ANMLY #29 :: Translation


Each of these pieces has come to us at just the right time. Each piece is different: they come from many countries and a variety of languages, they deal with form and plot and narrative and character in myriad ways. But what they have in common is that they have arrived here today, with us. 

Over the weekend, I was sharing my poems at a small intimate reading. My friend who had organized the reading asked each of us to say something brief about why poetry is important today. To me, the answer is obvious, if inexplicable. But the people listening to us had traveled from small mountain villages, and all of us who were reading wanted to be honest and authentic with them. These pieces here could be one of my answers as to why poetry is important today, but I would expand my answer to why literature in general is important today. In these stories we see a shared struggle. Despite difference, there is a hope at the end of each story, because it has been lived, survived, recorded. Each piece has been written down and shared, the sharing has been so successful that the works found here now exist in a new language, for new readers. 

I am often asking myself what the real work of translation and writing is meant to be. Today I am left with the answer of time. It was being in the mountains that first brought me this. In The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli, translated by Erica Segre and Simon Carnell, there is a chapter about time’s relativity. Rovelli writes about a study conducted with synchronized clocks at sea level and in the mountains. The definitive finding? “Time passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level.” As I read my poems in the mountains I couldn’t help but think of this fact and imagine what other conditions alter our experiences of time without us even noticing. Of course, then I thought how literature changes our experience of time in the world, it lengthens it and shortens it, collapses it, expands it. The world today seems to beg us to live in a perpetual present and the work here has the power not only to move us geographically, which we know translation to be so good at doing, but it has the power to shift our understanding of how narratives are constructed, of what comes first, second, and third in story and in life and how long each of those moments may last. 

In this issue of Anomaly, time returns, time is challenged. In “Happy Few” by Maria José Silveira, translated from the Portuguese by Matthrew Rinaldi, “Sometimes she wonders how she manages to lead this double life. A militant in a clandestine organization and a reporter for a bourgeois newspaper. Two opposites in a risky contradiction. But a legitimate job is fundamental in keeping up the facade of the clandestine life.” The duality of the protagonist’s experiences actually split reality. In “The Magic Alphabet” by Agustín Cadena, translated from the Spanish by Patricia Dubrava, the distance of intimacy is shortened through a seemingly senseless language: “Now I think maybe I invented nothing and those stories were really there, written in an alphabet of a single letter that I somehow had the gift of deciphering.” 

There is “Bad Mexican Dog” by Joans Eika, translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Hellberg, “One of my hands has disappeared under the flesh belt wrapping around my wrist. I move around the organs inside, pull out a kidney and fling it across the sky, see myself trailing after it like a shooting star or maybe just a seagull, but I’m a beach boy. That’s the contract I signed.” It is a story in which vivid memory becomes part of the present. Or “The Reunion” by Nicolás Poblete Pardo, translated from the Spanish by Claire Hirsch, which shows us how family can make years suddenly vanish, returning us to our younger selves, “I listen to my mother and I am a petal, I am a bird, I am very fragile and I cry heedlessly. Her tenderness hurts my soul and I take note of her “we have to.” It is my mother who includes me in this healing project, and I remember that lovely breeze, like in a movie, the drive, the picnic, and my mother’s left arm stretching out to rest her palm on my father’s curious seat cushion. Her “we have to” is similar to the arm that included us all.”

In this issue, there are poems that bring the reader into the time of war. Fast and slow and violent and vulnerable in “The Squealing Hinge of Anarchy: by Hawad, first translated from the Tamazight, and then the French by Jake Syersak: “Right here right here,/ the two pillars,/ lung and heart,/ right here right here/ the javelins,/ the cries of combat and gazes/ uprooted from the tombs of the great desert.” There are the poems “May the Girls Forgive Rafael Salcedo,” “The Prince of the Sinú Valley,” and “Lola Jattin” by Raúl Gómez Jattin, translated from the Spanish by Katherine M. Hedeen and Olivia Lott dealing with the struggles of masculinity and violence and the elasticity of pain, “His forever in me like a long-desired love/ at the heart of every moment Of every poem” 

In a series of poems by Lívía Natália, translated from the Portuguese by Tiffany Higgins from “My Dear Friend,” the narrator, the “I” persona, uses this term “unlearning.” Taking apart this world of progress and forward moving improvement: “I keep on unlearning how to sing,/ find that life has lost its allure,/ and all the shipwrecks I made of myself/ in order to find you” Something similar happens in “Slowness” and “Dissolution two poems from Slowness by Maríá do Cebreiro translated from the Galician by Jacob Rogers, “The difference between slowness and speed/ is a matter of degree. You could spend/ your whole life at the threshold to your house,/ watching the sun go up and down each day,/ or you could spend your whole life/ in a rush. The two lives aren’t so unlike.” Relativity placed at the forefront of our temporal experience. Progress is never clear; the universe is not only moving forward. Look at “I Like You” and “Arrival” poems by Yasmin Nigri, translated from the Portuguese by Robert Smith and Yasmin Nigiri: “I like you/ The way I like string theory/ Wormholes/ And white holes/ Which are the opposite of black holes/ And allow the universe to stay/ In constant expansion…”

Four Poems from Night by Ennio Moltedo, translated from the Spanish by Marguerite Feitlowitz, brings this notion back to writing itself. These lines here a seeming reflection on the time of writing, the slow transcription, the immediate idea, the years between the writer and the reader or between one reader and another: “Write me a law, write it by hand. A law that lays down a life sentence: to read and listen to poetry. Including the epic, with its pre-fab prosody and caterpillar cadence: rhymed gunshots and bared breasts to excite the listener, and then what happens, happens.”

This reading certainly also has to do with the season, autumn in the northern hemisphere, the days shorten but our movements quicken out of the summer heat. The world wants us to remember all of its dimensions. In his book Time and Narrative: Vol. 1 Paul Ricoeur, as translated by Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellaur, writes, “A constant thesis of this book will be that speculation on time is an inconclusive rumination to which narrative activity alone can respond. Not that this activity solves the aporias through substitution. If it does resolve them, it is in a poetical and not a theoretical sense of the word.” Each piece in the translation section Anomaly 29 challenges notions of how time might be lived and how it might be shared through reading. I found this particular group of texts to be exceptionally wild and conceptual in the best ways, asking readers to break free of old conventions about structure and seek new modes and moods for reading.

Allison Grimaldi-Donahue, Associate Translation Editor
September 2019

Anomaly #29 Translation Team

María José Giménez, Assistant Translation Editor
Allison Grimaldi-Donahue, Associate Translation Editor
Kira Josefsson, Assistant Translation Editor
Anna Rosenwong, Translation Editor