Posts Tagged ‘New Directions’

Despite My Bunkered Heart

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

ToquevilleHilary’s just reviewed two extremely different books—Khaled Mattawa‘s poetry collection Tocqueville and O Fallen Angel, by Kate Zambreno, up on the Kenyon Review and the Quarterly Conversation, respectively.


And now a PS from Hilary: Also up at the Quarterly Conversation, a review by former Clockroot intern A’Dora Phillips, of Abdelfattah Kilito’s The Clash of Images. Check out all of the great Issue 22 of TQC.

But why weren’t we in Brooklyn?

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Up at the Mantle (thanks to Three Percent for the link), notes on the “Reading the World” international literature panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival this past weekend, which included Karen Emmerich (representing Archipelago), as well as folks from Ugly Duckling, Zephyr, and New Directions.  Looks just fantastic—I’ll include the bit on Karen here as a lead-in, with a note to say I’m lucky enough to have read the Vakalo translation she mentions, and indeed it’s wonderful:

Great stuff all around, an excellently curated panel. Every single one of the works presented is worth purchasing (skip the library and give these people some money!). … Karen Emmerich (representing Team Archipelago) read the poetry and prose from the Greek writer Miltos Sachtouris, skipping us across Aegean waters from Greek isles to ancient Greece. And then… Ms. Emmerich read an outstanding piece of poetry on the life of plant, by the poet/author Helenē Vakalo. The Mantle audience pleads for an answer—what is this poem and where can we find it? This vegetative poetic genius!?!?

[Keep reading here—]

Karen also read at Words Without Borders’ “Down and Dirty Round the World” event on Saturday, an evening of “of hard-boiled, pulpy, and erotic international literature” read by a great lineup of translators.  Karen reports she read from our soon-to-be-released The Sleepwalker—which has been one of those books that as you finish sending it to press you think, how did we get so lucky, that this strange and singular creature just came when we called?  Come to think of it, I think The Sleepwalker encompasses,  all of the above—the hard-boiled, the pulpy, the erotic—in one formidable, terrifying, beautiful hybrid.

All of which is to say—what a feast of a weekend!  Even if we weren’t there, how nice to catch something of the energy of it all even up here in this corner of Massachusetts…

“What I mean by transcendental is just over there, not here”

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Another extraordinary reading last night at Schoen Books: Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop. I had the perfect, almost chilling experiencing of having read and been in love with Curves to the Apple all summer, and then when a page from the end, getting to hear the author herself read from it. Keith Waldrop read from Transcendental Studies. Is it too much to say I have never been so mesmerized at a reading? Great American poetry, experienced elbow to elbow with its creators, stuffed all together among the piles of books in that old firehouse, next to mannequins that smelled disarmingly grandmotherly (“mothballs and guilt,” someone said, edging away a little), a spread of chocolate covered pretzels, cheese, and seltzer in the back, and at the end, a box full of homegrown tomatoes, Please, everyone, take one home, was the announcement. I bought a copy of Kafka’s Der Prozess, saying this time truly I would resurrect my German. Well, that’s the best book in German, I was told by the Schoen Books folks, let’s have coffee and read it together. All this making me feel something warm and elusive and persistent about what it is to stuff everyday life and literature into one room and watch as they settle in to become one for a time, as they listen hard to each other, as they wander off separately to the bookshelves or bar at the end of the night.  Tomato in each hand.


“So that with the backs of their bloody heads the meadows they kissed”

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Last night I went to another wonderful reading at Schoen Books, Susan Bernofsky reading her translations of Robert Walser, particularly The Robber and Walser’s first novel, The Tanners, which is forthcoming from New Directions this summer, with an introduction by Sebald.

Her reading was so loving and precise; she often interrupted herself as she talked about Walser to share another anecdote, another thought, another challenge or pleasure in translating him, so that each statement branched off and escalated into celebration.  She couldn’t help but pause after a passage to note something about how the prose functioned, to note some particular beauty of the German she regretted her English couldn’t convey.  The title of this post was from a sentence in one of the stories in the collection Masquerade, her first translation of Walser’s, and she noted sadly how in English there was no way to finish the long fantastic construction of it–about, if I remember, peasants in the Swiss revolution knocking soldiers off their horses, a brutally effective maneuver as the soldiers’ pointed shoes caught in the stirrups as they fell–with the perfect verb “kissed” as in the German.  A loss.  And it struck me then listening to her that translators are really the most beautiful readers, the readers who are at once so perfectly humbled by and invigorated before the text.

Masquerade, she said, was accepted for publication when she was 22 or 23, which she said happens more and more rarely now; publishers are hesitant to take chances on new translators.  Something to remember.

In answer to a question from the audience, she discussed the mystery of why Walser stopped writing when he entered the asylum, or even whether he did, since there are claims to the contrary.  I hadn’t known anything—is it terrible to admit this?—of his biography before going.  I sat back and listened.  People used to ask him why he no longer wrote, she said, and he would reply “I’m not here to write, I’m here to be mad.”  And as she went on about his time in the asylum, how he dedicated himself to his job gluing paper bags, I thought: this is a small useful metaphor for encountering literature from another language.  One enters abruptly at the middle of the conversation, listening to the perambulations and vertiginousness of Walser’s descriptions, swept up in them while knowing nothing.  Others in the room begin an informed conversation of his life and work and one just soaks it up, each story unfolding unexpectedly into another, all of them unknown.  Or, how any great work comes abruptly out of a life and into the shared language: announcing itself as though it had always been meant to be there, any further explanation failing to enter the space it has made for itself, and which its readers are surprised to note was so empty in them before.