Archive for September 2013

Translation On Tap Sunday-Monday-Tuesday

Three (or four, depending how you count) great-sounding translation events coming up in NYC in the next three days:

• A double-header in Elmhurst, Queens on Sunday, Sept. 29 (that would be tomorrow): the series First Tuesdays will be hosting a book launch for Land­scape with Yel­low Birds: Selected Poems by Jose Angel Valente, trans­lated by Thomas Chris­tensen and published by Archipelago. The evening will also feature a translation open mike: participants can sign up for a three-minute time slot to read from their work. Sign-up begins at 6:30 p.m., and the event itself starts at 7:00. Organizer Richard Jeffrey Newman says that if the open mike proves popular, there will be more of them. For more information, see his website. The event will be held at Ter­raza Café on Gleane Street (take the 7 to 82nd St. and walk east to Gleane).

• On Monday, Sept. 30, the wonderful Italian poet Patrizia Cavalli will join several of her translators (including Jorie Graham, J.D. McClatchy, David Shapiro, Geoffrey Brock and Gini Alhadeff) to read from her new book in English, My Poems Won’t Change the World (edited by Alhadeff and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, 131 E 10th St, 8:00 p.m.

• On Tuesday, Oct. 1, Geoffrey Brock and a few surprise guests will read from his new anthology The FSG Book of 20th-Century Italian Poetry at the Elizabeth Street Garden in an event sponsored by McNally Jackson Books. 209 Elizabeth St. (near Prince), 6:00 p.m.

• And don’t forget the translation panel being held in just a few hours down in the East Village as part of the symposium Shining Island. I’ll be speaking along with Uljana Wolf, Christian Hawkey and Jürgen Jakob Becker of the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin, 4:15 p.m.

Enjoy the week in translation!

New York State Translators Can Get Funding from NYSCA

I’ve lived in New York State since 1998 and somehow never realized that literary translators are eligible to apply for grants through NYSCA, the New York State Council on the Arts, through its Literature Program. I think this fact isn’t widely known, and there are reasons for this. For one thing, NYSCA is a New York State government agency that can fund individual artists only through a “fiscal sponsor,” a non-profit organization that will formally submit the application, disburse any grant funds and submit a final report following the expiration of the grant year. In other words, there is a level of bureaucratic complexity involved that a person like me might find daunting. But all literary translators who reside in New York State are eligible to apply for these grants, so I recommend a little persistence, particularly in the case of projects that already have publishers lined up, as these are the most likely to receive funding, though having a publisher is not at all a necessary condition for receiving a grant. Funded projects are often book-length, but shorter projects (a novella or collection of 10 or more poems) are eligible as well.

There is one category of translator for whom the NYSCA application process is relatively straightforward: translators with projects that will be published by presses or literary magazines that happen to have New York State non-profit status (such as Archipelago, Ugly Duckling Presse, BOA Editions etc.) These non-profit publishers are likely to have applied for NYSCA grants in the past and know how the application procedure works.

Other translators need not be discouraged, though. If you live in New York State, you qualify to apply for NYSCA funding as long as you are able to find a fiscal sponsor willing to submit an application on your behalf – even if your literary work (fiction, drama, poetry or literary non-fiction) will be published by a for-profit or out-of-state publisher or magazine, and even if you don’t yet have a publisher at all. Many different sorts of non-profits qualify to serve as fiscal sponsors for NYSCA grants: not-for-profit magazines and arts and cultural organizations, many of which are also likely to have submitted NYSCA applications before. There are even non-profits, like Fractured Atlas, that exist for the sole purpose of providing fiscal sponsorship to individual artists. So think about which non-profits you have professional relationships with – one of them may well agree to sponsor you – keeping in mind that each non-profit has to pick its battles: it’s apparently disadvantageous for one fiscal sponsor to submit competing applications in a single year.

The rewards of persistence in the face of bureaucratic hurdles can be significant: NYSCA awards several grants a year to fund translation projects, generally ranging from $2500 to $10,000, depending on the scope of each selected project and the available funds in a given year. Translation projects are most likely to be funded if they already have a commitment from a publisher and the translator has taken some care with the sample translation and supporting materials. Kathleen Masterson, director of NYSCA’s Literature Program, recommends that translators make a strong case for the importance of the work not only in its original language and context but also in terms of its relevance to New York State readers today. She also suggests that translators contextualize the samples they submit, e.g. indicating if a given passage is still an early draft of the translation or a near-to-finished product.

If you are interested in learning more about NYSCA grants, study the guidelines included on the Literature Program website, which also contains links that can be used to contact program officers for more help or information. In fact, it’s a good idea to download the guidelines right now for your reference, since there is sometimes a lag over New Year’s between when the old guidelines are taken down and the new ones posted. The application deadlines for next year’s competition (for grants to be disbursed during fiscal year 2015) have not yet been set, but it is likely that you will have to register your intention to apply early in 2014, with a final application deadline (via an online process) some time during the spring. These deadlines have a way of creeping up on you, so if you’re interested in applying for NYSCA funding, probably the best moment to start lining up a fiscal sponsor is now.

Berlin Comes to New York This Weekend

Before there was Translationista, there was The Berlin Blog, born of my love for the German capital. I first visited Berlin in early 1992, when the traces of the city’s division were still very much a part of daily life, and soon fell into a pattern of spending at least three months there a year (sometimes all twelve) for the next dozen years. Over that time, I watched the city undergo rapid and radical change. Each time I go back now, I discover more changes, and now there are neighborhoods I hardly recognize.

One place that’s changed relatively little over the years is the wonderful “literature house” Literarisches Colloquium Berlin, located on the shores of a large lake called Wannsee at the edge of town. It’s a writer’s colony and an event space rolled into one, all housed in a beautiful old villa, and I’ve been going to readings and workshops there for years. And now it’s turning 50, and in celebration, the Goethe Institut New York is flying over a handful of Germany’s leading writers to talk about the past half-century of life in Berlin, literary and otherwise, in the company of American writers who’ve spent time in Berlin. I am honored to have been invited to participate in two of the weekend’s events.

The symposium is entitled Shining Island. Here’s the complete program:

SATURDAY, September 28
3:00pm, How American is It? Past, Present, and Future Berlin — Marcel Beyer, Durs Grünbein, Susan Bernofsky.
4:15pm, Still a Two-way Street? New Perspectives on Translation — Jürgen Jakob Becker, Susan Bernofsky, Christian Hawkey, Uljana Wolf.
5:30pm, Parallel Worlds: Berlin and New York, the Literary Affinity of Two Cities — Marcel Beyer, Aris Fioretos, Christian Hawkey, Uljana Wolf.

SUNDAY, September 29
1:00pm, Sunday Papers: Reflections on Poetry and Life — Durs Grünbein, Charles Simic.
2:15pm, What’s with Literary Institutions? Shining Islands and Ivory Towers — Felicitas Hoppe, Karen Russell, Charles Simic.
3:30pm, “Im technischen Zeitalter:” Literature, Technology, and Big Data — Aris Fioretos, Rivka Galchen, Felicitas Hoppe, Charles Simic.


All events are free of charge and will be held at the Goethe Institut’s Wyoming Building at 5 E. 3rd St., just east of Bowery. There’s limited seating, so reservations are strongly encouraged (click here). For more information see the Goethe Institut website.

My Chat with Gregory Rabassa

Gregory and Clementine Rabassa

I blogged last year about my excitement when The Rumpus asked me to interview Gregory Rabassa. Nothing ever happens as quickly as you think it will, but now the interview is finished and up on the Rumpus website, and I’m just thrilled to have had the opportunity to speak at such length with this man who played such a huge role in getting me excited about literature when I was a teenager walking around drunk on Cortázar and García Márquez. I was expecting a dignified giant (he’s a nonagenerian, after all), but instead I found a friendly sprite of a man who loves making puns and flirting. His wife Clementine, in what appeared to be a running joke between the two, kept coming into the room and mock-scolding both of us. Here’s one exchange between her and me that didn’t make the final cut:

Clem:Don’t spoil him.


Me: If I pay too much attention to him I’m spoiling him, but I’m interviewing him! What do I do?

Clem:Behave. Just behave, that’s it.

Me: I’ll behave! 

While I was behaving, I managed to ask Rabassa a number of questions about his life and work as a translator and the history of the field. Not surprisingly, he had great stories to tell. You’ll find them here.

Find Out What Translation Means Sept. 27

Readers of this blog know that my friend/colleague Esther Allen and I co-edited a book about translation that appeared earlier this year, In Translation: Translators on Their Work And What It Means, containing many of our very favorite essays about translation. And now we are hosting a symposium featuring several of the contributors to the anthology and one lagniappe colleague who isn’t in it, all presenting material different from the essays included in the book. So what will come out of these discussions will be as much of a surprise to us as it is to you. Please come celebrate our book with us! We’ll be putting on two panels, each of them with a stellar cast, followed by a chance to raise a glass and rub shoulders.

In case you still need convincing, just take a look at the program:

3:30 – 4:45 p.m.
Mysticism in Translation
Peter Cole, Richard Sieburth, and Rosanna Warren, moderated by Susan Bernofsky
What makes mystical texts mystical, and what happens when they are transported to a new language and context? Translators of the Kabbalah (Cole), Nostradamus (Sieburth) and Jewish Catholic mystic Max Jacob (Warren) discuss the challenges and paradoxes of translating these complex bodies of thought and the mysticism inherent in the act of translation.

5:00 – 6:15 p.m.
इंडिया (India, in other words)
With Jason Grunebaum, Christi A. Merrill, and Eliot Weinberger, moderated by Esther Allen
What forces make the contemporary Indian literature written in English so globally prominent even as the literatures of the nation’s many other languages remain, for the most part, obscure? These translators and aficionados of the literatures of India discuss the particular obstacles they face translating work from and for such a spectacularly multilingual context. 

All events (including the reception) will be held at the James Gallery at the CUNY Graduate Center on Friday, Sept. 27. The symposium is being supported by a grant from Amazon and is co-sponsored by the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center, the Walls and Bridges Festival, and the New York Institute for the Humanities. For more information, see the Center for Humanities website.

Thomas Hirschhorn on Robert Walser

Via Daniel Creahan for Art Observed

Those of you who live in NYC have probably already heard about the Gramsci Monument that Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn built in the Bronx this summer. If you haven’t, this is your heads-up that it will only be standing for another five days, and I urge you to go visit while there’s still time. The Monument is a sort of plywood village on stilts built into a grove of trees on the grounds of the Forest Houses housing project. The monument looks like a cross between an ark and a treehouse, and resonates in my head with images that have been knocking around in there since I read The Swiss Family Robinson as a child. It also somewhat resembles the utopian village that sprang up at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan in the fall of 2011, though Hirschhorn’s penchant for constructing plywood villages significantly predates Occupy. The Gramsci Monument is the fourth of his series of projects inspired by his favorite philosophers; earlier ones were devoted to Spinoza (Amsterdam, 1999), Deleuze (Avignon, 2000) and Bataille (Kassel, 2002). He is also a sculptor, specializing in estranged objects held together with brown plastic packing tape – like the uncanny, sad but oddly beautiful exploded mannequins I saw on display last year at the Austrian Cultural Forum. This packing tape also appears to be holding many parts of the Gramsci Monument together, though I suspect there are nails underneath the tape, since the plywood platforms and the bridge anchoring the two halves of the monument feel pretty sturdy. At the Gramsci Monument though, the work of art isn’t so much the place and the construction itself as it is the sum of the interactions that take place there, and to this extent it is a highly collaborative work.

Plenty of tape in the art room

While scouting locations for the monument, Hirschhorn looked for local residents who would be willing to collaborate with him, and he actively involved the community in the project, not only as paid laborers who worked side by side with him nailing the 2x4s together, but as participants in the monument’s day-to-day operations and programming. A local art teacher is in charge of the art room where there seems always to be a little gaggle of elementary-school-aged kids building and painting things; local DJs broadcast the Gramsci Monument programming on 91.9 FM in the NYC area (or streamed live on the website); residents of the Forest Houses participate in the programs as moderators for poetry readings, guest lectures, or the daily philosophy lecture presented by German philosopher Marcus Steinweg, and as actors in the Marxist-flavored play “Gramsci Theater” (also by Steinweg) performed weekly. Admittedly, most of the programming appears to be things Hirschhorn himself thought up, but the residents I saw spending time at the monument seemed to be enjoying it. And I think it’s great that an artist doing a project like this would insist on local labor to create jobs – at least temporarily – in the community where he’s setting up shop.

Set for the play “Gramsci Theater”

Admittedly the collaboration produced some odd tensions. At one point I heard Hirschhorn regaling an audience with a story of how the NYPD arrived one evening in an armed posse, saying that leaving the monument up overnight violated some law; they were intending to dismantle it. Hirschhorn talked them down with John-Wayne-style bravura. And to hear him tell it, he seems to think his local collaborators might have done the same if they only had the self-confidence. I’m thinking his collaborators must have neglected to initiate him into the finer points of police/community relations in the Bronx (either that or he wasn’t listening). At other points I found myself wishing Hirschhorn had pulled rank a bit more, e.g. when a moderator/DJ used his bully pulpit to harass all the attractive young women in the audience – individually, which took a while – and to aggressively shill commemorative t-shirts (too ugly to have been designed by Hirschhorn) whose sale he said would benefit the “Forest Houses alumni association” (?).

A reading by poet Tonya Foster

But all these various personalities (and the odd capitalist incursion into a decidedly Marxist project) are supposed to come together and clash – that also, I think is part of the design, as much as the trees that stick up into some of the rooms that comprise the Monument because the platforms were built around them. There’s a great treehouse library full of books by and about Gramsci, Marxist thought, etc.; a little museum where the hand-carved wooden spoons and forks Gramsci used in prison are on display, along with his comb and his “shoe protectors” (?); a bar serving hot dogs and rice and beans; an office where the daily newspaper is produced; a computer room (invariably filled with kids playing online games); a radio station that provides a constant soundtrack to conversations at the monument (hip hop, for the most part); a wall with profiles of the many locals who have served as “resident of the day” since the Monument opened (15 minutes of fame); and the whole thing is covered with murals and graffiti by many hands. It’s all pretty gorgeous and exciting. And what with the readings, the daily philosophy lecture (delivered by Steinweg without notes but with, I think, some forethought), and the various organized and disorganized discussions, it really is a place where ideas and their practical application are actually being discussed in the public sphere, which is one of the things that made Occupy Wall Street so appealing in its day. I do recommend you come check it out while there’s still a chance.

And if you happen to know how to go back in time to the year 1999 and can take me with you, let’s please head to the main building of the University of Zurich’s Irchel campus, where Hirschhorn created his “Robert Walser Kiosk,” a cardboard enclosure of modest proportions (and held together with packing tape, of course) with which he paid tribute to his great literary countryman (whom, as I’m sure most readers of this blog already know, I am passionate about
translating as well as reading). The pictures of it sure do look beautiful. I had a chance to chat with Hirschhorn about Walser when I visited the Gramsci Monument (did I remember to say he himself is there all day every day as part of the project?), and he talked to me about how moved he is by Walser’s modesty, his interest in the insignificant and small, and his keen understanding of power relations. And indeed, I think the study of Walser’s works was an excellent education for this particular artist. I hope you’ll take advantage of this opportunity to see his work. Information on the program for the last few days of the Monument, along with subway directions, can be found here.

Russian Bridge this Friday

Coming right up at the end of this week, on a Friday the 13th no less: the Russian Bridge you’ve been dreaming of, featuring an entire panoply of exciting readers presenting and speaking about their translations. The roster includes:

  • Bela Shayevich and Ainsley Morse, reading from their new translation, I Live I See by Vsevolod Nekrasov.
  • Genya Turovskaya, co-translator of The Russian Version by Elena Fanailova, which won the 2010 Best Translated Book Award
  • Keith Gessen, co-translator of It’s No Good by Kirill Medvedev
  • and three representatives of the translation collective CEMENT (one of whose projects you probably heard about): Marijeta Bozovic, Maksim Hanukai and Roman Utkin

See the Bridge Series website for more information on each of the readers.

This Russian Extravaganza Bridge is a co-production with Ugly Duckling Presse and will be held at Melville House, 145 Plymouth Street in Brooklyn (DUMBO) on Friday, Sept. 13, starting at 7:00 p.m.