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.
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .