Hopscotch Editors’ 2021 Roundup
by the Hopscotch Translation editorial team
For our final publication of 2021, the editors of Hopscotch Translation would like to offer a few thoughts on a handful of their favorite works in translation from the past year (or so)—and look forward to some of the many exciting new translations coming out in 2022!
As I’ve been wrapping up revisions on a dissertation chapter on the French inventeur maudit Charles Cros (1842-1888), whose idea for recording sound via a machine called the paléophone was overshadowed and surpassed by Thomas Edison, I was delighted to discover a recent title in the “Imagining Science” line by Wakefield Press, Cros’ Principles of Cerebral Mechanics, translated from the French by Doug Skinner (2021; orig. Principes de mécanique cérébrale, 1879). Since Cros dabbled in poetry and comic monologues alongside his scientific endeavors, his scientific writings sometimes betray the dramatic flair and wistful longing of a dreamer. This slim volume contains fragments of his scientific writings on the mechanics of perception, first presented to the Academy of Sciences on 20 May 1872. Cros’ paléophone of 1877 and his chromomètre of 1878 are logical extensions of this project in which he endeavored to imagine the human brain as a sort of recording machine for the five senses, beginning with vision. In designing imaginary machines to explore visual stimuli, Cros blurs the line between scientific treatise and fiction. This text will be of particular interest to interdisciplinary scholars of literature, science, and history. On a related note, I am also looking forward to another title in this Wakefield series due out next year, Gaston de Pawlowksi’s New Inventions and Latest Innovations, translated by Amanda DeMarco, whose satirical catalogue of “absurd imaginary gadgets” looks to be a decidedly more humorous approach to the scientific imaginary than Cros’.
Another highlight of the year was Matt Reeck’s translation from the French of Patrick Chamoiseau’s French Guiana: Memory Traces of the Penal Colony (Wesleyan University Press, 2020). In this collaborative work, Chamoiseau’s poetic reflections enter into dialogue with haunting photographs taken by Rodolphe Hammadi, which depict the rusted cells and overgrown courtyards of the abandoned penal colony in ruins. One system in a network of bagnes scattered across the “carceral archipelago” (xi) of the former French Empire, the penal colony in French Guiana operated from 1852 to 1953, and is best known as having received the wrongly convicted Captain Alfred Dreyfus in April 1895. Elaborating a concept of the “Memory trace” (trace mémoire) to grapple with the material and immaterial memories of a forgotten place that was an integral part of the French colonial apparatus, Reeck’s Chamoiseau illustrates the power of poetry to destabilize hegemonic History and bear witness to the silenced past. Thankfully, 2022 will bring more Chamoiseau into English, with his novel L’empreinte à Crusoé (2012) forthcoming by Charly Verstraet through the CARAF Books series (Caribbean and African Literature translated from French) by the University of Virginia Press.
Back on January 31, 2019, I hosted the fourth event in my Hopscotch Translation Series at Penn Book Center in Philadelphia (which may have been the first time all four of the current Hopscotch editors were together in the same room!)—a poetry reading with two fantastic poets, working in both Spanish and English, between them and beyond them, opening up a space brimming with explosive political and linguistic possibilities: Raquel Salas Rivera and Urayoán Noel. 2021 saw new publications by each of these authors (both from University of Arizona Press) and both were predictably stunning.
Urayoán Noel’s poetry almost always involves some measure of critical self-translation. Yet the result isn’t simply a bilingual poetry collection—nor does it come anywhere close to being a dry, academic reflection on the possibilities and impossibilities of translation. Noel’s formal inventiveness, his flair for wordplay, and his Oulipian ability to create through constraint, allow him to stage a real encounter between Spanish and English, plumbing the political-historical depths they contain and releasing relations that are very much alive. Transversal is just as much a masterpiece as his previous volume, Buzzing Hemisphere / Rumor Hemisférico (2015)—and like that great earlier work, its brilliance lies not only in its ability to provoke thought, but also in its insistent production of joy.
Raquel Salas Rivera’s poetry is also essentially bilingual. And though x/ex/exis does give us Spanish and English versions of each poem on facing pages (which is not the case with all of their books, mind you), Rivera is no less adept than Noel at forcing the linguistic confrontation. To read the facing pages as equivalents would be to overlook their imposed and sanctioned isolation and to miss the many borders, boundaries, and dichotomies that Rivera shatters throughout this book. These poems rage through the unfolding of exquisite imagery, never losing sight of the ideas that guide them and never letting our decidedly still colonial political present off the hook. If you’re looking for a voice and a vision to help you eradicate the tiny fascists haunting your head, heart, and hands, Raquel Salas Rivera may be the poet for you.
These two books are without a doubt two of the best works of/in/against translation that I read in 2021 and I can’t recommend both authors’ works highly enough (including Noel’s excellent translations of Chilean poet Pablo de Rokha). But I would also like to highlight the tremendous work being done by the University of Arizona Press, specifically in two series devoted to Latinx literature: Camino del Sol and their series of publications of the winners of the Ambroggio Prize. Camino del Sol is edited by Rigoberto González and spotlights poetry, fiction, and essays from both emerging and established voices in Latinx literature. In 2021, in addition to Transversal, this series gave us Valerie Martinez’s Count, a powerful book-length poem that grapples with ecological crises through a heterogeneous mix of styles and sources. The Ambroggio Prize is given by the Academy of American Poets for a book-length poetry manuscript originally written in Spanish and with an English translation. The winners’ books have now all been published by the University of Arizona Press, starting with x/ex/exis (the 2018 winner), followed by Gloria Muñoz’s bilingual collection Danzirly and a translation (by María José Giménez and Anna Rosenwong) of Puerto Rican poet Mara Pastor’s incredible Deuda Natal. All of these books are at the top of my list this year—and I’m eagerly awaiting both series’ offerings for 2022!
I’ll admit that, looking back, I didn’t read as many new translations in 2021 as I do most years. Coming out of nine consecutive years of postgraduate study at long last, 2021 was a year of literary self-indulgence, which I filled with selfish delight and intellectual unwinding, mostly alternating between early-century weird tales, mid-century hardboiled crime, and literary catch-up, checking off some of the many important titles that I had not had the time to read while saddled with so many pages selected for me by my studies. All the same, I’m happy to share with Hopscotch a couple of 2021 translations that I did find the time to enjoy.
During the first year of the pandemic, I often got the feeling that time had stopped. That real life had been pushed back, and would resume at some later date. This feeling was accentuated by the repeated publication delays of the first new Italo Calvino translation in many years, an updated collection of the Italian master’s early fiction. Finally, last summer, along with some freedom to leave the apartment, the long-awaited volume silently appeared like a puff of smoke: Last Comes the Raven (Mariner Books, June 2021). The thirty short stories in this collection were originally published by Einaudi in 1949 as Ultimo viene il corbo, and comprised Calvino’s second book after The Path to the Spiders’ Nests. Written between 1945 and 1949, these pieces have more in common stylistically with Calvino’s first novel than they do with later works such as Cosmicomics or Mr. Palomar, but for the Calvino completist, this volume is an opportunity to further investigate the author’s early writing. This publication addresses a lacuna that can be frustrating to readers: when an author’s first work appears in English, publishers sometimes tend to test the waters instead of diving right in, and in doing so, tie up the rights to certain pieces but not others. This can leave us unable to read an entire volume as it was intended, and indeed, leaves many readers unaware that there is even anything missing. A number of these stories were including in the first English-language collection of Calvino’s short fiction, Adam, One Afternoon (Collins, 1957, translated by Archibald Colquhoun & Peggy Wright); some appeared much later in Difficult Loves (HBJ, 1984) alongside other, later material, with some of the pieces still in the Colquhoun & Wright translations, others translated (or retranslated) by William Weaver; others still were left out of both of these collections entirely. Finally, with Last Comes the Raven, all thirty stories are presented together in a collection that seems to draw largely from the Weaver translations, supplemented by Colquhoun & Wright when there is no Weaver version, and to which is added Ben Johnson’s 1954 translation of the title story, and, most importantly, is then capped off by eleven new translations by Ann Goldstein, including (by my count) seven previously unpublished stories. Up next, supposedly in July 2022, is another volume of largely unpublished-in-English Calvino, this time a collection of essays, The Written World and the Unwritten World, which (hoorah!) purportedly include some of Calvino’s reflections on translation, a craft with which he had first-hand experience.
Speaking of single-author volumes with multiple translators, another 2021 read that I would like to mention is Izumi Suzuki’s Terminal Boredom (Verso Books, April 2021), translated by Polly Barton, Sam Bett, David Boyd, Daniel Joseph, Aiko Masubuchi, and Helen O’Horan. Marketed as work by a Japanese cult author of science fiction and counterculture, this collection of seven stories employs science fiction and speculative fiction in a manner I’ve always enjoyed: the science fiction elements here are largely a backdrop and never truly the driving force of the stories, which instead make use of them to highlight social and intellectual concerns such as gender issues, identity, drugs, pop culture, politics, even overpopulation. Stylistically, Suzuki’s stories (in this multiplicity of Anglo and American voicings) are simple and hardly elaborate, reading as colloquial and highly oral narrations by relatively young (and largely female) narrators. And yet, there is some fine detail work done here by the book’s translators, informed translation decisions that led me to reach out to translator David Boyd with a few questions. It is clear, for example, that Sam Bett has worked to preserve non-standard syntax and unexpected register pops in “Night Picnic,” a story featuring an alien family trying to pass themselves off as human based on cultural artifacts from the twentieth century. Perhaps more striking to me was a smattering of newly-forged idiomatic expressions in David Boyd’s contribution, “You May Dream,” where, to compensate for unusual formulations by Suzuki, Boyd has forged new expressions that sound very close to ones we use in contemporary English, but are just different enough that they function as a speed-bump to the reader. While I don’t read Japanese, this work by the translators was evident to the extent that as a reader, I found myself tugging on these loose threads, wondering what it was that Suzuki’s source Japanese had offered up to force their hands in such a way. I enjoyed Suzuki’s quirky stories, but this for me was perhaps the highlight of the collection: this English-language insight into the foreign. By this, of course, I don’t mean the foreign that is Japanese when compared to English, but instead the foreign in Suzuki’s own Japanese, when compared to Japanese. Enough with “seamless” translations, I say… Show us the seams!
Finally, I’d like to mention a charming novel I read prior to its release in February 2021, The Ardent Swarm by Yamen Manai (translated by Lara Vergnaud, Amazon Crossing). Bordering on contemporary fairy tale, this Tunisian novel has been described as an allegory for post-Arab Spring Tunisia, but it had an additional selling point for me: it’s a playful tale starring everyone’s favorite protagonist…BEES. A less terrifying “Leiningen Versus the Ants” with underdog honeybees, vicious invading murder hornets, a simple country beekeeper, and a villainous prince who amuses himself by having his dancers bathe in a tub filled with honey and money. Vergnaud’s translation is elegant as always, she finds just the right English voice for this uplifting story. If you’re on the hunt for an adventuresome and inspiring quick read, but are also curious about how we might defend ourselves from murder hornets in 2022, I’m happy to recommend Yamen Manai’s Ardent Swarm.
2022 is sure to bring us countless new translated treasures. That’s one of the advantages of being a reader of literature in translation – new is new, but just as often, old is new. There are already a number of new translations that I’m looking forward to next year. First, Sublunary Editions in Seattle will publish a short and previously untranslated Julio Cortázar novella, Letters from Mom, in a translation by Hopscotch regular Magdalena Edwards. In February, NYRB Classics will publish Esther Allen’s new Antonio Di Benedetto translation, The Silentiary, the premise of which has me excited for a great follow-up to the 2017 National Translation Award winning Zama. In March, New Directions will publish Yoko Tawada’s Scattered All Over the Earth, translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani. I’ve found everything I’ve read by Tawada to be excellent, but this new dystopian novel promises a protagonist who teaches a post-destruction-of-Japan invented language, Panska (Pan-Scandinavian), and that ticks a lot of boxes for me. Then, in May, Wakefield Press will be publishing the first English translation of Boris Vian’s Vercoquin and the Plankton. I’m not familiar with translator Terry Bradford’s work, but I have been assured that he has done an impressive job. Vercoquin was Vian’s first novel, passed on to Raymond Queneau at Gallimard by Jean Rostand, the noted science writer and the Vian family’s neighbor. At the time, Queneau was preparing a new editorial line, La Plume au vent, which was to focus on fresh voices and young writers. The book’s inclusion in the series would launch Vian’s career (short-lived though it was), and set in motion a close and collaborative friendship between Queneau and Vian. I’m very curious to see how Bradford has navigated Vian’s playful and tricky style. And finally, in June, how could I not be curious to read Werner Herzog’s first foray into fiction? Penguin is slated to publish The Twilight World, translated by Michael Hofmann, “a story inspired by a real-life Japanese soldier who stood guard on a tiny island—all by himself, eventually—for 29 years after WWII.” Happy reading in translation, friends!
There are any number of translated books from the past year that I’d have loved to recommend, so to narrow things down here I figured I’d stick to the poetry side of things and pick out a couple of favorites. I first found out about Annie Rutherford’s translations of the Belarusian poet Volha Hapeyeva when I listened to a conversation that the two of them had recorded for the Scottish Poetry Library podcast in the summer of 2020. It was such a warm, joyful exchange amid the isolation of the pandemic—the perfect invitation into the quirks of their shared poetic world. I couldn’t have known that just a few months later Annie would end up writing about their collaboration for Hopscotch. The poem to which she gave us a brilliant companion piece, “drink, my girl, drink,” is central to In My Garden of Mutants, which appeared in February from Arc Publications and promptly won an English PEN Award. Some of the poems are marked by the “black dog” of melancholy, while others can be downright acerbic (“drink, my girl, drink,” a poem about clandestine abortion, reminded me of Paul Celan’s “Todesfuge”), yet I often seem to hear a wry smile in the voice, just as I did in the podcast. For a book that so fully inhabits loss and unknowing, it hums with life. And who can resist the pleasures of a facing-page bilingual edition?
Exhausted on the Cross, the second collection that Kareem James Abu-Zeid has translated by the Palestinian poet Najwan Darwish for NYRB, is every bit as defiant, and always pithy, even in the broad sweep of its historical imagination. Occasional shades of Cavafy, perhaps… Whether the poems are aphoristic or stretching over a couple of pages, the translator’s language is a model of concision—or perhaps I should say incision. “People are simply people. / Peel off the languages, and all you’ll find / is women and men” (88). I love the idea of a translation that is somehow adding a layer of language while at the same time stripping layers away to reach a core of human experience.
Poems and letters and two-way translation: these are a few of my favorite things… and Agitated Air (Tenement Press, 2022) is going to combine all three! Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger will soon be publishing their lyric correspondence branching out from the work of the early 13th-century philosopher-poet Ibn Arabi. Coming on the heels of Seale’s new translation of 1001 Nights, this is terrifically exciting. And I admit I hadn’t heard of the German poet Ulrike Almut Sandig until very recently, when an extraordinary sequence of “Lamentations” appeared in the latest issue of Modern Poetry in Translation, rendered into English by Karen Leeder; I now know to look out for Leeder’s translation of Sandig’s debut novel, Monsters Like Us, forthcoming in the spring from the ever wonderful Seagull Books. Roll on, 2022!
Happy New Year from Hopscotch Translation!
Originally published on Hopscotch Translation
Tuesday, December 28, 2021