Archive for May 2012

Cross the Bridge to Russia

здравствуйте! This month’s Bridge will speak Russian, but for you it will speak English, because The Bridge Series is all about translation, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. And for only the second time in the history of the Bridge, this month’s program will present an author/translator duo in conversation with their American publisher. This Russian Bridge is being organized apropos of this year’s BEA (Book Expo America), which features a special Global Market Forum focus entitled Read Russia. This day (Monday, June 4) of intensive programming centering on the literary life of Russia will feature a large number (40-50) of Russian authors, translators and publishers. And with all this Slavic talent in town, the Bridge was able to snag a special translator/author team to speak at McNally Jackson Books on Thursday, June 7. Marian Schwartz is one of the most respected translators from the Russian working today; she is known for her translations of Nina Berberova, Mikhail Bulgakov, Ivan Goncharov, Mikhail Lermontov and others, and is also a past president of the American Literary Translators Association. And she will be appearing together with Mikhkail Shishkin, author of what she described to me as “possibly the most important modern work I’ve ever translated”: the novel Maidenhair, forthcoming in English from Open Letter Books, which has garnered an impressive list of prizes both in Russia and abroad (e.g. the International Literature Prize given by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin). So this is your chance to see a major Russian author appearing together with his major translator in an intimate setting, and in conversation with their publisher, the charming Chad Post of Open Letter. What more could you ask on a sultry Thursday evening in early June? Surely it will be sultry. McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince St., Thursday, June 7, 7:00 p.m.

It’s Zoland Application Time!

Since I blogged extensively last year about the Zoland Poetry Translation Fellowship (which isn’t limited to translators of poetry), I’ll refer to you that post for more information about this chance to enjoy a fully-funded four-week residency at the Vermont Studio Center. This year’s deadline is June 15, 2012.

2012 Wolff Prize to Burton Pike

I could not be more delighted by the news that Burton Pike has been selected for the 2012 Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize – an annual prize awarded by the Goethe Institut Chicago for an outstanding translation from the German. The prize, which has been around since 1996, comes with a hefty purse ($10,000) and a one-month residency at the beautiful Literarisches Colloquium Berlin. Pike is being honored for his translation of Gerhard Meier’s Toteninsel (Isle of the Dead), a classic of late-twentieth-century Swiss literature. But he could just as easily and worthily been lauded for many of his other translations, such as Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther or Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. Pike also edited and co-translated Robert Musil’s huge masterpiece The Man without Qualities. Pike is a meticulous translator, obsessed with details of diction and tone. I remember that when he was working on his retranslation of Goethe’s Werther, he told me about spending hours filing away at his translation of a little scene in which Werther helps a servant girl with a heavy jug of water she’s just filled at the well. It is such a simple little transaction, and the language in which it is described is pure and spare. In his preface to the translation, Pike writes of this moment when Werther offers to help the girl: “she says ‘Oh no, sir.’ But Werther helps her, and she thanks him. Why the contradiction between negation and action?” Readers of this simple passage  may not suspect the thought and care that went into the translation of the simple words “She thanked me, and climbed up.” The same economy of expression can be seen in Pike’s translation of Werther’s encounter with a young woman surrounded by her brood: “She greeted me, I thanked her, stood up, stepped closer, and asked whether she was the mother of the children.” There is a great art to this careful sparseness. To give a sense of how easily such a passage can become floppily expansive, compare R.D. Boylan’s translation of the same passage: “She gave me greeting: I returned it, rose, and approached her. I inquired if she were the mother of those pretty children.” The temptation to expand can be huge. In any case, I am very happy to see Burton Pike honored with the Wolff Prize. Lesser translators (including me) have already received it, and it was high time it went to him.

Christopher Middleton Reads Tomorrow!

Readers of this blog know how much I revere Christopher Middleton, and I am thrilled that he will be coming to New York to celebrate the publication of Thirty Poems of Robert Walser tomorrow. The launch party will be co-hosted by Christine Burgin and New Directions (who have co-published this lovely book) and New York Review Books Classics, which has reprinted some of Middleton’s older Walser translations. I hope you’ll be able to join us tomorrow, Tuesday, May 15, at Picture Ray Studio, 245 West 18th St., 6:00 p.m. I’ll be introducing the guest of honor, so expect to see me duly awestruck. For more information, see the New Directions events page.

The Rail Reads

OK, I’ll admit it, I’ve got a soft spot for The Brooklyn Rail. Besides the fact that it’s an all-around excellent magazine that consistently features excellent articles on life in the city and the arts, they’ve been really kind to me over the years, reviewing my books, publishing my fiction and even interviewing me. And they’re kind to literary translators in general, using the journal’s considerable visibility to promote our work with a dedicated section of the BR website: InTranslation, which is prominently linked to on the journal’s home page.

This week the Rail will be celebrating the launch of its May 17 issue with an evening of readings foregrounding translation and hosted by fiction editor (and InTranslation co-editor) Donald Breckenridge. The evening will feature, among others, Harry Morales reading from his translation of Mario Benedetti’s novel La Tregua and Donald Nicholson-Smith presenting excerpts from his translation of Raoul Vaneigem’s Traité de savoir-vivre à l’usage des jeuenes générations, currently serialized in the Rail.

The launch event will be held at the Center for Fiction, 17 East 47th St. at 7:00 p.m. For details, see the Brooklyn Rail events page.

Circumference is Back

Circumference, a lovely magazine devoted to poetry in translation, is now returning after a two-year hiatus with an new editorial team, a new look and – as always – new poems. The magazine sprang out of the Center for Literary Translation at Columbia University (the previous incarnation of what is now called Literary Translation at Columbia) and put out seven issues under its founding editors, Stefania Heim and Jennifer Kronovet. Now a new posse of current and recent Columbia MFA students (Elizabeth Clark Wessel, Iris Cushing, Tanya Paperny, Josh Edwin and Julia Guez) is taking the helm, and as I understand it, the idea is to establish a stable longterm model to keep the journal going in perpetuity.

I’m looking forward to seeing the new Circumference website, which is scheduled to launch on May 18, i.e. this coming Friday. Its launch will be celebrated by an evening of festivities hosted by A Public Space and featuring readings by founding editor Stefania Heim and contributors Idra Novey, Matthew Rohrer, and Eliot Weinberger. The editors write:

With our new website we will be continuing and expanding upon our mission. The website will allow us to feature a podcast series, audio and video, and other work that lends itself to the digital format. It will also be an ideal place to facilitate conversations about poetry in translation, to feature interviews with poets and translators, and to blog about current events in the world of translation. We will also be sharing work from our archives in a searchable database ideal for students and researchers.

Most importantly, the website will allow us another platform for publishing the kind of work Circumference has always been interested in: translations of new work from around the globe, new visions of classical poems, translations of foreign language poets of the past who have fallen under the radar of American readers, and, as always, to show translation as the vibrant, necessary interaction that it is.

So come raise a glass to this excellent magazine on the occasion of its web launch! I’m told a new print issue will be coming our way this fall. Where and When: A Public Space, 323 Dean St. in Brooklyn, 8:00 p.m. Details here.

Please Root for False Friends!

I don’t mean the kind of friends who do you dirty – I mean the linguistic sort, those sneaky little words that pad back and forth between languages, smuggling surprising shades of meaning, setting you up for bloopers. On purpose. And in particular I mean the little book based on a double handful of these alphabetically adventurous little critters that found their way into the poetry of Uljana Wolf, thence to be translated by me. And now they’re up for the 2012 Best Translated Book Award in Poetry, and maybe it’ll help them win if all of you clap your hands and intone, “I believe in fairies.” Or maybe you should profess your belief in multilingual translational goodness. In any case, the book just got a really sweet write-up on the Three Percent website, which has been featuring little appreciations of each of this year’s finalists (a charming procedure). Check out the list of finalists here. And then come out for the awards ceremony, because maybe it really will turn out to be the case that the book with the most supporters in the room will win. Where is this superlative event taking place? you ask. I love easy questions! It’ll be at McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince Street on Friday, May 4, 6:00 p.m. The ceremony will be co-hosted by Chad Post of Three Percent and Tom Roberge (director of publicity at New Directions Publishing), and the winners will be announced by Publishing Perspectives editor Ed Nawotka.

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