Yesterday I wrote a long preview of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, the Reading the World Book Club fiction book for March. Today, I’m switching over to our poetry selection—Diorama by Rocío Cerón, translated from the Spanish by Anna Rosenwong (Phoneme Media.)
As always, you can post your thoughts and opinions about all of the RTWBC books in the comments section below, on Twitter using the hashtag #RTWBC, or at the Facebook Group.
Anna Rosenwong’s Introduction
Anna’s introduction to Diorama might not put all readers at ease, but I think it’s worth quoting from here because it does provide a couple suggestions for how to approach the collection:
Translating Rocío Cerón’s Diorama was at first baffling. As an experienced translator and as a less than conventional poet myself, I know better than to seek clarity or narrative or concrete structure in experimental poetry. Nonetheless, it is precisely this sort of legibility that readers often demand of translated work, which can result in selection bias; difficult, experimental, or what Cole Swenson calls “immanent” poetry is often left untranslated in favor of the more familiar and legible. Diorama is not plainly legible. It is essentially impressionistic, stubbornly elusive, and at times outright hallucinatory.
To get closer to this book, I found I needed—and I urge the reader—to set aside notions of tractability and surrender to its associative and auditory insights. So much of reading and translating poetry is training your ear to the text’s private language, particularly in a text like this, where sound often provides the surest foothold amid the rush of cascading images. This emphasis on sound is demonstrated by Cerón’s enveloping, fierce live performances, and perceptive readers may find much to gain by putting the book down and trying the lines aloud for themselves, attentive not only to sound and rhythm but to the play and gripping of words in the mouth. In its repetitions, its incantations, its subtle and unexpected linguistic linkages, this is work that demands to be spoken and heard.
The book opens with “13 Ways to Inhabit a Corner,” which is made up of thirteen short pieces. (Obviously.) Here are two of them:
Ostriches in flight—there are women whose words are ash trees. Shadows stitch together harbors of air. In the midst of the stampede, a hand rests on the arc of a kneecap. Cigar and smoke. Rosy cypress sleep. The scent reaches far beyond the border. From the bureau—power, smile destroyed/ocher temptation, strophic enjambed body. Vestibule.
Jubilation and adoration in parentheses. Above the long hair of that woman, seen in Baden-Baden, a galaxy hangs. No satellite rings. No saintly crown. Aftershock. Pealing bells (no ecclesiastical province) whisper a half-truth. White and cracked. The lips. We need a new password to get back to the world in time. While the word appears, she draws a spiral in the water. Resplendence.
Anna mentioned section “XII” in her intro stating, “To her translator, it appears that Diorama is Cerón’s attempt to find or forge that password.” Which is intriguing to me.
The Sounds of the Poems
Going back to Anna’s suggestion to listen to the poems, to read them aloud, here are two videos that give you a sense of what the poem sounds like.
And, even more interesting, here’s Rocío herself reading “Sonata Mandala to the Penumbra Bird” as part of the Maintenant Series at Poetry Parnassus.
Rocío Cerón is from Mexico City and her work combines poetry with music, performance, and video. In addition to Diorama (or DIORAMA? Sometimes it’s in all caps) she’s published Basalto, Imperio/Empire, and Tiento. Her poems have been translated into a number of languages, including Finnish, French, Swedish, and German.
Here’s an interview with her for Poetry Parnassus:
SJ Fowler: Mexican poetry has long been an immense and formidable tradition, reflecting so much of the passion and invention of Mexican culture itself. Octavio Paz is obviously a world-renowned figure, but I think his anthology of Mexican poetry, in conjunction with Samuel Beckett, really opened many eyes in the English-speaking world to the depth of the poetry historically in Mexico. Is this tradition ever present to contemporary poets?
Rocío Cerón: Mexican poets are children of their own traditions and customs, for better or worse. Young poets disdain their ancestors and they frequently succumb to them. I think this is only natural and I don’t think that this happens only in Mexican poetry. My generation does not live under the weight of Octavio Paz anymore. There is a chorus of voices and ways of looking at the world. The global era has played an important role in poetry; for example, by bringing together traditions as far as those of the Slavic world and the indigenous pre-Hispanic poetry. Using Internet these influences can dialogue and share their experience. Translation has become a great tool to re-signify different traditions and their poetic legacies.
SJF: Multi-disciplinary approaches to poetry seem very important to you, fusing the art form with music and art. How central is this to your work?
RC: I was raised in a family headed by my grandfather, who was a scientist, and my grandmother, who was an avid reader and storyteller. Contemporary art has nurtured my poetry. It has become an important influence in my writing and led me to something I call “expanded poetry” (the type of poetry that seeks a dialogue and allows for breaking borders between disciplines). Writing from many angles has been a natural process for me. I am interested in the kind of transversal poetry I call Galaxy Projects, meaning a fusion of language, music, action, video and the body.
It’s a really interesting interview—be sure and check out the whole thing! There’s also a short conversation with Rocío and Anna that World Literature Today published shortly after Diorama won the Best Translated Book Award.
If all goes according to plan, we’ll run a short interview with her some time next week.
Anna Rosenwong is a former judge of the Best Translated Book Award, and has a MFA from the University of Iowa and a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Irvine. She has also translated José Eugenio Sánchez’s Suite Prelude a/H1N1 and has published an original collection of poetry, By Way of Explanation.
And from this past ALTA conference, here’s a video of Anna and David Shook (publisher of Phoneme Media) talking about this translation and the editing process.
If you want another entryway to this collection, I’d recommend checking out this review by Anthony Seidman that appeared in Entropy.
Yet for all its experimental or “immanent” and “stubbornly elusive” language as Rosenwong writes in her informative translator’s note, Cerón’s Diorama skillfully situates itself among longer poems from Latin America which use collage, kaleidoscopic experimentation and an all-observant eye to fly over the history and landscape of a country, people or epoch. Cerón´s new collection commences with the micro, ants foraging for candy in a room, and then opens up to the macro in wider thrusts, addressing a “Pan-Latin American” exploration of “Silenced sun on the Rio Grande or the Amazon,” South America and the harrowing legacy of the Guarani and “Columbus on his knees in Hispaniola: the blindness of deer and the cunning need to procure prey: Malinche, the first American Babel.”
Hopefully by now you’re interested in reading Diorama and participating in this month’s RTWBC!
Yesterday afternoon, Tom and I recorded a new podcast about the February Reading the World Book Club books—On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa, and Monospace by Anne Parian, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan. Since we didn’t get that many comments or questions (which is too bad, since that’s one of the things that made the podcast with Adrian Nathan West so fun), we spent a lot of time talking about what we liked in the Chirbes, and then fumbled around trying to sound smart while talking about Monospace. This should be up in the next couple days so that you can laugh at us . . .
We also previewed the March titles a bit, which led to a major complication . . . the poetry book that I had previously announced has been delayed, which is problematic. So, instead, what we thought we’d do is slot in Rocío Cerón’s Diorama, which won the 2015 Best Translated Book Award and is translated from the Spanish by Anna Rosenwong and is readily available from Phoneme Media in a bilingual edition.
Diorama will join Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, which will serve as this month’s work of fiction. The Vegetarian is translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith and available from Crown in the U.S., Portobello in the UK.
I’m working up introductory posts about both of these books, and will have those up by Thursday, but in the meantime, feel free to post your thoughts or comments below, using #RTWBC on Twitter, or at the Facebook Group.
Later this week, I’ll also post an update with info on RTWBC books for April, May, and June, so that participants can plan ahead.
The eighth annual Best Translated Book Awards were announced at BookExpo America this afternoon, with Can Xue’s The Last Lover, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, taking home the award for fiction, and Rocío Cerón’s Diorama, translated from the Spanish by Anna Rosenwong, winning in poetry.
Thanks again to the support of Amazon.com’s giving programs, the winning authors and translators will each receive $5,000.
“I’m so excited,” Can Xue said when she was reached for a comment, “I think it’s the most beautiful thing that has happened in my whole life. I always think of the BTBA as a very prestigious prize rewarding writers who have the great courage to achieve their literary ambitions.”
According to the jury, Can Xue’s (“tsan shway”) The Last Lover (published by Yale University Press) was the most radical and uncompromising of this year’s finalists, pushing the novel form into bold new territory. Journeying through a dreamworld as strange yet disquietingly familiar as Kafka’s Amerika, The Last Lover proves radiantly original. If Orientalists describe an East that exists only in the Western imagination, Can Xue describes its shadow, offering a beguiling dream of a Chinese West. Annelise Finegan Wasmoen’s translation succeeds in crafting a powerful English voice for a writer of singular imagination and insight.
The judges also named three runners-up in fiction: Harlequin’s Millions by Bohumil Hrabal, translated from the Czech by Stacey Knecht and published by Archipelago Books, for the wonderful lyricism of its winding sentences; Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney and published by Coffee House Press, for the exceptional promise it demonstrates as a debut novel; and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein and published by Europa Editions, for its vibrant characters and sweeping narrative power.
On the poetry side of things, David Shook, the co-founder and editorial director of Phoneme Media “congratulates translator Anna Rosenwong for her masterful translation of Rocío Cerón’s Diorama, our first book of poetry and one of the most fascinating and important books to have been published in Mexico this century. Phoneme Media is incredibly grateful for the support of the BTBA’s judges and organizers, to Three Percent and its indefatigable director Chad Post, to our fellow shortlisted publishing houses, translators, and authors, and to our readers around the world. Congratulations, Anna and Rocío, on receiving this much deserved award!”
Past winners of the fiction award include: Seiobo There Below and Satantango, both by László Krasznahorkai (recent recipient of the Man Booker International Prize) and translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet and George Szirtes respectively; Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston; and, The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal. (Jansson and Teal are the only author and translator on this year’s fiction shortlist who have previously won the award.)
In terms of the poetry award, past winners include: The Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini, translated from the Italian by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky; Wheel with a Single Spoke by Nichita Stănescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter; and Spectacle & Pigsty by Kiwao Nomura, translated from the Japanese by Kyoko Yoshida and Forrest Gander.
This year’s fiction jury is made up of: George Carroll, North-North-West and Shelf Awareness; Monica Carter, Salonica; James Crossley, Island Books; Scott Esposito, Conversational Reading and Center for the Art of Translation; Jeremy Garber, Powell’s Books; Katrine Øgaard Jensen, Asymptote; Madeleine LaRue, Music & Literature; Daniel Medin, American University of Paris, Cahiers Series, Quarterly Conversation, and the White Review; and Michael Orthofer, Complete Review.
The poetry jury includes: Biswamit Dwibedy, poet; Bill Martin, translator, critic, organizer of The Bridge; Dawn Lundy Martin, poet; Erica Mena, poet and translator; and Stefan Tobler, And Other Stories and translator.
Here it is, the first of the two announcements about this year’s Best Translated Book Award finalists! Listed below are the six poetry titles that are in the running for this year’s award.
The two winning books (for poetry and fiction) will be announced at BookExpo America at 2:30pm on Wednesday, May 27th, at the Eastside Stage in the Jacob Javitz Center.
Following that, we will be gathering at 5pm at The Folly on 92 West Houston St. Anyone interested in celebrating the BTBA and all the authors and translators who published books last year should definitely come out for this.
OK, here are the six poetry collections still in the running for the $10,000 in cash prizes (half to the author, half to the translator):
Diorama by Rocío Cerón, translated from the Spanish by Anna Rosenwong (Mexico, Phoeneme)
Lazy Suzie by Suzanne Doppelt, translated from the French by Cole Swensen (France, Litmus Press)
Where Are the Trees Going? by Vénus Khoury-Ghata, translated from the French by Marilyn Hacker (Lebanon, Curbstone)
Diana’s Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated from the Spanish by Yvette Siegert (Argentina, Ugly Duckling)
Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties by Lev Rubinstein, translated from the Russian by Philip Metres and Tatiana Tulchinsky (Russia, Ugly Duckling)
End of the City Map by Farhad Showghi, translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop (Germany, Burning Deck)
Check back at 10:30 to find out which titles make the fiction shortlist!
The Guest in the Wood by Elisa Biagini, translated from the Italian by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky (Italy; Chelsea Editions)
I love The Guest in the Wood. I didn’t expect to; it snuck up on me. I anticipated respecting the poems, appreciating the marvelous translations by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky, and the elegant volume from Chelsea Editions, but masterful translation and thoughtful publishing have been the rule in this competition. Dozens and dozens of brilliant translations have invited themselves into my home over the past months, but this book asked me in and wouldn’t let me leave.
I say it snuck up on me because, unlike many other remarkable submissions, The Guest in the Wood did not announce itself as exotic, exhaustive, avant-garde, genre-defying, or canonical. The Guest in the Wood is humbly subtitled, “A Selection of Poems 2004-2007,” and it was with no more warning than this that I ventured into the wood and became Biagini’s guest.
From the first, these surreal, understated poems create an uncanny physical space that is equally domestic, disturbing, and luminous, their airy structure leaving room for the reader-guest to receive their hospitality and offer something in return (the Italian ospite meaning both “guest” and “host”). The poet’s and translators’ forceful language presses us to “attend and rediscover” the quotidian and overdetermined realities of, as Angelina Oberdan explains in her introduction, “the self, the other, the body, and the private rituals of our lives.”
Born in 1970, Elisa Biagini is herself a translator of contemporary North American poetry, and part of my attraction to her work surely comes from a sense of the poems in translatorly conversation with influences such as Anne Carson, Emily Dickinson, and Adrienne Rich. Tellingly, The Guest in the Wood merges two of Biagini’s six collections, The Guest and Into the Wood, with the wood representing a very different kind of contained space than the home, one synonymous with fairy tale archetype and danger. With its evocation, Biagini’s homey interiors are revealed to be haunted, their spare restraint repeatedly performing domestic cleanliness and order in a perpetual struggle to manage threatening guests.
The plates are never left out
because otherwise the dead will come
and sop bread in the broth
so that a misplaced spoon won’t be noticed
the next morning.
You don’t want them counting the crumbs
reading your fortune in the leftovers
tasting your body
I’ve been thrilled to find that my fellow BTBA judges were likewise caught out and drawn in by this book’s unapologetically feminine sense of embodiment and urgency—Biagini’s sharp distortions of ironing boards and dirty dishes as compelling, political, and philosophical as any of the more obviously ambitious or grandiose works we read. The fact that this collection is Biagini’s first in English is a credit to Chelsea Editions for bucking the publishing preference for safety and known quantities, as well as testament to both the message of Three Percent and the importance of projects like the Best Translated Book Award. You should read this book. And it should win.
His Days Go By the Way Her Years by Ye Mimi, translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury (Taiwan; Anomalous Press)
the train sidles into the station at the stroke of noon like a tidy row of bento
you toss off your mackintosh and fly, fly away
calling to mind a practical exercise slanting rhymes:
bite off the break
skirt the precipitous brink
the ghosts in the first level basement
the coming of man from Mars
you open up your backpack then
knock back a bootle of Español
for that next tastefully unfamiliar excursion
(Ye Mimi excerpted from “I Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know: For ‘Sis’” )
In the end, only one chapbook proved muscular enough to make it onto the BTBA poetry shortlist. And at just 29 bilingual pages and 10 poems, it does feel audacious to set this slim introduction to a young poet against the likes of a door-stopping volume of Roberto Bolaño’s complete poetry and a long overdue first English collection of Sohrab Sepehri, one of Iran’s foremost poets of the 20th century. But Ye Mimi’s His Days Go By the Way Her Years is an audacious book. Its limited run was beautifully letterpress printed by Erica Mena at the envelope-pushing Anomalous Press, having been chosen as a finalist in their inaugural chapbook contest by Christian Hawkey. Most importantly, the marvel of its translation comes thanks to that passionate proponent of experimental Taiwanese poetry and beloved American Literary Translators Association stalwart, Steve Bradbury. In less virtuosic and fearless hands than his, this collection would be an impossibility. I am grateful to all of these collaborators for introducing me to Ye Mimi and her swirling, sometimes manic charm. Chapbooks are often overlooked, but they represent an unparalleled avenue for small, ambitious publishers to bring us the world.
The ten exclamatory, cuttingly modern poems of His Days Go By the Way Her Years are shot through with sonic gamesmanship, punning, the unbridled verbing of nouns, and voraciously transcultural allusion. Many also perform an oscillation between coy formal disruption and seductive dream logic, as in the typographically resistant line: “\ every one of the ◻◻ / could find themselves sluiced by the ◻◻◻ into a water melon frappe of a summer season.” The poems are well aware of their own cleverness, but resist turning precious as they revel in grotesque particulars and subversions of the ordinary stuff of life and poetic diction. In “The More Car the More Far,” Ye Mimi asserts:
Solitude is somewhat sweeter than water.
Fish are crunchier on the outside, softer in the middle than the sea.
From this day henceforth I will go forth and wilderness the wilderness.
Ye Mimi does sing, and His Days Go By the Way Her Years represents just a small sample of Bradbury’s translations of her work. May it pave the way for more joyful, defiant, aggressively wonderful poems, more wildernessing, more international literary prizes for Ye Mimi!
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