27 August 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Today’s Shelf Awareness is basically one long love-letter to Norwegian author Per Petterson (Out Stealing Horses) and his U.S. publisher Graywolf celebrating the release of Petterson’s new novel, It’s Fine By Me, which is translated by Don Bartlett and available in better bookstores everywhere on October 2nd. (Phew.)

Here’s a bit about the book itself:

In 1965, on 13-year-old Audun Sletten’s first day at Veitvet School, the headmaster asks him to remove his sunglasses. Audun simply and firmly demurs, “I have scars.” When pressed, he adds, “They’re so goddamn terrible.” Though he is lying and has no physical scars, he has also told a deeper truth. Audun carries his scars inside, and he has no intention of revealing the stories behind them. Over the next five years, Audun holds tightly to his secrets. No one is allowed to know of the abuse his drunken father inflicted on his family before disappearing; the tragic car accident that took the life of Audun’s delinquent younger brother, Egil; or his concern that his sister, Kari, has taken up with a layabout. Only his sister knows the most dangerous secret: Audun has seen their father on the streets of their town and lives in fear that he has come to terrorize the family again. Audun navigates a realm of specters unimaginable to his peers.

Even his best friend Arvid Jansen—the main character of Petterson’s previous novels In the Wake and I Curse the River of Time—finds Audun an enigma. Arvid especially cannot understand why Audun is considering dropping out of school. But despite his desire to become a writer, Audun worries that he doesn’t belong in school. He asks, “Did Jack London finish school . . . or anyone else worth reading?” Despite Arvid’s appalled reaction, as the narrative slides back and forth through Audun’s teen years and the occasional childhood memory, Audun feels increasingly out of place in secondary school and unable to relate to his peers, admitting that without Arvid, he would “feel naked and cold and lost in this world.” From seventh grade through his employment as a worker in a printing factory at age 18, Audun uses a refrain of “It’s fine by me” to disguise his perturbation at the misfortunes of his life and the unfeeling actions of others, even from himself.

Out Stealing Horses was a huge success, and I suspect that this book will do really well with indie booksellers and literary readers as well. In addition to info about the book itself, Shelf Awareness included a short interview with Graywolf publisher Fiona McCrae:

How does the process of selecting a translator work?

In the case of Per, the U.K. publishers make the selection. I think all of us who work in the field of translation go by reputation and trust. If we have worked well with someone, we look to repeat the experience. We get samples in advance to check that the translator has a good feel for the work, and then we often look at the work after a chunk has been translated, just to check for any repetitive glitches. We would rather read every language ourselves, but it is beyond us, so we rely on trusted readers and translators. It is quite exciting, waiting to read the first English draft of a book that we have signed up in a foreign language.

What is it like to work with an author who doesn’t write in English?

Foreign writers are mostly very excited to be published in America—it is an important market for them. Per Petterson has become quite close to Graywolf and has visited the States twice, so we have managed to spend quite a bit of time together. It is also very gratifying to connect with a foreign writer’s publishers across the world. In Per’s case, we had a dinner at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair and invited his publishers and editors from about six or seven different countries. We were all connected by our enthusiasm for this one writer.

Can we expect further Graywolf/Petterson collaborations?

I gather he is just finishing up a brand-new novel, which will be out in Norway later this year. We are also planning to publish an early collection of short stories and some essays. I have not read them in English yet, and I can’t wait.

24 January 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Last week I wrote up the finalists for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and mentioned how I thought Chinaman by Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka sounded like one of the most interesting of the six books, and that I was curious why no American publisher had picked this up.

Well, two updates: On Saturday, Chinaman won the DSC award, which comes with a $50,000 cash prize, and Graywolf is publishing this book in May with the new title, The Legend of Pradeep Mathew. (And a somewhat bizarre blurb from Michael Ondaatje: “A crazy ambidextrous delight.” OK . . .)

From the DSC jury:

Commenting on the occasion Ira Pande, Jury chairperson said “The jury unanimously chose this year’s winner. While this fact in itself is a historic one for book juries are notorious for spirited battles over lists and winners, let me add that this year’s winner is also important for several other reasons. The winning title is a brilliant narration of all that is both great and sad about South Asia and in that sense it brings a world to the reader that needs to be seen outside this region. No longer are novelists who write of violence, breakdown of communities and the old way of life able to speak the whole truth about our world.”

Speaking further about the winning book, she said, “The speech rhythms of smaller towns and indigent characters, so seldom seen and heard, are brought alive by a writer who handles character and speech with consummate ease. That world has long needed a suitable metaphor and he has discovered it: Cricket. Set in Sri Lanka, as an epic search for a lost player, Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilake is both a portrait of a lost way of life and a glimpse into the future this vast and vivid region is fated to occupy.”

Congrats, and I’m really looking forward to reading this when the U.S. edition is available . . .

8 March 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Similar to years past, we’re going to be featuring each of the 25 titles on the BTBA Fiction Longlist over the next month plus, but in contrast to previous editions, this year we’re going to try an experiment and frame all write-ups as “why this book should win.” Some of these entries will be absurd, some more serious, some very funny, a lot written by people who normally don’t contribute to Three Percent. Overall, the point is to have some fun and give you a bunch of reasons as to why you should read at least a few of the BTBA titles.

Click here for all past and future posts.

I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson, translated by Charlotte Barslund and the author

Language: Norwegian
Country: Norway
Publisher: Graywolf
Pages: 224

Why This Book Should Win: Because it was written by Per Petterson, arguably one of Scandinavia’s finest living writers. The book has already won a slew of prizes. In Norway, it won the 2008 Critics’ Prize and the 2008 Brage Prize. And in 2009 it won the prestigious Nordic Council’s Literary Prize. Why not give it another one?

This post was written K.E. Semmel, a writer and translator whose work has appeared in Ontario Review, The Washington Post, World Literature Today, Best European Fiction 2011, and elsewhere. His translation of Karin Fossum’s next novel will be published by Harvill Secker in the UK in 2011 and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the US in 2012. And he’s a St. Louis Cardinals fan.

When Per Petterson burst onto the international literary scene in 2007 with his novel Out Stealing Horses, the English-speaking world got a glimpse of what readers in Scandinavia have known for quite a while: Petterson’s work is special. On the dust jacket for this new novel is a quote from Richard Ford: “Per Petterson is a profoundly gifted novelist.” That Ford is a fan of Petterson’s work can be no surprise to readers of each author. Like Ford’s narrators, particularly Frank Bascombe, the narrator of I Curse the River of Time, Arvid Jensen, is a self-reflective man whose story unfolds most powerfully as a kind of internal monologue.

This long passage, in a lively translation by veteran translator Charlotte Barslund, is an example of Petterson’s power as a reflectionist. With a few deftly chosen words he tells us a lot about Arvid Jensen:

And then I entered the hall and walked into the kitchen, the living room, where everything was as it had been for almost ten years, the same posters on the walls, the same rugs on the floor, the same goddamn red armchairs, and yet not like that at all, not like it was in the beginning, when there were just the two of us against the world, just she and I, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, there is just you and me, we said to each other, just you and me, we said. But something had happened, nothing hung together any more, all things had spaces, had distances between them, like satellites, attracted to and pushed away at the same instant, and it would take immense willpower to cross those spaces, those distances, much more than I had available, much more than I had courage to use. And nothing was like it had been inside the car either, driving through three or four districts in Romerike, in eastern Norway, east of Oslo. There the car was wrapped around me, but up here, in the flat, things fell out of focus and spun off to all sides. It was like a virus on the balance nerve. I close my eyes to true up the world, and then I heard the bathroom door open and her footsteps across the floor. I would have known them anywhere on earth, on any surface, and she stopped right in front of me. I could hear her breath, but not close enough to feel it on my face. She waited. I waited. In one of the bedrooms the girls were laughing out loud. There was something about her breath. It was never like that before. I kept my eyes closed, I squeezed them tightly shut. And then I heard her sigh.

“For Christ’s sake, Arvid,” she said. “Please stop that. It’s so childish.”

Much like Out Stealing Horses, I Curse The River of Time is a novel in which time itself takes on the role of a character, bending backward and forward. The novel interweaves three strands of time:

  • a youthful Arvid meeting the girl who would later become his wife versus a thirty-seven year old Arvid whose marriage is in tatters. The above passage comes at a time when Arvid’s marriage is crumbling, but some of the most tender moments of the novel come when the young couple first meet and fall in love:

‘Do I have a tan now?’ she said.

I laughed again. ‘You and I,’ I said. ‘Just you and I.”

‘Isn’t it fun,’ she said and she smiled. I let the oars rest in the rowlocks. The water around the boat fell silent, and silently the cabin was floating up above the rocks and the smoke rose softly from the chimney, and how impossible it was to grasp that in the end something as fine as this could be ground into dust.

  • a youthful Arvid—a staunch Communist—versus a later, disheartened Arvid following the collapse of the Berlin Wall:

At a kiosk that was still open, there were newspapers stacked on a stand outside, and in large bold typeface on every front page it said THE WALL TUMBLES, and I could not breathe, where had I been? This was bad, I had not paid attention, it was really bad, and I started to cry.

  • Arvid’s mother—or Arvid’s youthful memories of his mother—versus her later self. Sick, dying of stomach cancer, she returns to her native Denmark for one last trip. And because Arvid idealizes his mother in the same way he idealized his political views or his feelings for his wife, he follows her there like a child:

I was searching for something very important, a very special thing, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not find it. I pulled some straws from a cluster of marram grass and put them in my mouth and started chewing. They were hard and sharp and cut my tongue, and I took more, a fistful, and stuffed them in my mouth and chewed them while I sat there, waiting for my mother to stand up and come to me.

The various strands loop together to form a bold and smart novel, one that portrays the complex relationship between a son and his mother, between time and memory, and finally between the individual and his struggle to find his place in society. Taken together, the novel’s structure may seem deceptively simple, but it is extremely powerful on the whole. Perhaps most impressive of all, however, is that the novel doesn’t telegraph what is to come next; like time and memory, it does not flow in a straight line: it jumps from A to D and back to A. As such, it’s a novel that invites the reader to ask questions. Why are we back here, at this point in time? What does this have to do with his mother’s journey to Denmark? These are simple questions, but they are certainly not simple answers, and, at times, you may find yourself wondering where Petterson is going with his story. Yet it’s precisely this which makes I Curse the River of Time so special: In this novel, Petterson writes with venerable authority, like a master unafraid to try new, ever-bolder moves. By the end of the novel you know exactly where he’s going with his story, and you know exactly where you’ve been. And it’s quite a trip.

14 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Following up on last week’s post about the various summer/fall 2010 previews that came out from The Millions and elsewhere, I thought that over the next few days, we’d highlight some forthcoming titles that sound pretty interesting to me. Sure I’m missing things and whatnot, so feel free to overload the comments section with recommendations. And click here to see all translation preview posts.

I Curse the River of Time“: by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund (Norway, Graywolf Press)

Along with all the Bolano and Larsson books, this is probably one of the most anticipated works in translation coming out this year. Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses was an incredible success for Graywolf, and hopefully I Curse the River of Time will be as well. This is already available in the UK, and the reviews seem to be pretty positive, including this one in the Guardian, in which Rachel Cusk calls the book “a work of blackest tragicomedy, a novel as cold and scintillating and desolate as the northern winter landscapes that are its setting.” It centers around late-30-something Arvid Jansen, whose life appears to be tottering, so he goes to visit his mother in Denmark. This paragraph makes the book sound really interesting to me:

On the ferry he is paranoid and unstable; he punches a man he believes to be menacing him, only to discover later that this man is a childhood friend who was trying to greet him. He falls off a jetty and soaks the only clothes he has brought with him. He takes it into his head to chop down a tree his mother has always complained of in front of the cottage, thinking it will please her. He hangs around her, needy and clinging, when it is apparent that she wants to be left alone; and worse still, apparent that she is disappointed in him, in the failure of his marriage and in his underachievement generally.

Stella by Siegfried Lenz, translated from the Germany by Anthea Bell (Germany, Other Press)

This is just the first of several interesting translations that Other Press will be bringing out over the next few months. Stella is a student-teacher love story, although according to the jacket copy, “there is nothing salacious about their relationship, nor is it just a case of a crush between teacher and student.” The novel starts at the end, at Stella’s funeral, and the praise for Lenz’s “Heminway-esque” style is intriguing.

The Insufferable Gaucho by Roberto Bolano, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews (Chile, New Directions)

Another Bolano! Another collection of short stories! I can’t find the ND page for this book, but here’s a link to what I assume is the title story that appeared in the New Yorker a few years back. Opening sentence is so Bolano: “In the opinion of those who knew him well, Héctor Pereda had two outstanding virtues: he was a caring and affectionate father and an irreproachable lawyer with a record of honesty, in a time and place that were hardly conducive to such rectitude.”

A Novel Bookstore“: by Laurence Cosse, translated from the French by Alison Anderson (France, Europa Editions)

I’ll just let Europa describe this book-related mystery:

Ivan, a one-time world traveler, and Francesca, a ravishing Italian heiress, are the owners of a bookstore that is anything but ordinary. Rebelling against the business of bestsellers and in search of an ideal place where their literary dreams can come true, Ivan and Francesca open a store where the passion for literature is given free reign. Tucked away in a corner of Paris, the store offers its clientele a selection of literary masterpieces chosen by a top-secret committee of likeminded literary connoisseurs. To their amazement, after only a few months, the little dream store proves a success. And that is precisely when their troubles begin. At first, both owners shrug off the anonymous threats that come their way and the venomous comments concerning their store circulating on the Internet, but when three members of the supposedly secret committee are attacked, they decide to call the police. One by one, the pieces of this puzzle fall ominously into place, as it becomes increasingly evident that Ivan and Francesca’s dreams will be answered with pettiness, envy and violence.

Am I a Redundant Human Being? by Mela Hartwig, translated from the German by Kerri Pierce (Austria, Dalkey Archive)

And from the possible wacky to the quite probably depressing . . . I remember hearing about this book on an editorial trip to Vienna I took back when I was working at Dalkey Archive. Sounded like a pretty intense novel, and if I remember right (I probably don’t) the Austrian publisher compared Hartwig to Virginia Woolf. The novel centers around Aloisia Schmidt, a secretary whose life is utterly boring and mundane. From Dalkey: “In one final, guilt-ridden, masturbatory, self-obsessed confession, Aloisia indulges her masochistic tendencies to the fullest, putting her entire life on trial, and trying, through telling her story (a story, she assures us, that’s ‘so laughably mundane’ it’s really no story at all), to transform an ordinary life into something extraordinary.”

Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat (France, Melville House)

OK, I’m sort of cheating here—Valtat wrote this book in English—but whatever. Valtat sounds really interesting to me, so I’m breaking my own rule. This is Valtat’s second book to come out this year. Just a few weeks ago, FSG published 03, a novel about a man’s memories of a retarded girl he used to see every day and started obsessing over. What’s particularly cool about this book is the way it came into English (from Conversational Reading):

Former FSG editor Lorin Stein discovered this writer when he was browsing in a bookshop in Paris. The author of three previous books, Valtat had never before been translated into English. 03 was first published by Gallimard in 2005 and was not on submission to anyone in the U.S. or the U.K., so it took a chance encounter in a bookshop to bring this novel to an American readership.

That’s the kind of coincidental story that makes publishing awesome.

Aurorarama is set in 1908 in the Arctic city of “New Venice”:

But as the city prepares for spring, it feels more like qaartsiluni—“the time when something is about to explode in the dark.” Local “poletics” are wracked by tensions with the Eskimos circling the city, with suffragette riots led by an underground music star, with drug round-ups by the secret police force known as the Gentlemen of the Night. An ominous black airship hovers over the city, and the Gentlemen are hunting for the author of a radical pamphlet calling for revolt.

All sounds very wild, and very cool.

Klausen by Andreas Maier, translated from the German by Kenneth Northcott (Germany, Open Letter)

And now for the obligatory Open Letter title . . . Maier’s a very interesting writer, somewhere between Saramago and Bernhard. Klausen is a very well-constructed novel bringing together a collection of muddled, often contradictory voices to explain what happened (or didn’t happen) in a small German town. Reading this is quite an experience: the narrative flows from character to character, from event to discussion what really happened at that event, all building in a masterful way to a gripping conclusion involving a bomb. Or a shooting. Or something involving Italians. This may sound daunting or confusing, but it’s really not. It’s a great ride that hysterically portrays the sometimes insane workings of a close-knit community where everyone has an opinion (the right one!) about everything.

25 September 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Natasha Wimmer has an interesting piece on Catalan author Merce Rodoreda. It’s great introduction to Rodoreda—considered to be one of the greatest Catalan authors of all time—even if Wimmer does prefer The Time of the Doves (available from Graywolf) to Death in Spring (which we brought out last year and was masterfully translated by Martha Tennent).

I can’t remember the first time I read Mercè Rodoreda’s The Time of the Doves. It might have been when I was 13, living with my family in the high-rise suburbs of Madrid. It might have been when I was 17, back in Madrid with my mother for a few weeks in a sweltering rented room. Or it might have been when I was 19, on my own in the city, sharing an apartment near the train station with four South American girls. In any case, I read it in Spanish, under the title La plaza del diamante (the original Catalan title is La plaça del diamant). And I read it at about the same time as I read Nada, by Carmen Laforet. These were the first serious books I read in Spanish, and I’ve never forgotten them.

Certainly, few books have been as gorgeously sad. On a personal list of misery-inducing favorites including Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, The Time of the Doves ranks near the top. Set in Barcelona around the time of the Spanish Civil War, it’s tragic simply as a function of its setting, but Rodoreda plumbs a sadness that reaches beyond historic circumstances, a sadness born of helplessness, an almost voluptuous vulnerability. This condition will be familiar to readers of Rhys’s novels, to which Rodoreda’s novels bear a certain resemblance. Rodoreda’s women are notable for their almost pathological lack of volition, but also for their acute sensitivity, a nearly painful awareness of beauty. [. . .]

For those who’ve only read The Time of the Doves, Death in Spring will come as a surprise. In it, Rodoreda works in an entirely different register, heavily symbolic and fable-like. Signs of this tendency are visible in a number of her short stories, some of which are collected in My Christina and Other Stories. In this collection, Rodoreda’s full range of expression is on display, from the almost banal realism of a later novel, A Broken Mirror, through the exquisite impressionism of The Time of the Doves and Camellia Street, to the garish symbolism of Death in Spring. In Rodoreda’s more symbolic fictions, nature comes to the fore and humans mimic animals or morph into them, as in the short story “The Salamander,” in which a woman who sleeps with a married man is burned to death and turns into a salamander, returning to live under her lover’s bed.

The use of symbolism is a form of sublimation, in the same way that the ruthless elision and economy of Rodoreda’s writing in The Time of the Doves is a form of sublimation. In both cases, Rodoreda heightens and transforms the brutal reality of existence in a world of endless war. The artfulness of the latter method, however, stands in contrast to the often garbled mythmaking of some of the short stories and Death in Spring. Like “The Salamander,” Death in Spring is set in a village that’s part medieval, part contemporary and part infernal. A river runs beneath it, through a rocky passage, and every year one man must swim it to make sure the village isn’t about to be washed away. Most emerge near death, their faces torn by the rocks, but even this is benign compared with the village’s rituals of death, in which living villagers are stuffed full of pink cement and entombed upright in trees.

You can read the whole article here and when you’re inspired to purchase all of Rodoreda’s books, you can do so via Brazos Bookstore’s online catalog by clicking here.

26 January 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This post is giving away something about the make-up of the ten “Best Translated Book of 2008” poetry finalists . . . But whatever, there were four great poetry anthologies that came out this past year that deserve a bit of extra recognition, so in advance of tomorrow’s announcement, here are a few extra books worth checking out:

New European Poets edited by Kevin Prufer and Wayne Miller is one of the most comprehensive books of the year. Here’s the opening from Margarita Shalina’s great review:

It is difficult to get beyond the novelty inherent in the New European Poets project. Its remarkable scope, breadth and depth show-cases 290 poets representing 45 nations, all bridged by nearly 200 translators and directed by 24 regional editors. Every contributing poet’s first collection was published in or after 1970. The motivation behind the project is two-fold, reintroduce and reengage American readers with European poetry and express how the borders of Europe have been redrawn in recent decades there by altering its regional identities along with its identity as a whole. And what is contemporary Europe anyway?

This is a mammoth book, and a necessary one for anyone interested in contemporary European poetry.

*

Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World is edited and translated by Niloufar Talebi, and features a range of contemporary Iranian poetry. Peter Conners reviewed this for us and had this to say:

After reading her introduction and the first few sections of Belonging, I realized that Talebi had accomplished perhaps the greatest service that a translator of Iranian poetry for American audiences can provide: she made the Iranian poetic landscape feel familiar. Not only familiar, but modern, full of laughter, rich with wonder, completely joyful and terrible and worthy of revisiting multiple times. Without being able to compare it to the original Persian, I can only say that the poetry in Talebi’s translations is lucid, rich with music, and highly accessible.

In addition to this anthology, it’s worth checking out Niloufar’s Translation Project as well. She’s doing a lot of great things for Persian literature as a whole, and the blend of text and performance is unique and very compelling. (In fact, if you happen to be in San Francisco next week, you should check out the 2nd Annual Iranian Literary Arts Festival that the Translation Project is putting on.)

*

Part of the NEA’s International Exchange program, Contemporary Russian Poetry is an ambitious undertaking. Edited by Evgeny Bunimovich and Jim Kates, it features forty-four Russian poets, all born after 1945. It also features dozens of great Russian translators as well.

(As a sidenote, one of the books I’m looking forward to in 2009 is Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction, another NEA project that Dalkey is publishing. Edited by Alvaro Uribe and Olivia Sears, this looks like a great round-up of the current literary scene in Mexico.)

*

Edited and translated by David Hinton, _Classical Chinese Poetry is another book that, if for nothing else, deserves some praise for its enormous scope:

With this groundbreaking collection, translated and edited by the renowned poet and translator David Hinton, a new generation will be introduced to the work that riveted Ezra Pound and transformed modern poetry. The Chinese poetic tradition is the largest and longest continuous tradition in world literature, and this rich and far-reaching anthology of nearly five hundred poems provides a comprehensive account of its first three millennia (1500 BCE to 1200 CE), the period during which virtually all its landmark developments took place. Unlike earlier anthologies of Chinese poetry, Hinton’s book focuses on a relatively small number of poets, providing selections that are large enough to re-create each as a fully realized and unique voice. New introductions to each poet’s work provide a readable history, told for the first time as a series of poetic innovations forged by a series of master poets. From the classic texts of Chinese philosophy to intensely personal lyrics, from love poems to startling and strange perspectives on nature, Hinton has collected an entire world of beauty and insight. And in his eye-opening translations, these ancient poems feel remarkably fresh and contemporary, presenting a literature both radically new and entirely resonant.

4 November 08 | Chad W. Post |

Where is that wild and endemic high-heeled shoe Europe . . . ?

— Branko Cegec
(translated from the Croatian by Miljenko Kovacicek)

It is difficult to get beyond the novelty inherent in the New European Poets project. Its remarkable scope, breadth and depth show-cases 290 poets representing 45 nations, all bridged by nearly 200 translators and directed by 24 regional editors. Every contributing poet’s first collection was published in or after 1970. The motivation behind the project is two-fold, reintroduce and reengage American readers with European poetry and express how the borders of Europe have been redrawn in recent decades there by altering its regional identities along with its identity as a whole. And what is contemporary Europe anyway?

Is it the landmass whose topology begins at the Atlantic shore, expanding north to Scandinavia, south to the Mediterranean then eastward, coming to a halt at the Ural Mountains? Is the EU contemporary Europe? Is Iceland? Is Turkey? Is Russia a European nation? Are the endangered languages of Sami and Romani European languages? Europe is a patch-work quilt of a continent, comprised of mutually exclusive diverse ethnic identities and languages. In these many Europes—nationality, ethnicity, culture, people, language and poetry are absolutely idiosyncratic, particular to themselves. The opposite is also true as Europe is now more open than it ever was during the bulk of the twentieth century. Traveling by train through Western Europe it is not unusual to hear a young person’s voice come over the loud speaker making mundane but fluent announcements about the dining car hours in 5 different languages. Then again, the further east one travels the more complicated things become. Poland and the Czech Republic now consider themselves Central, as opposed to Eastern, Europe no doubt making a political statement while simultaneously acknowledging national trauma. The parts and pieces of the former Yugoslavia and the shards and slivers of the former Eastern Bloc are further testament that the term “nation” is not a static one. As New European Poets is a Herculean undertaking toward celebrating and promoting poetry, it is also an inadvertent definition of what contemporary Europe has become as expressed through the singing of its bards.

We open with the quivering dramatic neurosis of Portugal’s Adilia Lopes as she laments “once I was beautiful now I am myself” in Elizabeth Doesn’t Work Here Anymore (with a few things borrowed from Anne Sexton). We shift northward to William Cliff of Belgium and his exceptional Ballade of the Mouse (After Charles d’Orleans) “I stopped appearing in the spots/where once I used to perch my puny/build, they made a grave pronouncement/I hereby trounce as tactless jive/this little mouse is still alive.” We move into Central Europe, into Germany, with the über-contemporary Recovery Room written by Uljana Wolf, translated by the author and Christian Hawkey:

                                —and if there were
no borders that could again define us in

these fields in post narcotic sniffling—
we would stick very close to this our i

Willfully and fearlessly contributing to the destruction of Adorno’s edict “To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” Senadin Musabegovic, representing Bosnia and Herzegovina, in her poem Dawn at Auschwitz writes “. . . and the officer’s shining badge from which/the eagle with spread-out wings / plucks out pieces of my flesh / enter me / like darkness enters / a child’s eyes.” Poland, having disappeared from the map of Europe in 1795, reappearing only to tragically run smack into two World Wars has emerged to establish itself an uncontested literary and poetic powerhouse. Ewa Sonnenberg writes, “My funny little poem I’ll warm you in my hands / we’ll tell life we’re sorry for writing not living / your naïve and tender efforts to spy on naked words . . .” Finally, as intrinsic climates shape each country’s identity as much as politics, culture or war, Sweden’s Eva Runefelt beautifully relays in her bleak, cold and quiet The Slowness “like the chill from a half-open window, from foot to neck / There is space enough in the finger moving along a back. / How far in does the slowness go?”

Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker put a Babel Fish in his ear which enabled him to understand every form of language. Rightly in keeping with the dedication of the anthology which reads “to all who translate” the contributing translators of New European Poets have brought across the poetry of their European counterparts in the lingua franca, English, for an American audience. These translators include, Anselm Hollo, Rosemarie Waldrop, John Ashbery, Wanda Phipps, Paul Muldoon, Charles Simic, Christian Hawkey, Derek Walcott and Cole Swenson to name a few. Beyond the role of “translator” it should be noted that these are the proliferators of contemporary poetry being written in the English language today. They are our poets, our native poets, our immigrant poets, our nation-of-birth-hyphenated-American and international poets. They are individuals who write in the English language, teach in the American Universities and are the recipients of major American literary awards. In many cases, these are individuals who were born in Europe but who live and work in the United States and who inadvertently maintain the ongoing conversation that is both contemporary American and European poetry through the duality of their identities. This added element of cultural exchange to the project makes it a nearly perfect undertaking.

25 January 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Early this week I took a trip to Minneapolis-St. Paul to visit the various literary organizations located there (which should explain why I haven’t posted much the past few days). For those who don’t know, MSP is a hotbed of nonprofit literary publishing and literary culture in general.

Reservations cast aside, both Minneapolis and St. Paul were in the top 5 of the recent Most Literate Cities list. And based on the few non-trade people I met in my hotel bar, I now totally believe in this study. The combination of literary publishers, good bookstores, literary events planning, and funding for literature (thanks Jim Sitter!) has created a real reading community.

Anyway, I greatly enjoyed my trip and learned a lot from all the wonderful people working at these various organizations. As a sort of public thank you, I thought I would highlight all of these presses and organizations here, especially since they’re all deserving of more general attention.

My first visit was with Eric Lorberer of Rain Taxi an extensive review publication available free of charge via 250 bookstores across the country, and by subscription for $15. A nonprofit entity at the heart of the MSP literary community, Rain Taxi also puts together the Twin Cities Book Festival, which usually takes place in mid-October. Rain Taxi reviews a wide-range of literature, and is in the vein of Bookforum. If you live in an area without a store that carries it, you should subscribe, but if you don’t subscribe, you can check out the online version free of charge.

Although they won’t be distributing our books (the University of Nebraska will—more on that TK), I did meet with Consortium mainly for fun. Consortium distributes an amazing list of presses from Archipelago to Zephyr (sorry, it was too obvious). After being sold to Perseus, they had to move offices and ended up in the Keg House Arts Building, an interesting space occupied by various arts related companies. (Every town needs a building like this.)

I spent a good deal of time at Graywolf Press, for obvious reasons: it’s a fantastic organization and its publisher, Fiona McCrae, is on our Executive Committee. This isn’t the appropriate post to explain my theory of first vs. second vs. third generation organizational structures, but I do want to say that I leaned a lot from looking at their structure and processes. Graywolf’s staff is incredibly strong, from the three editors—Katie Dublinski, Jeffrey Shotts, and Ethan Nosowsky (formerly of FSG and Grand Street, and based in NY, which is another interesting thing about Graywolf)—to the marketing/publicity team of Rolph Blythe, Mary Matze, and Erin Kottke. Graywolf has been around for more than 30 years, but I think Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses helped bring them to the attention of a whole new group of readers and may have marked the start of a new era of sorts (go translations!). In addition to Petterson, they publish a number of interesting writers, including Percival Everett. One book I’m really looking forward to is New European Poets, an anthology coming out this April.

Coffee House is still run by its founder Allan Cornblum, who started the press in 1984. According to the press’s website it is “dedicated to innovation in the craft of writing and preservation of the tradition of book arts. Coffee House produces books that present the dreams and ambitions of people who have been underrepresented in published literature, books that shape our national consciousness while strengthening a larger sense of community.” Chris Fischbach is the second-in-charge and a great editor responsible for Coffee House doing authors like Brian Evenson, Laird Hunt, and Gilbert Sorrentino.

As has been noted elsewhere, Milkweed Editions has recently undergone a series of changes. A couple years ago Daniel Slager was brought in from Harcourt as the editor-in-chief. (Like Ethan Nosowsky he was also affiliated with Grand Street, which is an interesting coincidence.) Just this past November, he was named Publisher and CEO, essentially taking over for Emilie Buchwald, Milkweed’s founding publisher. With a great staff that includes Ben Barnhart and Patrick Thomas on the editorial side, Emily Cook and Jessica Deutsch on the marketing/publicity side, and Hilary Reeves as managing editor and director of digital ventures, Milkweed is a very vibrant and exciting press that seems primed to expand greatly over the next few years. They do a wider range of books than the other Minnesota presses, including strong young reader and nonfiction lines, and right now, The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck is getting a lot of attention.

One other thing worth noting is that Milkweed and The Loft Literary Center are both located in Open Book,, the first building in the United States devoted to the literary arts. Again, every mid-sized town should have a building for literature to go along with symphony spaces, theaters and the like.

This is a bit longer than I thought it would be, and hopefully all this info is redundant. But if you’re not already familiar with these presses and organizations, I highly recommend checking them out, buying their books, etc.

15 June 07 | Chad W. Post | Comment

Yesterday it was announced that Per Petterson had won the IMPAC award for Out Stealing Horses published by Graywolf Press.

(Of course the official IMPAC webpage is for the “2006” award, but whatever, the idea that it’s actually 2007 is unbelievable to me as well.)

The IMPAC prize—which has also been won by Javier Marias, Michel Houellebecq, and Orhan Pamuk—is the largest monetary prize (100,000 euros) for a single work in English.

Out Stealing Horses was the only translation among the finalists, and another of Petterson’s books—In the Wake is a RTW 2007 book.

....
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