September 16, 2019KR Reviews

September 2019 Micro-Reviews

It’s National Translation Month, which means another round of micro-reviews of poetry in translation. A new inclusion here are two reviews of essay collections, one about poetry in translation and another by a poet, in translation. Their presence aims to call attention to the importance of circulating ideas about poetry and translation, as worthy as poetry itself. —KH

Amanda Berenguer. Materia prima. Eds. Kristen Dykstra and Kent Johnson. Ugly Duckling Presse. 2019. 272 pages. $22.00.

Materia prima“But it’s not just an emotion. It’s more the sense of an abyss, of another dimension.” Somewhere between the Magellanic Clouds and the fleeting time of a sea-sunset, the necessary clouds and the necessary sands collapsed under their own gravitational pull to form the first and only Amanda Berenguer poems. The first signs of matter, clumping together like convulsive gardens of chaos:

When the lamp falls
the plants grow so fast
in accelerated cinematographic seizures
and they graft themselves
in the silkiest, most humid places

(trans. by Jeannine Marie Pitas)

And hovering infinitely—practically supernatural—those mesmeric Dickinsonian dashes:

and I’m on earth—in my house—here writing at the
table—this long line of words
that delivers little certainty. I think I’m alive—
maybe?—and so—I say this. What does the book say?

(trans. by Kristin Dykstra and Kent Johnson)

And so Materia Prima was born! Containing selections from eight different books (1966-2010) and eight different translator-poets (Gillian Brassil, Anna Deeny Morales, Kristin Dykstra, Kent Johnson, Urayoán Noel, Jeannine Marie Pitas, Mónica de la Torre, and Alex Verdolini), this interstellar bilingual edition from Ugly Duckling Presse is the first English-language collection of Berenguer’s poetry. The lyrical properties of these poems, or expanding structures, or metallic entities, are positively explosive when it comes to the ways they challenge the senses. These alchemically forged poems can sound like:

the buzz of the galaxy’s background noise
a saw endlessly preparing the tree of silence
in micrometrical samples
the forested tide sings of a tremendous ocean
this very ocean dirtied by the pull or a river as big
as an ocean Paraná Guazú with saltwater and fresh water

(trans. by Mónica de la Torre)

And they can look like something as deceivingly simple as the body of a green bottle:

once more / transparent verso /
the ex-libris / aerial /
the oxygen’s vitrine /

I drink the crystalline discourse /
and slowly /
a lens of green growth
surrounds me

(trans. by Gillian Brassil and Alex Verdoni)

Berenguer’s poetic voice—hovering between life and death, time and hours, horizon and sea—asks us: what does this book say? Thanks to the collaborative spirit of eight poet-translators, we can finally give ourselves over to Berenguer’s boundless lexical depths and ponder this question of consciousness for years to come. Or, if I must answer now: this long-awaited book speaks from somewhere beyond comprehension. Another dimension. —Paul Cunningham

Roja Chamankar. Dying in a Mother Tongue. Trans. Blake Atwood. University of Texas Press, 2018. 80 pages. $16.00.

Dying in a Mother TongueThe richness of Roja Chamankar’s poetry lies in its contractions: familiar domestic scenes are cut with violent surrealism; love veers between tender and destructive; nature’s enduring beauty clashes with urban war wounds and mythology’s optimism gives way to modern disillusionment. She writes in “The Smokey Taste of Water:”

You know that this moon
clashes with the city’s shitty skies
That this tree who clings to our
wall with a thousand hands,
clashes with the city’s smoky color,
that the fortuneteller
perched tiny on the Shahid Dastgerdi Overpass,
clashes with the city’s small desires.

Born in the coastal province of Bushehr, Iran, in 1981, the context of the poet’s childhood shapes her poetry. The sea is a constant presence: “When I speak of Tehran, I end up at the sea. / When I speak of myself or of you / when I speak of the sky, I end up at the sea,” she writes in “The Start.” Meanwhile, specters of the war that coincided with her first eight years of life haunt the poems’ urban landscapes, and images of blood that “swirled in hanging sockets” and lips covered in “forty dried-up butterflies” bespeak both individual and collective traumas.

As the poems travel between city and sea, the poetic voice roams closer and farther away from the addressee(s) of the poems, an intimate “you” who is often distant, absent, or too far away simply because of the division separating “you” from “I.” She writes,

I wanted you to be
the right foot to my wandering
left foot in the afternoons.
There’s nothing left to say
just a whoosh!
and this:
I wanted you to be
my heart.

Reading Chamankar in Atwood’s translation amplifies this tension between intimacy and alienation. As I read each succinct verse, the collection’s title kept coming back to me. Dying in a Mother Tongue . . . a reminder that the poems’ native language is not English but Persian, with its round vowels and, as Atwood tells us in his introduction, use of compound structures that Chamankar employs with linguistic playfulness. The text pulls me in by constructing intimate scenes in a cramped urban apartment only to push me away with an unfamiliar place name or a surprising usage of my own language. This constant push and pull between closeness and distance is a hallmark of good translation. —Phoebe Carter

Inger Christensen. The Condition of Secrecy: Selected Essays. Trans. Susanna Nied. New Directions, 2018. 138 pages. $16.95.

The Condition of Secrecy: Selected EssaysThe essays in The Condition of Secrecy give devotees and newcomers alike another way to engage with late experimental Danish writer Inger Christensen’s poetics—in other words, her views on much of life itself—as explained in the poet’s own voice. That is, in the English voice created for her by her long-time translator Susanna Nied.

That voice is confident, yet curious; learned, yet intimate. It holds these essays—written across four decades, from the 60s to the 90s—together. It comes through in the way Nied inflects phrases and creates a consistent and lively syntax and punctuation style. It voices the same concerns that are played out in Christensen’s seminal works (such as the Fibonacci-sequence pacifist paean alphabet), but written in the first-person plural, as though the reader were learning from Christensen alongside other young writers seeking a guide.

One of Christensen’s central ideas is found in the title essay. “The outer world is the inner world, raised to a condition of secrecy,” she quotes Novalis (in Nied’s translation). This relationship between the writer’s inner world and the outer world becomes the vehicle she uses to explain her theory that humans are not set apart from the world, and neither is language: “whenever we express ourselves through language, the world too is expressing itself.”

Some essays are more directly autobiographical, some close-read other texts or pieces of art, even let the reader in on the fear of living through Cold War Europe, as in the essay “Snow.” But Christensen is at her best when reflecting on poetry’s relationship to the nature of existence, and on the mystical qualities of the condition of secrecy. “The order we’re trying to organize our way into already exists,” she writes via Nied, explaining how poets produce something they are already part of, in contrast to the prevailing notion that they have new ideas or generate original language. Her mysticism is perhaps most stunningly on display in her view of god: “the concept that corresponds to our sense of interrelatedness among all the atoms in the universe.”

This is not only a collection for writers. Refreshingly, and not surprisingly for someone as steeped in the sciences as was Christensen, she explains: “Poetry is just one of human beings’ many ways of recognizing things.” Her commitment is broader: it is to relationships, interplay, and the deep connectedness of the human and non-human. —KV

Oliverio Girondo. Decals. Trans. Rachel Galvin and Harris Feinsod. Open Letter, 2018. 162 pages. $16.95.

DecalsIn their excellent introduction to Argentine avant-garde poet Oliverio Girondo’s Decals, co-translators Rachel Galvin and Harris Feinsod explain that Girondo “employed the decal as a metaphor for the verbal construct, imagining the poem as a medium onto which the poet’s sudden visual impressions are transferred.” As one reads, it becomes clear that, in a second process of transfer, Girondo’s vivid, often unexpected imagery impresses itself upon the reader like an ink stamp on a brain: priests chomp on prayers like sticks of gum, men ejaculate words in women’s ears on the streets, suicidal shadows peel themselves from bodies to throw themselves under streetcars.

But Galvin and Feinsod’s expert care, sharp wit, and playful experimentation prompt us to push Girondo’s metaphor further, to consider the decal as a form of translation, and translation as a decal. Rather than growing fainter with each additional act of transference, the poems gain traction, soak in new possibilities. In the leap from Spanish to English, Girondo’s language bounces, flirts, stretches, curtseys, does the splits. Galvin and Feinsod succeed in their aim to preserve the poems’ elasticity, weirdness, and euphony, shaping sound so well I found myself pausing at multiple junctures to perform appreciative chef’s kisses into the air while reading alone in my living room. Take, for example, the line, “a las mujeres se les licua el sexo contemplando un crucifijo,” rendered deliciously in English as “the ladies’ sexes deliquesce contemplating a crucifix.”

Decals gathers Girondo’s first two books of poetry—Twenty Poems to be Read on the Streetcar (1922) and Decalcomania (1925)—for the first time in English translation. Each is an avant-garde travelogue of sorts, with the former documenting Girondo’s travels through Europe, Africa, and the Americas, and the latter sketching a trip through a shakily modernizing Spain. Throughout, cities are swallowed by Girondo and spat back out on the page as active, living forces: streets “make themselves thin to squeeze by,” a building “inhales the city’s stink,” casinos sip on the night as if it were champagne, streetlamps become sick with jaundice, kinky palm trees spank building roofs in Río, but are tender in Dakar, brushing dust from the stars’ eyes. I emerged from this book covered in stamps, buzzing from the thrill of motion, maybe even smelling faintly of old streetcar. —GM

Johannes Göransson. Transgressive Circulation: Essays on Translation. Noemi Press, 2018. 92 pages. $15.00.

Transgressive Circulation: Essays on TranslationWhat is the true purpose of claiming (or acting as if) poetry cannot be translated? Johannes Göransson’s Transgressive Circulation finds within this pervasive assertion of translation’s impossibility two pivotal ideas that, when investigated, allow for a reassessment of US literary culture. First, in defining poetry as what is lost in translation, the US aesthetic establishment abjects, violently expels, translation, safeguarding poetry from translation’s deregulatory power as well as boxing it in as a palatable object of mastery. Second, if translation is rhetorically constructed as poetry’s negation, as poetry’s volatile, noisy excess, then therein lies its power: translation’s inherent ability to disrupt imposed limits and to dismantle singular, stable notions of art, language, and nation.

This deregulatory capacity—“deformation zones” for poetic language and encounters—is precisely why translation has been so heavily policed, so rhetorically minimized. Thus, rather than valuing translation for its pedagogy, its window into understanding or empathizing with the “foreign,” Göransson proposes to inhabit translation’s “scandal” and to re-articulate poetry from translation’s abject zones.

Here, translation is kitsch, mimicry, a baroque act of cannibalism, a queer art of failure, extra fat in an elitist economy of restraint. Göransson looks to linguistics, cultural policies, MFA pedagogy, aesthetic theory, and case studies of Don Mee Choi’s translations of Kim Hyesoon and his own of Aase Berg. It is within this re-reading of poetry’s abjected matter that Göransson posits translation as the core of poetry. The “too-much-ness” of poetry that is translation is really the “poetry-ness” of poetry, poetry’s moving-device, its vehicle for subversion and decolonization, its means for troubling borders and chipping away at the perverse war machine of neoliberal capitalism.

Reading poetry this way rules out the possibility of mastery and pulls the rug out from under entrenched ideas of art, aesthetic systems, and nationally-coherent canons. It becomes impossible to neatly pinpoint what is US literature, Mexican literature, Swedish literature, and what isn’t any of them. Unmasterable art. Uncontrollable borders. No one is a master inside the deformation zone.

The rhetoric around translation, which highlights its inauthenticity, unoriginality, unworth, and calls it counterfeit, copycat, unfaithful, is in place to straightjacket translation’s deregulatory, border-defying power, to further the ethnocentric claim that all we need is already within our “own” (white, English-speaking, classist) (thickly militarized) borders. By the end of the book, no argument can be made that a definition of poetry which excludes translation is not aggressively xenophobic. Transgressive Circulation, thus, achieves the total reassessment it envisioned.

That which disrespects borders: the abject. That which disrespects borders: translation. —OL

Maricela Guerrero. Kilimanjaro. Trans. Stalina Villareal. Cardboard House Press, 2018. 19 pages. $20.00.

Juan José Rodinás. Koan Underwater. Trans. Ilana Dann Luna. Cardboard House Press, 2018. 58 pages. $16.50.

Legna Rodríguez Iglesias. Spinning Mill. Trans. Katerina Gonzales Seligmann. Cardboard House Press, 2019. 51 pages. $14.00.

KilimanjaroCardboard House Publishing’s Cartonera Collective follows in the cartonera tradition; begun in Argentina, the books bound in recycled cardboard make the price of the book, as well as the publishing and creation process, accessible. This is what makes Cardboard House’s series so unique: the process used to bind and distribute the book is just as radical as the work inside it. The Cartonera Collective exclusively publishes Latin American poetry in translation, and all of their publications redefine and reconfigure the language that they use. In Kilimanjaro, by Maricela Guerrero and translated by Stalina Villareal, the poetry eliminates periods, leaving a language that allows no gaps in its magic spell. The repetition of words like “máquina” // “machine” provide theme and form, and they themselves become a train running along the rail the poem illustrates with lines of colons. Spinning Mill, by Legna Rodriguez Iglesias, translated by Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann, is similarly inventive. Iglesias focuses on redirecting logic, taking the reader through a logical sequence with seemingly illogical steps. The poem “Autostop” begins: “Las calabazas son mis amigos / y las berenjenas son mis enemigos” // “Pumpkins are my friends / and eggplants are my enemies,” before developing into a meditation on love. The poetry focuses on gender, love, and race, through the lenses of absurdity and honesty. Koan Underwater, by Juan José Rodinás, translated by Ilana Dann Luna, plays with the rules of language as well. Luna deftly translates this playfulness, as with the word “Sílabacerebroreja,” which she transforms to “Syllablearbrain.” Rodinás weaves Zen practice with Western music to create imagery and verse that fall in and out of traditional grammar and are threaded with striking imagery. In “Hermosas flores sobre las autopistas de la noche” // “Beautiful Flowers on the Highways of the Night,” Rodinás writes, and Luna translates:

Pídeme sobrias explicaciones
como estrellas molidas. Sí. La noche me pide mis lamentos.
Hay letreros que dicen: Sex shop, consultorio, dinero.
En efecto, soy alguien que sólo es material
cuando sale del cuadro.
//
Ask me for sober explanations
like powdered stars. Yes. The night asks me for my sorrows.
There are signs that say: Sex shop, clinic, money.
In effect, I’m someone made only of matter
when he goes outside the frame.

All of these books focus on redefinition in some form, making them enchanting translated work, as that redefinition has had to take shape in two different languages. The books themselves are beautiful, handmade pieces, that fit the project of the poetry. Kilimanjaro folds out into an accordion, creating the largest track illustrated in the book. Spinning Mill and Koan Underwater shift the orientation of the words on the page, shifting the orientation of the reader to the words, to poetry, to translation, all at once. The Cartonera Collective’s project makes not just the literature but the publication process itself a multicultural translation. —CA

Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine. Scorpionic Sun. Trans. Conor Bracken. Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2019. 124 pages. $16.00.

ScorpionicThe sinister capacity of self, immutable, pulses through Conor Bracken’s translation of Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s Scorpionic Sun like an unforgiving metronome. Throughout the book, Khaïr-Eddine names what the poetry is doing and who the poet is subsuming. Bracken translates: “syllable by syllable I build my name” (11). This instance, occurring in the midst of self-constituting, defamiliarizes the preceding lines; the reader wonders if each syllable of each preceding word contributed to the sense of the poet’s re-formed being—and how. As, on page seven, Bracken translates: “we’ll offer ourselves / because nothing will be offered to us.” The reader circles back. The effect is that of anxiety.

In his blurb for Scorpionic Sun, Farid Matuk notes that Khaïr-Eddine’s poetry resists “bodies as mere instruments”; here, in the ever-shifting world of the book, when naming comes after the fact and self-constituting is somehow constant, a decolonial body emerges. Bracken translates: “thus I incorporate myself / into my bloody multitude.” Bracken notes in his Afterword that these dead—the Amazigh people, to whom the poet belonged—span millennia, each epoch as violenced as the last. Where outside empires saw the Amazigh people as “inconvenient obstacles,” Khaïr-Eddine indicts the “fatal rat tail” of Europe and moves towards Self: “I am the rifle the grenade I am the eagle / and the worm-eaten void of your face from afar” (105, 30, 38).

As Pierre Joris notes in the introduction, “Black Nausea” appears at the front of the manuscript, a formal shift Bracken preserves from an earlier French edition of Khaïr-Eddine’s poetry. Joris praises the effect of a chronological reading; one can move with Khaïr-Eddine in a linear fashion to most explicitly experience the relation between image and idea, image and action, digestion and regurgitation and reincorporation. Still, what seems most significant in this distancing is the effect of circularity, gleaned from placing “Black Nausea” and “Manifesto” at a distance (on pages 1 and 84, respectively). This structural choice solidifies the self-referential nature of Scorpionic Sun, where Self (via first person point-of view) encompasses subjective identity, the dead, the fact of the poem, and the fact of the poem in translation. Bracken translates: “I lose not” (84).

Bracken shows his hand as translator in his Afterword, recognizing that his translation of the book’s title isn’t as literal as one may expect (e.g., not Spider Sun). It is in the titling of Bracken’s translation, its vowel-laden Scorpionic Sun, that the image of roundness further permeates the book, rendering the perception of the poet’s voice—where voice is identity, is being, becoming—as that of an ouroboros, ever-turning. —AR

Sergio Loo. Operación al Cuerpo Enfermo / Operation on a Malignant Body. Trans. Will Stockton. The Operating System, 2019. 160 pages. $24.00.

Operación al Cuerpo Enfermo / Operation on a Malignant BodyBut isn’t being sick the reiteration of being alive, doubly alive?

Loo’s language is laced with definitions of a world made medical. Throughout the prose poems titled with the names of bones, organs, and muscles, the three main figures of Loo’s work are laid on the operating table and cut open. Despite how personal their struggles are, these same three figures realize early on that the personal is political: “Pedro’s story is the story of the People vs. Pedro’s Body.” The poems are chances for the characters to salvage what remains of their identities after being dissected by a society that defines their illnesses for them. They are small attempts to reshape language in order to protect the lived experiences of marginalized peoples. At some points, Loo can only use concrete language to describe suffering—any abstraction would be dishonest; at others, Loo breaks the literal down into its components—metaphors, images, possibilities. In a similar gesture, Stockton’s translations are also short records of experience. His translations are also remembrances—mutual understandings between him and the text in Spanish: “To remember is to exist, and to exist is to be remembered: an agreement.” Stockton uses a sometimes stiff, sometimes effusive English that remains within the terms of this agreement. Throughout the collection, it becomes clear that his translations are not separate to but rather indivisible from the original text. For me, the text in Spanish and the text in English are two parts of the very same body—one that must testify to its own existence, must take part in its own remembrance because no one else might. Each poem is a compact reclamation of autonomy, each word a brief testimony. By intertwining his translations with this process, Stockton is offering his own documentation—and what a thoughtful and engaging documentation it is!—of Loo’s words, of queer, sick bodies that so often aren’t treated with respect—if they are treated at all.

Letter after letter I bear witness to what happens. Right at this moment, he tries to read this sentence. KD

Friederike Mayröcker. Scardanelli. Trans. Jonathan Larson. Song Cave, 2018. 47 pages. $17.95.

ScardanelliThe title of Friederike Mayröcker’s Scardanelli refers to Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin. Diagnosed with madness, Hölderlin lived in a tower for the last thitry-six years of his life and wrote several poems under the name “Scardanelli.” In a (perhaps apocryphal) story, Hölderlin/Scardanelli declaimed his earlier work, insisting he had always been “Scardanelli” and nothing else.

In Scardanelli, Austrian poet Mayröcker writes to, with, and around Scardanelli. These fotry poems, dated between June 1989 and July 2008, are drawn to both the precision and arbitrariness of naming, but also to the social contexts in which names become relevant. How is citation a form of address? What is it to live together, or among others? To whom does a poem speak?

Ostensibly, much of Scardanelli speaks to Ernst Jandl (“EJ”), Mayröcker’s deceased life partner and fellow poet. Faced with absence, rapidly accelerating memories people the poems. The second poem, dated 10/15-16/2006, begins: “am startled at times that the 1 whom I am / speaking to is not there”. But the addressee morphs throughout the book, as does the speaker, often mid-line and unannounced. When the syntax unravels, as in the short poem “‘appleskinlet’/ Durs Grünbein, illuminated by the sheep,” Mayröcker’s variations hold on to images, whose internal logic often does not reveal itself until the end of a sentence or clause:

unwashed at the machine half past 3 in the morning later
with the head sidelong on the speechless lamb that soothed me
to sleep finally actually luring of the sheep whose
shepherd I was in the dream

A fortuitous result of Jonathan Larson’s English-language translation (delightful for its precision and playfulness throughout) is that the numerical “1”, used for the indefinite articles, resembles the capitalized “I” in the English. The “1” changes shape mid-poem: in “To EJ,” Mayröcker begins with memories of Jandl (“we were 1 to ourselves,” “1 glass of red wine and the more I looked long at him reached / for his hand the time passed”) interrupted by Hölderlin, utterly unannounced: “how children are held and it tricks the soul Hölderlin / sweet limes”. As memories impinge themselves on the speaker, language—particularly the inherited voices of poetry and art—interrupts the memory.

These poems are athletic: they skip between formal innovation and sincere emotional capacity. It’s a bit of a shame that Song Cave didn’t publish side-by-side German-language originals, as I would have liked to trace translatorial decisions. But these poems are transmissions even in the original German, and perhaps this is how they ought to be read: urgent missives, retrieved by a stranger. —PN

Abdulla Pashew. Dictionary of Midnight. Trans. Alana Marie Levinson-Labrosse. Phoneme Media, 2017. 195 pages. $22.00.

Dictionary of Midnight

Tonight, I touched
the dictionary of midnight
Its words ran from me
like ants.

Not only does Dictionary of Midnight offer insight into Kurdish culture that is long overdue for its lack of historical representation in the English language, this collection by the world’s most famous living Kurdish poet, Abdulla Pashew, also demonstrates what happens when two talented poet-translators collaborate in a masterful way.

Alana Marie Levinson-Labrosse worked with Pashew to select, translate, and assemble into a cohesive collection the best of his life’s work spanning the past fifty years. This collection provides a balance to readers between poems depicting the political realities affecting Kurdish people with the ecstasies of romantic and erotic love Pashew is famous for in his prolific lyrics.

Pashew’s knowledge of the world gained through his higher education and prolific travels in exile of his homeland come through in juxtapositions between the privileges afforded to Western countries contrasted with their inconceivability at home. He laments the oppression of his people which he internalizes as in “the Red Notebook”:

The satisfied countries of the world
have a red notebook
for all those birds and animals
Whose killing is forbidden.

I beg UNESCO
in its red notebook
record my name as well.
Save my skin and fur
from hunters and merchants.

Self-aware of his own limitations as a writer, yet unyieldingly optimistic nevertheless, despite the struggles of his people, he still holds onto hope. In poems such as “Twelve Lessons for Children,” Pashew staunchly believes “in the embers of your eyes,” the eyes of the children, “those for whom life is a bitter rival,” lies the power to effect social change.

With motifs relying on Zorastrian belief in the power of fire to cleanse and the spiritual wisdom which can be obtained from it, fire, of course, also represents passion, whose embers of hope pave the way for survival. As with this certainty, Pashew uses fire’s associations to show his certainty that within love, whether romantic or familial or even erotic, lies the answers for cross-cultural understanding and peace. For example, in the poem “Woman,” the lover could equally be conceived as a female lover or Kurdistan:

Under a heap of ash—
you are a glowing ember of fervent hope.

These poems also prove evidence of an expert well-versed in the mythology of ancient Persian poetry of the likes of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam whose influence is clear throughout his work as in references to Rostam’s horse and powerful feminine bird creature, the simurgh, who is able to carry the weight of an elephant on its back.

The poem “Joy” may characterize the experience of reading this translated collection best:

I am not used to such immense joy.
You throw a whole treasure trove under my feet
when what I most wanted was a glance.

SS

Amelia Rosselli. Obtuse Diary. Trans. Deborah Woodard, Roberta Antognini, and Dario De Pasquale. Entre Rios Books, 2018. 88 pages. $16.00.

Obtuse Diary“It is difficult prose, as inward as poetry, but it seeks to reflect, as in a convex mirror, the rational,” Amelia Rosselli writes in “Narrative Experiments,” the poetics statement that arrives at the end of Obtuse Diary. This volume collects three prose pieces written between 1954 and 1968, presenting an intriguing counterpoint to Rosselli’s poetic work. The earliest section, “First Italian Prose,” sketches the decadent landscape of Rome through a doomy, atmospheric filter. Rosselli’s rapid-fire, often run-on sentences and use of repetition create a sense of constant, disorienting motion: “You rain light friend you walk woeful you walk woeful and slow and come down the roofs to rescue.”

“Note” is the most identifiably “diaristic” of the three sections, taking the form of discrete entries dated between January 1967 and December 1968 and narrated from a first-person perspective. However, the distorted syntax and vague pronouns in these entries again work like a “convex mirror” rather than a window into the speaker’s interior state: “Why do I want this or that when I don’t know who’s in charge or who draws near you who draw near.”

The final section, “Obtuse Diary,” fully exemplifies Rosselli’s mission to “reflect the rational.” This section is more narrative-driven than the others, although it continues to resist the genre conventions suggested by its title. “Obtuse Diary” is a kind of bildungsroman, but the speaker is always on the verge of self-erasure—she refers to herself in the third person, “mistaking herself for another” and reveling in the “luxury of nullity.”

One of the most compelling aspects of these prose works is Rosselli’s ability to balance playful and threatening language, raising the stakes for the reader. An entry marked “5/13/67,” for instance, unnervingly juxtaposes descriptions of young girls with militaristic language: “They have fresh wings and pernicious songs to machine-gun you with affection in prison. Having a chat with a promising hell. The rebel infant led frenzied the execution of a duty.” The dissonant effect of lines like these is all the more striking in the context of Rosselli’s personal life—her anti-Fascist activist father Carlo Rosselli was killed by agents of Mussolini after the family had fled to France.

This collaborative translation by Woodard, Antognini, and De Pasquale captures the syntactical peculiarities of Rosselli’s prose, offering an illuminating look into an avowedly difficult text. The inclusion of the Italian text on the facing page also provides insight into Rosselli’s unique style. Obtuse Diary poses a valuable question about subjectivity in an atmosphere of repressive state violence. Rosselli doesn’t find an easy answer, but the question still seems relevant in our current moment: “How to agree on the damage? How to solve one’s own ambiguity?” —ZA

Lalbihari Sharma. I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara. Trans. Rajiv Mohabir. Kaya Press. 2019. 180 pages. $16.95.

I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of DemeraraRajiv Mohabir attempts a masterful feat of translation in his version of Lalbihari Sharma’s devotional poems. Seeking to transcend the linguistic and cultural barriers between songs sung in Awadhi and Bhojpuri, North-Indian vernacular languages with deep literary traditions, Mohabir eschews Walter Benjamin’s idea that there must be an element of foreignness in the English that is produced and follows instead Gayatri Spivak’s idea that translation (in our translator’s words) “is an act that must be undertaken in a way that considers the author: the newly migrated text must be comprehensible to the writer of the original, keeping the same register of language and tone.” As such, even to someone, like myself, who cannot read the Indian languages in which this collection was originally composed—reading through this dual-language text, where the translation appears on the recto of the right-hand page, and occasionally glancing at the left-hand page shows that the stanzaic structure of the original is not followed in the translation. Mohabir explains his domesticating touches by writing that “this particular way of translating” songs that had been written down provided him with the “inspiration to translate Sharma’s songs with a sense that is both intuitive and reflective of” his own poetics.

Because of the choices Mohabir makes in rendering these poems into English, including using repetition to craft chant-like litanies, readers who are relatively unfamiliar with the realm of South Asian poetic conventions outside of the work of Agha Shahid Ali will find new avenues into both the poetry of the region and the musicality of unmetered verse that is possible in a contemporary English idiom. —JA

Kim Yideum. Hysteria. Trans. Jake Levine, Soeun Seo, and Hedgie Choi. Action Books, 2019. 105 pages. $18.00.

HysteriaHysteria, Kim Yideum’s fifth book of poetry and her second to be translated into English, is a complex accounting of life, of the erotic and the platonic, the tender, the neutral, the savage. Within the pages of Hysteria, sex and violence interplay with history and desire inextricably. The otherwise obscene and grotesque are made beguiling through elegant writing and careful translation. Translators Jake Levine, Soeun Seo, and Hedgie Choi bring the singular voice of South Korean writer Yideum to English with a skill that makes each reading a new one. In the poem “The Gift of Darkness,” which appears early in the book, Yideum sets the mood:

When we walked down the dark river
someone sang an old hit . . .
Like it wasn’t even dark
like it wasn’t even late
all of us wanted to sing.
Because it was dark
we wanted to sing
even though the wax had covered the wick.

Yideum’s collection often operates in the confessional mode. She deals in scenes of the everyday, introducing brutality and the mundane simultaneously, raging as if it were an occupation in itself. Then she pulls back quickly. In her title prose poem “Hysteria,” Yideum writes of a lewd man on the train, I want to kill the motherfucker. But what if he’s my lover? If only I could pick him up by the back of his neck with my teeth. It is where rage meets tenderness that vulnerability is most compelling. Yideum is a writer who knows this acutely.

Throughout Hysteria, the reader is again and again reminded that the “self” is a performance, one that is ever-changing and ever-strange. The collection has all the Top 40 Hits of self and being: joy, ache, romance, vulgarity, love, megalomania, beauty. When I say that Hysteria is equally anchored in the beautiful and the terrifying, I mean that reading Yideum is a pleasure that leaves one wanting both more and less at once.

It’s bullshit.
They’re in a dark love
but the darkness doesn’t have emptiness.

ZCK

 

Jordi Alonso graduated with an AB in English from Kenyon College in 2014 and was the first Turner Fellow in Poetry at Stony Brook University where he received his MFA. He is a Gus T. Ridgel Fellow in English at the University of Missouri where he is a PhD candidate studying the cultural transmission of nymphs and fauns in literature.

Clara Altfeld recently graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in Spanish literature. She lives in Nagasaki, Japan.

Zack Anderson holds an MFA from the University of Notre Dame, where he interned for Action Books, and an MA from the University of Wyoming. He currently works as an English teacher and bookseller in Denver, Colorado.

Phoebe Carter is a PhD student in comparative literature at Harvard University. She translates from Arabic and Spanish and is currently based in Cairo, Egypt.

Zoe Contros Kearl holds an MFA from Columbia University, where she studied poetry and translation, and a BA from New York University’s Gallatin School. She lives and works in New York.

Paul Cunningham is the translator of Helena Österlund’s Words (OOMPH! Press, 2019) and Sara Tuss Efrik’s The Night’s Belly (Toad Press, 2016). He edits Deluge and co-manages Radioactive Cloud with Jake Syersak. He holds an MFA from the University of Notre Dame.

Kraig Davis currently lives, works, and translates in Hamburg, Germany.

Katherine M. Hedeen is the poetry in translation editor for the Kenyon Review and the associate editor of Action Books.

Olivia Lott translates Spanish American poetry, and is a PhD Student in Hispanic Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. She is currently writing a dissertation on translation, revolution, and Latin American neo-avant-garde poetics.

Gabriella Martin translates from Spanish and Catalan, and is a PhD Candidate in Hispanic Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. She is currently writing a dissertation on Iberian translational literature.

Patty Nash is a poet and translator. Her work appears or is forthcoming in jubilat, Denver Quarterly, The Journal, and elsewhere. She received MFAs in poetry and literary translation from the University of Iowa and lives in Berlin. Instagram @pattynashdj.

AM Ringwalt is a writer and musician. The recipient of the 2019 Sparks Prize as a graduate of the University of Notre Dame’s MFA in Poetry, her words most recently appeared or are forthcoming in the Bennington ReviewInterim, and Cloud Rodeo.

Sanam Shahmiri is a PhD candidate in literature at Illinois State University, where she teaches and serves as Managing Editor/Event Coordinator for SRPR. A Sutherland Fellow and McNair Scholar, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, Cimarron Review, Northridge Review, and Pair Shaped.

Kelsi Vanada writes poems and translates from Spanish and sometimes Swedish. Her translation of The Eligible Age by Berta García Faet was published in 2018; forthcoming are the chapbook Rare Earth and a translation of Sergio Espinosa’s Into Muteness. Kelsi is the Program Manager of ALTA.