November 24, 2009—The Center for the Art of Translation is proud to announce that it has been awarded a grant from Amazon.com to support the publication and promotion of its books of literature in translation. This includes the 17th volume of its annual anthology of world literature in the Two Lines World Writing in Translation series; the next book in its Two Lines World Library series, which brings readers the best literature from a particular region; and the next volume of Poetry Inside Out, a series of student poems and translations.
(We continue our coverage of the authors showcased in Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed: Web Exclusive, with translator Sawako Nakayasu on the poetry from the major Japanese poet Sagawa Chika. We've made two of Chika's poems available in our Web Exclusive.)
These poems were selected from The Collected Poems of Sagawa Chika, a 289-page collection of poems by the Japanese Modernist poet Sagawa Chika (1911-1936). Written mostly in the 1930s and collected and published posthumously, this book is the most definitive book by which Sagawa's work is known.
Poet Kitasono Katue has said of Sagawa, A unique intellect such as hers would not have been dependent on education or training, but might have been complete from birth. Likewise her poetry, from the very first, seemed to be complete. I was surprised by the deft poetic control enforced upon the beauty of her analogical reasoning, the pertinence of her metaphors, and clarity of subject. Similar to Lorine Niedecker, Sagawa's poetic sensibility was formed in the expansive yet extreme climates of her native land, Hokkaido (the northernmost island of Japan), complicating the nature-infused traditions of Japanese poetry. To this is added a sophisticated sense of imagery: a density of images are assembled, then refracted through the lens of a destabilized and shifting speaker. Metaphors unfurl in and out of each other in a fashion reminiscent of Emily Dickinson, while remaining surprisingly grounded.
This prismic architecture of images seem to foreshadow the layered montage that the great postwar poet Yoshioka Minoru later develops--and as it turns out, Yoshioka was an avid reader of Sagawa's work, allowing some of her linguistic idiosyncrasies to slip into his own poetry. Likewise, her unique and often archaic diction is one of the most challenging aspects of translating her work. Institutional and other efforts (including the development of mass production of print media) to standardize the Japanese language had been initiated during the 1920s, but poets and writers still felt free to draw from a wide range of Japanese vocabulary--which included words that were imported largely from China, but also from Portuguese, Dutch, German, French, and English, among others. Sagawa's language in particular had a penchant for using uncommon words, while in fact reflecting the fluid nature of language use in her time.
Recent years have seen an emergence of female critics in Japan who have brought to light previously little-known writing by women from prewar Japan. They, as did I, came to the same conclusion – that Sagawa was clearly an exceptional example. The reasons for Sagawa's exclusion from the Japanese literary canon, however, are more complex than the standard problems of gender, though they must have certainly played a part. Some speculate that it is because she did not espouse typically feminine topics such as love or motherhood in her poems; others suggest that her engagement with Western modernity did not serve the nationalistic agenda of literary historians. The fact that she died young, of stomach cancer, did not help either, though I am pleased to see that her work is continuing to find audiences in Japan as well as abroad.
(We continue our coverage of the authors showcased in Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed: Web Exclusive, with translator Diana Thow's discussion of poetry from the major Italian poet Amelia Rosselli. We've made two of Rosselli's poems available in our Web Exclusive.)
Amelia Rosselli (1930-1996) is one of the most important experimental Italian poets of the 20th century, often associated with Gruppo 63 and the Italian avant-garde. First trained as a composer and musicologist, she turned to writing in her early twenties. She was fluent in Italian, French and English, and in her early writings, such as Diario in tre lingue (Diary in Three Languages), she reflected this linguistic background by switching from one language to another. Later, Rosselli's poetry came to reflect this multilinguality in a more nuanced way: she began to write primarily in an idiosyncratic Italian that pushed the boundaries of the language to encompass her particular vocabulary. She incorporates syntactical traces of French and English in her Italian verse, and is famous for employing what Pier Paolo Pasolini called a lapsus: a slippage between languages that makes her poetry strange to the Italian ear.
Not incidentally, Amelia Rosselli's multilinguality was the product of a childhood in political exile: she was the daughter of the Italian anti-fascist hero Carlo Rosselli and an English political activist, Marion Cave. Before Amelia was born her father escaped from Lipari, a fascist prison island, and fled to Paris with his family; Amelia, as a result, was born in Paris. Carlo Rosselli and his brother Nello were gunned down by fascist assassins in France when Amelia was seven, which forced the Rosselli family further into exile. They fled first to England and then America, where Amelia spent part of her adolescence in upstate New York and Vermont, and once said that these were some of the happiest times of her life.
Though Rosselli spoke Italian, English, and French fluently she retained a strange accent in each: her English sounded guttural and vaguely French; she had trouble rolling her Rs in Italian (a typical problem among English-speakers) and so on. The sound of her voice, accented in every language (both as metaphor and in vibrant recordings), has been my best guide as I translate these poems. My main concern here is not to smooth her work over, but to try to honor it for its linguistic complexity, density, and peculiar musicality. Additionally, visual poetics were important to Rosselli (as she defined in her essay Spaci Metrici, (Metric Spaces)) and so I have made an attempt to reproduce the visual form of her poem in my English version whenever possible, which occasionally results in unfaithful line breaks.
Amelia struggled with mental and physical ailments throughout her life, which makes the idyllic, created spaces of creativity and regeneration in Sweet Chaos and This Garden all the more poignant. After years of struggle and paranoia, she took her own life in 1996, leaving behind an enormous collection of provocative, inspiring poetry--most of which has not yet found its way into the English language.
We've just made available audio from our event with Breon Mitchell, in which he read from his new translation of The Tin Drum and discussed the process of bringing it about.
Here's a taste of what Mitchell talked about.
On collaborating with Gunter Grass in Gdansk for a week:
Grass is unusual for the close relationship that he has with his translators. He calls his translators his family, and he arranges for his publishers to pay for the translators to come together. So in Gdansk, Poland, we spent a week with Grass, and each day we would get together, sit around a table—9:00 in the morning till 5:00 in the afternoon with a break for lunch—and go over the text page by page.
Ralph Manheim in 1961 brought out a translation that was so beautiful and so readable that it was an instant bestseller. Gunter Grass was on the cover of Time magazine. It was such a wonderful translation that it was a bestseller, and I have to say that the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Gunter Grass in 1999 was still largely based upon and in memory of The Tin Drum.
What's the point of translating something that's already been translated? Every translation is a new reading, and great works of literature deserve to be retranslated, and we expect them to be retranslated—we hope for that. The only books we don't retranslate are the books we only care to read once. [In the case of The Tin Drum], about 30 years ago Grass began to ask publishers is there might not be a new translation, because indeed there had been omissions and some other problems with the original translation that the author was aware of.
This piece by translator Christy Rodgers starts off our coverage of the authors in the Web Exclusive supplement to Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed. It covers Carmen Boullosa's first novel, Just Disappear. Boullosa is a much-acclaimed author in her native Mexico, where she's been praised by such standard-bearers as Carlos Fuentes, Alma Guillermoprieto, and Elena Poniatowska.)
From Just Disappear by Carmen Boullosa
Mejor Desaparece is Mexican author Carmen Boullosa's first novel. It was originally published in 1987, when Boullosa was 33. She had already been recognized and honored in Mexico as a poet and dramatist, and was the co-owner of a theater-bar called El Hijo del Cuervo in Mexico City's bohemian Coyoacán district. Boullosa, who now lives in New York City, has since written 13 novels and a number of critical essays, and continued to write and publish poetry as well. Her international reputation as an author of challenging, complex work continues to grow.
Mejor Desaparece, which Boullosa has described as a strange montage of giddy monologues is a surreal story of childhood as a horrific and grotesque state of subjection, beginning with the travails of seven sisters (all bearing the names of flowers) at the hands of their unstable and domineering father after the death of their mother, when an unnamed presence invades their home. Two (or possibly more) of the daughters narrate the first three sections of the novel as they pass from childhood to adulthood. A woman whose relationship to the family is implied but unspecified narrates the sole vignette of the fourth section. The next section, the excerpt presented here, is an extended monologue by an unnamed, isolated woman on the border of madness who some have suggested is the father's second wife, others the dead mother herself, although the family particulars are left deliberately unclear.
Carmen Boullosa's work, particularly her early work, deserves more of an audience in the U.S. She has extended the boundaries of the novel and raised concerns of personal and political history in new and inventive ways. She is part of a post-Boom generation of Latin American authors who are continuing to experiment with narrative forms and challenge and delight us with their skill.
For the translator, the primary challenge in this work is the high level of ambiguity in its situations and characterizations. The translator must fight the desire to explain and clarify so as not to be thought guilty of a poor understanding of the text, and simply try to transmit its expressionistic tone to the fullest extent. Spanish syntax permits subjects to be far more unspecified than English does, and Boullosa often makes use of this lack of specificity to give the novel the haunted feeling of nightmare, where presences come and go, and personalities shift in a boundary-less interior landscape.
We're very proud to announce the Web Exclusive supplement to our latest anthology, Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed.
The site features 12 writers in translation, ranging from classic authors like Rainer Maria Rilke to up-and-comers like Mahmoud Darwish's literary descendant, Ghassan Zaqtan. The Web Exclusive is a great opportunity for us, since we had so much great material this year that there wasn't a way to get it all into print.
Over the next couple of weeks we'll be shining a spotlight on the translators on Two Words, so that they can explain in their own words why they've championed the work that appears in the Web Exclusive edition of Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed. For now, enjoy.
The Center's book, Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed, will be on the December 2009 IndieBound Indie Next List. We just launched the book at a release party earlier this week, and we'll be getting some audio from that event up online next week. All the praise this book is racking up is available here.
It's particularly neat to see the international authors in Wherever I Lie--many not available in English anywhere else--up on IndieBound's list with prestigious English-language writers like Ha Jin and Barbara Ehrenreich.
The full list for the IndieBound Indie Next List Dec 2009 is available here.
A copy of this podcast can be downloaded here. You can also subscribe to all of the Center's audio on iTunes, or in RSS. Why retranslate a classic author? And if you're going to do it, how do you do it right? Breon Mitchell talks about his translation of Günter Grass's masterpiece, The Tin ... [more]Posted on November 9, 2009, 06:02:03 PM
Today we're publishing Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed and celebrating it with a party. And some Bay Area bookstores and publications are happily celebrating with us. World famous bookstore City Lights has made Wherever I Lie a featured title. SFStation has made our party tonight an event Pick of the Wee... [more]Posted on November 4, 2009, 08:46:32 PM
Our anthology, which publishes this Monday, has been getting some nice words. Here's a bit of what Levi Asher said at LitKicks:
Even if you are a monolinguist like me, you can gaze at the mysterious foreign characters that accompany each translated work and appreciate the depth of cultural diff... [more]
November 9 is the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the new Words Without Borders is all about East and West Germany: they've got Herta Mueller, Uwe Mengel on the German problem, Robert Menasse on the Wall coming down:
Let's forget about that! I would have forgotten about it i... [more]
Horacio Castellanos Moya's angry dissection of the so-called Bolano myth has been published in English by Guernica magazine. In part, Moya says:
I don't know if it's my bad luck or if it happens to my colleagues as well, but every time that I've found myself on American soil?at the airport bar, ... [more]
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The stories and poems within TWO LINES open the reader up to a world that would otherwise be closed entirely, and to connect with that world is truly fortunate.