27 April 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

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.

Transfer Fat by Aase Berg, translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson, and published by Ugly Duckling Presse.

Jennifer Kronovet is the author of the poetry collection Awayward, which was selected by Jean Valentine for the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. She is the co-founder of Circumference: Poetry in Translation.

Why this book should win: It amazingly makes English feel like a new language with visceral power.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that almost everyone reading this review here is interested in foreign languages. Although some books in translation may try to hide the very fact that they are translated, many of us turn to books in translation because they are that—a twisty relationship, a multi-dimensional trip, a dynamically charged confluence, language within language within language. Part of the engaging pleasure of reading contemporary Swedish poet Aase Berg’s Transfer Fat, translated by Johannes Göransson, is that one feels as though one is reading in a foreign language, and yet, has access to understanding the words as themselves.

Transfer Fat makes a world and puts us inside it to hear its language, to be subject to its laws and materiality, to be a citizen called upon to act and be acted upon. Articles are removed, new compounds words are made, and commands are given, and so this language feels like a paradigmatic example of itself, essential and new as it subverts expected idioms and means multi-directionally. This language is both highly prepositional and highly visceral; we are in relation and on top of relations and at relationships. With what? Whale fat, breast-gristle, hare-milk, glasswater, a fatcatatonic election promise, Hal, the hare Cosmos, and more nouns that seem pure thing and pure metaphor, Swedish and of my Midwestern backyard, political and inborn. These contrasts are productively disorienting. One learns to see this new language (am I beginning to think in it?) as one capable of bringing the body and the body politic together, and the body and the mind that charges it.

The first poem begins:

Cut the keel
in harebrood pool
cut fin in fat
fishtailborn

Right away the speaker asks us to perform a violence (as translators are often accused of doing) and in that violence, a new word is made, fishtailborn, and perhaps this new word is us, now composed of parts, of language severed and re-glued. After a large space on the page the poem continues:

Keep fat
let fat wait
keep time
let time go
let time rock calmly in hare
let fat build core in hare
in the hare Cosmos
time is shell

If we follow the speaker’s suggestions, follow the new language happening, we end up with a new feeling for how time works, a new metaphysics. The manipulations of language in the book never feel coy or like play for playing’s sake. Rather, through the thick scrim of foreigness, language is amplified as being viscerally of the body and of time, capable of leading us to bold ideas if we follow its permutations.

In the translator’s note, Göransson, a poet in English and native speaker of Swedish, writes that Forsla fett is “an ambient space where the Swedish language goes through all kinds of permutations: words, connotations, meanings letters are put into flux, combining and recombining continually.” Göransson notes that Berg brings parts of English-language texts into her poems which further “deforms the Swedish language.” Thus, the book is its materiality, is the way it moves in language, or rather, moves languages out of themselves. How does one translate such a text, when carrying over only the “meaning” of the words would be to lose almost everything? Göransson takes risks. He challenges and deforms English. He moves into the world of Forsla fett and practices the processes it demands on English, cutting and recreating, melting together and splicing, transferring and fattening and thinning, and we are left with the fat and the muscle of meaning, new language we can work with, that works on us.

9 December 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Although I can’t say that I love the edgy capitalization in the journal’s name, I can say that I am a big fan of eXchanges and all of the super-brilliant people who work on this. For those not familiar, eXchanges (OK, last time I’m typing that) is the online journal of literary translation that comes out of the University of Iowa. Iowa’s program and all who are in it are fantastic (tomorrow I promise to get back to the Making the Translator Visible posts, starting with Erica Mena, who is at Iowa . . .), and it’s exciting to see what happens when you give people like this a space to create.

Anyway, the winter issue (“Exocity” or “eXocity”) just went online last week and is worth checking out. There’s a very playful and interesting set of letters to and from the editors, some interesting poetry selections (including Ewa Chruscial & Elzbieta Kotkowska’s translations from the Polish of six poems by Agniewszka Kuciak), and a great interview with translator/poet/publisher Johannes Goransson. Here’s a fun clip from the interview:

eX: Do you feel like when you set out translating, that the work points you in a direction as far as how it should be translated? Or do you think you approach things more or less consistently?

JG: No, no . . . I totally approach things based on the way the work is. Like I said, in Aase’s case the writing encourages you to move toward excess and sort of deforming the language, but I also did the book Ideals Clearance by Henry Parland. That’s also about translation but a different kind of translation. The book—it’s a Dadaist collection and it has this idea that everything is already translatable—that everything is very translatable— it’s so simple. And so it seems like it has something to do with capitalism, mass culture, and the general equivalences between words.

So, they’re two models of translation. In Parland’s work, I absolutely was not going for noise or anything like that. They’re very, very simple translations. I was actually at a conference about his work where a person talked about my translations—which was really weird to have somebody give a paper and a 45-minute talk about my translations. He had read Lawrence Venuti—he was a Finnish scholar—and he thought I could have translated it, there’s a way…what is Lawrence Venuti’s term for what translation does? Estranging?

eX: Oh gosh . . . I should know this. Domesticizing?

JG: Yeah, the opposite of domesticizing.

[Blank silence on our part. Can’t believe we didn’t remember this. –ed.]

JG: Well, whatever . . .

eX: We can put it in, we can write it in later.

[The word is “foreignizing.” –ed.]

JG: Let’s call it estranging. Well, the Finnish scholar said you could have estranged it, you know, like Lawrence Venuti says, and then he showed an example of how it could look in English. And it was a very strange poem. But it was a strange poem that, one, really seemed to me to have nothing to do with Parland’s work. And, second of all, it was a very strange poem in a way that was very domesticated. To an American it would have been a translatese text, and the reader would be like, oh wow, this is a really foreign text. So actually to me, it seemed like the weirder move was to do this very simple language. Parland was weirder to a contemporary American obviously than contemporary American poetry—which was what the “Venutian” translation made it into.

So, I would say I take very different attitudes. But, you know, I have reading habits that influence all my translations. It’s not like I erase myself. I can’t do it.

....
Walker on Water
Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .

Read More >

The Nightwatches of Bonaventura
The Nightwatches of Bonaventura by Bonaventura
Reviewed by J. T. Mahany

Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .

Read More >

Pavane for a Dead Princess
Pavane for a Dead Princess by Park Min-Gyu
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .

Read More >

Tram 83
Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Reviewed by Caitlin Thomas

Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .

Read More >

Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic by Octave Mirbeau
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .

Read More >

Sphinx
Sphinx by Anne Garréta
Reviewed by Monica Carter

Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .

Read More >

Morse, My Deaf Friend
Morse, My Deaf Friend by Miloš Djurdjević
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

There’s little to say about a series of prose poems that willfully refuse to identify pronoun antecedents. Or perhaps there are a million things. The poems in Morse, My Deaf Friend— the chapbook by Miloš Djurdjević published by Ugly Duckling. . .

Read More >