Over the course of this week, we will be highlighting all 6 BTBA Poetry Finalists one by one, building up to next Friday’s announcement of the winners. All of these are written by the BTBA poetry judges under the rubric of “Why This Book Should Win.” You can find the whole series by clicking here. Stay tuned for more information about the May 3rd ceremony.
The Invention of Glass by Emmanuel Hocquard, translated from the French by Cole Swenson and Rod Smith, and published by Canarium Books.
Brandon Holmquest is a poet, translator, and the editor of CALQUE.
1. Because it manages the difficult trick of being intellectual without being academic, of being lyrical without being Romantic, of being poetic without being precious.
2. Because it is skillfully, by which I mean subtly, modeled on glass itself. There is a transparent quality to the poems, they are faintly traced through with colors at times, they tend to slightly warp the images and people one glimpses through them.
3. Because it contains lines like:
. . . Between Deleuze and Wittgenstein
there is Reznikoff and there is also
a wall . . .
4. Because after an 84-page section called “Poem” comes a 24-page one called “Story” which appears to explain the references and anecdotes in the poems, and does to some extent, but which also contains a further crop of anecdotes, more prosaic but no less charming than any that come before.
5. Because in it there is an openly-declared influence of American poets, which somehow does not result in the translation simply sounding like the specific poets quoted or winked at. This “somehow,” in my experience, is almost always explained by the skill of the translators, and such is the case here.
6. Because it is a book of poems from France that is about the difficulties of being a real person, as opposed to the more frequently seen subject of recent French poetry, the difficulties of being a person with money.
7. Because in reading it one is reminded of those French poets of the last forty or fifty years that really matter, especially Ponge and Char, without feeling like what one is reading is derivative of those writers. It seems rather to be the case that Hocquard is himself part of something they are part of as well, and he therefore merits wider readership so that this larger whole may be better understood, if for no other reason.
7.5 Because there are many other reasons.
A couple weeks ago, the National Book Critics Circle hosted a panel at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City entitled “Why Translation Matters?” and featuring Sarah Fay, Christopher Merrill, Cole Swenson, Russell Valentino, (incorrectly identified as Rudolph Valentino on the NBCC info page, which isn’t necessarily the worst person to be mistaken for) and Robin Hemley. (More on all of them below.)
I remember hearing about this panel and hoping that it would be recorded and made available at some point, and thankfully, it now is.
Here’s a bit from the NBCC on all the participants:
Sarah Fay is an advisory editor at The Paris Review. Her work appears regularly in the New York Times Book Review, The Paris Review, Bookforum, and The American Scholar, among others. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature at the University of Iowa.
Christopher Merrill has published four collections of poetry, including Brilliant Water and Watch Fire, for which he received the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages, his journalism appears in many publications, and he is the book critic for the daily radio news program, The World. He now directs the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa.
Cole Swensen is the author of twelve books of poetry, most recently Ours (University of California Press, 2008). Her work has been short-listed for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the National Book Award and won the Iowa Prize, the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award, and the National Poetry Series. A 2007 Guggenheim Fellow, she is the co-editor of the Norton Anthology American Hybrid and a professor at the Iowa Writers Workshop.
Russell Scott Valentino is a translator and scholar based in Iowa City, Iowa. He has published eight books and numerous essays and short translations of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from Italian, Croatian, and Russian. He is the publisher of Autumn Hill Books and Editor of The Iowa Review.He teaches in Iowa’s Translation Workshop.
Robin Hemley is the author of eight books of fiction and nonfiction, most recently Do-Over (Little, Brown). His work has been anthologized widely and he is the recipient of numerous awards including a 2008 Guggenheim, The Nelson Algren Award for Fiction, an Editor’s Choice Book Award for Nonfiction from The American Library Association, and two Pushcart Prizes. He currently directs UI’s Nonfiction Writing Program.
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .