Tedi López Mills was born in Mexico City in 1959. She studied philosophy at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and literature at the Sorbonne. She has published ten books of poetry, several of which have received national prizes in Mexico: Cinco estaciones, Un lugar ajeno, Segunda persona (Premio Nacional de Poesía Efraín Huerta), Glosas, Horas, Luz por aire y agua, Un jardín, cinco noches (y otros poemas), Contracorriente (Premio Nacional de Literatura José Fuentes Mares), Parafrasear, and Muerte en la rúa Augusta (Premio Xavier Villaurrutia). Her other honors include a 1994 Young Artists grant from the Fondo Nacional para las Culturas y las Artes, a 1995 translation fellowship from the U.S./Mexico Fund for Culture, and, in 1998, the prestigious inaugural poetry grant awarded by the Octavio Paz Foundation. She has translated into Spanish the work of numerous American, English, and French poets and, very recently, Anne Carsons’s Autobiography of Red. A selection of her poems, While Light is Built, translated by Wendy Burk, was published by Kore Press. López Mills has been a member of the Sistema Nacional de Creadores since 2009.
In a collection of six short stories, Véronique Bizot explores, with humor and a remarkable eye for the absurd in daily life, the themes of solitude and anxiety. In “The Gardeners,” an old man living on a grand estate watches the gardeners around him with mistrust. In “The Hotel,” young newlyweds under the watchful eye of an elegant elderly lady have their honeymoon disrupted by an invasion of rats. “George’s Wife” tells of two friends, the tragic accident that leaves one paralyzed, and the ensuing and unavoidable vengeance. Another story tells of Lamirault, a sworn enemy of the narrator: his funeral proves that loathing, like loving, is stronger than death.
In a review of El cutis patrio, from which the three poems featured here are taken, the acclaimed Cuban Poet Jose Kozer states that Eduardo Espina is “perhaps the most imaginative living Spanish-language poet” (Letras Libres, 2007). El cutis patrio was originally published in 2006 by Editorial Aldus (Mexico City), and was reissued in 2009 by Mansalva (Buenos Aires). It has been the subject of various dissertations and scholarly studies, including a 2009 book by Spanish linguist Enrique Mallen called Poesia del lenguaje: de T.S. Eliot a Eduardo Espina (Editorial Aldus, 2009). For its complexity and originality, Mallen situates El cutis patrio in the same category as John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror and Lyn Hejinian’s My Life.
Ibrahim al-Koni, like Joseph Conrad, has found international acclaim as a novelist while publishing primarily in his second language, Arabic, which he learned to read and write at the age of twelve. The Tuareg language, Tamasheq, has its own alphabet, Tifinagh, that dates back at least to the third century BCE. The American scholar and translator Elliot Colla, in a piece written for al-Ahram after al-Koni’s most recent award, remarked that “Al-Koni’s reception with Arab audiences is particularly significant since it reminds us of one of the oldest strengths of Arabic literature, namely that for its entire history, the Arabic language has served as a universal literary language.”
In the same article, Colla also commented: “By now, al-Koni has earned as many literary awards as any other living Arab author, and he has done so across the entire breadth of the Arab world, from the Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike most Arab novelists who still tend to be read as national writers (Egyptians, Lebanese, Iraqis and so on), al-Koni is one of a few whose reception has effectively transcended the national borders that divide the Arab world.”
The excerpt featured here is the final chapter from the final volume of a trilogy consisting of “New Waw,” “The Puppet,” which was released by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin in 2010, and “The Scarecrow.” This trilogy traces the rise (first volume), flourishing (second volume), and destruction of a Tuareg (nomadic Saharan Berber) oasis community. The novel is set in the mythological past, but the oasis also represents the modern state of Libya. The final ruler of the oasis is literally a demon who has adopted a human form, which he sheds when the armies of the world are besieging the oasis. Some readers may choose to understand the portrait of this final ruler of this oasis community, which was named for the lost paradise of the Tuareg people, the original Waw, as a caricature of a current head of state.
In September 2007, a group of ethnic minority authors in France released a literary manifesto under their group’s name, Qui fait la France?. In it, they call into question the premise and intention of mainstream, introverted fiction in France, and ask for a place in the world of French letters as authors who believe in committed and realist fiction. In keeping with their literary manifesto and intention, the authors of the collective Qui fait la France? engage in outwardly committed writing that explores broadly the themes of human suffering and aspiration.
Simultaneous to the publication of their manifesto in two French magazines, Les Inrockuptibles and Le Nouvel Observateur, the authors of the collective headed by Mohamed Razane released a livre-manifeste with Editions Stock, Chroniques d’une société annoncée, in which each member of the collective contributed a story. For their second collective publication, each author of Qui fait la France? decided to write a short story revolving around the same imagined fait divers: “The following day, the papers will publish Agence France Presse content in their headlines: ‘An eighteen-year-old man was sentenced to prison for eight months on the charge of breaking storefront windows during an anti-Sarkozy demonstration, which unraveled Monday evening in the Bastille neighborhood’ AFP 11/05/07.” Mohamed Razane has tied his story to the incident that provoked the riots in 2005 on the periphery of France’s largest metropolitan centers.
In Mohamed Razane’s story, “Au loin, près de nous” (“So far so close by”), the unnamed narrator’s identity remains less important than the identity and circumstances of the two male characters, Toni and Abdel, who ultimately are confounded in her mind. Toni is a young man of North African descent who has an accrued sensibility to the injustices around him; the primary space he occupies in the story is the Parisian subway system, where he takes stock of a disempowered humanity and lashes out against the political class. Abdel is a young Moroccan man whose backstory we learn much more about: the narrator falls in love with Abdel during a trip to Morocco, then convinces him to join her in France. Abdel’s outcome is tragic, and part of the narrator’s dilemma is to decide if she is in some way guilty for his demise. Meanwhile, through the story’s juxtaposed narration, Toni comes before a judge in France, who has to decide if he is guilty of vandalism and violent conduct. What brings the two male characters together is their powerlessness to change their destiny. What separates them in the context of the story are two very different registers, poetic and militant.
In the end, the alienation expressed by the story’s title resonates doubly in Abdel’s alienation from his homeland of Morocco, which becomes a sort of lost idyll, and Abdel’s inner alienation. Razane’s story is at once committed writing (through its themes), artistic exploration (through its juxtaposed images, registers, and narration), and a call to action–to attend to those near and far.
Mohamed Metwalli was born in Cairo in 1970. He was awarded a BA in English Literature from Cairo University, Faculty of Arts in 1992. The same year, he won the Yussef el-Khal Prize by Riyad el-Rayes Publishers in Lebanon for his poetry collection Once Upon a Time. He co-founded an independent literary magazine, el-Garad, in which his second volume of poems, The Story the People Tell in the Harbor, appeared in 1998. He was selected to represent Egypt in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 1997, and served as Poet-in-Residence at the University of Chicago in 1998. He compiled and co-edited Angry Voices, an anthology of offbeat Egyptian poetry published by the University of Arkansas press in 2002. His most recent collection, Lost Promenades, was published by al-Kitaba al-Ukhra in 2010.
Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) is sui generis among French poets, although sometimes classified as a purveyor of “Symbolism.” As the featured sonnet shows, his verse was tinted by the emphasis on spleen and ennui with which French poetry has been largely identified since Baudelaire’s time. Reading “Angoisse,” I got a funny feeling that, if Mallarmé had lived in the 20th century, he might have enjoyed getting drunk with the likes of Charles Bukowski. (Jenna Le)
Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855) is typically classified among the French Romantics. The narrowness of the gap between his birth year and death year can be attributed to depressive tendencies, which led him to hang himself, leaving a suicide note for his family: “Don’t wait up for me, for this night will be a black-and-white one.” Alongside his extraordinary poetry, Nerval should also be remembered for the tender affection he showed his pet lobster, Thibault. All crustacean-admirers cannot help but agree with his vehement declaration that “Lobsters are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don’t bark, and they don’t gnaw upon one’s monadic privacy like dogs do.” Nerval’s sonnet “El Desdichado” takes its title from Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott’s Romantic novel about the Crusades, in which “El Desdichado” is the alias adopted by the knight Ivanhoe after he is disinherited by his father for falling in love with the wrong woman. In Spanish, “el desdichado” means “the unfortunate one.”
Phan Nhiên Hạo’s poems are “fueled by a mix of strife, hope, love, and futility,” as he writes in Manufacturing Poetry. Phan writes elusive, surreal, yet emotionally charged poetry shadowed by his experience of growing up in post-war Vietnam and living in the diaspora. The six poems translated here, selected from his two collections in Vietnamese, Thiên Đường Chuông Giấy (Paradise of Paper Bells, 1998) and Chế Tạo Thơ Ca 99-04 (Manufacturing Poetry 99-04, 2004), exhibit the qualities that readers, critics, and fellow poets have admired about Phan Nhiên Hạo’s work: a poetic idiom drawn from the cadences of ordinary speech and rhythms of everyday life; the way his seemingly smooth surfaces are punctured by arresting images, surprising phrases, and shocks of insight; the spectral presence of war and exile; his faithful acts of excavating buried histories and mourning the unmourned; the bluesy, melancholic, and ironic consciousness at the center and circumference of his complex and moving music. Unpublished and unpublishable in Vietnam, Phan Nhiên Hạo’s poetry circulates underground, online, and overseas. Fortunately for English readers, his work is available in the excellent translations by Linh Dinh collected in Night, Fish, and Charlie Parker (Tupelo Press, 2006). I try my hand at translation here out of a creative and collaborative desire to respond to the call of the poems themselves. I hope this small clutch of poems by Phan Nhiên Hạo will do justice to his necessary poetry–or at the very least, shine a spotlight on an unnecessarily neglected poet.
Jorge Velasco Mackenzie was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 1949. In 1983, he was awarded First Prize in the José de la Cuadra Concurso Nacional. He is the author of the novels El Rincón de los Justos (1983), Tambores para una Canción Perdida (1986), and El Ladrón de Levita (1990); the fiction collections De Vuelta al Paraíso (1975), Como Gato en Tempestad (1977), Raymundo y la Creación del Mundo (1979), Músicos de Amaneceres (1986), and Clown y Otros Cuentos (1988); the poetry collection Algunos Tambores que Suenan Así (1981); the anthology Palabra de Maromero (1986); and the play En Esta Casa de Enfermos (1983).
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since 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).