I should’ve posted this a while ago, but the Cliff Becker Prize is a new award to honor poetry in translation resulting in the publication of a bilingual volume of poetry by White Pine Press. Unfortunately, the deadline is only a couple weeks away, but hopefully a lot of people reading this can apply . . . Here’s all the details:
“Translation is the medium through which American readers gain greater access to the world. By providing us with as direct a connection as possible to the individual voice of the author, translation provides a window into the heart of a culture.” —Cliff Becker, May 16, 2005
In collaboration with White Pine Press and the Cliff Becker Endowment for the Literary Arts, the Creative Writing Program at the University of Missouri has launched an annual publication prize in translation. The Cliff Becker Book Prize in Translation will produce one volume of literary translation in English, annually, beginning in the fall of 2012. These volumes initially will be bi-lingual editions of poetry, but as the endowment grows we will begin to include literary fiction and nonfiction in the prize rotation.
This year’s final judge is Willis Barnstone
• 80-140 pp., bi-lingual manuscripts in original, English translations of poetry.
• TWO title pages—ONE bearing only the title of the work and name of the non-English poet, and ONE bearing as well the name and contact information of the English translator.
• A current listing of acknowledgements, indicating permission of the original poet or his/her estate, as applicable, and indicating any previous publication of individual poems.
• No other indication of the translator’s identity may appear anywhere in the submitted manuscript.
• $20 submission fee made payable to The University of Missouri, with Cliff Becker Endowment for the Literary Arts written on the “memo” line.
• Manuscripts will not be returned, but you must include a letter-sized SASE for notification of results.
The translator of the winning manuscript will receive a standard publication contract with White Pine Press yielding a bi-lingual edition of 1000 copies of approximately 128 pages. In lieu of an advance against royalties, the translator will receive a prize of $500.
The Cliff Becker Book Prize
Department of English/Tate Hall 107
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211
This guest post is by Kevin Prufer, whose newest books are National Anthem (Four Way Books, 2008) and Little Paper Sacrifice (Four Way Books, forthcoming). He’s also Editor of New European Poets (Graywolf Press, 2008) and Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing.
The speakers in these carefully crafted poems are, first of all, keen and imaginative observers. One sits in a cafeteria watching a workman eat boiled rice until the grains “carried by the chapped hand / . . . gather and scatter like clouds between the blistered lips.” Another stands outside at night observing the moon, telling us how “I turned around / and caught her furtive eye, her soiled feet. / Blushing, as if she were being watched, she hid behind a cloud / and reappeared in the distance.” A third narrator stands in a hospital corridor listening to the agony of the others, “a judge of cries,” teasing stories out of pain. “Every cry is singular,” she tells us,
like a bird’s feather,
so that even without touching the trembling shoulder
you can tell if the crier has just learned the name of his disease,
or if he has been sentenced to death,
or if he weeps over a cold body.
Heeduk Ra’s poems, set in Korea’s cities (a hospital elevator, a church’s back stairway) and natural landscapes (where graves become boats and falling snow becomes feathers, flowers, rice), are filled with intricate detail, surprising turns, and moments of sadness, transcendence and breathtaking grace. Here, the daily minutia of Korean life are rich with imagery, reflecting not just their own details, but the brilliant and unpredictable mind that would tell us about them and, in so doing, imbue them with deeply personal turns of phrase and sharp, often witty, metaphors.
In one of the book’s most lovely poems, the speaker contemplates renting a room, finding in the mundane task a deep connection with Korea’s history and the lives of others:
To rent a room in Damyang or Changpyung,
to visit it like a chipmunk,
I looked in every village I came across.
Walking past a place in Jasil,
I saw common flowers in the yard
between the traditional Korean house and a modern annex.
When I entered through the open gate,
a man was sharpening his scythe on the grindstone
and his wife’s scarf was wet, as if she had just returned from the fields.
“Excuse me, I wonder if I could rent a room.
I’ll stay here two or three nights a week.”
When I pointed at the traditional house
she smiled. “Well, our children moved to Seoul,
so we live in the annex. Yes, the main house
is unoccupied, but we hold it in our hearts.
Our family history lies there.”
Listening to her, I saw the clean wooden floor
on which lay day’s last light.
I didn’t press for the room, I left,
wondering if the couple knew
that I’d already rented it, was living in their words—
that in their hearts they lived in the vacant house.
Heeduk Ra, born in Nonsan in 1966, is widely regarded as one of Korea’s preeminent younger poets. Woo Chung-Kim and Christopher Merrill’s plainspoken, moving translation makes it clear why. Distinguished for their graceful sensibility, rich imagery, and subtle intelligence, these poems will hopefully bring a wide English language readership to this valuable poet.
This guest post is by Kevin Prufer, whose newest books are National Anthem (Four Way Books, 2008) and Little Paper Sacrifice (Four Way Books, forthcoming). He’s also Editor of New European Poets (Graywolf Press, 2008) and Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing. We’ll have another post by Kevin tomorrow . . .
Who exactly is K.B. the suspect? Is he a sort of Post-Soviet everyman, wandering the streets of Vilnius, bewildered by the rapidly changing city? Or is he something more sinister, a character who, according Marcelijus Martinaitis, was not a member of the KGB, but could have been, had he been asked? Is he a symbol for all Lithuania, or merely an alter-ego of the poet who created him?
He is, of course, all of these things. In Martinaitis’ brilliant poetic sequence, K.B. emerges as both a distinct personality and a slate on which recent Lithuanian history might be written, interpreted, or erased. “The reader does not know for certain what K.B.’s background is and never finds out,” translator Laima Vince writes. “Similarly, in Lithuania today people do not know about their neighbors’ or colleagues’ pasts, and even if they did, there’s nothing they can do about it.”
But for all these poems’ historical and political ambitiousness, K.B. comes across memorably and vividly, quick to make keenly insightful (and sometimes absurd) observations, a loner perpetually cut off from others, commenting on their actions both nervously and analytically. Often, he addresses the beautiful Margarita, who suggests for him both perfect aesthetic beauty and our human inability to achieve transcendence. (Once, he observes her taking out the trash, making “little noble aristocratic steps” among the dumpsters.) Or he comments on the creeping Western influences of commodification and commercialization, at one point interjecting into his narrative an advertisement for Colgate Toothpaste:
the safest thing of all
is the toothpaste Colgate.
I’d also like to remind you
that by using this toothpaste daily
your teeth will remain healthy
a hundred years after you are gone.
All around him, he senses a sort of amorphous danger—perhaps it is Lithuania’s recent past waiting to re-emerge, perhaps it is only nerves—so K.B. keeps to the shadows, observing, fantasizing, and writing it all down. “My documents,” he tells us,
are in order. I haven’t been tried.
I’m without my gun and almost without any thoughts.
Only parasites, all manner of insects,
flies and worms creep across my face,
crawling into my mouth, my nose,
they suck my blood.
Any direction I turn someone is hiding, fleeing,
staring suspiciously, cowering, collaborating, keeping silent:
I could catch them all, crush them under my feet, end it.
Finally, these complex, paranoid poems create for us a sort of shadow-world of the Post-Soviet Eastern European consciousness, a world brought harrowingly to life through Marcelijus Martinaitis’ startling sense of character and Laima Vince’s fluid, witty, and deeply engaging translation.
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
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