Talking Translation at the Chapbook Festival

Did you know that the word “chapbook” derives from the “chapmen” (merchants – it’s a cognate with the German word Kaufman) who in days of yore peddled pamphlets containing popular ballads, religious tracts and the like to literate villagers? Nowadays these little books play a very different role: they making it easier (read: cheaper) to bring together writers and readers of particularly challenging work – poetry mostly, in its many forms. And of course the next logical step in the evolution of the chapbook is adding translation into the mix. What better way to introduce a foreign-language author to an English-reading pubilc than through a brief, handsome best-of? Many of our classiest smaller presses have been producing gorgeously designed chapbooks of translated work (like this one), and now for the first time the yearly festival that celebrates the work of these presses is celebrating translation as well, with a panel discussion this coming Thursday, March 29, entitled “State of Translation: Trends in Innovative Publishing,” to be held in the Martin E. Segal Theater at the CUNY Graduate Center. I’ll be on the panel, as will an illustrious cast of characters including, alphabetically: Ammiel Alcalay, Esther Allen, Ivan Herceg, Anna Moschovakis, Damir Šodan, and Eliot Weinberger. The Graduate Center’s Ana Božičević, herself a poet and translator, will moderate. If I weren’t on the panel, I’d be in the audience; come watch me try to be both places at once!

You’ll also want to check out the book exhibits. The Chapbook Festival (now in its fourth year) always includes a book fair, at which some of the most beautiful little books you could ever hope to see – many hand-printed and hand-bound – are on display. That show alone is worth the price of admission. (Actually the whole thing is free.) The festival will be taking place this Wednesday through Friday (March 28 – 30) at the Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue at 34th St., and other nearby locations. Click here for the complete program.

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