Aug 3, 2016


      Editor's Note  
Ready to dive into our Summer 2016 edition? We have many rich pickings from the underwater world of translation (video trailer here), including: memoirs of childhood submerged in ghosts and television; in-depth interviews with Paul Celan translator Pierre Joris and Sawako Nakayasu, winner of the 2016 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation; our colorful coral-reef Multilingual Writing Feature, this time incorporating ten different languages from as far afield as Puerto Rico, South Africa, and India; as well as fifteen fresh-from-the-sea translations of Pedro Novoa's devastating cuento breve, which, at 997 words, took first place in Peru's "Story of 1,000 Words" contest.

It's not hard to see why. At once a nautical thriller and drama-filled family saga, Pedro Novoa's masterful story delivers a powerful allegory about the blood ties that bind even when they're broken—the concatenation of islands we will nevertheless always be. The subsequent intergenerational stories by Philippe Sollers, Alessandro Cinquegrani, and Edi Matić also feature the same beating (if shrieking, squalling) heart; and we round off the Fiction section with Mahsa Mohebali's delightful take on interconnectedness via a love-story-in-footnotes.

Elsewhere, we are thrilled to give you Patrick Chamoiseau's also-very-hyphenated introduction to Martiniquais writers, both an important theoretical work and a masterpiece of creative writing. Along with David Shook's essay on translating multilingual writer Jorge Canese, it provides the perfect bungee-jumping off point to the adventurous experimentations in our Multilingual Writing Feature. Borne from a certain "multiplicity of being," these projects blur the lines between translation and original; monolingual and multilingual. Audio recordings in this section, editor Ellen Jones notes, uniquely reveal actual sounds of different languages riffing off one another.

A new sound (Xitsonga, a South African language) and some very existential investigations can be found in the Poetry section: Czech Surrealist Vítězslav Nezval, for example, presents a man composing a self-portrait out of objects, while Mikhail Eremin, of the Russian "philological school," interrogates nature, time, and myth in dense free verse octaves; and Nurduran Duman responds to Rumi's "Song of the Reed" in her urgent, questioning poems about the self's place in the world. In the aftermath of May 1968, Italian poet Elsa Morante asserts, "Fare ye well measures, directions, five senses. Fare ye well slavish duties & slavish rights & slavish judgments."

As you plumb the rest of the issue, illustrated gloriously by Andrea Popyordanova, don't miss Brian Vinero's new drama translation of Euripides (in rhymed-verse!); Trisha Gupta's review of Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay's delightfully counter-current novel, Panty; as well as a spotlight on artist Jakub Woynarowski, who repurposes images from Polish history to create spatial experiences ranging from the subtle to the sublime.

In other magazine-related news, we are adapting Daniel Hahn's popular 'Ask a Translator' column to a live event on July 20 at Waterstones Piccadilly (RSVP to the event here), and also live-streaming it on Facebook (in a first for Asymptote!) so catch us there at 1930hrs (GMT) and ask your questions from all over the world. For our Special Feature in January 2017, our sixth anniversary issue, we are looking for contemporary work from Indian languages. Find the details here, along with our call for Canadian Poetry (deadline: 1 Aug 2016).

As Asymptote prepares to turn six (without financial support from any government body or educational institution all these years), we are now urgently looking to secure our future so that we can continue operating beyond January 2017.

That's why we are rolling out a new sustaining membership program. Subscription takes just a few moments (and $10 a month), but allows us to continue bringing the freshest world literature to an audience that grows exponentially with each passing year. In return for pledging a year’s support, you will receive an Asymptote Moleskine notebook, perfect for you and your loved ones. If you value our work and our mission, become a sustaining member today. Thank you so much for your support!
—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief


by Șerban Foarță

and so forth,
all three enclosed
in a bottle,
in a bottle without a horse.

Bottle capped by Don Ruys, señor
de Medina y de Posa,
qui the birdsong doeth adore
et admires the mariposa.

all four trapped,
trapped in a bottle
capped by Mr. Maeterlinck

(in the French langue, Materlenk),
Grand cordon of the Order de
Léopold—whom Timur Leng
did not provoque: “To us, à nous deux!”

In Orlamonde,—
in his bottle
with no throttle,
alle die men are jerks and suckers,
gaga gems, that’s all le monde.

translated from the Romanian by MARGENTO


de Șerban Foarță

and so forth,
all three closed,
closed in a bottle,
in a bottle without horse.

Closed by Don Ruys, señor
de Medina y de Posa,
qui écoute el ruiseñor
et admire la mariposa.

all four closed,
closed in a bottle
closed by Mr. Maeterlinck

(in Französisch : materlenk),
Grand cordon de l’Ordre de
Léopold,—que Timour Lenk
ne provoque pas: „A nous deux!”

In Orlamonde, —
in his bottle
without throttle,
alle Menschen sind so trottel,
gagâteux [sic!] est tout le monde.

Șerban Foarță (b. 1942) is a poet, translator, essayist, playwright, and author/editor of over eighty titles. His work ranges from formal experimentalism to multilingual and conceptual writing to translational poetics to innovative transcriptions of classic literature to parodies and “jokes” to palindromes and “holo-rhymes.” The recipient of many awards and distinctions, he has been a freelancer for over sixty years, dedicating his life entirely to literature. He lives in Timișoara, Romania.

Translator's Note
I was 16 when I was first mesmerized by Serban Foarță’s poetry—while listening to the greatest Romanian rock band of all times, Phoenix, whose lyrics he had written. The band was, at that time, banned by the communist regime for ‘defecting’ to the ‘imperialist enemy’ (illegally escaping to western Germany), but some connoisseurs still had the vinyl records. Foarță’s lyrics—mellifluous and sophisticated, mixing Romanian folklore and Western medieval folk books with alchemical references and modern poetic experimentalism—are still known by heart by millions of fans across Romania and beyond.

Later, as a younger poet, I got to dive into the incredible richness and complexity of Foarță’s oeuvre. He is arguably Romania’s most spectacular and diverse formal experimentalist since WWII. He also is formidably erudite; in the blink of an eye, his references can span the most distant and apparently incompatible areas and ages, but his ludic restlessness is always backed up by focused profundity and intellectual lucidity. One of his most recent feats is an impeccable Romanian version of Raymond Queneau’s Cent mille milliards de poèmes (Hundred Thousand Billion Poems).

The challenges of translating ‘Papillonage’ (‘Buttérflyçion’) have been considerable, especially since the author takes advantage here of the special relationship between Romanian and French languages and cultures. I had to invent ‘English’ words to echo that relationship, while maintaining the poetic form and finding equivalents to the infectious puns and cross-cultural references. It is interesting to note that, paradoxically, when translating a multilingual poem and trying to render the various special (inter)lingual connections and interactions, it is the ‘main’ language (in this particular case Romanian) that disappears, since that is the most ‘translatable’ one, the one most exposed to rendition and foreignization.

More HERE.

Jun 28, 2016

MARGENTO @ CROWD Omnibus Reading Tour

The CROWD OMNIBUS is a literary tour from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean Sea  
·     over 100 writers from 37 countries
·     12 weeks on a bus (May to August)
·     through 14 European countries with over 50 stops
·     over 30 local partners
·     dozens of readings, performances, discussions, meetings, workshops
·     intermingling, interacting, sharing
CROWD is about meeting each other in literature!

 THE MAP app 

Follow with: #crowdlitbus

Photos from the

'Text-World-World-Text' - Symposium

organized in Graz by Forum Stadtpark (FB page) as part of the CROWD Omnibus Reading Tour



LEG 1, week 1-3, 02.-21.05.2016: Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark
Helsinki, Tampere, Jyväskylä, Hailuoto, Oulu, Rovaniemi, Tromsö, Trondheim, Lillehammer, Oslo, Stockholm, Göteborg, Malmö, Aarhus, Odense, Kobenhavn
LEG 2,  week 4-6, 22.05.-12.06.2016: Germany, Poland, Czech Republic
Hamburg, Kiel, Greifswald, Berlin, Wiesenburg (Mark), Frankfurt Oder, Slubice, Krakow, Prague, Usti nad Labem, Sulzbach-Rosenberg, München
LEG 3, week 7-9, 13.06.-04.07.2016: Austria, Slovenia, Serbia, Bulgaria
Altaussee, Mürzzuschlag, Graz, Laafeld (Bad Radkersburg), Jurovski Dol, Belgrade, Niš, Sofia, Burgas
LEG 4,  week 10-12, 05.-24.07.2016: Turkey, Greece, Cyprus
Istanbul, Tekirdag, Kavala, Thessaloniki, Volos, Lechonia, Delphi, Athens,  Larnaca, Famagusta, Kyrenia, Bellapais, Nicosia, Lemithou, Platres, Kourion, Limassol

LEG 1, 02.-21.05.2016: Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark
Satu Taskinen (FI), Marko Tomaš (BA), Peter Højrup (DK), Ricardo Domeneck (DE), Fiston Mwanza Mujila (AT), Andrea Inglese (IT), Alev Adil (CY), Katarzyna Fetlińska (PL), Eino Santanen (FI), Aase Berg (SE), Ondrej Budeus (CZ), Odile Kennel (DE), Barbi Marković (RS), Markus Köhle (AT), Maxime Coton (BE), Teemu Manninen (FI), Ervina Halili (KO), Martin Jankowski (DE), Lilly Jäckl (AT), Kinga Toth (HU), John Holten (IE), Eftychia Panayiotou (CY), Jan Kaus (EE), Vakis Loizides (CY)

LEG 2,  22.05.-12.06.2016: Germany, Poland, Czech Republic
JK Ihalainen (FI), Harri Hertell (FI), Katariina Vuorinen (FI), Olga Pek (CZ), Pambos Kouzalis (CY), Maria Siakalli (CY), Gür Genc (CY), Ilse Kilic (AT), Thomas Antonic (AT), Maria Cecilia Barbetta (DE), Artur Becker (DE), Elias Knörr (IS), Judith Keller (CH), Anja Golob (SI), Ian de Toffoli (LU), Alen Meskovic (DK), Rufus Mufasa (UK), Tsvetanka Elenkova (BG), Kätlin Kaldmaa (EE), Vladimir Durisic (ME), Birger Emanuelsen (NO), Roland Reichen (CH), Nadia Mifsud (MT), Johannes Schrettle (AT)

LEG 3, 13.06.-04.07.2016: Austria, Slovenia, Serbia, Bulgaria
Stefanie Sargnagel (AT), Alexander Micheuz (AT), Daniela Seel (DE), Clemens Schittko (DE), Ulrich Schlotmann (DE), Jenan Selcuk (CY), Constantinos Papageorgiou (CY), Andreas Timotheu (CY), Hannele Mikaela Taivassalo (FI), Henriikka Tavi (FI), Suvi Valli (FI), Ruzanna Voskanyan (AM), Kristina Posilovic (HR), Erinie Margariti (GR), Benediktas Janusvidius (LT), MARGENTO (RO), Mathias Traxler (CH), Steven J. Fowler (UK), Álvaro Seiça (PT), Jaap Blonk (NL), Ingamara Balode (LV), The Geminiis (FR)

LEG 4,  05.-24.07.2016: Turkey, Greece, Cyprus
Avgi Lilli (CY), Nora Nadjarian (CY), Yiorgos Christodoulides (CY), Crauss (DE), Alexander Filyuta (DE), Jörg Piringer (AT), Christoph Szalay (AT), Florian Neuner (AT), Alexandra Salmela (FI), Paulina Haasjoki (FI), Marjo Niemi (FI), Martin Glaz Serup (DK), Alexis Stamatis (GR), Erikur Örn Norddahl (IS), Ailbhe Darcy (IE), Tone Hodnebo (NO), Josep Pedrals (ES), Mira Tuci (AL), Mikael Vogel (DE), Zeynep Köylü (TR)

Associated Partners on the road
Randnummer Magazin, Literaturhaus Hamburg, Hansa48, Literaturhaus Schleswig-Holstein, Koeppenhaus, Nachbarschaftsheim Schöneberg, Casa e.V., ufaFabrik, Berliner Literarische Aktion, Hochroth Publisher, Mal’s Multimedia Scheune, Kleist-Museum, Ha!Art, Psi Vino Journal for contemporary poetry, h_aluze Magazine, Literaturarchiv Sulzbach-RosenbergMeine drei lyrischen ichs (reading series)Lyrikkabinett, Kunsthaus Mürz, Pavelhaus, Zelena Centrala, Krokodil, Bulgarian Book Association, Mesut Senol, Beyoglu Municipality, Lions Club Tekirdag, Entefktirio Literary Magazine, Giorgos Kordomenides, Thessaloniki Municipality, Dimitris Papastergiou, Thomas Korovinis, Society of Dekata, Dinos Siotis, Andreas Timotheou, Parakentro Cultural Centre, Pambos Kouzalis, Local Authority of Platres, Anber Onar, Limassol Municipality, Cyprus Union of Writers, Cyprus PEN Centre.

Thank you so much! The Sponsors:


May 3, 2016

GELLU NAUM Poem in PLUME's Newsletter Introduced by MARGENTO; translated by MARGENTO and Martin WOODSIDE

"Silo" by Randi Ward

from the newsletter signed by Plume EiC Daniel Lawless:

May, 2016


Readers:  Welcome to Plume, Issue 58
May– and the cruelty this time not of the month even metaphorically but lying instead in the fact of what I must lay at your feet: actual news – in a Newsletter. A relief to most of you, surely: my own ramblings put aside so that we might speak of…business. Yes, let’s call it that. Much of what will follow – though not all, by any means – will reappear in this month’s Editor’s Note, I should warn you.
But first, something that will not appear in that Editor’s Note: our “secret poem from Gellu Naum” – “Notes on the Translation of a Poem Based on a Mistranslation” marvelously translated and introduced by Plume contributor Chris Tanasescu (Margento):
Notes on the Translation of a Poem Based on a Mistranslation
 In “Natura umană”/“Human Nature,” Romanian surrealist Gellu Naum (1915 – 2001) takes his favorite jazz musician, Miles Davis, on a tram trip around downtown Bucharest, while the latter plays his famous trumpet.  Playing the trumpet on a tramcar is not the only unusual thing here, and as we’ll see, issues of media(tion) and non-representational spatiality can be traced as playing a fundamental role in the poem.
Modern and contemporary poetry can be and has been revisited from a new media and digital space perspective—and I am not speaking of digital poetry (only) but of traditional/“page” poetry as well.  Marit Grøtta for instance wrote a book on Baudelaire, circumscribing the early modernist’s poetics as deeply informed by the new media of his age—particularly pre-cinematic devices—the kaleidoscope, the thaumatrope, the zoetrope, etc.  As this brief enumeration already shows, there is a strong (if not prevailing) emphasis on the visual in these early fusions.  Still, in Baudelaire (as argued in the same book) the flaneur’s experience of the crowd is a profoundly sensual one. 
This latter modernist motif is revisited by Naum in his poem and actually twisted almost beyond recognition, since he includes two major additions extracted from the cultural heritage of the 20th century—psychoanalysis (the girl who performs the part of her brother’s “dear mama”) and popular music (jazz). 
These two additions are further distorted by placing the “concert” on a tramcar and subverting the given topographies (the Neajlov flows in reality somewhere beyond the outskirts of Bucharest and nowhere near the downtown Piazza May the 1st).  “Miles Davis” thus becomes, in Ian Davidson’s terms, a “circulating entity” within another “circulating entity,” a restless, walking, performing passenger in a tramcar which is in its turn in motion. 
His whereabouts is therefore always variable and uncertain, and therefore Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in quantum physics—that has been identified as perfectly applicable to digital space (cf. Stephen Kennedy 33)—is illustrated here in a most palpable way.
Moreover, multi-temporality and the multiple motions involved in the poem circumscribe an economy of place and space of particular relevance in the context of our discussion.  Miles Davis’s character gradually acquires a special kind of place and space related features.  His mobility as well as the connectivity and relative re-positionings and (re)arrangements he stirs in the surrounding contexts evoke both the ever-shifting, expanding, and protean networks of hyperlinks in digital space as well as the way in which within (and then as based off of) the virtual, the digital creates a space with a reality principle of itself.
The dislocated places, displaced and floating locations typical of digital space are accompanied here by another salient feature of the latter.  A sky with its own stars is made visible through and within the musician’s presence and performance, both of which generate a space of their own, where the eagles on a necklace soar among the stars beyond/above the ceiling.  This confusion between the two levels of reality and their fusion into a new self-sufficient kind of reality cohere with the descriptions of digital space in recent criticism as going beyond the real-virtual binary opposition and, as already stated here, acquiring a reality principle in and of itself (see for instance Kroker and Kroker, 11).
Now we can return to the new media mentioned in the opening remarks.  Unlike in modernist poetries, the economy of such space and of the poem is not mainly visual anymore, but sonic.  The refrain of the poem is a mistranslation (Naum literally renders the song title as “time after time”, “timp după timp”).  It sounds like an echo, and the economy of the poem gravitates around it in ways that could be probably best described by the “echostate” (“an echo of a statement”) concept (cf. Kennedy 74-5).  The re-mixed and remediated performance develops the echostate of “time after time” in ways that restore the sonic and multi-temporal dimensions to a conventional and representational space related experience.  The figure of the musician himself and his wandering among passengers and from one coach to another is also a form of echostate, a metaphor for the propagation of statements and the way they connect or disconnect in various spaces and on various levels, within and across media.  His presence triggers a continuous reconfiguration of relationships and causes identities, statuses, and connections to become fluent, fluctuating, and interchangeable.
Come and be transported, be utterly dislocated and transformed by this poem!
Human Nature
by Gellu Naum
When Davis entered my sleep he played crooked
and that bewilderment had emerged which finally encloses
                  you in autumn when you’re alone and ordained for states of
                  mind you can’t resist
I started out then        Davis plays on his green trumpet   
                  Plays crooked
the mouth of the trumpet scraping the ground
and suddenly we find ourselves in Piazza May the First
there was a girl on the #3 Tram with a sanitary handbag
made from tarpaulin it had a red cross painted on the top she wears
a beret made of sky colors bound with a strap which slides
down the neck
she was about 14 years old all terribly made up
playing a game she made up pretending to take the wrong
                  coach accompanied by a much younger brother
she corrected him constantly performing the part of dear
in the crowded coach Davis plays crooked passing among
                  the others  his trumpet touching the floorboards
time after time and I felt like crying he was just an old
man the others couldn’t hear him the girl with the son-brother passed on to the other coach she returned then
Davis plays crooked he passes among the others I made
                  out above through the ceiling yellow stars on blue
                  sky I admired the necklace at his throat a great
                  jewel with eagles
the others smoked as Davis wiped the sweat from his brow
his trumpet seemed a golden amphora sweat poured down those eagles
Davis plays crooked his heart ever deeper dragging with his
fingers making unintelligible signs then there was one with long flowing hair and a small black guitar
the hair ran down over his guitar or it rose up in any case
                  he couldn’t hear Davis either
Davis played crooked this girl was made-up violently
                  passing into the other coach the other watched
                  snapdragon flowers through the windows and the
                  reddish-black hollyhocks would stir time after time
for two days we’d traveled as Davis played crooked
                  down close to the floor
on the third day I got off at Piazza May the First while
                  Davis stayed among the passengers I remained alone
                  despondent on the banks of the Neajlov that girl
                  (brother’s mother) I believe was in the same coach
                  with Davis I hadn’t noticed
in any case I was certain and she clamped the back of her
hand over her son-brother’s face and pulled from the
sanitary handbag a black bandage for his eyes
smeared with my shadow I wiped the sweat from my
(translated from the Romanian by MARGENTO and Martin Woodside from Athanor and Other Pohems, Calypso Editions, 2013, reprinted here with permission from the publisher.)
Natura umană
de Gellu Naum
Când Davis a intrat în somnul meu cânta încovoiat
ieșise la iveală în sfârșit acea nedumerire care te cuprinde
         toamna când ești singur și rânduit la stări
         pe care nu le poți respinge
pe urmă am pornit la drum             Davis cânta la o trompetă verde    
         Cânta încovoiat
gura trompetei atingea pământul
și pe neașteptate ne-am pomenit în Piața 1 Mai        
era o fată în tramvaiul 3 cu geantă sanitară
         din prelată avea o cruce roșie pictată pe capacul genții purta
         o bască de culoarea cerului legată cu o curelușă
         care îi cădea pe ceafă
avea vreo paisprezece ani era teribil de fardată
juca un joc se prefăcea că a greșit
         vagonul o însoțea un frate mult mai mic
de fiecare dată îl certa vroia să pară
era înghesuială în vagon Davis cânta încovoiat trecea
         printre ceilalți trompeta atingea podeaua
timp după timp și îmi venea să plâng era bătrân
         ceilalți nu-l auzeau fata cu fiul-frate a trecut în celălalt vagon apoi s-a reîntors
Davis cânta încovoiat trecea printre ceilalți zăream
         deasupra prin tavan stele gălbui pe cerul albăstriu
         îi admiram colanul de la gât un mare
         giuvaier cu vulturi
ceilalți fumau și Davis își ștergea sudoarea de pe față
         trompeta lui părea o amforă de aur sudoarea îi cădea pe vulturi
Davis cânta încovoiat cu inima mult mai adâncă făcea cu degetele semne
         de neînțeles era acolo unul cu părul foarte lung cu o chitară mică neagră
părul i se scurgea înspre chitară sau îi creștea din ea în sus în orice caz
         nici el nu-l auzea pe Davis
Davis cânta încovoiat fata aceea violent fardată
         trecuse în vagonul celălalt vedea
         prin geamuri flori de gura-leului
         și nalbe înroșite-negru care se mișcau timp după timp
de două zile tot călătoream așa Davis cânta încovoiat
         aproape de podea
a treia zi m-am coborât în Piața 1 Mai el a rămas
         acolo printre pasageri eu am rămas tot singur
         ca un amărât pe malul Neajlovului fata aceea
         (mama fratelui) cred că era cu Davis în vagon
         n-am observat
în orice caz sunt sigur că și-a pleznit cu dosul palmei
         peste mutră fiul-frate și că a scos
         din geanta sanitară fașă neagră ca să-i bandajeze ochii
mânjit de umbra mea eu îmi ștergeam sudoarea de pe frunte
Gellu Naum (1915-2001) started as an orthodox Surrealist, together with André Breton and Victor Brauner in the Paris of the 1930s, where he pursued a PhD in philosophy from the Sorbonne. After returning to Romania in the early 1940s, he embarked on a solitary and prolific career, riskily immune to the political agenda of the Communist regime. He reshaped surrealism by means of a mode-of-existence poetics that absorbed (often jocosely) erudite eastern and western references along with popular culture and the quotidian, thus managing to fuse a wide range of styles and dictions into a unique discourse, shamanistic and deadly humorous at the same time. A major voice of the 20th century, his verse contains varied infinities while staying mysteriously homogenous and enlightened by the pursuit of the same unmistaken path.
MARGENTO (Chris Tănăsescu) is a Romanian poet, performer, academic, and translator who has lectured, launched books, and performed in the US, SE 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. His book of translations—together with Martin Woodside—from Gellu Naum’s poetry (Athanor and Other Pohems) was nominated by World Literature Today as Most Notable Translation in 2013, and his more recent work has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Prairie Schooner, Belas Infieis, Experiment-O, and Tristan Tzara Notebooks, among other places, and he has recently completed the libretto for a rock opera composed by Bogdan Bradu. He continues his work on the graph poem project together with Diana Inkpen and the latter’s students at University of Ottawa. MARGENTO is Romania & Moldova Editor-at-Large for Asymptote.
Wonderful, yes? Thank you, Margento – Chris, and Martin.

Read the whole newsletter here.
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Mar 29, 2016



Sweet ephebe, dear good friend,
shall I compare thee to what?
There’s nothing to be measured against your cleanly beauty
and no filly
could in any way compete with you. That’s why I find
to be around you
while all you do is loaf in your own world
laughing and waving those fingers lightly
as if playing an invisible syrinx oh so good to seek. You pamper yourself
and then stare in the air just
like a smooth statue; you start to dance in the half light
all by yourself, like a… cynaedus
or a bird in love.
You can’t be touched by either men or women
and everything around you feels so rude.
I watch you with a thoughtless mind
just as one day I watched the pure
and mild concupiscence of a plant bearing
a name so funny, and yet so ethereal –
the femininely virile cypripedium
lost somewhere in a flower
shop window.

Dance, my dear friend! A stroboscope
divides you like a ghost. That is your beauty
manifold (an 18-year old – I keep recalling – Shiva).
You’ll be away tomorrow.
Your long and fragrant hair will pile up on some grimy concrete floor
your locks will meet a barber’s greasy hand
some brutish drill instructor will surely give you hell,
some old doctor will take time weighing,
groping you on the sly,
some stocky soldiers will tap you on the shoulder.
They’ll drill you
almost kill you,
you, lazy one, will learn about virtus and labor.
They’ll make a man out of you and then
you’ll be chased by Priapus in the fall of his life
and by stupid languid wives…

Now you look like a dancing shadow
a filigree hidden in a Fauvist painting.
I would just wrap you up in a song
and forget you.

Let me think of you as the boy who
on a smoky day was reading much too serenely
while a distant bossa nova rhythm was playing
something by Charles d’Orléans
(Le monde est ennuyé de moy
Et moy pareillement lui”
well, who knows?)

Dear good friend,
neither boy nor girl,
whom I lock in my mind
to stare at you
at your pure beauty
thoughtless as if in a flower shop window.

In a mute, convoluted song I’d wrap you up
and thus forget you.

Translated by MARGENTO

Simona Popescu

Dulce efeb, bunul meu prieten,
cu ce să te asemăn?
Nimic nu se măsoară cu frumuseţea ta curată
şi nu există fată
cu tine să se-ntreacă. De-aceea caut
în preajma ta să fiu
în timp ce tu petreci în lumea ta
râzând, mişcând din degete uşor de parcă
ai mânui un syrinx invizibil. Te-alinţi,
apoi priveşti în gol precum
o netedă statuie; şi-apoi dansezi în clarobscur
tu singur, ca un… cined
sau ca o pasăre îndrăgostită.
Femeia şi bărbatul nu pot să te atingă
şi tot-n jurul tău e bădăran.
Mă uit la tine fără gânduri
aşa cum într-o zi privit-am
concupiscenţa pură, delicat-a unei plante
cu nume caraghios şi în acelaşi timp suav,
la feminin-virila cypripedium
pierdută undeva într-o vitrină
de florărie.

Dansează, prieten drag! Un stroboscop
te-mparte fantomatic. E frumuseţea ta
multiplă (un Shiva – tot îmi veni în minte – de opşpe ani).
şi mâine vei pleca.
Părul tău lung, parfumat, va zace pe-un mizer ciment,
coama ta va cunoaşte mâna murdară, grăsoasă, a unui frizer,
vreo brută ofiţerească te va slei-n comenzi,
îndelung vreun doctor bătrân te va cântări,
te va atinge în treacăt,
soldăţoi îndesaţi te vor bate pe umăr.
Te vor alerga şi
ca pe-o ridiche te vor freca.
Tu, lazy, învăţa-vei pe virtus şi labor.
Bărbat or să scoată din tine şi-apoi
târcoale-ţi vor da şi Priapul tomnatec,
şi proastă femeia, molatec…

Acum îmi pari, dansând, o umbră
filigranată într-un tablou fovist.
Aş vrea să te-nconjor c-un cântec
şi să te uit.

Să mă gândesc la tine ca la băiatul care
într-o zi fumurie prea-liniştit citea
pe-un ritm îndepărtat de bossa-nova
Pe Charles d’Orleans
(“Le monde est ennuye de moy
Et moy pareillement de lui”
mai ştii?)

Prieten bun,
nici fată, nici băiat,
aşa te-nchid în mintea mea
şi mă holbez la tine
la frumuseţea ta curată
fără gânduri ca dup-un geam de florărie.

C-un cântec mut, sofisticat, aş vrea să te-nconjor
şi să te uit.

This translation of Simona Popescu’s “Efeb cu cypripedium” has been included in Moods & Women & Men & Once Again Moods. An Anthology of Contemporary Erotic Romanian Poetry, edited by Ruxandra Cesereanu—Tracus Arte Press (Romania) and Calypso Editions (USA)—to be released in North America in early fall 2016.

Read this poem in Plume HERE!

Feb 11, 2016

Crowdsourcing a Poet--MARGENTO on Musina

(Initially published on Asymptote's blog here)

"...I asked a number of significant writers for an input on the place of this writer in our literature..."
Have you ever thought of starting a poetry crowdsourcing? While contemplating writing on Alexandru Muşina’s magnetic personality (as a tie in to Ruxandra Cesereanu’s article in our July issue), the idea presented itself to me as the best way of introducing him to Asymptote’s readers; definitely an exciting opportunity to bring people together around the work of this amazing poet. Why? For at least two reasons. First, Muşina is one of the most important poets of Generation 80 (the poets that changed the face of Romanian poetry starting back in the 1980s), and arguably its most influential theorist, teacher, and public figure. Therefore, given the writer’s impressive public profile, crowdsourcing arises as a truly viable option in trying to unveil the many facets of his personality as mirrored by poets, critics, and theorists from various schools and walks of life. Second, taking the pulse of the current literary scene by asking some of its most outstanding representatives for input on the matter would obviously provide remarkably candid insights into the writer’s legacy, but it may also add up to a quick x-ray of Romanian letters, a sort of present-day portrayal of a young literature as revisiting an established man…; this latter aspect may prove of interest particularly since Cesereanu’s article focuses mainly on the place of Muşina’s poetry (and specifically his poem “Budila Express”) in the historical context of the communist regime and Ceausescu’s dictatorship (when the poem was first published).
It is, of course, always relevant to follow the posthumous destiny of a major writer, but in this particular case, there was more to it than just that. Since Cesereanu’s article draws a parallel between Muşina’s “Budila Express” and Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” I thought to myself why not put together here a small-scale replica of Jason Shinder’s The Poem that Changed America: “Howl” Fifty Years After (showcasing brilliant and sometimes intriguing contributions from people like Marjorie Perloff and Robert Pinsky) and come up with a sort of short-version “Budila Express” 33 Years Aftermyself… or, as another tentative title came to mind, Muşina 2 Years After His Untimely Passing
Muşina, an outstanding representative of “Generation 80” (the generation of the 1980s) was just 59 when he passed away. In a sophisticated eulogy, his friend and writer colleague Caius Dobrescu—foremost member along with Simona PopescuAndrei BodiuMarius Oprea, and others of the Braşov Circle that initially gravitated around Muşina’s theoretical ideas—spoke of the poet’s “4-dimensional” personality in which the theorist/visionary, the teacher/leader, and the public figure played roles as essential as that of the poet. I realized that people often think of Muşina’s great impact on contemporary poetry as stemming not so much or not only from his poetry, but his community and impressive following. 
Therefore I asked a number of significant writers for an input on the place of this writer in our literature, basically moving gradually from established to young and then younger poets, writers, critics, and editors. Felix Nicolaufor instance believes Alexandru Muşina’s theoretical influence remains powerful in the titles he chose to publish as editor-in-chief of Aula Press, and in his generous support offered to young poets. Nicolau assesses—he was indeed one of the most spectacular postmodern poets in his youth, but became a captivating ironist in fiction towards the end of his life.  AndAntonio Patraş joins Nicolau in rereading the poet’s work somewhat against the grain, though he disagrees with those who consider Muşina a forerunner of the biographical poetry of poets emerging in the first decade of this century (the “2000s generation”), but rather sees him as a brilliantly ironic, debunking, and anti-lyric craftsman who could masterfully mime ingenuity, and an even better theorist who largely influenced other essayists, and political scientists nevertheless. Doris Mironescu contributes something quite along the same lines, although again the nuances are sensibly different—although a writer of “true poetry” whose verse (along with that of other significant generation 80s poets) switched the course of our poetry towards denotation, self-reflexiveness, and social commentary, it is actually his work as an editor, professor, and essayist that really changed the face of what we currently define as contemporary poetry.
Dan Gulea further refines the picture by x-raying the poet’s following and legacy. After describing Muşina’s poetry as a unique blend of humor and objectivity, and portraying the teacher/opinion leader as a “temperate rebel” that consistently discovered new talents and trained them, infected them actually with his ideas, Gulea offers an infallible clue for identifying the master’s emulators: whenever one sees a true iconoclast at work in our contemporary letters, they should know Muşina has directly or indirectly left an imprint on that writer. 
If Gulea sees the famous writer as a “temperate rebel,” O. Nimigean prefers to use the more drastic Deleuzian term “machine de guerre” in describing Muşina’s intolerance to clichés, stupidity, and even the 80’s generation’s postmodern bovarism. Nimigean typically reads Muşina’s oeuvre and personality in a holistic manner, finding the same lines of force and the same “trouble fête” effect in both his poetry and his other work, and summarizes the latter’s lesson (which he insists the younger generations in particular have really absorbed) by an eye-catching formulation: “poetry is to be reconquered by means of ‘disenchantment’.”
Carmen Mușat has a similar opinion, only she is closer to Gulea in saying that Muşina’s poetry is a form of protest “mitigated by irony,” and a revolt against trite literature and romanticizing clichés (an idea shared also by some of the younger and most radically innovative poets, as we’ll see a bit later). Nicolae Coande, then, tracks down the tempestuousness and nonconformity Nimigean identifies in Muşina’s ethos in a more palpable way while noting how the maelstrom effect of “Budila Express’s” opening lines pairs up with the long-lasting pertinence of the theoretical thought, both these aspects being bridged by the more contemplative lyricism of a poet “painting his own portrait as he watches the world pass by.” For Mihail Vakulovski, who wrote a PhD thesis on Generation 80, Muşina can only be understood by comparison with the other great magnetic pole of this poetry school, Mircea Cărtărescu. The former has described the postmodernism of his generation and postmodernism in general (in the footsteps of internationally known Romanian theorist Matei Călinescu) as a sequel to and even a phase of the earlier modernism, where as the latter contends (on the heels of G. Vattimo and Ihab Hassan) that there is a categorical distinction between the two. Still, wrote Vakulosvski in an academic article, Muşina is not only a significant poet and a major theorist, he is also an epitome of his generation through his biographical and cultural destiny.
But if most established writers highlight the complexity of Muşina’s personality and the part it played in its public involvement with his poetry, how about the poets that acknowledge a direct influence on their own poetry or the one of their peers? Ciprian Măceșaru underlines the strong impact of Muşina and the 80’s generation on the poets of the 90’s and those of the first decade of the 2000’s, but then qualifies this by adding that nowadays their influence has faded away, as they have now turned into “classic literary landmarks.” As for Muşina in particular, although the latter’s “greatest hit” is indeed “Budila Express,” Măceșaru acknowledges that his own latest and already very well received collection Numele meu este Bryan Ruiz (My Name Is Bryan Ruiz) is actually closely related to another perhaps less quoted Muşina collection, Album duminical (Sunday All Stars), a “little book of shattering simplicity and sincerity, and a great example of how poetry can be desecrated.”
I got a somewhat similar feedback from Violeta Savu, who admits a surprising and rather overlooked posthumous collection of poems in prose,dactăr nicu & his skyzoid band left an imprint on her own current poetic interests with its inspirational chunks of tackiness and the everyday. Savu then has a quite surprising view of Muşina’s poetry herself, assessing it as „algorithmic” and capable of a variety that places it in the close vicinity of Pessoa’s heteronyms. Relevantly enough, Savu also confesses going back to the writer’s theoretical writings whenever she needs help reconnecting with the art of poetry.
This latter note actually relates Violeta Savu to Andrei Doboș, who just like her thinks of Muşina as a writer ahead of his time, sure to loom larger and larger in the future. Doboș also goes once in a while back to Muşina’s poetics, but for quite different reasons then those of Savu, while still significantly relevant to the Muşina – Ginsberg parallel in Cesereanu’sarticle: in his early years’ desperate attempts to break free from Ginsberg’s hypnotic spell, Doboș also turned away from the initially worshiped poem “Budila Express,” but only to discover yet another Muşina, namely the one doing a great job as a diarist, theorist, poetry commentator, and polemist. As a “mythical poetry school founder,” Doboș continues, Muşina was definitely a crucial inspiration to the “2000’s Mexican-guerrilla-like poetry offensive.” 
Andrei Dósa counts himself among those who “went through their formative years under Muşina’s direct guidance,” but is oblique at the 2000’s writers who see in the great poet hardly anything else than just the author of the celebrated poem “Budila Express.” To him and the other disciples there was so much more to it, since they were all—even if unwillingly—infected with the master’s “concern for craftsmanship, both straightforward and ironic tone, as well as a certain kind of objectification.”
But if such is the case with the poets who acknowledge being intimately influenced by Mușina, how about those who work on the fringes of the market and try to make it on their own? It is more than interesting to note in that train of thought how certain rising star poets—particularly the experimental ones—currently reassess Muşina as quite germane to their own poetics and practices, thus unveiling a side of his ethos that has little if ever been perceived before. In an intro to a Muşina feature in Poesis International written in his capacity as editor-in-chief, Claudiu Komartin, while shrewdly underscoring the polyvalent personality and articulately illustrating the ongoing legacy of the poet, hardly recorded such potential ramifications. 
New poets emphasize Muşina’s cross-register and existential versatility, his juggler/experimenter/trickster-like side, as well as his genuineness, seeing in him a role model whose lesson most of his (established) followers failed to learn. Iulia Militaru, for instance, speaks of a paradigm shift in Muşina’s poetry who managed—by means of a consistent “lucid denial” that fuses and thus gets beyond the cerebral and the emphatic—to escape the praise of trauma and the lonely-poet-damné Romantic clichés still at work in our contemporary poetry in spite of the example he set. For Teodora Comanthen, Muşina was a myriad-eyed Argus absorbing anything and everything and a genuine opinion leader across several generations, who transgressed all borders between life and literature, between genres, between the formal and the informal, experimenting courageously, “intensely but not stridently,” and continuously remaking himself throughout his lifetime. 
Not all experimental poets share such admiring views though. Peter Sragherfor instance admits he has not followed much of Muşina’s poetry after the latter’s spectacular debut from 33 years ago, in the famous anthology Cinci(“Five,” that featured him along with four other stars, Romulus Bucur,Bogdan GhiuIon Bogdan Lefter, and Mariana Marin). 
In my own turn as both “page poet” and performer—once complimented by Muşina himself for being a “Jimi-Hendrix-kind-of performance poet”—who has always been impressed by the famous writer’s strong voice, ample aesthetic program, and wide impact, I have now and then found his formal experimentation far from fully substantiated, and some of his Anglo-American-poetry-and-poetics-related references in need of updating.
But I found it relevant to ask a couple of younger poets the same questions, and the outcome has actually proved quite symptomatic of a world in which transnational globalism, the world wide web, virtual communities, and serendipitous interconnections and encounters are now and then of greater impact than direct literary filiations. Marius Surleac admits to not having been significantly influenced by Muşina, while his favorite generation 80’s poets are the established mavericks Nichita Danilov and Ion Monoran, the former for his blatant mysticism and grotesque imagery, and the latter for his grief and activism (neither of which are salient features of Surleac’s own poetry)—a conviction he developed after accidentally coming across an old ragged Danilov collection in a used book store.  
Another remarkable younger poet, Dan Ciupureanu, confesses that when he started writing in 2013 he had hardly read any poetry, and the little one he had been exposed to came in the form of Facebook postings, mostly “poorly written stuff.” But it was also from such a posting that he found out about Muşina and he was thus introduced to the poetry by the latter’s friends quoting poems on their own Facebook walls. “I suddenly realized that was a totally different thing,” he wrote me, adding he was “to a certain extent” impressed and influenced by that experience which prompted him to look for and read more and more good poetry ever since.
So far, my crowdsourcing had mainly focused on the local literary market, soliciting input from Romanian writers and critics on the poet’s place in our culture and the current impact of his legacy on our literature. The next step to for me to take here was to look into Muşina’s international reception and, therefore, firstly what is the perception translators have of him. For legendary translator Adam Sorkin, it turns out that the poet was not simply important in himself, but just as we have seen think most of the above quoted Romanian writers, for his correlate work as well, particularly as an anthologist: “I am very grateful for his work as an anthologist who sorted out and collected the poetry and criticism of ‘the 80s generation,’ among whom he was a significant voice in his use of everyday language and real-life, as opposed to ‘poetic,’ material.” 
Martin Woodside is more interested in the new poetry—while having also translated contemporary classics like Gellu Naum and Leonid Dimovamong others—and therefore, before or part of asking the general question about Muşina’s legacy he suggests also exploring his relevance to the host of contemporary Romanian writers whose work has moved from international exchanges to transnational exchanges. Muşina, not only in his work as a writer, argues Woodside, but as a kind of literary curator, has done much to inform a dynamic brand of global poetics that continues to push boundaries and defy easy labels—challenging us to come to terms with what poetry is and what it should be.
This crowdsourcing campaign, trying to collect as many responses as possible from established and emerging writers and translators, proved relevant in at least a couple respects. On the one hand, it provided a comparative fresco of Romanian literature as continuously (re)defining and reshaping itself (also) by revisiting and renegotiating its relationship with a major figure in the culture of the past few decades. As discovered in the process, the bigger mosaic of the culture’s state of affairs also came with a surprising, intricate, and telling network of relations between the various respondents and their own ideologies and allegiances. On the other hand, such profuse and diverse feedback bore testimony to the ways in which the image and place of a writer with a public profile as prominent as that of Alexandru Mușina permanently undergoes reassessment across generations and schools of poets and writers on a literary scene in continuous and more often than not spectacular evolution.
And… the crowdsourcing continues, for, while pursuing at this stage the same international direction, I am currently waiting to hear on the matter from Romanian-American poet Andrei Codrescu. And I am certain my inquiry will continue just as will those of many other critics, translators, and writers perpetually attracted to the work of this formidable poet, since—the contributions above and Cesereanu’s article stand witness—with Alexandru Muşina, the show WILL—always…—go on…
MARGENTO (Chris Tănăsescu) is Asymptote’s editor-at-large for Romania and Moldova. He is a poet, academic, translator, and poetry performer whose pen-name is also the name of his poetry/action-painting/jazz-rock band, the winner of a number of significant national and international awards. See his work in Asymptote here and here.
Read more about Romanian Literature:

Jan 18, 2016

ASYMPTOTE Fortnightly Air Mail feat. MARGENTO--"New Year, New Resolutions"

A Happy New Year to all our readers! To the 56 of you who've contributed $5,035 to our mini-Indiegogo campaign, THANK YOU for giving our New Year an auspicious start. We'll be able to celebrate our milestone fifth anniversary in at least ten global citiesmaybe even a city in which you live. Stay tuned for the event announcements!

Your Itinerary Today

1. TAKE OFF: Listen to our new podcast episode!
2. SKYWRITING: New Year's Reading Resolutions from the team
3. PASSAGES: Spotlight on Dominique Eddé's Kite
4. TOUCHDOWN: Last reminder about our $4,500 Translation Contest (Deadline: 1 Feb 2016)!

New Year, new podcast episode! This month, we examine a character who has been influencing the minds of authors for thousands of years: the Devil. We'll be taking a look at that fiery hell-demon we all know and love to hate (or fear), but we'll also discuss how other cultures view this figure. We first consider Maximon, a Guatemalan saint not recognized by the Catholic Churcha fusion of Satan, Judas, Cortes, and the Mayan trickster god Mam. Then we'll move on to Russia, where we will look at how the Devil influenced two hundred years of their literature. We'll end with an exploration of the Voodoo religion, which isn't as devilish as you may think. Download the podcast here.

After the recently concluded blog series in which we looked back on 2015's literary discoveries, it seemed only natural to follow up with New Year's resolutions. Let's hear it now from the following staff members who've volunteered to go public with their reading resolutions.

MARGENTO, Romania & Moldova Editor-at-Large:

My resolution for 2016 is to read ALL the thousands of poetry collections launched in the upcoming year in North America. Critic and literary theorist Steve McCaffery once did the math and realized that if one read a collection every day it would take them 10 years to read all the poetry collections published in the US in one year. Nobody actually does that—let alone cover the ones published in Canada as well, plus the ones translated from various languages and literatures into English and published in North America.  It is a huge market, and the supply has actually gone up since McCaffery’s alarming assessment. How am I—together with Professor Diana Inkpen and our team at uOttawa—going to do that? Computationally, as part of the Graph Poem project, getting the machine to read and analyze hundreds of thousands of pages of poetry and organize them into network graphs that showcase their subject/themes, formal features, diction-related specificity, stylistic trademarks, and so on, while identifying (often unsuspected) commonalities or contrasts across oeuvres, corpora, schools, periods, regions, and (trans)national and/or virtual communities. We are actually also going to toss into that huge reservoir the over 600 (print and online) North American literary periodicals specializing and/or featuring poetry in English or in English translation, as well as the available archives and databases, in a first-time-ever Big Data and data intensive approach to poetry jazzed up with “distant reading” and “cultural analytics.” 
P.T. Smith, Assistant Editor:

Two years ago, creating a list of five, just five, books to reread was my private reading resolution. It failed utterly. Now, I’m hoping that making a resolution public will help it stick. And this time it will be two-fold: reread some books without a list of defined ambitions; and read books first published some years ago and that I already own. For the first, even without making a certain list, I have to return to that old, failed resolution. Returning to failure seems to me a fitting tone for a reading-related resolution.
This year, I have more encouragement for one of those old names. Max Frisch is a writer I don’t hesitate to call one of my favorites, yet I struggle to recall specifics of his books, of what I loved so much; instead, I remember only a sensation that those books fit me, fit my reading desires and identity. As part of their dedication to collecting literature lovers to write about a specific author, an underappreciated subject, The Scofield selected “Frisch & Identity” for their spring issue. How could I not want to reread at last one of his books so that I can appreciate the contributions to that publication all the more?
Another failure of that lost resolution is Kōbō Abe, another I easily call one of my favorite writers, though unlike Frisch, I can say why. Abe’s protagonists are rejected by the world, and reject it. Out of that rejection, a new space is created, whether it be the dunes, secret levels underneath a hospital, a trip to the underworld, or an ark full of other rejects, hiding from nuclear apocalypse. Normal life, which hasn’t been comprehended clearly anyway, has been replaced by another life, odder, full of dread. Or at least this is how I think about his varied oeuvre years after reading it. A reread will put my thoughts to the test, and could happily see them destroyed, replaced by a new interpretation.
As for the other half of my reading resolution, to read books that are not recent publications: this could manifest as so many different authors, different books, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least commit to a few. Why not start with a confession, admitting an embarrassing gap in my reading? It’s time I read Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch (trans. Gregory Rabassa). Intimidated by its length and the near-demand to love it, I’ve stayed away. Knut Hamsun’s Mysteries (trans. Sverre Lyngstad), one of my top found-on-the-berm books is another on this not-list, my step beyond Hunger. I want to return to travel books, so should pull Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts off my shelf. Not so much a traditional travel book as an inventive satire of the genre, how about A Journey Around My Room by Xavier de Maistre (trans. Andrew Brown)? Keeping with the French, moving forward in time, to a writer whom, like Hamsun, I need to encounter more of, this year would be a good time for Julien Gracq’s Balcony in the Forest (trans. Richard Howard). I only know him as an essayist, with Narrow Waters, and want to see that mind and aesthetic at play in fiction. My final non-resolute detail of a resolution leaves translation. I’ll return to another writer I refer to as one of my favorites: Herman Melville. Only because of his books that I haven’t read, it’s the one sitting on my shelf, this year I should read Israel Potter.
Honestly, even if all the names change, even if I only read a couple of books fitting these descriptions, I’ll be happy. It’ll be a reason to pause in the reading, to take extra pleasure in patience, because I knew it was something I needed, and I broke off from momentum and habit of years of reading for a different, refreshing, direction.
Matt Phipps, Communications Manager:

One of my reading resolutions for 2016 is to focus principally (if not exclusively) on reading titles by South American authors. To that end, and relying on recommendations from some of my most trusted sources, I plan to start my year with a focus on strong voices and stories from below the Equator.
Chico Buarque is a beloved elder statesman of twentieth-century Brazilian folk and protest music, frequently mentioned alongside other notables such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, and in recent years the singer/songwriter has dedicated himself to writing fiction. 2012’s Spilt Milk (Grove Atlantic), his fourth novel, is told from the occasionally confused perspective of an aging patriarch on his deathbed, and provides the account of nearly one hundred years in the narrator’s life, and by extension, the turbulent history of the country at large. I’m told the voice is unforgettable, and this interview with translator Alison Entrekin only sharpens my interest!
Next on my list is The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra (New Vessel Press), a slim mystery novel by Argentine writer Pedro Mairal that explores the legacy of a troubled, prolific painter—mute since the age of nine—and the disappearance of a series of canvases that may shed light on certain unresolved family intrigues. Longlisted for the 2014 Best Translated Book Award and translated by two-time Valle-Inclán prizewinner Nick Caistor, this one has been sitting next to my bed for a while now, and I simply can’t wait to dig in.­

Selina Aragon, Spanish Social Media Manager:

A few Christmases ago, I gave Jorge Luis Borges’ Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (1962) as a gift. I was buying a book by Borges anyway—I’d heard his books translated nicely into English due to the influence of the latter in the syntax of his writings. Labyrinths caught my attention in an Edinburgh bookshop, and I ended up getting it mainly because I had never heard of it in Spanish. When I opened the book, I realised I had read all the short stories in it. He translated from English from a very young age before becoming a published writer, so his use of Spanish is quite different to that of, say, Cortázar.
Labyrinths is a collection that was put together and edited by Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby for Penguin Books. It’s not a translation from any of the original books in Spanish; however, it contains most of the short stories from Ficciones (1944) and El Aleph (1949)—and a selection of Borges’ essays and parables. Seeing this collection made me think I’ve only read a handful of literature in Spanish in translation—some short stories and poetry by Silvina Ocampo and Poet in New York by García Lorca. Growing up in Mexico, I’ve experienced the opposite when reading Spanish translations of literature in English, long before I could read and understand the language.
In the spirit of finding out how people in the English-speaking world have read and perceived Spanish and Latin American literature in translation, my reading resolution for 2016 is to read English translations of major Latin American authors. I have in mind Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, Julio Cortázar, Rosario Castellanos, Borges of course, amongst others that will surely become relevant in this quest. Right now, I can only say I have the feeling next year will change my view of Literature in Spanish and open new doors for exploring literature in translation!  
Dominique Eddé's, Kite, translated from the French by Ros Schwartz and excerpted in our July 2012 issue, is significant for being the first piece that we arranged to be published in our network of partner journals(From Schwartz's English version, we commissioned a new Chinese translation from Golden Melody Award-winning lyricist Li Zhuoxiong, which ran in the September 2012 print edition of Unitas, introducing Eddé to Chinese readers for the first time.) Although the following breathtaking passage is taken from a novel, it works wonderfully as a self-contained piece, and, as a novel within a novel, perfectly illustrates my favorite literary devicethe mise en abyme.
—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

'What is a novel?' Mali asked her students.

It was October 1968, shortly after she and Farid had broken up for the first time. She was teaching French that year at a government school in Beirut. She had been given a class of sixteen-year-olds, about sixty boys, most of whom were behind in their studies and had only a smattering of French since they were sitting their baccalaureate in Arabic. Their replies, hesitant at first, came thick and fast. Mali jotted them down. Running on from each other, they read as follows: the novel's a story that's long and wide; it's life but in a book; it's like my uncle who married my aunt without asking for permission; if you observe life carefully, the novel is all around us; it's a story that has a beginning and no end; it's an Arabian Nights; it's when love is a river that meets a dam; I've got a novel, Miss, it begins with some Russians; the novel is full of things that happen at the same time and we don't know why; a novel is so sad it makes you laugh; well, my father says that our defence minister is a novel all by himself; if a novel begins, there's no more rest, that's it; what happened between Abdo and Mohammed the day before yesterday's a novel; the novel's for the French, we Arabs have poetry; Miss, is my sister's death a novel? everyone has novels, there's no need to die; only Allah writes novels; I want to write a novel about Palestine, so that it stays somewhere.

One boy sitting at the back of the class had said nothing. Gazing out of the window, his arms folded, he looked not so much absent as irritated. Yet he was the only one who spoke French. Mali addressed him. 'Ali, I haven't heard anything from you. What is a novel?' He resisted. She insisted. 'It's a story someone tells,' he replied eventually, 'that's all.' 'Give us an example,' she answered, expecting him to give a book title and the name of an author, but that was not how he understood the question. This is what he replied:

It was a winter's day. The sun came and went. The clouds grew bigger. The whole sky was like a stormy sea. Abu Sami pushed his orange cart shouting,'Ten piastres a kilo!' The street was empty, no one could hear him but he paid no attention. He shouted, 'Ten piastres a kilo!' and dreamt of a woman he loved. The hands on the clock were turning, daylight was fading and the clouds were growing darker and darker still. The rain began to fall, the dust turned to mud and Abu Sami's dream came and went, like the sun, its light vanished, he could hardly see the face of the lady he loved. Abu Sami no longer had the strength to shout,'Ten piastres a kilo!' He trundled behind his orange cart in silence. Several oranges rolled off but he didn't pick them up. Just then, an American car pulled up beside him and a lady sitting in the back wound down her window to buy five kilos of oranges. He put the fifty piastres in his pocket and went home with his oranges. A neighbour was waiting for him on his doorstep. He said, 'I have bad news for you, Abu Sami, the dancer is dead.' The dancer was the woman who had been going round and round in his head while he walked. Her name was Camelia. He'd seen her once at Ain el Mraisseh in a cabaret called Chéri. Only once but he loved her.

'There, that's a novel,' grunted Sami, shrugging his shoulders. And as Mali, smiling, wrote down the closing sentences in a notebook, he added in a more conscious, even solemn, tone, 'Once is enough to kindle a dream and a cloud is enough to snuff it out but, for the person telling the story, the dream and the cloud can last a thousand years. The novel doesn't move like an ordinary watch, its hands can stop for an hour on a minute and for a second on twenty years. It's a machine that can gobble a life in two pages.'

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We hope you've enjoyed this New Year's edition of our Fortnightly Airmail. Just a quick reminder to those of you who are translators: our $4,500 translation contest closes exactly one month from now! For those of you who speak Spanish, consider joining us on our Asymptote en español Facebook page; we're almost at 1,000 followers! On the other hand, we're now at 23, 346 on Facebook and 6,656 on Twitter—not too bad for a literary journal about to turn five! Help us celebrate our fifth anniversary (and connect our authors to even more readers) by inviting your friends to join us on social media—we'd really appreciate it!

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