Marina Temkina was born in Leningrad in 1948 and emigrated to New York City in 1978. She has published four books of poetry in Russian: Chasti chast’ (A Part of A Part), V obratnom napravlenii (In Reverse), Kalancha (Watchtower), and Canto Immigranto. Temkina’s first book in English, WHAT DO YOU WANT? (just out from Ugly Duckling Presse) consists of several texts made for installations or as part of handmade artist’s books, and two poems translated from Russian (by Vladislav Davidzon and Alexander Stessin) accompanied by installation images and original drawings by the author. Many of her other poems have been translated by Alfred Corn. She is a past recipient of an NEA grant and a Charles H. Revson Fellowship on the Future of New York at Columbia University.
Alexei Khvostenko (1940-2004) deserves a larger, “literary” audience, but his “outsider” status is unlikely to be reversed posthumously and outside the Russian context, requiring an appreciation of him as a multi-artist (poet, singer/bard, collagist/sculptor) and an awareness of his immense popularity as a persona non grata during the exhilarating cultural moment of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the Soviet status quo was still in place but the liberating/decadent influences of the West had flooded in. Suspector (literally: “he who suspects”) is the title poem of Khvostenko’s first samizdat book (1965) at the height of the Khruschev “thaw” which was to be shortly followed by the suppression and stagnation of the Brezhnev years. These words were revolutionary, eliciting the disproportionate response from the authorities that made the Russian outsider bards Pop Icons. Khvost (his nickname means “Tail”) lived in Paris after his 1977 expulsion from the USSR.
Additional translations of Bei Dao’s poetry by Clayton Eshleman and Lucas Klein may be found in Bookslut (September 2009); Jacket (Issue 38); and Jerome Rothenberg’s Poems and Poetics blog (October 2, 2009). A set also will appear in a forthcoming issue of New American Writing.
All of the poems have been translated and published with the permission of the author.
Earlier translations of the four poems presented here appear in Landscape Over Zero (New Directions, 1996; translated by David Hinton and Yanbing Chen).
Described by Álvaro Mutis as “Latin America’s best-kept secret,” Juan Sánchez Peláez was born in Altagracia de Orituco in 1922. He attended university in Chile in the 1940s, where he was associated with the radical surrealist group Mandrágora. He lived in Paris in the 1950s, and in 1969, he was a Fellow at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, after which he lived in New York City for two years. He worked as a teacher, journalist, and diplomat in Venezuela, Colombia, France, and the United States. Between 1951 and 1989, he released seven collections of poetry. In 1975, he was awarded Venezuela’s highest literary prize, the Premio Nacional de Literatura. Juan Sánchez Peláez died in Caracas in November of 2003. A definitive edition of his work, Obra poética (Lumen, 2004), was published in Barcelona, Spain after his death.
Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-55) is perhaps the best-known Modernist fiction writer in South Asia. His stories won him censure during his lifetime, including five trials for writing obscene material (in each instance he was acquitted). Since his death, his fiction has been widely cited by South Asian writers and his border stories have been used in classrooms to help students come to some understanding of the atrocities that took place during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. His stories that take place in Bombay offer another view of the times—full of the characters of pulp fiction, they depict a seedy world of opportunity, ambiguous morals, and cosmopolitan energy. His evocative use of the colloquial (and swear words), as well as his often abrupt and ambiguous conclusions, can be seen as attempts to destabilize the prim sense of morality that dominated the subcontinent’s social sphere during his lifetime.
Ursula’s Dream is a multi-layered construction, a coded journey that redefines the rules of the epic genre. Any outline of the plot would be misleading, since María Negroni’s method is to question the distinction between dream or vision and historical, fictional, and legendary reality, while refusing to respect the limits of chronology. The medieval histories of Ursula that inspired this thoroughly contemporary novel recount the life of a young woman near the end of the first millennium. Heiress to the throne of Cornwall, in order to escape immediate marriage to a suitor and on the advice of an angel, she lays down three conditions: that her suitor be baptized, that she be supplied with eleven ships and eleven maidens to command them, and that she be given three years to make a pilgrimage to Rome. Ursula—according to the many surviving versions of her life—made the pilgrimage with her companions and was killed before her return. Accounts of her death differ; perhaps she died at the hands of Attila the Hun, perhaps her vengeful suitor pursued and killed her.
On the whole, the novel follows these legendary events, depicting Ursula’s youth at the court of Cornwall and the arrival of the suitor’s messengers, then introducing her companions and narrating the progress of their journey while incorporating the characters—from bishops to minnesingers—that they meet along the way. There are debates, crises, and defections among the women, a plot of sorts. Yet the question of Ursula’s death remains unresolved. The larger action of the novel takes place out of time, as Ursula’s Dream continually departs from the linear, through apparitions and presentiments, embodying figures from other realms of reality: some who died before the pilgrimage began and others who were to live—and write—of her in future centuries.
Expressing the polyphony of inner life through female voices, the novel reveals the depth and risk of feminine experience in a world controlled by patriarchal institutions. Its concerns are millenary: the confrontation with death, time, love, historical circumstances, and destiny. In endowing them with a contemporary perspective, Ursula’s Dream rediscovers for its readers the spiritual quest that gives a deeper meaning to the epic gesture.
The narrator of the short story “Behind a Latched Window” is a female school assistant in Kuwait. She describes her experiences during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (August 2, 1990 to February 26, 1991) from behind her latched window. While trying to calm her elderly mother, the terrified narrator observes the arrival of Iraqi tanks and soldiers in front of her house. Although at first she finds fault with her fellow citizens for not putting up a fight, she herself, despite her conservative social views, finds herself becoming part of a vibrant Kuwaiti resistance movement. The hallucinatory ending may reflect dramatic events outside her window or inside her own mind.
The narrator of the novella The Diesel explains that being raped in a mosque when he was fifteen forced him to confront troublesome questions about his authentic gender early in life. When he turns eighteen, he joins his sister’s clique of widows and divorcées. Later he becomes an acclaimed performer with his sister’s otherwise all female song and dance troupe. After temporarily losing his will to perform, he returns—more resolute than ever—as the troupe morphs into a pro-democracy movement. From the United Arab Emirates comes this exploration, which is partly told in the form of a folkloric fantasy, of the meaning of sexual identity and of the links between gender liberation, the arts, and rebellion against patriarchy. This excerpt is the novella’s concluding section.
Chapters 4-8 of this translation appeared in a slightly different form in Banipal: Magazine of Modern Arab Literature no. 35, Summer 2009.
Thani al-Suwaidi was born in the United Arab Emirates in 1966. He has published two collections of poetry: Liyajiff Riq al-Bahr (So the Sea’s Foam May Dry Out, (Ittihad Kuttab wa-Udaba’ al-Imarat, 1991), and al-Ashya’ Tamurr (Stuff Happens, Dar al-Intishar al-Arabi, 2000).
His novella, al-Dizil (The Diesel) was published in 1994 by Dar al-Jadid in Beirut, reprinted in Baghdad in 2006, and then published in 2008 by al-Maktab al-Misri lil-Matbu‘at in Cairo.
A Celebration of the Obscure and the Luminous, unlike any previously translated work of Adonis, traverses the entire expanse of Arab poetics, making it a uniquely representative text. It contains the elemental lyricism of pre-Islamic poetry, the prophetic and scientific dimensions of the Islamic tradition, and the iconoclasm of his ancient predecessors who defy categorizations in time or aesthetics. Here, knowledge dances with the unknown, history converses with oblivion, and archaic forms present themselves before the reader in the robes of an eternal, luminous present.
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