Two Words: The Blog of the Center for the Art of Translation

Video of Graham Foust and Mary Jo Bang

Posted on October 30, 2012, 01:55:00 PM by Scott Esposito

Thanks to Evan Karp, the brains behind Litseen, for posting video of our Litquake readers, Graham Foust and Mary Jo Bang. Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the video. And if you're interested in grabbing the audio, you can get it here.

Here's Graham:

Here's Mary Jo:

Join Us for Our Friday Passageways Launch Event . . . Don't Come on Thursday

Posted on October 23, 2012, 03:08:00 PM by Scott Esposito

The San Francisco Giants will play the first game of the World Series on Thursday, just a block away from our Passageways launch event.

It's going to be a madhouse, and we know you'd rather watch the Giants. So we're canceling the Thursday launch at Chronicle Books.

But please join us on Friday at Mrs. Dalloway's for Camille Dungy, Carolina de Robertis, Deborah Garfinkle, and special guest translators from Passageways!

It's free, there will be wine, and snacks, and you'll get to visit one of the East Bay's loveliest bookstores!

October 26: Passageways East Bay Launch Party

Join acclaimed Berkeley poet Camille Dungy to celebrate Passageways at the lovely Berkeley bookstore Mrs. Dalloway's. Dungy co-edited the book and here reads from Passageways with celebrated Bay Area translators and authors.

We welcome Oakland-based author, translator, and previous TWO LINES contributor Carolina de Robertis. Robertis is the author of two acclaimed novels, Perla and The Invisible Mountain, as well as the translator of Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case, published earlier this year by Riverhead Books.

She reads alongside San Francisco-based translator Deborah Garfinkle, who earlier this year received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the PEN Foundation for her translations of the renowned Czech author Pavel Šrut.

  • Friday, October 26
  • Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore
  • 2904 College Ave. (at College & Ashby), Berkeley, CA
  • 7:30 pm
  • FREE
  • Invite friends on Facebook

THAT OTHER WORD | Episode 6 | Géraldine Chognard and Sylvia Whitman

Posted on October 23, 2012, 06:00:00 AM by Madeleine LaRue

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.

In this episode, Daniel Medin and Scott Eposito revisit Robert Walser’s Microscripts in its new illustrated paperback edition, and look forward to another take on that author’s work, the strange and musical “monologue for multiple voices” that is Elfriede Jelinek’s Her Not All Her: On/With Robert Walser. They discuss the reconstructed romances in Jacqueline Raoul-Duval’s Kafka In Love and the well-earned praise for Stig Sæterbakken’s Self-Control. They hope that Dalkey Archive Press’ Arvo Pärt in Conversation will bring about a resurgence in the genre of conversations, and tip their hats to Seagull Books for publishing two works by the 2012 Nobel Laureate Mo Yan, Change and the forthcoming Pow!

Daniel Medin then speaks to two booksellers in Paris about introducing and promoting literature in translation, challenges to bookselling in the age of Amazon, and the idea of the bookshop as community center.

Géraldine Chognard manages Le Comptoir des Mots (near the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris’ twentieth arrondissement) and co-runs the small press Cambourakis, which specializes in literature in translation and has published Stanley Elkin and László Krasznahorkai, among others. She speaks about Librest, a cooperative effort among seven bookshops in eastern Paris, and ways to promote new works in translation. She mentions Le Comptoir des Mots’ successful poet-in-residence program, which has already hosted Frédéric Forte, a member of Oulipo, and Benoît Casas, and comments on Cambourakis’ upcoming publishing projects, including the French translation of Krasznahorkai’s War & War.

Sylvia Whitman took over Shakespeare and Company, Paris’ best-known anglophone bookshop, from her father, George Whitman, five years ago. She talks about appreciating the shop’s history and her efforts to expand its mission, the joys of reading in multiple languages, and the unique position of anglophone booksellers in France. She reveals Shakespeare and Company’s bestselling titles and recommends some of her staff’s recent favorites.


INTRO: Daniel Medin and Scott Esposito

1:06 Robert Walser’s Microscripts

2:00 Elfriede Jelinek’s Her Not All Her: On/With Robert Walser

5:55 Jacqueline Raoul-Duval’s Kafka In Love

6:57 Stig Sæterbakken’s Self-Control, plus his essay “Why I Always Listen to Such Sad Music,” published in Music and Literature

8:25 Dalkey Archive Press’ Arvo Pärt in Conversation

9:09 Works by Mo Yan: Change and Pow!

10:35 Scott Esposito and Daniel Medin introduce Géraldine Chognard and Sylvia Whitman

FEATURE, PART 1: Daniel Medin interviews Géraldine Chognard

12:02 The role of book stores in introducing and promoting works in translation, with a mention of Reinhard Jirgl

15:47 Librest and cooperative efforts with other booksellers and presses in Paris

18:30 Le Comptoir des Mots’ poet-in-residence program

21:04 Géraldine Chognard recommends: Céline Minard

22:08 Krasznahorkai’s War & War, plus his Au nord par une montagne, au sud par un lac, à l’ouest par les chemins, à l’est par un cours d’eau

FEATURE, PART 2: Daniel Medin interviews Sylvia Whitman

26:13 Learning to run Shakespeare and Company

28:15 ‘Life in translation’: Living between languages; reading and promoting literature in translation

31:00 On being an anglophone bookseller in France

35:01 Contemporary challenges to bookselling, and Shakespeare and Company’s solutions

41:30 Festivals and events at Shakespeare and Company

45:38 Noëlle Revaz’s With the Animals, Raymond Queneau, and being well-displaced

48:20 Sylvia Whitman recommends: Jean-Philippe Toussaint; Edouard Levé; Dimitri Verhulst’s Madame Verona Comes Down the Hills; Gerbrand Bakker; Per Petterson; and Emmanuel Carrère’s Limonov

49:54 Anglophone authors and books Sylvia Whitman is currently reading

TWO VOICES: Mary Jo Bang and Graham Foust

Posted on October 22, 2012, 01:22:00 PM by Scott Esposito

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.

Translator and poet Graham Foust began this event by reading from his translations of Ernst Meister, a 20th century German philosopher (co-translated with Samuel Frederick). Meister’s poetry was renounced as too experimental by the Third Reich, leading to a two-decade silence, only broken after the Second World War, with the spare poems in the slim In Time’s Rift not being published until 1976. Meister’s poems, Foust notes in the introduction to the book are like Emily Dickinson’s in that they “at once entice and irritate the mouth and the mind.” And, indeed, as Foust demonstrated to the audience, the job of translating them required much sensitivity and attention to detail.

To have been a thought
in time's rift,
until the horror of eternity
overthrew it.

What follows
isn't sleep,
but skeleton.

But those who understand
know this.

Translator and poet Mary Jo Bang then took the stage to discuss the genesis of her new translation of The Inferno: she read a poem that consisted of 47 previous translations of three lines from Dante. She began to think about how she would translate the lines, which led her to ponder the idea of what a full translation of Dante would look like.

She talked about the difficulties of maintaining the Italian word order and rhyme scheme, as well as her desire to put Dante's great work into spoken English. This led her to "make it contemporary in every way," creating a new translation that partakes in the most contemporary references possible: South Park, "truthiness," and more.

Bang began her reading with the famous meeting scene between Dante and the poet Virgil. She then concludes by reading from Dante's account of how he left limbo to encounter Virgil.

Three Passageways Launch Events

Posted on October 22, 2012, 10:02:00 AM by Scott Esposito

This week those lucky devils on the East and West Costs have three opportunities to hear some incredible international literature as we launch the latest TWO LINES—Passageways—with events in San Francisco, Berkeley, and New York City.

If you're in town, join us for these great events! Here are all the details:

October 24: Passageways Launch Party in New York City

Join author Naja Marie Aidt and translators Erica Mena and Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren for spirited readings from Passageways. Co-sponsored with the popular New York reading series The Bridge, this event happens at the lovely McNally-Jackson bookstore.

Hear Mena read from the politically inflected Puerto Rican poet Rafael Acevedo, Morgenstern-Clarren on the Brazilian poet Flávio de Araújo, and Aidt read from her short story "Blackcurrant," which involves sex with sheep. You can also be among the first to purchase Passageways and get it signed!

Join the best of New York City's translation scene to celebrate international literature!

  • Wednesday, October 24
  • McNally-Jackson 52 Prince Street (map), (between Lafayette & Mulberry), New York City
  • 7:00 pm
  • FREE
  • Invite friends on Facebook

October 25: Passageways Launch Party in San Francisco

Come join the staff of the Center for the Art of Translation and select Bay Area translators to celebrate Passageways. It all happens in the book-lined lobby of Chronicle Books, where you'll sip wine and snack on delectable morsels before hearing readings of new writing from all over the world.

Fulbright scholar Katrina Dodson reads from The Summer of Chibo, a novel co-written by renowned Brazilian authors Vanessa Barbara and Emilio Fraia. Dan Bellm reads from Mexican poet Jorge Esquinca's beautiful, elegiac long poem "Description of a Flash of Cobalt Blue," ranging across Esquinca's personal life to the Mexican state of Jalisco and even Hans Christian Andersen's fables. Lastly, local poet Denise Newman reads the bracing, sexy story "Blackcurrant."

Come join us for a drink and meet new friends!

  • Thursday, October 25
  • Chronicle Books
  • 680 Second St. (map) (a short walk from Montgomery BART), San Francisco
  • 6:00 pm
  • $5 suggested donation, copy of Passageways with $10+ donation
  • Invite friends on Facebook

October 26: Passageways East Bay Launch Party

Join acclaimed Berkeley poet Camille Dungy to celebrate Passageways at the lovely Berkeley bookstore Mrs. Dalloway's. Dungy co-edited the book and here reads from Passageways with celebrated Bay Area translators and authors.

We welcome Oakland-based author, translator, and previous TWO LINES contributor Carolina de Robertis. Robertis is the author of two acclaimed novels, Perla and The Invisible Mountain, as well as the translator of Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case, published earlier this year by Riverhead Books.

She reads alongside San Francisco-based translator Deborah Garfinkle, who earlier this year received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the PEN Foundation for her translations of the renowned Czech author Pavel Šrut.

  • Friday, October 26
  • Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore
  • 2904 College Ave. (map) (at College & Ashby), Berkeley, CA
  • 7:30 pm
  • FREE
  • Invite friends on Facebook

SATURDAY: See Mary Jo Bang Read Her Inferno

Posted on October 11, 2012, 11:19:00 AM by Scott Esposito

Mary Jo Bang's new translation of Dante's Inferno is probably the most relentlessly modern translation you'll read this year—and if you come to our event this Saturday, it will become the most relentlessly modern translation you have read to you this year.

We are hosting Bang (as well as poet/translator Graham Foust) at the Latin American Club in San Francisco (3286 22nd St) starting at 6:00 pm. There you'll will hear more about the translation that, as the New York Daily News writes,

is a translation for 2012 and 2012 only, with its allusions to Eric Cartman, the Rolling Stones and the noxious liquor "Mad Dog" 20/20, which, if you have ever tried it, is a special hell of its own.

This is not, needless to say, the "Inferno" you read in college – the one so brimming with condemnations, grievances (Dante was an exile from his native Florence) and puns, that the musical terza rima in which the poem is written is buried in an avalanche of footnotes: Wait, who is Reginaldo Scrovegni again, and why does he matter?

Bang has sacrificed some of the faithfulness to Dante's rhyming structure (which sounds too much like sing-song in English, anyway) and has ditched many, though not all, of Dante's allusions, in order to preserve something more important: Dante's meaning.

And here are some provocative questions from a review of Bang's Inferno in the Wichita Eagle. Maybe you'll get a chance to ask Bang some of these at the event (or just listen in as some brave soul asks them of Bang):

Bang baffles, however, by also claiming that “Dante’s Hell never ages, nor do our basic human failings ever change.” Really? Then why update the “Inferno” for at least the 49th time? (The actual number is much higher.)

Here, Bang runs smack dab into the conflicting urges of her performance art. (We can’t call it a “translation” – can we? – since she doesn’t know Italian, and merely glosses her favorite English texts.) She desperately wants Dante, but she doesn’t want to take him too seriously. No elevated language, remember?

That’s why, for instance, she finds the term “peasant” charmingly archaic. No one these days knows what a peasant is, she muses. Hmmm. Has anyone seen the 2010 movie “The Last Station,” about the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy’s final days? Peasants abound at Yasnaya Polyana estate. We have no trouble recognizing them.

But we do have trouble believing in Bang’s synonym, “worker”: a generic, urban, political, bland word that carries none of the connotations of a peasant’s intrinsic connection to the land, and adds nothing to our understanding of Dante’s poem.

And here's an excerpt of Bang's Inferno so you can see for yourself:

“The banners of the King of Hell come forth,” My teacher said, “and straight at us. Look ahead and see if you can see him.”

Like when a thick fog lifts, or like at dusk In the western world when one can just make out the hint Of a wind turbine turning in the distance,

I thought I saw some mechanistic device like that; then, Due to the wind, I ducked behind my teacher, Since there was no other shelter.

I was now—and I’m filled with dread as I write these lines— Where the shades were completely covered, visible Through the ice like bits of straw trapped in glass.

PASSAGEWAYS: Interview with Denise Newman on "Blackcurrant" by Naja Marie Aidt

Posted on October 11, 2012, 09:04:00 AM by Molly Parent

To help celebrate the release of the 19th volume of TWO LINES, Passageways, we're running interviews with translators from the book, along with excerpts (which you can read here). This first interview has the Center's Marketing Assistant Molly Parent interviewing translator Denise Newman, who translated the bracing story "Blackcurrant by Danish writer Naja Marie Aidt (pictured to the left). Aidt may be familiar to English-language readers from her story in Dakley Archive Press's Best European Fiction 2010. Readers can see Aidt in person at the New York launch of Passageways on October 24, 2012 at McNally-Jackson bookstore.

Molly Parent: You mention in your introduction to "Blackcurrant" that you associate Aidt’s writing with a “vast, frozen landscape.” I had a similar feeling as I read the story, though I couldn’t quite pinpoint why, as its setting is somewhat anonymous. Are there particular choices you made in the language as you were translating the story to simultaneously convey this sense of place and lack thereof?

Denise Newman: It is easy for me to imagine the atmosphere of Aidt’s story because I’ve spent many summers in rural Denmark. It is an anonymous, spare setting, but the anonymity, stillness and spaciousness of the flat fields, contribute to the intense feeling of separation and loneliness. There are so few distractions that any sounds and movements that do occur are pronounced like the neighbor’s tractor or the narrator’s unanswered questions directed at her friend Helle. There is also a fullness that I associate with the Danish countryside in late summer. Since the growing season is short all the fruiting and flowering seems more pronounced than in California. The blackcurrant bushes laden with berries is parallel to Helle’s situation and when we find out that she is expecting, it’s simply a confirmation of the feeling we’ve had all along. The choices I make while translating are at first intuitive. I match sounds and imagery with the feeling I have when I read it in Danish.

MP: The language of "Blackcurrant" is extremely poetic and melodic, an effect that I can only imagine is gorgeous in its original Danish. Did your translation process for this story involve more reading aloud than usual? How important is sound in your translation process, in general and for this work in particular?

DN: Aidt pushes on the language and syntax as a poet does, and you find alliteration, slant rhyme, and fragments throughout her stories, though these elements are used with restraint and so they are never easily noticeable. In Blackcurrant, the descriptions from the narrator’s memories are particularly melodic and colorful. These flashbacks contrast the short visceral sentences that describe the present action. I occasionally read sentences out loud, but more for the pleasure of hearing Danish used so expertly. I think it’s the writer’s job to bring out the music of his or her language, and translating is an opportunity for me to play the language through the writer’s ear, if that makes sense. Aidt has a different vocabulary than Inger Christensen, the only other author I’ve translated, it’s much more visceral, and it’s exciting for me to broaden my understanding of how the Danish language can be used.

MP: In a similar vein: when you’re not translating, I understand that you collaborate with composers to write lyrics for choral works. This seems to go perfectly in hand with translating, in that it involves collaboration, constraints, and working with rhythms and tones. Does your approach to one of these tasks inform the other, or do you ever apply a similar practice to both?

DN: Collaboration is an important part of my practice as an artist, and I do consider translating to be collaborative, especially with Aidt, who is fluent in English and able to give me significant feedback, although it’s not an equal partnership: I’m beholden to the original work, and do not contribute ideas or form. There is a lot more freedom working with composers. I’m given loose perimeters, like length, tone, and occasionally subject matter (once Mark Winges asked for lyrics concerning the moon and a piano!). In my experience, the librettist starts the process, whereas the opposite is true for translating. What I enjoy most about collaboration is the social aspect and the opportunity to go beyond my limited imagination, and translating offers both of these.

MP: What projects, translation or otherwise, are you currently looking forward to? What would be your dream translation to undertake next?

DN: Currently I’m slowly translating Aidt’s short story collection Bavian (Baboon) of which Blackcurrant is part. It’s fun to think about a dream project in translation. What comes to mind is a collaborative creative translation. A number of years ago I worked with Susanna Nied, the long-time translator of Inger Christensen’s poetry, to create different versions of a single poem by Christensen from her sonnet series Butterfly Valley. We did a free verse, rhyming, and a recast translation of it. It was delightful to work together and to be able to show different aspects of a single poem. Christensen once told me that the best translation of Butterfly Valley would in fact be two translations, one foregrounding meaning and the other, rhyme and meter. This is something I’d like to pursue with other translators.

TWO LINES Online October 2012

Posted on October 2, 2012, 09:30:00 AM by Scott Esposito

We have just published the October installment of TWO LINES Online. This installment offers an intriguing story from the Urdu—"The Hyena Falls Silent" by Sayid Muhammad Ashraf (translated by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad)—and a poem translated by Victor Pambuccian: "The small rain" by Constantin Abăluță.

The author of "The small rain," Constantin Abăluță, also has a poem in the current TWO LINES, titled Passageways. You can order that book here and se the fullt able of contents. "The small rain" begins:

I know the chronicler of the big rain.
For my part, I will write about a small rain,
a rain that’s slipping through your fingers.
A rain like a worthless thing

"The Hyena Falls Silent" is a very strange story about a train journey in India.

The train had just left the station, navigating the crisscross of tracks, blowing its whistle. Then each car’s brakes screeched from engine to caboose, before falling silent beneath the growing darkness of the monsoon evening. Quickly the voices of the passengers rose in confusion.

A hard rain began to pelt the windows. The rain struck the train’s roof and ran down its sides: drop after drop slowly slipped down, and when several met up they formed a thick line that flowed all the way down the windows. The boy liked watching this.

“Why’re we stopped?” Grandfather asked the person across from him. The boy was sitting right next to Grandfather; he repositioned himself and turned back to watch the rain.

“Who knows? Some school-boys must’ve pulled the emergency brakes,” said the man with the moustache.

“But today’s Sunday. It must be something else. Please go see what it is.”

“But it’s raining a lot, sir,” the man said, not wanting to cede his place on the jam-packed train.

Michael Henry Heim (1943-2012)

Posted on October 1, 2012, 06:36:00 AM by Scott Esposito

Translation has, sadly, lost one of its finest practitioners and most eloquent advocates. Translator of numerous languages and longtime professor at UCLA Michael Henry Heim passed away on September 30. You can see a number of his translations and honors at his UCLA faculty page.

Publisher and longtime translation advocate Chad Post has written a very passionate and personal remembrance of Michael at his website. It includes the amazing revelation that he donated over $700,000 of his own money to set up the PEN Translation Fund, which awards grants of $3,000 to 12 translators every year.

German-language translator Susan Bernofsky has a heartfelt tribute to him at her website. It reads, in part:

A good dozen years ago I found myself traveling across Germany with a band of American translators including Mike, on a study tour sponsored by the Goethe Institut, and can report that Mike spent a certain amount of time every day without fail studying Chinese, surely his 13th or 14th language at that point. I think he had at least some proficiency in all, or nearly all, the languages of both Eastern and Western Europe. He translated from several. And was always the most stalwart supporter of younger translators coming up, whether or not they had passed through his classroom (I envy those who did). A couple of years after that translators' outing, I got a call from New Directions asking if I wanted to translate Jenny Erpenbeck's book The Story of the Old Child; Mike, they said, had recommended me. Which I knew could only mean that he himself had been offered the contract and had remembered that I loved the book - I'd been given a copy when we visited Erpenbeck's German publisher in Frankfurt and had devoured it on the train to Munich, unable to stop talking about how much I liked it. Mike had decided to make me a gift of this book, perhaps sensing that Jenny and I would be a good fit (a hunch borne out by the fact that I will soon be translating my fourth book by her). For this act of generosity, I will be forever grateful to him.

The Center was fortunate enough to have Michael in San Francisco last September to celebrate the opening of its new offices. He proved to be a very erudite and memorable guest, precisely the kind of individual to properly help open the new offices of an organization dedicated to a love of translation. His presence in our offices was all the more special given that he was at that time battling the brain cancer that eventually claimed his life.

During his visit, Michael gave a memorable speech at an evening event about what he described as the three eras of translation, dating from the 1950s through the present. He concluded his presentation by explaining why he thought now was a very promising moment for translation. Surely the promise implicit in today's translation scene owes a great deal to advocates like Michael, who have long nurtured a love of translation in students and up-and-coming translators. You can listen to the audio of his presentation at this page.

Michael was one of translation's most ardent and able supporters. He will be missed quite dearly.