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.
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. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .