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.
pH Neutral History by Lidija Dimkovska, translated from the Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and Peggy Reid, and published by Copper Canyon Press.
Idra Novey is the author of Exit, Civilian, a 2011 National Poetry Series Winner, and The Next Country. She is also the translator of The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector, On Elegance While Sleeping by Viscount Lascano Tegui, and The Clean Shirt of It, for which she was awarded a 2007 PEN Translation Fund Grant.
Born in Macedonia but long a resident of Slovenia, Lidija Dimkovska is a post-national writer. Her exuberant poems, vividly translated by Ljubica Arsovska and Peggy Reid, are international in scope and intimately so. In pH Neutral History, her second collection to appear in English, one poem opens with a “Peter Pan bus from New York to Amherst” and another in cold Schloßberg with stoves full “of our nails and hair.” Dimkovska’s radical mix of old world/ new world references make for a poetry that feels necessary to the future of poetry, and compellingly so. In the excellent long poem “Recognition,” she writes:
You have a sense of direction even in worlds
you’ve never visited, A.
You can tell what personal misery will give birth to a work of art
that will travel the world like the mind of an imbecile.
And which imbecile will return from no-man’s land, and which won’t.
That’s why in Christian bookshops
you pause with the Bible open in your hands
to listen to the singer simulating orgasm on the radio.
The leap from misery to art to imbeciles and Christian bookshops is funny and smart and darkly so. Like A., Dimkovska also has a sense of direction in worlds she hasn’t visited, or has witnessed only briefly. Her poems are equally lived and imagined, rooted and drifting. In her hands, an assassination attempt on the president is the work of Scheherazade. In her Collected Prose, Rae Armentrout says that “doubleness is the essence of consciousness.” In Dimkovska’s post-national poetry, the consciousness is more of a tripleness or quadrupleness. With these superb translations from Arsovska and Reid, pH Neutral History is a serious contender for this year’s Best Translated Book Award in poetry.
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. . .
The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .
Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .
It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .