10 Women Poets in Translation You Don’t Want to Miss

photo for WITMonth post Credit Josef.stuefer

We’re celebrating WITMonth here at the Two Lines Pres blog! Here’s our own Emily Wolahan on some astonishing poets you need to read this month!

In his poem “The Day Lady Died,” one of the stops in Frank O’Hara’s day before he sees the headline that Billie Holiday has died is to pick up an “ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets / in Ghana are doing these days.” I think of O’Hara’s lines often when I read poets in translation. Immersed in our North American poetry world, ensconced in our English, it’s easy to ignore the imagination and perspective of other languages.

Thank goodness the equivalents to O’Hara’s NEW WORLD WRITING (not to be confused with the current journal that holds that title) are not ugly and are available both in print and online. These ten women poets in translation are contemporary poets we hope to see more work from in English.

Athena Farrokhzad: SWEDISH

Farrokhzad’s reputation proceeds her in many ways. We had the chance to publish part of “White Blight” in Two Lines 23.

Julia Fiedorczuk: POLISH

The July/August issue of Poetry Magazine was half translation, half an incredible folio on Pacific Islander poetry. Fiedorczuk is just one of several translated poets in the issue.

Hiromi Ito: JAPANESE

A leader in Japanese poetry, Ito doesn’t get nearly enough attention in the U.S. We published Ito in Issue 13: Masks.

Leslie Kaplan: FRENCH

These poems from Leslie Kaplan were written in the 1990s, but are only now reaching the US in these great translations. Kaplan writes in a prosaic, immersive style and explores factory labor and feminism in L’excès-l’usine.

Kim Yiduem: KOREAN

If you already like Kim Hyesoon (check out her poems translated by Don Mee Choi in our upcoming issue of Two Lines by subscribing here), you will adore Kim Yiduem. She’s a star in Korea and soon to appear as widely as Kim H.

Galina Rymbu: RUSSIAN

Rymbu is a political poet mired in the turbulent world of today, but her poems are not heavy because of it. Her ability to make her voice seem very personal, while clearly tightly wrought, might have something to do with it. Also check out the current issue of n+1, which contains a portfolio of new Russian political poets.

Ulrike Almut Sandig: GERMAN

A compelling, musical voice, Sandig’s poems and prose understand doom, sadness and childhood in a way that is honest and hopeful. Our upcoming 25th issue of Two Lines features a story by Sandig titled “Against Disappearance”—subscribe here to read it.

Thi Mar Win: BURMESE

Eleven Eleven is a journal to keep your eye on. This issue features three Burmese poets, but Thi Mar Win is the stand out. Her lyricism is haunting.

Uljana Wolf: GERMAN

Deeply interested in the workings of language, Wolf writes in a space Music & Literature describes as “inter-lingual.” Wolf lives in New York and teaches there, making her everyday linguistic existence also a space from which she writes.

Zhai Yongming: CHINESE

A feminist in a culture where that’s a mixed bag, Zhai served a sentence of hard labor for two years during the Cultural Revolution. She is a voice from China you need to hear.

9/8: Two Voices Salon with Bela Shayevich on Svetlana Alexievich

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On Thursday, September 8 we welcome translator Bela Shayevich to discuss her translation of the massive new work by 2015 Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich. Called Second-hand Time, it is a massive look at generation that saw communism fall in the USSR, as well as the first post-Soviet generation in Russia and former USSR states.

We’ll talk with Shayevich about the challenges presented by Alexievich’s idiosyncratic style, which is composed almost entirely of interviews she conducts with ordinary people. We’ll also delve into Alexievich’s consistently groundbreaking career and what her observations of Russia during and after communism tell us about that massive country and where it is headed in the future.

It all takes place at the Two Lines Press offices at 582 Market St., Suite 700 in downtown San Francisco. As always, snacks and beverages will be provided. And if you’ve read Alexievich or have insights about Russia, be ready to jump on in and participate in the conversation.

  • Bela Shayevich in conversation with Scott Esposito on Svetlana Alexievich’s Second-Hand Time
  • Thursday, September 8, 2016
  • doors 5:30, event begins 6:00 pm
  • Two Lines Press offices: 582 Market St., Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94104
  • Snacks and beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) will be served

Flesh of Leviathan by Chus Pato

photo for Chus Pato Blog Post credit ZACH STERN

All month we are celebrating Women in Translation on the Two Lines Press blog. This #WITMonth recommendation comes to us from Two Lines Press’s Emily Wolahan.

It’s a strange, humbling feeling to read a poet in translation for the first time and have to acknowledge that (1) you’d never before heard of the writer, despite her being one of the most important European poets currently working and the book you’re reading is the fifth in a pentology; (2) you’d never before heard of the translator, though she has published gads of books, both her own poetry and her translations; and (3) that you’re not even familiar with the language or its origins, and this is a language out of Western Europe (Galician is spoken in northwestern Spain).

But that feeling, a mixture of shameful ignorance and excited enthusiasm, is one of the best reasons to be reading literature in translation in the first place.

Another fantastic reason is that in Erín Moure’s translation of Chus Pato’s Flesh of Leviathan, we find a haunting, unique voice that speaks to so many questions we ask ourselves as poets and readers. What is the state of the lyric? What is our inheritance from Romanticism? Where do we go from here?

Pato’s poetry offers a contemporary and unflinching examination of these concerns. She writes, “thinking (as art) is a thing of the past,” a statement which not only functions as art, but performs exactly what it criticizes. Declaring a way of thinking “of the past” is precisely what Romantics, modernists, and postmodernists all do. The statement itself owes a debt to the past, a theme that builds and is complicated as the book progresses. In her poem “Ideal Occurrence,” Pato writes:

Without the mirrors
which are a heart which are waters
birds can’t emerge from the abysses
we’ll mend
we’ll mend sense
we’ll mend mirrors
we’ll mend borders
and in mending we’ll not mistake ourselves
for a this
for an I
for a concept

Her “thinking (as art)” arrives not at rejecting past aesthetics, but at clarifying vision. We writers, thinkers and readers won’t “mistake ourselves” for a metaphor because we will mend our lyric tools rather than discard them.

Pato writes in terse, powerful lines. Her book makes you think about your own relationship to the imagination and to metaphor. Sometimes that metaphor is the divine type, like the leviathan of the title, but there is always a deep sense of humanity grounding Pato’s verse. In her poem “Pleroma,” she writes:

Beauty takes leave (the wing of the crow resting on stone the wave of traffic the dawn the call of the crow) leaves it imperfect
In this time only this we’ve only this brief strait, us humans.

Her resonate voice echoes out of the Galician in this well-wrought translation. Plus, don’t miss Jen Hofer’s “unmending” forward: “where the word doesn’t fit is falling / is without measure without mend.”

photo credit: Zach Stern

Some Recommendations for Women in Translation Month

August is Women in Translation Month, and all month here at Two Lines Press we will be highlighting authors you should read to get in on the action. To start things off, here’s a list that we’ve put together. Enjoy!

Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo (tr. Daniel Balderston) — an intimate of Borges and one of the greatest 20th-century poets and short story writers from Argentina

alphabet by Inger Christensen (tr. Susanna Nied) — a major work by one of Denmark’s greatest poets

Why I Killed My Best Friend by Amanda Michalopoulou (tr. Karen Emmerich) — a fun and incisive novel of frenemies and radical Greek politics

Dreams and Stones by Magdalena Tulli (tr. Bill Johnston) — latest book in translation by one of Poland’s leading experimental authors

Sphinx by Anne Garréta (tr. Emma Ramadan) — a “genderless love story” that got its author invited to join the Oulipo

The Vegetarian by Han Kang (tr. Deborah Smith) — groundbreaking work of Korean literature and winner of the 2016 International Man Booker Prize

Letters from a Seducer by Hilda Hilst (tr. John Keene) — enigmatic lyric novel from one of Brazil’s most interesting experimental authors

Massacre in Mexico by Elena Poniatowska (tr. Helen R. Lane) — major work of investigative journalism on the infamous Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City in 1968

The Body Where I was Born by Guadalupe Nettel (tr. J.T. Lichtenstein) — bracing, beautiful autobiographical novel by one of Mexico’s best young writers

So Much for That Winter by Dorthe Nors (tr. Misha Hoekstra) — second book in English by the acclaimed Scandinavian author

Extracting the Stone of Madness: Alejandra Pizarnik (tr. Yvette Siegert) — a tragic suicide, one of Argentina’s greatest poets

The Last Lover by Can Xue (tr. Annelise Finegan Wasmoen) — winner of the 2015 Best Translated Book Award for fiction, an extraordinary experimental novel from a major Chinese author

The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector (tr. Idra Novey) — possibly the most infamous book from the astounding Brazilian author

Hygiene and the Assassin by Amelie Nothomb (tr. Alison Anderson) — first novel by one of Europe’s most acclaimed and controversial authors

Happy Women in Translation Month!

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We at Two Lines Press are very pleased to be celebrating another Women in Translation month! There are many, many incredible women writers around the world, and every translation-lover should make sure to make space in their to-be-read pile for them.

Unfortunately, the statistics behind literature in translation confirm that there are many less women translated than men, and there are corresponding percentages in the major translation awards. Back in 2013, translator Alison Anderson ran down some of the stats at Words Without Borders, and these numbers are much the same today.

One of the principles that guides us at Two Lines Press is to publish equal numbers of male and female authors in our books series, an aspiration that is often made difficult by the publishing cultures of foreign nations, which tend to publish and promote male authors in far greater numbers than female. Looking at our catalog, at the end of this year we will have published 12 books since our first release in 2013, and the stats will be 5 books by female authors, 7 by male authors. So, we are close, but not quite at the parity we reach for.

Our current women in translation are:

Trysting by Emmanuelle Pagano
A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska
Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye
Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt
All My Friends by Marie NDiaye

For some ideas of female authors to read this month, check back at our blog for some recommendations. You can also have a look at the @Read_Women Twitter account, which includes tons of great recommendations of things to read.

And here are the audio pages for some of the recent events we’ve done around female authors:

Don Mee Choi on Kim Hyesoon
Katrina Dodson on Clarice Lispector
Daniel Balderstone on Silvina Ocampo
Michael Reynolds and Ann Goldstein on Elena Ferrante
Karen Emmerich on The Scapegoat by Sophia Nikolaidou

And if you’d like to do more to support women authors in translation, here’s a blog post from last year’s WITMonth that runs down some things you can do to help promote female authors in translation.

Summer Reads: Scott Esposito on João Gilberto Noll and Henry Green

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We’re having a July Summer Sale, with up to 50% off all Two Lines Press titles and back issues of our journal for as low as $2.

Here, Two Lines Press’s Scott Esposito discusses one of his favorite TLP titles, plus one of his best summer reads.

I’ve gotten fond of telling people that I read João Gilberto Noll’s Quiet Creature on the Corner at least three times before I felt I was beginning to get a handle on what was going on in the book. Which is a strange thing, because the book is barely 100 pages, and sentence-by-sentence the syntax isn’t too exotic, so I didn’t expect it to have quite such an easy time dislocating me.

I finally figured out that there are a few things going on here: first of all, although each individual sentence in Quiet Creature isn’t terribly challenging, the leaps that Noll makes from sentence to sentence can be huge. This is a book with a completely bizarre plot, strange time dilation effects, key moments hidden in innocuous clauses, and generally a lot of drama subsumed beneath placid surfaces. I had to read it once really fast just to get a sense of the shape of it, then a couple more times to add detail onto that framework.

By the time I’d gotten through it that third time, I knew this was a really remarkable little book. As I read it I kept thinking of César Aira, who has praised Noll as one of his favorite Brazilian authors. It definitely partakes in the exuberance and caprice and poeticism of Aira, but it’s also very distinct in its own way: particularly, Noll hits emotional notes you tend not to see in Aira (I frequently call him a “darker Aira”), and it’s clear that he’s after different results than the Argentine. Just what results Noll wants is something I’m not quite clear on yet. But right now I’m working through drafts of our upcoming Noll (Spring 2017), Atlantic Hotel, which is perhaps even stranger than Quiet Creature, and I’m trying to figure this out.

In addition to enjoying Noll, this summer I’ve been immersing myself in the glorious writing of Henry Green, which the good people at NYRB Classics will begin re-issuing this fall. Although Green’s name had long been familiar to me in the vague sort of way reserved for authors-I-mean-to-get-to like Patrick White or Muriel Spark, nothing ever made him seem like a must-read until I came across Tim Parks’s praise of him in his recent book, Where I’m Writing From. Parks has impeccable taste, and what he said about the strangeness of Green’s language completely sold me. Having now experienced Green for myself, I can say this he is truly a great and necessary writer. Start with Caught—about a British, World War II fire-fighter—I doubt it will be your last.

You can get Quiet Creature on the Corner, plus 9 other Two Lines Press titles, for up to 50% off in our July Summer Sale. See all the details here.

Summer Reads: Michael Holtmann on Wolfgang Hilbig and Zbigniew Herbert

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We’re having a July Summer Sale, with up to 50% off all Two Lines Press titles and back issues of our journal for as low as $2.

Here, Two Lines Press’s Michael Holtmann discusses one of his favorite TLP titles, plus one of his best summer reads.

2016 has been a hell of year, hasn’t it? Between deeply upsetting accounts of discrimination and violence in the U.S., chilling rhetoric emboldened by the presidential campaign, deaths of exemplary musicians and writers, and the seeming precariousness of the European Union, where does one turn for a touch of summertime cheer?

Sure, you can purchase it as part of our cheekily titled “East European Beach Read Set,” but Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Sleep of the Righteous is unlikely to be the first book to come to mind. And yet I find it consoling. There is something instructive about reading a collection of stories rooted in (or, in the spirit of Hilbig, mired in) the postwar past: The Sleep of the Righteous provides evidence of what everyday life is like in a place cut off from the world. In the first few stories, Hilbig, in Isabel Fargo Cole’s glittering translation, captures the point of view of a boy growing up in East Germany after the end of World War II with gentle unflinchingness. Summer is very much present in “The Place of Storms,” where you can almost breathe in the oppressive heat, and “The Bottles in the Cellar,” where a fruitful bounty has turned overripe. As the book catches up in time to the German reunification, Hilbig’s thinly veiled narrator, morally flawed and knowingly broken, writes with great clarity about the effect of his upbringing:

[My wife] regarded us both, my mother and me, as people who were devoid of independence, eternally anxious to do everything right, and who for that very reason—because they were constantly trying to hide, to avoid reproaches . . . because they had no desires and no questions . . . because they skulked about the house as though under some tyranny from which a devastating verdict might come at any moment—for that very reason did every possible thing wrong.

Even with dark contours, Hilbig’s book inspires in me a sense of forgiveness.

For true uplift this summer, I’ve returned to Zbigniew Herbert’s Mr. Cogito, the masterful if also hard-to-find collection of poems translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter. If you’re seeking a dash of charm to balance out some of this era’s pervasive woe, I don’t think you can go wrong with poems such as “Mr. Cogito Looks at His Face in the Mirror,” “Mr. Cogito Considers the Difference Between the Human Voice and the Voice of Nature,” and “Mr. Cogito Laments the Pettiness of Dreams.” Mr. Cogito also happens to conclude with one of the greatest poems in any language, “The Envoy of Mr. Cogito,” which reminds us, in spite of everything the world throws at us, to:

Be faithful Go

You can get The Sleep of the Righteous, plus 9 other Two Lines Press titles, for up to 50% off in our July Summer Sale. See all the details here.

Vive la France!

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Happy Bastille Day, mes amis! It’s been a sad July for French letters, as earlier this month, legendary poet Yves Bonnefoy died at the age of 93. Bonnefoy, who won the Goncourt prize for poetry in 1987, was part of a generation of writers that included the world-renowned writers Pierre Chappuis and Jacques Réda, both of whom you can read online in our Two Lines journal archives.

If you’re looking for even more French literature to gorge yourself on, we’ve got you covered. Let poet Claire Malroux lead you down into the grottoes, or else float into the clouds with Vénus Khoury-Ghata in poems translated by the award-winning poet Marilyn Hacker. Then sneak off to Switzerland for a rendezvous with Swiss poet Vahé Godel and hop over to Quebec to read Chilean-born Marilú Mallet‘s story about refugees, translated by J.T. Townley.

If you’re looking for something you can bring to the beach, we’re selling our three French titles for 50% OFF this month! That’s TWO books by the incredible Marie NDiaye AND Jonathan Littell‘s The Fata Morgana Books in what we’re calling the “French Riviera Set.” You can buy all three books for $20 here! And read more about our Bastille-storming-worthy July sale!

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Don’t forget to take a moment to reflect on days gone by with Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano. We’ve got audio from our salon with one of Modiano‘s translators, Chris Clarke. Among other things, Clarke touches on Guy Debord, French grammar, and the streets of Paris.

If you’re in the Bay Area this month, escape into the world of French cinema at the Berkeley Pacific Film Archive. They’ll be showing films by François Truffaut this month, including Day for Night, Jules and Jim, and Shoot the Piano Player.

Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center is screening films by young French filmmakers all month. Be young! Be French!

If you’re in sweltering New York tonight, head to Brooklyn’s Community Bookstore for a celebratory French Poetry Party!

Two Lines Back Issues As Low As $2

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JULY ONLY!!!
SALE ON TWO LINES BACK ISSUES!!!

Summer’s the perfect time to connect with your inner nomad and explore the world. Let us help you by stocking up on hard-to-find issues of Two Lines. We’re selling issues 1 through 20 for just $2 (stock permitting), and Issues 21 through 24 are half off!

$$$ SIX DOLLARS !!!

ISSUE 24 — FEATURING Jeffrey Yang, Medardo Fraile, Margaret Jull Costa, Rabee Jaber, Kareem James Abu-Zeid | Buy Now!

ISSUE 23 — FEATURING Yoko Tawada, Alissa Valles, Katherine Silver, Heather Cleary, Prabda Yoon | Buy Now!

ISSUE 22 — FEATURING Lydia Davis, Yuri Herrera, Daniel Levin Becker, Wayne Miller, Jeffrey Angles | Buy Now!

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$$$ TWO DOLLARS !!!

ISSUE 20 — FEATURING Scholastique Mukasonga, Wolfgang Hilbig, Jeffrey Yang, Sergio Chejfec, Susan Bernofsky, and Christopher Merrill | Buy Now!

ISSUE 19 — FEATURING Naja Marie Aidt, Lydia Davis, Katrina Dodson, Daniel Hahn, and Camille T. Dungy | Buy Now!

ISSUE 18 — FEATURING Alejandra Pizarnik, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, César Aira, Marilyn Hacker, Albert Cossery, Luc Sante, and Rosanna Warren | Buy Now!

ISSUE 17 — FEATURING Inger Christensen, Lydia Davis, Oliverio Girondo, Mikhail Shishkin, Mikhail Shishkin, Natasha Wimmer, and Jeffrey Yang | Buy Now!

ISSUE 16 — FEATURING José Manuel Prieto, Anna Szabó, Yoko Tawada, Mahmoud Darwish, George Szirtes, Margaret Jull Costa, and Marilyn Hacker | Buy Now!

ISSUE 15 — FEATURING Antonio Muñoz Molina, Margaret Jull Costa, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, John Biguenet, and Sidney Wade | Buy Now!

ISSUE 14 — FEATURING Tomas Tranströmer, Robert Hass, Vicente Huidobro, Mercè Rodoreda, and Forrest Gander | Buy Now!

ISSUE 13 — FEATURING Jorge Volpi, Suzanne Jill Levine, Dahlia Ravikovitch, Charlotte Mandell, César Vallejo, and Rosmarie Waldrop | Buy Now!

ISSUE 12 — FEATURING Ingeborg Bachmann, John Felstiner, Brother Anthony of Taizé, and Yehuda Amichai | Buy Now!

ISSUE 11 — FEATURING Don Mee Choi, Donald A. Yates, Eunice Odio, and Marilyn Hacker | Buy Now!

ISSUE 10 — FEATURING Pablo Picasso, Suzanne Jill Levine, Marian Schwartz, and Aleksandr Anashevich | Buy Now!

SOLD OUT! ISSUE 9 FEATURING Ko Un, Enrique Anderson-Imbert, Giovanni Giudici, and Félix Morisseau-Leroy

ISSUE 8 — FEATURING Yoko Tawada, Cesare Pavese, Umberto Saba, Amélie Nothomb, X-504, and Richard Plantagenet, Coeur-de-Lion | Buy Now!

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Summer Reads: Emily Wolahan on Kim Kyung Ju and Xu Zechen

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We’re having a July Summer Sale, with up to 50% off all Two Lines Press titles and back issues of our journal for as low as $2.

Here, Two Lines Press’s Emily Wolahan discusses one of her favorite TLP titles, plus one of her best summer reads.

Since only part of any summer is spent on vacation, it’s great to read books that transport me when I’m still at home. Kim Kyung Ju’s book of poems, I Am a Season that Does Not Exist in the World (Black Ocean 2015) is a different cosmic trip on each page. Translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, Kim’s poems pile surrealist imagery and linguistic turns one on the other. There’s a quickness to Kim’s writing; his energy circles in one lyrical, strange place. In “My Sorrow Suddenly Began Like a Love for Mom that Never Existed,” he writes:

Mom sitting on a flower bed blowing a soap bubble. Dad riding my wooden horse. Not returning home. Playing with a bottle cap. We have black shit in our stomach and sleep. Sprinkle a little ramen powder on our palm. Let’s eat. Older brother, the floor inside my outer world, that is the thing that I want to be. Sisters at night secretly draw Korean Barbies with big eyes on the white backs of calendars.

Each poem in I Am a Season immersed me in Kim’s world. It was easy to linger over Kim’s book. I could put it down and know that when I opened up to my spot (or any point of the book), I’d walk straight back into a totally unique vision of reality.

The other book of transformation and transportation that consumed me was Xu Zechen’s Running through Beijing. Where Kim Kung Ju creates an architecture of strange imagination, Xu Zechen speeds us through an other worldly Beijing of hustlers and wishful young people. Running through Beijing was one of the books I couldn’t stop until I finished it. Xu manages to convey in his writing the pace that his main character, Dunhuang, must maintain to get by in Beijing. Dunhuang is a hustler of the first order, a young man briefly in prison for selling fake IDs. Upon his release, he gets into selling pirated DVDs and making terrible, romantic choices. Every encounter he has is on the fly, every relationship casual.

The plot is great in Running and Dunhuang’s voice comes through as sharp and real as I remember Raskolnikov’s did—you either were that kid or you knew that kid. Despite the specificity of his surroundings and choices, Dunhuang himself is universal. And Xu’s descriptions of Dunhuang and Beijing are crucial to that feeling of “being there”:

Another trip to Changhong Bridge, another stack of DVDs. He’d have to go restock that afternoon. Kuang Shan was shocked at how often he was coming back to Cosmic, and how well he was doing selling on his own. Dunhuang said, “I’ve just got one rule: it’s life or death. Or if you want to be pretentious about it: professionalism.”

Translated by Eric Abrahamsen from the Chinese, Xu’s prose creates an incredible landscape of a dusty, fast-paced Beijing without much to offer anyone on the margin.

You can get Running Through Beijing, plus 9 other Two Lines Press titles, for up to 50% off in our July Summer Sale. See all the details here.