Inventory – A New Journal of Translation

Well, we’ve all missed the launch now, but the new Inventory is in the house, and it sure looks purty. This is the sort of magazine you get when an excellent design team is given enough of a budget to buy nice thick paper and indulge in the sort of spacious layout that actually makes the texts look beautiful on the page. Nice minimalist binding, too. According to the masthead, which in this elegant journal is referred to as the “colophon,” Inventory was designed by Philip Tidwell and printed in Iceland. Kudos. And the editing is impressive as well. The editorial team—which as I understand it is made up exclusively of Princeton University graduate students spearheaded by Liesl Yamaguchi and Elise Wang—has put together a lovely issue featuring well-chosen work by up-and-coming translators along with translation luminaries like Suzanne Jill Levine and Lydia Davis. There is also a small translation by moi, of Matthias Göritz’s poem “Empty Plastic Bag Tumbling in the Wind”; and in the spirit of full disclosure, I should confess that I also serve on the journal’s advisory board. But I wasn’t involved in any way in the editorial process, so feel entitled to express delight at the outcome thereof. Between the covers of issue No. 1 you will find work translated from the Hungarian (the most excellent Dezső Kosztolányi), the Russian (Sergei Dovlatov, Evgeny Saburov), the Vietnamese (Ngo Tu Lap) and many other languages, including both classic authors like Donoso, Celan, Chaucer, Eco and Flaubert, and many I’d never heard of before. Dipping into the volume, I find that the overall quality of the translations is high, which reflects well on the editors. I am particularly taken with some of the poems: Daniel Picus’s translated Psalms, Miklavž Komelj’s “Hippodrome” translated by Dan Rosenberg and Boris Gregorič, and Michael Schlie’s translations of Celan. Congratulations to all involved. I look forward to seeing future issues of this lovely magazine. One suggestion for next time: alphabetize the list of contributing translators at the back—randomizing the list doesn’t work.* And it might be nice to include a little note by the principal editors describing the magazine’s intention and goals, perhaps similar to what is stated on the website. Slipping in the quote from Rosalind Krauss’s Perpetual Inventory that apparently gave the magazine its title is a nice touch though. On the other hand, I personally cannot hear the word “inventory” without thinking of Günter Eich.

Oh, and whoever it was who talked to me after the translation panel at the CUNY Graduate Center last week (Nov. 17) about his new translations of François Villon—this journal would be a good place to send them. Their excellent column “Backorders” at the back of the volume, featuring translation wish-lists compiled by a number of writers and thinkers—what a good idea!—includes CUNY’s own Tom Sleigh wishing for better translations of Pasternak and Villon. You’ll find the guidelines for submission posted here, and here’s the link to purchase a copy.

*Aha, realized only later that the list is actually in reverse alphabetical order. In my humble opinion, that qualifies as trying too hard to be fancy.

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