy through memoirs, as Sibylle Lacan remembers her negligent father, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, and Habibe Jafarian struggles with the unsolved disappearance of his father, Imam Musa Sadr, likely murdered in Gaddafi’s Libya in 1978.

Years come and go, books are borrowed and sometimes lost, but words linger forever in our minds. In this spirit, we hope you’ll celebrate our fifth anniversary by spreading the word of our special anniversary issue. (Consider downloading our beautiful flyer and putting it up anywhere you think it might reach other lovers of world literature.) You’re also invited to our anniversary events held in select global cities: in New York, for example, where we will be joined by Forrest Gander, Ann Goldstein, Natasha Wimmer, and Frederic Tuten on Mar 3 (limited early bird tickets for only $6 are already on sale here); in London, where we will be joined by Caroline Bergvall, Tena Štivičić and Hamid Ismailov, on Mar 23; in Ottawa, where we will be joined by Luise von Flotow and Rachel Martinez on Apr 3; and in Chicago, where we will be joined by Nathanaël, Rey Andujar and Kolin Jordan on Apr 13. We will continue to unveil even more celebrations on our Events page, on Facebook, as well as in our fortnightly airmails—be sure to subscribe, if you’re not already in our mailing list! And remember: Asymptote may be free but it is not free to produce, so do consider signing up for a monthly donation of $5, $10, or even $50 to lend us your support. Here’s to five more years!

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

Editorial Team for Issue January 2016

Editor-in-Chief: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)

Assistant Managing Editors: Sam Carter (USA) and Justin Maki (USA)

Senior Editor: Florian Duijsens (Germany/The Netherlands)

Section Editors:
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Aditi Machado (India/USA)
Joshua Craze (UK/USA)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)
Ellen Jones (UK)
Henry Ace Knight (USA)
Luisa Zielinski (Germany)
Eva Heisler (USA)

Assistant Editors: Alexis Almeida (USA), K. T. Billey (USA), Julia Leverone (USA), P. T. Smith (USA), and Lin Chia-wei (Taiwan)

Contributing Editors:
Ellen Elias-Bursac (USA), Howard Goldblatt (USA), Aamer Hussein (Pakistan/UK), Sylvia Lin (Taiwan/USA), Sayuri Okamoto (Japan/Italy), Sim Yee Chiang (Singapore), Antony Shugaar (Italy), Dylan Suher (USA) and Adrian West (USA)

Chinese Contributing Editor: Francis Li Zhuoxiong (Hong Kong/Taiwan)

Spanish Contributing Editor: Soledad Marambio (Chile/USA)

Commissioning Editor: J.S. Tennant (UK)

Blog Editors: Patricia Nash (USA) and Ryan Mihaly (USA)

Assistant Blog Editor: Allegra Rosenbaum (USA)

Chief Copy Editor: Diana George (USA)

Assistant Copy Editor: Will Rees (UK)

Podcast Editor: Daniel Goulden (USA)

Audio Editor: Sally Decker (USA)

Interns: Vera Carothers and Chris Schaefer

Editor-at-large, Australia: Beau Lowenstern
Editor-at-large, Belgium: Veronka Köver
Editor-at-large, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Mirza Puric
Editor-at-large, Brazil: Bruna Lobato
Editor-at-large, Canada: Marc Charron
Editor-at-large, Egypt: Omar El Adl
Editor-at-large, Hong Kong: Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan
Editor-at-large, Hungary: Ágnes Orzóy
Editors-at-large, India: Naheed Patel and Poorna Swami
Editor-at-large, Indonesia: Tiffany Tsao
Editor-at-large, Iran: Poupeh Missaghi
Editor-at-large, Israel: Yardenne Greenspan
Editor-at-large, Poland: Beatrice Smigasiewicz
Editor-at-large, Romania and Moldova: MARGENTO
Editor-at-large, Slovakia: Julia Sherwood
Editor-at-large, South Africa: Alice Inggs
Editor-at-large, Taiwan: Vivian Chih
Editor-at-large, UK: Megan Bradshaw

Masthead for Issue January 2016

Fiction: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction: Joshua Craze
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
WoW: Luisa Zielinski
Criticism: Ellen Jones
Visual: Eva Heisler
Interviews: Henry Ace Knight
Illustrations and Cover: Jensine Eckwall
Chief Executive Assistant: Dallin Law
Executive Assistant: Chloe Currens
Guest Artist Liaison: Berny Tan
Proofreaders: Ellen Elias-Bursac, Diana George, Henry Knight, Allegra Rosenbaum, Will Rees, Beatrice Smigasiewicz and P. T. Smith
Technical Manager: József Szabó
Director of Outreach: Odette Rivera
Head of Programming, Events: Thomas Flynn
Marketing Managers: Rosiė Clarke and David Maclean
Graphic Designers: Berny Tan, Chuck Kuan and Geneve Ong
Video Producer: Daniel Chi Cook
English Social Media: Sohini Basak, Hannah Berk, Georgina Berry
Chinese Social Media: Zhang Zhuxin and Zhang Lingyu
Spanish Social Media: Selina Aragón

Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Evy Anette Fjøren, Erica Mena, Nenten Tsubouchi, Sachiko Nakahara (e-Sendan), Chusekisha Hatsumi Matsui (Kaifusha) and Yuiko Yamaoka (Furansudo).

For their generous donations, our heartfelt thanks go too to Mieke Verloo, Xiao Bao Clark, Watson Crick, Kelvin Ang, David Silverman, C. B. Cooke, Reif Larsen, Nathaniel Jones, Mark Cohen, Gina Caputo, Ryan Eyers, Joan Hua, Sylva Ficovíç, Toetsie Zwitserlood, Aya Sato, Ryan Mihaly, Niklas Hall, Robert Foord, Ian Chung, Ulf Jacobsen, Jeffrey Boyle, Mariam Sharaf, Rebecca Walkowitz, Andrew Wu, Francesca Spedalieri, Tiffany Tsao, Zhou Sivan, Anna Gustafson, Izabela Wojciechowska, Mark Keats, Low Chun Meng, George Henson, Nicolas Marceau, Lynette Lee, Lucy Moffatt, Antoine Wilson, David Maclean, Thera Marie Crane Ringhofer, Bill Donohue, Hannah Berk, James Tierney, Elizabeth Raible, Nicky Harman, Nozomi Sato, Darryl Sterk, Samuel Carter, Will McGrath, Joshua Stenberg, Paul Garrett, Mary Fulham Reynolds, Poh Chee Wee, Marilya Veteto Reese, Mavis Tan Bee Shih, Xilun Xian, Eva Heisler, and Michelle Loh.



Frøydis Sollid Simonsen, Every Morning I Crawl Out of the Ocean

Translated from the Norwegian by Becky L. Crook

In the beginning was the water, and it won’t let us go.

Olga Tokarczuk, from Flights

Translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft

My weakness is for teratology and for freaks.

Marek Vadas, The Healer

Translated from the Slovak by Julia Sherwood and Peter Sherwood

He dreamed of the girl in the hospital. Her body was swathed in huge worms.

Kuei-hsin Chang, Siren Song

Translated from the Chinese by Anna Gustafson

At six pounds, eleven ounces, twenty inches long, my back curved around my body, I was the spitting image of a boiled shrimp.

Anonymous, from The Legend of the Dakini Ray of Sunlight (White Tārā)

Translated from the Mongolian by Ottilie Mulzet

A person of good merit / Shall be taken from here without obstruction.
A person of dubious mind / Shall be devoured without obstruction.


Uljana Wolf, from kochanie i bought bread

Translated from the German by Greg Nissan

i’ve grown up // with this border trade / on my tongue

Toast Coetzer, Three Poems

Translated from the Afrikaans by Toast Coetzer

outer windshell, open-wound capillaries, woodtongue, wet-heart, / soil’s brains, human donga, words welded together from the moving parts of guns

Dalthon Pineda, How to Die in Zapotec

Translated from the Isthmus Zapotec by Jake Sandler

herbivores / of your word we sowed / basil and sunflower seeds / in your tomb

Dijala Hasanbegović, from Kids for War

Translated from the Bosnian by Mirza Purić

fatty depravity in a small-town inn  / wherein you’ll read poetry tomorrow with your Japanese colleague, / it’ll be an international outpouring of lard.

Lalbihari Sharma, from Holi Songs of Demerara

Translated from the Awadhi-Bhojpuri by Rajiv Mohabir

The papiha bird cries, Piya. / Piya. Hearing this unstitches me.

Kazuko Shiraishi, Three Early Poems

Translated from the Japanese by Yumiko Tsumura

the stranger the bird which bites off the future, the more I love and desperately warm its eggs

Sebastián Rivero, No Name

Translated from the Spanish by Catherine Jagoe

jails like / tunnels in blood // animals vanish / down tortuous paths

Paal-Helge Haugen, from Anne

Translated from the Norwegian by Julia Johanne Tolo

Dark smell of meat, / sex / Snailing over my nails / Horse’s sweat, blue roads under my belly / Wet mirrors / Marketsong     Pale Sun

Xiao Kaiyu, Three Poems

Translated from the Chinese by Christopher Lupke

rise from the oppression of wildflowers, rise, / and reclaim the space occupied by amnesia.

Alina Dadaeva, Four Poems

Translated from the Russian by Alex Niemi

And zeros hover across it— / a luckless Vincent sketch.

Pura López-Colomé, from Hearing and Forgetting

Translated from the Spanish by Dan Bellm

even to suffer / one has to eat: / don’t kill me, / mantis, / don’t ingest me, / don’t fill me / with yourself.

Marius Burokas, Three Poems

Translated from the Lithuanian by Rimas Uzgiris

pulled out / syntax’s cartilage / ripped out the bones / of phonemes

Leslie Kaplan, from Excess—The Factory

Translated from the French by Julie Carr and Jennifer Pap

Space is divided. It’s terrible. / You are not protected. // You come, you go. Cruel and soft spring. / Factory the factory, first memory.


Deborah Smith, On Translating Han Kang's Human Acts

Whenever I translate her work, I find myself arrested by razor-sharp images which arise from the text without being directly described there.

Agustín Fernández Mallo, Nocilla Dream

A review by Germán Sierra

In Nocilla Dream, order emerges spontaneously from surreal trashscapes. Poetry, working as an unexpected catastrophe in a debris field, performs.

Tahar Ben Jelloun, The Happy Marriage

A review by Rosie Clarke

The Happy Marriage demonstrates that French may be the language of love, but also of despair, loathing, and even hate.

Brian Russell Roberts & Keith Foulcher, Recovering Richard Wright’s Lost Lecture

This was a situation that seemed, literally, to instantiate Jorge Luis Borges’s often-quoted observation, “The original is unfaithful to the translation.”

Kenzaburō Ōe, Death by Water

A review by Mark Molloy

Sentence after sentence, page after page, Death by Water unfolds along the path of least resistance towards maximum clarity.


Sibylle Lacan, from A Father, Puzzle

Translated from the French by Adrian Nathan West

When I was born, my father was no longer there. I could even say that when I was conceived, he was already elsewhere.

Habibe Jafarian, from Imam Mousa Sadr

Translated from the Persian by Poupeh Missaghi

I tell everyone you were just an ordinary person, but I know that you weren’t.

The Sisters of the Convent of Saint Katharinental, Selections from the St. Katharinental Sister Book

Translated from the Medieval High German by Amiri Ayanna

There was a sister called holy Berta von Herten. One time while singing in the choir, a sister saw a golden tube rise up from her mouth into the heavens.

Filip Springer, from Blueprints

Translated from the Polish by W. Martin

Maybe it’s better just to accept that this is one of those places where dreams are impossible. A hell.

Mario Soldati, The Duke of Solimena

Translated from the Italian by Margaret Spiegelman

Books are not a refuge or an escape from life, nor should they be; they're instruments for seeing life more deeply, means for living more.


Ada Aharoni, A Day of Honey, A Day of Onions

Translated from the Hebrew by Ada Aharoni

Even a ghost can have a sense of rhythm.

Nina Kossman, Foreign Gifts

Translated from the Russian by Nina Kossman

"Spit out your gum or you'll be blown to pieces." "How come I didn't get blown up yet?" "It takes time. It may be a slow bomb."


Brandon Downing, Burning Through the Razor Blades

I like to think that all the gluing, blade-work and re-composition, does create a voice that spans across the works. With a real Frankenstein sound.

Caroline Bergvall, Propelled to the Edges of a Language’s Freedom, and to the Depths of Its Collective Traumas

Learning English and becoming a writer and artist in English was like learning about my body all over again.

Special Feature

Ingo Schulze on Wolfgang Hilbig

Translated from the German by Luisa Zielinski

His style is of a magic irresistable to anyone who isn’t deaf.

Joshua Barley on Michalis Ganas

In an interview twenty years ago he was asked how his poems come to him. 'Expectantly,' he replied.

Experimental Translation Feature

Jared Pearce, from Babylonians as Americans as Babylonians

Translated from the Sumerian of various Babylonian authors

Take me / as your father, for otherwise I lie / among the scorpions tonight.

Martin Rock and Joe Pan, from River | Horse | Haiku

Translated from the Japanese of Nenten Tsubouchi

A hippo immersed in water / is & is not / a snowflake on fire.

Wanda O'Connor, Omophagos

Translated from the Ancient Greek of Euripides

For every horror I’ll add the sentence: clever are the schemes composed of meadows.

Bronwyn Haslam, Silk Fonts

Translated from the French of Nicole Brossard

It’s duelled oneness, a ruled pun, deciduous tongues quoted, untied, united.

Kanya Kanchana, Vibhuti Pada: The Chapter of Dubious Glories

Translated from the Sanskrit of Patanjali

Everything. Real thing. / Real thing. Everything. // Everything. Real thing. / Real thing. Everything.

Victoria Cóccaro and Rebekah Boudon, from Martín Fierro Ordered Alphabetically

Translated from the Spanish of Pablo Katchadjian and José Hernández

because the only use a gaucho is / because the rights of poor men / because the whole lot there were / because there was no ammunition.

Mike Schorsch, from An Introduction to Venantius Fortunatus for Schoolchildren

Translated from the Latin of Venantius Fortunatus

I would be far more amazed / if someone told me this very same pathlessness / were wound completely and through the images themselves.


An Interview with Junot Díaz

Of course translation is what writers do; we transmute the world into fiction.

An Interview with Yann Martel

You feel languages and civilizations rub against each other, like two cats meeting, when you translate.

An Interview with Jennifer Scappettone

Translation obliges that you be embedded, digging your way out of the enemy logic word by word.