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!


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.