October 9: Two Voices Salon with Ottilie Mulzet [EVENT]

Ottillie-MulzetA lot of you are probably familiar with the Two Voices events series that Two Line Press curates for the Center for the Art of Translation (if not, you can see more about that right here).

This fall we’re starting a new initiative in the Two Voices series called Two Voices Salons. These are going to be intimate group discussions that we hold right here in the Two Lines Press offices. For these conversations we’ll be Skyping in fabulous translators who are working on amazing projects. (And for those of you who can’t be here, we’ll be posting the audio to this website once the event is complete.)

Each Salon will have three components: first off, we’ll begin with a short discussion about new and interesting things in the world of translation. This may be a great book you’re reading, a project you’re working on, an upcoming contest or event that you want to share with everyone. This part of the Salon will last about 10 minutes, and it’s designed to be an open forum where we can all share information as to the latest and coolest in the world of translation.

The second part of the Salon will last 45 minutes or so, and it will be our conversation. Your host (me, Scott Esposito) will start out by briefly introducing that evening’s guest and getting the conversation started with some opening Q & A. From there, things will move on to an open conversation, where everyone in the group will have a chance to interact with our guest, and each other.

And then finally, we’ll make some time after the discussion for general socializing. You can get to know one another better, have a look at the latest publications from Two Lines Press, find out more about us and the Center, or just enjoy some of the free booze and food. (Yes, that’s right, these Salons will be alcohol-fueled.)

I hope that sounds amazing to you and that you want to come!

seiobo_there_below_300_462And so, with no further ado, I announce the guest of our first Salon, Skyping in all the way from Prague—Ottilie Mulzet, winner of last year’s Best Translated Book Award for her translation of Seiobo There Below by Laszlo Krasznahorkai. Ottilie will be talking about the amazing work she did with Krasznahorkai’s über-intricate sentences, as well as talking about just what is going on in this astonishing book. She will also be talking about projects of Krasznahorkai’s that she is currently working on, and which will be published in upcoming years.

It all happens at our offices at 582 Market St. Suite 700, at 6:00 pm on Thursday, October 9. This event is open to anybody who can make it to our office at that time on that evening. Bring your copies of Seiobo, and your questions and observations about Krasznahorkai and Ottilie’s work with his prose.

October 15: Dark and Stormy: A Night of Contemporary Swedish Poetry [EVENT]

sbmh-newestJoin us on October 15 at the new Green Apple Books as we present poet and translator Malena Mörling in conjunction with Litquake.

She’ll be reading from The Star By My Head, her striking new anthology of eight contemporary poets from Sweden, including Nobel Laureate Tomas Tranströmer (co-edited with Jonas Ellerström). Published by Milkweed Editions in partnership with the Poetry Foundation, The Star By My Head is a fully bilingual guidebook to one of the richest and mostly starkly compelling poetic traditions. According to Ilya Kamisky it “will help us to see ourselves in a new way.”

As if all that were not quite enough, Mörling will be interviewed on-stage by poet, translator, UC Berkeley professor, and National Book Award– and Pulitzer Prize—winner Robert Hass. Hass, no stranger to European poetry, having translated several volumes by the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz, promises to make this event an even more memorable occasion.

robert-hass-2It all takes place at Green Apple Books’ brand new location at 1231 9th Avenue, sandwiched between Golden Gate Park and Irving St. Come check out the latest developments in one of San Francisco’s greatest indie bookstores, and see an amazing night of Sweedish poetry. Copies of the anthology will be on hand for sale and signing.

Here are all the details:

  • October 15
  • Green Apple Books on the Park
  • 1231 9th Avenue
  • 7:00 PM
  • FREE

And here are the bios:

Malena Mörling is the author of two collections of poems, Ocean Avenue and Astoria. She has received a Rona Jaffe Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lannan Foundation Fellowship. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Robert Hass is the author of half a dozen collections of poetry, and is also the principle translator of the great Polish poet Czesław Miłosz, plus by Pablo Neruda. He received the National Book Award in 2007 for his poetry collection Time and Materials and the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for the same title.

Translating Bolano’s Resurreccion

Roberto_Bolano-reflectionThis is our second blog post by Two Lines Press’s summer intern, Rachel Pesavento Brownell. (You can see her post last week on independent bookstores here.) In this post, Rachel takes apart Bolaño’s poem “Resurrección” and dives in to how Laura Healy’s translation works.

Rachel is a rising senior at Pomona College in Southern California hoping to pursue creative writing (particularly poetry) in a personal and professional capacity. This summer she’s been enjoying the poems of Tony Hoagland, as well as her late professor Hillary Gravendyk.


La poesía entra en el sueño
como un buzo en un lago.
La poesía, más valiente que nadie,
entra y cae
a plomo
en un lago infinito como Loch Ness
o turbio e infausto como el lago Balatón.
Contempladla desde el fondo:
un buzo
envuelto en las plumas
de la voluntad.
La poesía entra en el sueño
como un buzo muerto
en el ojo de Dios.

Resurrection (translated by Laura Healy)

Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver in a lake.
Poetry, braver than anyone,
slips in and sinks
like lead
through a lake infinite as Loch Ness
or tragic and turbid as Lake Balatón.
Consider it from below:
a diver
covered in feathers
of will.
Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver who’s dead
in the eyes of God.

Resurrection (literal translation, google translate)

Poetry enters sleep
as a diver in a lake.
Poetry, braver than anyone,
enters and falls
in an infinite lake Loch Ness
or cloudy and infamous as the Balaton lake.
Contempladla from the bottom:
a diver
wrapped in feathers
of will.
Poetry enters sleep
like a dead diver
in the eye of God.

“Resurrección” (“Resurrection”) by Roberto Bolaño presents a single image—that of a diver traveling far into the depths of a lake—to illuminate his perspective on the craft of poetry. The poem is short, consisting of fifteen brief lines, so in examining Laura Healy’s translation of it into English I had doubts as to just how much art could really be involved. Visually, the Spanish and English versions on opposing pages in The Romantic Dogs seem identical. After going through word by word, however, I soon realized how in the tight space of this powerful piece the most minute decisions carry a surprising weight.

In fact the entire poem arguably hinges on a single decision in translating the verb in the first line: “La poesía entra en el sueño,” literally “Poetry enters sleep,” becomes Healy’s “Poetry slips into dreams.” While “sueño” can easily mean “dream” as much as “sleep,” it’s Healy’s independent reading of “entra” as “slips into” rather than “enters” that fuels the mood of the poem as a whole. While “enters” would be the most accurate translation of the Spanish in a denotative tradition, the choice to include “slips into” sets up the quiet grace of Bolaño’s poetry-as-diver, with the diction clearly fitting an entrance into water specifically. A similar favoring of connotative significance occurs in the fourth line when Healy turns “cae,” meaning “falls,” into the English “sinks,” again staying within the world of aqueous words.

The most interesting decision Healy makes as a translator comes in the next line, though—the phrase “a plomo,” used to describe the manner in which the diver/poetry becomes submerged in the literal/figurative lake. “Plomo” means “lead” in English, so Healy’s version then is both accurate and in line with the poem’s aesthetic nature. Notably, though, “a plomo” is also an expression signifying “true,” “vertically,” or “just right.” While Healy took the phrase apart to form her simile “like lead,” she very well could have finished the thought as “sinks / true,” “sinks / vertically,” or “sinks / just right.”

All of these possibilities are valid and allow Bolaño’s poem to flow organically, yet it seems Healy thought a simile would be most evocative. While I would have still enjoyed this incredible piece had she chosen any of these options, I see the merit of the translator’s creative jurisdiction here. Favoring the simile and introducing the visceral concreteness of the word “lead” over the clumsier abstractness of words like “true” (or simply more boring words like “vertically”) keeps “Resurrection” alive for English readers much as “Resurrección” breathes in its original Spanish: it is complex, it spans the senses—it is felt.

The next few lines contain similar impulses from the translator to project the English version of “Resurección” as an insular, constructed world: “En un lago” becomes “through a lake,” rather than “in a lake” in line six to convey the correct feeling of movement; “turbio e infausto” (“cloudy/muddy” and “unlucky/ill-starred”) become “turbid” and “tragic” in describing Lake Balatón. These adjectives in line seven strikingly appear in the reverse of their presence in the Spanish—“tragic and turbid” instead of “turbid and tragic.” This reordering, as well as Healy selecting “tragic and turbid” rather than “cloudy and unlucky” or “muddy and ill-starred” reveal her focus on sonics in this moment: the specific word choice allows for alliteration while the reversed ordering allows for the hard, strong “tr” sound of “tragic” to introduce the phrase, rather than the concave, already-fallen sound “tur” in “turbid.” The artistic effort is clear, as Healy’s version builds on Bolaño’s original, introducing markedly euphonious additions where there were none to begin with.

Lin eight—“Contempladla desde el fondo”—stands reasonably as “Consider it from below” instead of “Contemplate it from the bottom,” and “un buzo / inocente / envuelto en las plumas / de la voluntad” very literally becomes “a diver / innocent / covered in feathers / of will.” Bolaño’s last sentence, though, stuns the reader and elevates the poem from something beautiful to something moving and deeply thought-provoking: “La poesía entra en el sueño / como un buzo muerto / en el ojo de Dios”—“Poetry slips into dreams / like a diver who’s dead / in the eyes of God.” The diver’s/poetry’s “innocent” journey, so far something long and clean and almost noble, is now suddenly sacrilegious. Healy syntactically ascribes such sacrilege to the last line by saying “like a diver who’s dead / in the eyes of God” rather than “like a dead diver / in the eyes of God” (the literal translation). God is not proudly or even sadly watching the corpse of an idea enter the poet’s mind during sleep. Instead He is reproachful, threatened perhaps by the secular, overly enlightened inspiration poetry introduces to the lake of the human mind, siphoning away some of His authority. Whether this is your reading or not, Healy’s translation suggests a rich, chilling ambiguity in this final sentence that “a dead diver / in the eyes of God” would in no way deliver. As a translator, Healy’s task is to make “Resurrection” exist just as multi-dimensionally as “Resurrección,” and, especially due to the brevity of the work, the slightest of linguistic permutations and transformations are what allow her to accomplish this.

The Naja Marie Aidt Tour [EVENTS]

aidt-head-webTwo Lines Press is very proud to announce that next month we’ll be conducting our first ever author tour! The person we’ll be touring is the woman to the left, the internationally acclaimed author Naja Marie Aidt, who’s book Baboon we are publishing in October. (Even though the tour’s in September, we will have early copies available for sale at each tour stop, and Naja will be signing.)

Baboon has been getting some really cool advance praise. Sarah Gerard, currently with BOMB magainze, previously at McNally Jackson Bookstore, and the author of Binary Star (publishing next year from Two Dollar Radio) says of this book that “Naja Marie Aidt’s stories ask not only what could be hiding beneath the surface of our otherwise calm lives, but what has been hiding there all along. They are odd and surprising, and refreshing in that they offer no conclusions. She is the writer of dark secrets.” The book has also received praise from Inger Christensen–translator Susanna Nied, World Literature Today, and a bunch of European periodicals.

So, without further ado, here are the dates!

9/21: Brooklyn Book Festival

10:00 am | Borough Hall Media Room, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
With Lauren Buekes (The Shining Girls) and Deji Olukotun (Nigerians in Space), moderated by Laura Miller

9/23: Danish American Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

7:00 pm | Danish American Center, 3030 W River Pkwy, Minneapolis, MN 55406
With Dorthe Nors, author of Karate Chop (Graywolf Press, 2013)
Reception to follow

9/24: Diesel, A Bookstore, Oakland, California

7:00 pm | Diesel: A Bookstore, 5433 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618
With Denise Newman, translator of Baboon

9/25: The Booksmith, San Francisco, California

7:30 pm | The Booksmith, 1644 Haight St. San Francisco, CA 94117-2816

9/27: Elliott Bay Books, Seattle, Washington

7:00 pm | Elliott Bay Books, 1521 Tenth Avenue, Seattle WA 98122

9/30: Book Soup, Los Angeles, California

7:00 pm | Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90069

The Local Independent Bookstore 2.0

This post comes to us courtesy of Two Lines Press’s summer intern, Rachel Pesavento Brownell. In it, she returns to her childhood bookstore, Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA, to see about the big changes that have been occurring there. Rachel is a rising senior at Pomona College in Southern California hoping to pursue creative writing (particularly poetry) in a personal and professional capacity. This summer she’s been enjoying the poems of Tony Hoagland, as well as her late professor Hillary Gravendyk.

Rachel will be back next week with a second post investigating a translation of one of Roberto Bolaño’s poems.


My sister was one of those die-hard Harry Potter fans who wouldn’t eat, sleep, or leave her room until she finished each new book. Accordingly, she made sure to acquire the installments at midnight on the day of their release. I, being the baby sister, was swept up on these late night literary dalliances, half-pleased at getting to stay up so late and half-annoyed as I didn’t quite understand what the big deal was about this series. Every midnight release my family attended was held at our local independent bookstore—Kepler’s, in downtown Menlo Park. The establishment went all-out for these events, encouraging participants to dress in character (I distinctly remember spray-dying my hair red to parade as Ginny Weasly) and hosting various activities leading up to midnight, such as a real-life sorting hat (I was always assigned to Hufflepuff).

To me these memories are the essence of what a small bookstore like Kepler’s provides for the community. In fact, these kinds of quirky traditions, carried out with such endearing enthusiasm, are what give an independent bookstore its “independent” status in my opinion—more than the technical independence from the world of corporate chains.

As I found the presence of Kepler’s in my backyard so charming, I was completely surprised when it briefly closed in 2005. Generous patrons in the surrounding area came to the store’s rescue, allowing them to reopen just a couple of months later. But Kepler’s has never been the same. Today the bookstore occupies half of its former floor space, as well as about half its former inventory, it seems. It’s just a little bit disappointing to walk in there now, to a perfectly good bookstore, and feel like something’s missing in the smallest and yet most important way—in the almost imperceptible downshift in energy the room, its products, its patrons, and its staff carry.

The bigger truth, though, is that Kepler’s has done a laudable job and been very fortunate to continue existing at all. I may wax nostalgic about childhood experiences there that no longer seem possible, for me or anyone else, but in reality Kepler’s is going head to head with a multi-faceted and fearsome Goliath: a tremendous increase in online reading options; online book-shopping sites like Amazon.com; chains like Barnes & Noble (although judging by the fate of Border’s they may be facing a perilous future of their own); and a general lessening of public interest in literature.

In light of these challenges Kepler’s, under the leadership of Booksmith co-owner Praveen Madan, has embraced a new program of operation, “Kepler’s 2020,” in which the bookstore joined forces with the non-profit Peninsula Arts & Letters around the time of its reopening. The message I got from Madan is that bookstores are going to have to get creative and rethink basic infrastructure in order to survive: “Kepler’s is the first bookstore in the U.S. to openly acknowledge that the days of for-profit retail bookselling seem to be numbered and begin a pro-active effort to transform itself into a mission-first non-profit community.” And that’s what “Kepler’s 2020” is all about.

Through this restructuring, with Peninsula Arts & Letters in charge of events and community programs, Madan says Kepler’s is hoping to focus on the importance of books beyond the shelf-to-hand profit model: “our mission is to open minds, deepen literacy, and promote critical thinking.” Within the store itself, Peninsula Arts & Letters holds regular readings and talks by successful authors, and the occasional community “BookSwap” as an avenue for book-lovers to socialize and share their favorite works with one another. By taking these steps, as well as planning to extend their programs to in-need schools in East Palo Alto and Belle Haven, Kepler’s seems to be stepping purposefully and proudly into their new “mission-first” philosophy.

But where does that leave the kids who swarmed to Kepler’s past their bedtime, clad in their Hogwarts attire? Where does that leave the adults they’ve become—those who grew up around and came to highly regard such independent bookstores? It seems society, including the bookstores themselves, are encouraging us to look at these places as historical artifacts—the incubators of political and cultural movements (like the Beatniks) that were born in places like Kepler’s, Cody’s, and City Lights—but not as places to count on for the best selection of quality literature, or the best, warmest atmosphere for those who enjoy such quality literature.

“Books are always going to be important,” Praveen Madan insists. “The form (print, electronic, audio) people read is simply a personal choice.” Hopefully he’s right and literature will remain inherently meaningful, despite the unsteady future of the small bookstores that have so hospitably housed it for the longest time.

However, as one of those newly minted “adults” who has grown up during the reign of Amazon and the arrival of ebooks, I still carry memories of what a place like Kepler’s used to mean, and I still feel the form and the venue in which I consume a book is almost as important as the book itself. Comfortably browsing the shelves of my local bookstore, actually holding the new stories or collections of poems in my hands, and then locating my favorite nook in the back of the Fiction section in which to peruse my potential purchases—this routine makes reading so much more exciting to me than pulling out a Kindle and pressing “Buy.”

I remember discovering my favorite author while just sitting in Kepler’s one day during a lazy weekend afternoon, back resting against the end of a wooden stack, eyes poring wondrously over bits of Lolita and Pale Fire. I remember the annual errand in June of stopping at Kepler’s to purchase my summer reading for elementary and middle school—the store would put up giant tables each year of items from the local schools’ lists, helpfully matching each kid to their individual school and then the requisite books in a movingly neighborly spirit I wasn’t even conscious of taking for granted.

So really, while Kepler’s has embraced innovative, practical thinking in navigating the 21st century and is rightfully proud to be standing its ground, there’s also an undeniable undercurrent of loss, an emptiness of impending ends. I think it’s that subtle grief I sense walking in to Kepler’s 2.0 today—the chilling feeling of being somewhere that’s becoming a museum of itself.