The poetic form of flyting, meaning a public literary joust, quarrel, or insult-driven throwdown match, was generally regarded in Medieval/Renaissance Scotland as a jocular (and often court-commissioned) entertainment between friendly competitors, a tournament of talents rather than truly venomous vilifications. The form itself dates back to Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon verse; examples of early flytings include the “Lokasenna” (”Loki’s Flyting”) and the “Hárbarðsljóð” (”Lay of Hárbarðr”), as well as parts of “Beowulf” and Chaucer’s “Parliament of Fowls.” Dunbar, however, set the literary benchmark against Walter Kennedy (a fellow poet and Master of Arts at Glasgow University) for the court of James IV, employing an exhaustive compendium of alliteration, allusion, and altercation. Indeed, Dunbar’s “Flyting” is claimed to mark the first use of “shit” as a personal insult in the Anglophonic canon. Inspired by his example,
Sixteenth century Scots literature blossomed with flytings by such other literary notables as David Lindesay, James V, and Alexander Montgomerie.
- Kent Leatham
The new poems featured here contain the characteristic features of Wróblewski’s verse: urban context, surreal perspective, expressionistic intensity, epigrammatic concision. They highlight his encyclopedic knowledge of literature and culture (with which they remain in dialogue), his fascination with science, technology, and new modes of communication, and his profound understanding of contemporary politics. In his preface to Dwie Kobiety nad Atlantykiem, Polish literary scholar Krzysztof Hoffman establishes Wróblewski’s two current preoccupations: the idea of “planetary power” (as in the poem “Tests on Monkeys”) and “the condition of everyday life.” But these poems also announce the presence of a new element in Wróblewski’s work: a more extensive than ever before use of borrowed material (as demonstrated here by poems like “Renoir and Van Gogh” and “Makamba”). A major technique of conceptual writing, especially as practiced by today’s North American writers like Vanessa Place and Kenneth Goldsmith, here the use of appropriated language acquires a distinctly European flavor.
- Piotr Gwiazda
“Wish You Were Here” is a delightful memoiristic short story by Pavel Lembersky. It brings together the grungy old 42nd Street porn theaters, the New York City blackout of ‘77, JD Salinger, John Lennon, Central Park, American tourists in Moscow, and an immigrant’s gradual acculturation in one of the most exciting cities in the world, to form a work of beauty, humor, and intelligence.
The story is a cacophonic symphony that celebrates all the ugliness and prettiness and nastiness and love that make New York City such an interesting place to live. Con Ed goes bust one day and the streets go dark, but for a young Russian immigrant who’s just learning to make the city his own, there’s no need for panic. In the small armies of men breaking into stores and stealing vacuum cleaners, televisions, and lamps, he divines a sign of salvation: at least the criminal faction believes the electricity will eventually go back on. “Wish You Were Here” is also a romantic picaresque about a guy who’s just trying to find a place to make it with his girlfriend: a movie theater, a dark alley, his parents’ home. The story ends, as all New York stories should, with a miserable apartment search and a wall that looks out onto nothing. We are told, at one point, that “to stay in Brooklyn is to stay an immigrant forever.” This is a million-dollar line, but one that’s also bankrupt–for immigrant, as Lembersky shows, is just as much state of mind as street address.
- Ross Ufberg
The poems featured here come from a series entitled “El asalto a las putas,” or “Whorehouse Raid,” which takes up the old film cliché of gunslingers shooting up a saloon and making off with women thrown over shoulders–an event depicted in the second poem. The cartoonishness of this scene is not downplayed, but it is offset and undermined by the poems that bookend it. The title of the poem that precedes it, “far west will never can forget” is meant to be a Spanish speaker’s interpretation of English, implying that Wild West tropes are perhaps more alive now in the cowboy landscape of northern Mexico. The poem acts as a forlorn meditation on the waning of the Wild West mythos in the face of urban modernity. In contrast, the final three surprise us by introducing the rarely heard voices of the women themselves as they sit around telling stories that begin in bravado and jest, but fall silent when the tales turn to sexual subjugation. Their tragedy is framed by an epigraph in which Hollywood’s idealized Wild West outlaws–Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid–weigh in from beyond the opening poem’s veil of history, saying “did you ever imagine this butch / no sundance this doesn’t smell right to me.”
Readers may find it helpful to note that Sánchez finds his footing more in rock and roll than the literary establishment, claiming that he only became a poet because he couldn’t be a rock star. He’s currently rectifying that with the support of his experimental rock band, un país cayendo a pedazos, which describes itself as “a fresh cocktail of humor, criticism, sex, rock, and performance.” To check out their performance of “el asalto a las putas,” along with other multimedia fun, go to: http://unpaiscayendoapedazos.tumblr.com.
His newest book, jack boner & the rebellion, will be published in February 2014.
- Anna Rosenwong
Forschungsbericht, at less than 40,000 words, is perhaps the most immediately accessible of Fichte’s ethnographic novels: set in the coastal Belizean city of Dangriga over the course of a two-week visit in February 1980, it depicts the attempts of Fichte’s alter ego, the writer Jäcki, and his companion Irma, the alter ego of Fichte’s long-time companion, the photographer Leonore Mau, to investigate the religious practices of the Black Carib (or Garifuna) community in Belize. The centerpiece of the novel is Fichte’s unsuccessful attempt to observe the dugu, the Garifuna feast for dead ancestors, which is presided over by the local buyei, or shaman, to placate the departed.
Forschungsbericht serves as an excellent point of entry into Fichte’s ethnographic writing, as meditation on both the consciousness of the writer and the creative process, and as illustration of the epistemological problem of knowing anything outside oneself, especially the foreign. Fichte, who originally meant his life’s work to be regarded as a history of tourism in the latter half of the twentieth century (and who might best be thought of as a French writer who wrote in German, a cross between Proust and Lévi-Strauss), is a crucial figure in that century’s literature, and deserves to be more widely known outside the German-speaking world.
- Adam Siegel
Faleeha Hassan, who is currently in the United States, was born in Najaf, Iraq, in 1967. She earned an M.A. in Arabic literature and has published several collections of poetry in Arabic: Being a Girl, A Visit to the Museum of Shade, Five Titles for My Friend-The Sea, Though Later On, Poems to Mother, Gardenia Perfume, and her collection of children’s poetry, The Guardian of Dreams. Her works of Arabic prose include Hazinia or Shortage of Joy Cells and Water Freckles (a novella). Her poems have been translated into English, Italian, German, French, and Kurdish. She has received awards from the Arab Linguists and Translators Association (WATA) and the Najafi Creative Festival for 2012, as well as the Prize of Naziq al-Malaika, the Prize of al-Mu’tamar for poetry, and the short story prize of the Shaheed al-Mihrab Foundation. She serves on the boards of Baniqya, a quarterly in Najaf, Sada al Nahrain (Echo of Mesopotamia), and the Iraqi Writers in Najaf association. She is a member of the Iraq Literary Women’s Association, The Sinonu (i.e. Swift) Association in Denmark, the Society of Poets Beyond Limits, and Poets of the World Community.
First published in the Argentine journal Acción in 2011, Jimena Néspolo’s short story “La mujer del dorado” narrates the strange case of Virginia Fhury, a woman with yellow-green eyes who breeds Dobermans on a declining, formerly ostentatious farm in a small Argentine town–and who never seems to age. Virginia becomes a point of obsessive interest among the townsfolk, and the narrator reconstructs the details of Virginia’s life from the gossip and reports s/he overhears. Told from the point of view of a singular, unnamed narrator, s/he invokes the plural consciousness of the town for emphasis, and betrays a sense of lament at the town’s intrusiveness. As the mystery of Virginia’s age unravels, the reader might imagine that so, too, does the bickering cohesiveness of the town. The reader is left to wonder: were Virginia’s age and life a mystery after all, or did the town invent a myth based on whispers of her identity? Small town politics feature as prominently as the eternally youthful golden woman.
I translated this story in cafes in Argentina while on a Tinker Foundation grant for predoctoral research in the summer of 2012. Jimena generously agreed to correspond with me and meet for coffee to discuss the finer points of her writing style and philosophy, which come alive in her artfully constructed bio note. During a meeting over coffee in Buenos Aires, she stressed the importance of the play on words in the title, something that is difficult to carry over to the English from the original Spanish. The “mujer del dorado” simultaneously invokes a woman made of gold; a woman from the mythical El Dorado of South American legends; and a woman of golden color, much like a “carpa dorada” (goldfish). All three associations are important, given the gilded history of Virginia’s family, her mythical status in town, the strange story of the large goldfish passing through her legs, and the way in which she dies. I decided to let the Spanish speak for itself and titled the story “The Dorado Woman” rather than the more literal “The Golden Woman” or “The Woman of Gold,” and throughout the text of the story tried to emphasize the three associations Jimena wrote into the Spanish.
- Kristina Zdravič Reardon
First published as a chapter in her 2009 novel Poletje s klovonom (Summer with the Clown), which is comprised of pieces that might equally be called linked stories or extended prose poems, Nina Kokelj’s “Early Butterfly” draws the reader into Besa’s hypnotic trance from the very first sentence. The train does not just head toward the exotic-sounding Mongolian lake (Uvs Nuur) but heads there “with a sense of longing” that echoes Besa’s. What Besa longs for is not completely revealed in this short piece, though mercy, intoxicating passion, and a sense of feeling all feature as prominent suggestions. The chapter stands alone as a story in its ability to convey fully Besa’s sense of longing, however, as it captures a great variety of emotions and subjects but is here concentrated on one subject: the “him” referred to almost exclusively in italics.Who is Early Butterfly? He is a messiah of sorts for passion and love who floats across Europe and Asia an as-yet-undefined archetype, who found eternity in Amsterdam, and who figures directly into what Kokelj calls “the embroidery of women’s dreams.” As readers, we long to discover who Early Butterfly is alongside Besa–we, too, would like to see him, as Besa states over and over. By the time the collocation is reversed–when Besa is told he would like to see her–the anticipation is palpable, even as we are told that after everything, Besa will leave alone. The days of travel that multiply like grasshoppers lead to this moment: the realization of desire, which is both fulfilled and immediately dissipates. Kokelj explores the contours of longing, love, and what it means to reach a seemingly unreachable destination in alluring detail.
- Kristina Zdravič Reardon
Temptations of Translation
It is virtually impossible to render one’s visions in poetry, let alone in translating it. Ezra Pound wrote in ABC of Reading, “Poetry…is the most concentrated form of verbal expression.” The task gets even more difficult if we take into consideration that Georgy Ivanov’s later poetry is marked with a minimalist economy of means. One has to sacrifice something without losing what the great Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva once defined as “points of anguish” (bolevyie tochki), that is, the points of tension in the poem. In the first poem featured here, I changed the line that reads “I do not care what is going to be afterwards” into “I don’t care if after me there’s the deluge.” But I believe I preserved the unexpected hit of the last line “There is, finally, suicide.” In the second poem, I deemed it necessary to combine two perspectives: the poet’s rather skeptical view of life and his restrained and even estranged view of himself.
- Ian Probstein
Devi Priya’s writing recuperates the India of the past, and issues a challenge to the India of the present. Her essay on the Mandala discusses an often faddish or academic subject without conceding to either camp. The author has had an eventful life, and alongside the argument introduced in the essay’s opening–setting the record straight about the origins and significance of the Mandala–one finds a profound record of the India of another time, before partition. Her memoir, entitled More than one life (Più di una vita), from which the excerpt here is taken, is a lyrical recounting of the shared past of the author and her country. As Devi writes:
Just as the cane thrown by the beautiful young country girl from Rajputana mortally wounds an enormous wild boar fleeing the royal hunt, and in the same moment pierces the prince’s heart, so one is captivated by the memory of a time that is this story’s source and inspiration.
The story is not always linear: as it moves through the childhood, adolescence, and youth of the author, it follows the historical period of the ’30s up to India’s declaration of independence, and beyond. Through an ancient, intimate, and familiar world the reader is shown those ideals, social and cultural, that were transformed into the Beauty celebrated by the mystical poets, and the carefully selective memory of an India that for centuries was adept in preserving the useful and the positive.
In the story, nature, landscapes, aromas, and animals are all living presences, inseparable from the happiest years, rich with knowledge, at school and university, with dear friends and in the good company of many others, at joyful festivals, in the India of the Ganges and the Himalayas. And then among those who practice ancient creative arts, in contact with the local, rural people, discovering their own distant origins.
Memories interweave with the present as in a dance, guiding our protagonist to reveal, according to the rhythm of her intuition, the progressive realization of her “identity.”
Riding along in life’s carriage, the present appears before one’s eyes for a blurred instant, while the past takes on the limpid serenity of a field of flowering mustard, flowers of a shade of yellow called…”basantì,” stretching all the way to the horizon, harbingers of spring… The impression remained in my mind like spring personified. “Basant” is spring, “basantì” the soft yellow of the shoot: its color. Like all things, it comes and goes and returns. You await the point of its return in the cycle…
- Nicholas Benson
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Launched in April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced)
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format)