Friday, October 8, 2010


Please check out my new home,

Friday, February 5, 2010

Translation Podcast!

Short and sweet: the podcast I’ve been working on with Chad Post of Open Letter Books for the past few months launched! The first episode which is available now is a conversation we had with Lawrence Venuti at MLA in December about his translations of Catalan poet Ernest Farr├ęs’s book Edward Hopper (which I reviewed earlier for Three Percent). We also talked about publishing and poetry and some other great stuff.

It’s available now through ITunes to listen and subscribe, or you can just stay tuned to Three Percent and listen to it there.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Same Old Song

So I'm a fan of The Atlantic in general. I like their politics, I like their writers and I like that they include poetry which fewer and fewer non-literary publications do with any seriousness. And generally I like their poets and the poems they select. But this month it struck me that it's been some time since I've seen anything really surprising or new in their selection of poetry.

Now, to be fair, they are not a poetry publication, and so why should I expect newness and surprise in their selection? But that equates to saying that people reading The Atlantic don't want new, interesting poetry but rather the same comfortable lyrical confessionalism that has been the mainstream of poetry for decades now. And I think that Atlantic readers are more sophisticated in their aesthetic possibilities than that.

This is the problem that critics of The New Yorker or, for the more poetic-minded, Poetry Magazine have. That the publications that are responsible for introducing a lot of people to poetry that they otherwise might not encounter fail in encouraging newness, innovation, experimentation or even in encouraging writers who are not already established names. No one is surprised to see a poem by Derek Walcott, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, inor Pulitzer Prize winning poet C.K. Williams in the current issue of The Atlantic. Or take June: Billy Collins and Jane Hirshfield. Really? I'm not saying that these poets aren't worth reading, because clearly they are (especially Williams whose work seems to be getting more interesting). But that we already know they're worth reading.

Ok, so the same old song about how the literary establishment is exclusive and publications like The New Yorker, etc. claim literary authority by publishing the already-well-known and prize-winning poets who may or may not happen to be friends of the editor, blah blah blah. I don't know that I have much new to add to it, except that The Atlantic hadn't in my mind been one that fell into that type of publication. And I don't think it has to be, in order to claim literary authority. I was going to give examples of unusual choices they'd made in the past, but I frankly can't find maybe this is more an indictment of my own assumptions about the kind of publication The Atlantic is.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Nano Poetry

I'm thrilled that Poetry International is starting the year by ramping up their publications to bi-monthly - I always look forward to their email in my inbox and taking the few minutes to discover new poetry. PI is an interesting project that has the potential to be the most important resource for poets interested in reading around the world, and they keep on making the right moves. Each country on the site (though not every country is represented and there are major holes right now including the USA and Chile) is edited by a local expert in the poetry, ensuring that even the best-read (and I don't think I can count myself among them) will find something new and wonderful on their site.

This first-of-2010 publication focuses on nano-poetics (which I've just learned from Gilad Meiri translated by Lisa Katz is mostly about miniaturisation and duplication) and poetry of the everyday. Having taught poetry of the everyday previously in a PEN Prison Writing workshop, I was excited to add more of this to my repertoire, and Japanese poet Yosuke Tanaka in Jeffery Angles' translation is perhaps the poet I most want to read more of right now. Here is the first four lines of "A River in Summer":
If no one is looking, I cannot get in.

[A dead bird]
[A bird in various colors]

If no one is looking.
The 10 poems on the site are just a tease really, and will demand a further and closer reading on my part, but someone needs to get me his book Sweet Ultramarine Dreams in English! The pull between experimental and lyrical, the tension of images that only just make sense, and only if you're willing to leap fully into the language....the little truths just beneath the surface of the everyday. Just another taste, the last four lines from "The Station to Spring":
In the darkness
The orange juice glows.
It seems to shine from within.
The station to spring is near.
And quite brilliantly the PI people have connected this poetry of the everyday to nano-poetics, which in David Avidan engage with the everyday:

Everything’s miniature, like microfilm.
And at the hour of need – enlarged.
It could have worked for us too.

The world is filled with creatures which are too large
and not always useful and not always necessary.
In nano-poetics, according to Gilad Meiri:
The use of size – poetry’s approach to the small – as an interpretive strategy is a natural extension of an essential feature of poetry itself, for a poem is the smallest, densest unit of aesthetic information there is.
The small is an invitation to intimacy, he says, and through that intimate and minute look at the everyday, through the parodic effect of mechanical duplication and repetition, a concentration of the world in the nano. One last poem from Avidan:
Let me be a mummy.
Wake me
once every thousand years with a shot of undiluted adrenalin, and then
I’ll burn Rome again, report on the event
with a pale face and a pounding heart, first I’ll castrate
all the barbarian warriors who conquered the city, possess
all their young women, so there’ll be
things to burn and men to castrate
in another thousand years. I have
patience for long-run missions.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Massachusetts Review calls for Translation

Call for submissions: Massachusetts Review
University of Massachusetts Amherst

In our fifty-first year of publication, the editors of The Massachusetts Review ( plan to dramatically increase the amount of fiction, poetry and socially-engaged nonfiction which they publish in translation. MR is a general-audience journal of literature, arts and public affairs, with a particularly strong history of civil rights and feminist publication. Today we see a great need for US literary journals to internationalize – to open their ears, and their pages, to voices from outside the United States, and to writers in languages other than English. MR believes we have a real opportunity for synergy with friends and colleagues from local institutions, given the strength of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst programs in translation, of the locally-based translation studies journal Metamorphoses, as well as of the American Studies Diploma Program at Smith College (a one-year graduate program exclusively for international students). But we will of course also need the help of colleagues and translators from across the globe. To that end, we plan to announce in our upcoming issue the Jules Chametzky Prize for Literary Translation, to be awarded annually to the best poem and prose translations published within our pages. To put it as simply as possibly, our goal is to publish great writing from across the globe, from writers we haven’t yet heard of. The Voice of America has been broadcasting non-stop ever since the early days of the Cold War. MR believes that our country instead needs to sit down, take some time, and listen.

Edwin Gentzler, with Ellen Watson, has been named translation co-editor for the journal.

Please forward to interested parties. For questions please contact Jim Hicks, editor, Massachusetts Review, at

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Multimedia Poetry Call for Submissions

As part of my ongoing interest in film and poetry (and multimedia poetry in general) I am collecting calls for submissions of journals, prizes, festivals, etc. Here is another in the expanding series of multimedia poetry calls:

The Missouri Review's Audio & Video Contest 2009

Our deadline has been extended to January 17th! Submit your entry in Audio/Voice-Only Lit or Video Documentary. Winners receive a total of $4,500 in prizes. First prize in each category receives $1,500, second prize $500. Five entries from both categories will be selected for a $100 Editor's Prize. All entrants receive a 1-year subscription to The Missouri Review’s Print or Digital Edition. Entries in both categories will be considered for publication in The Missouri Review or on our website. The winning video will be screened at the 2010 True/False Film Festival in Columbia, MO.

Category Guidelines:
Audio/Voice-Only Literature
If you have a short story, a piece of creative nonfiction, narrative essay or poetry that you think worthy of recording, enter this category. All literary genres are considered. Pieces in this category can be solely author-read or contain other tracks of sound, voice and/or recorded interviews. Entries are judged on literary merit, technical proficiency and, most importantly, how the author uses audio media to futher the literary strength of his or her piece. Note: Poets may enter one or more poems as a single entry as long as the total recorded time does not exceed the 10-minute limit. We encourage writers and producers to make innovative use of recording technology as a means of furthering their literary craft.
Time: 10 minutes or less.
First Prize: $1,500
Second prize: $500

Video Documentary Short
This broad category includes everything from a filmed scene that stands on its own to a videographed 10-minute documentary play, interview or nonfiction narrative. In addition to short documentaries on any subject or historic period, interviews of artists and artist presentations are welcome, as well topics of interest to a general literary audience. Entries will be judged on strength of the script and subject, ability to meet its objective (stated or unstated i.e., a comedic short that’s funny, or an author interview that is informative, fresh and insightful), technical facility including sound and lighting, reporting, presenting and/or acting.
Time: 10 minutes or less.
First Prize: $1,500
Second Prize: $500

All submissions must include a completed entry form for each entry, a copy of the entry on a CD or video DVD, a label with writer/ producer, title and length; a brief program synopsis (short writer/producer bio optional; and $24 entry fee. Send entries to:

The Missouri Review Audio & Video Competition
357 McReynolds Hall
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211
For More Information, visit our webpage at:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Literary Translation as Peripheral

So the theme of this year's MLA is translation, and it's going to be an embarrassment of riches for those of us who are both interested in the academy and in translation. The current president picked the theme because she is concerned with the place translation and translation studies have held in the academy (or rather, the places in which they are elided, I might say). And thank goodness someone is.

But it concerns me still that a behemoth like MLA might not be able to help but marginalize the work of literary translation and literary translation studies (from here on out, I'm going to just assume the 'literary). I differentiate between the two because I think it's in part this duality that makes translation a difficult subject to broach in the over-compartmentalized and departmentalized university system. Translation is, among other things, about half creative writing and half critical theory. So Translation Studies tends to get the theory - and that includes of course a range of other multi-disciplinary concerns outside of straight "translation theory" or even practitioner theory, including literary theory, linguistics, philosophy, the broad range of cultural studies and more narrowly cultural sociology, history, economics, etc. And Creative Writing, if they have the resources for it, can include the translation practice and the compositional creative elements. So where does that leave Translation? Split and scattered across the academy.

For example, where to people go to study or teach translation? There are very few departments, most translation studies programs are incorporated into other, larger departments like Comparative Literature, English or the relevant area studies program. Job listings for universities that support or are developing translation programs tend to require training or interest in translation as secondary to a primary "authorized" academic interest, again within one of those departments. In this sense, translation is always a subsidiary peripheral activity. It is secondary to the 'real' qualifications and the 'real' work of the department. Supplementary.

Those programs that exist explicitly for the study of translation tend to be broad programs that address the practical issues of interpretation, language acquisition, technical and business translation and perhaps, but briefly, literary translation. Literary translation is not a practical career, generally speaking, so these more technical programs rightly don't devote the same amount of attention to its practice and study.

And maybe this is the root of some of the difficulty. Literary translators into English very, very rarely make a living as a literary translator. Those that I know either teach (again, in another subject with some potential for crossover), or are freelance non-literary translators. Or like me, came from publishing. So when a field of cultural production, to steal a sociological framework, is not even undervalued but literally unvalued as an economic practice, what incentive is there for it's continued practice or study?

It seems similar, though I'm not familiar enough with the history, to the problem that creative writing faced in the middle of the last century. The solution then was the establishment of the workshop format, relying on the Universities to sponsor and support the creative activities that were being undertaken. And really, this is not such a new model. The patronage model has been in place for centuries, but only recently has it been institutionalized rather than individual patronages.

Of course, even if the workshop system was the solution, and I'm not sure that it is, it doesn't resolve that creative/critical divide that literary translation so simply ignores. Doing both is the obvious move, and some academics do, but eventually, it seems, by sacrificing the primacy of one for the other. And the one that is sacrificed is inevitably the undervalued practice of translation. Academics are happy to have translated texts to study, to teach, and to reference. But there is no system of reward that compensates for the work it takes to produce those texts, much less one to train qualified translators to become the producers of those texts. Those academics that attempt to include these elements when they can are often unable to.

All of this has been said before, more thoroughly I'm sure. I think, though, that until the discourse is developed into a valued and positive gain-driven vocabulary for literary translation, there is going to be no real change in how translation is incorporated as secondary (tercery, or at all) to the established disciplines of academic study and teaching.