It is my honor to introduce the inaugural issue of Drunken Boat’s translation section. While Drunken Boat has a long history of supporting literary translation, it has generally been integrated into the relevant genres and presented without special fanfare. Why a dedicated section now, then? This sounds like the sort of ghettoizing that translators like myself might specifically fight against.
In fact, Drunken Boat’s genre sections will continue to publish those outstanding works in translation that come their way. The new feature before you will seek not to supplant, but to exceed this, not just publishing remarkable works in translation, but highlighting the remarkable work of translation. Call it “translation forward.”
We’re especially compelled by “difficult” work that expands our literary, linguistic, or cultural horizons; work that knows translation is a conversation; voices that have been marginalized; voices too contemporary, too rooted, or too resistant to have yet reached English-reading eyes; and—in some cases—experimental translations that flip the script by foregrounding (interrogating, problematizing, celebrating) the position of the translator.
To that end, the work featured here will be followed by translators’ notes in the form of analysis, synopsis, historical contextualization, personal anecdote, or anything else the translator feels will help situate the text and/or the translation process. Don’t miss them—they’re fantastic. When possible, the works are also accompanied by audio recordings in English and the original languages, enabling us to experience the voices that bring us these texts.
For this inaugural issue, I’ve chosen to share my exuberance by casting a wide net across languages, eras, literary styles, and approaches. I could not gush enough about these works or their amazingly talented—and frequently award-winning—translators, but I’ll take the opportunity here for some brief highlights:
Opening the section is María José Giménez’s virtuosic excerpt of Alejandro Saravia’s novel, Rojo, Amarillo, Verde (“Red, Yellow, and Green”), which demonstrates the extreme challenge and reward of implacably multilingual texts. Told in French, Spanish, Quechua, and English, Saravia’s story invites us into the world of a Bolivian immigrant to Montreal who falls in love with a Kurdish woman. This wry, polyvocal, poetic work challenges assumptions about cultural, national, and linguistic identity while grappling with the traumas of colonialism, exile, and war.
From the other side of immigration comes the lyrical voice of Mikeas Sánchez. As her incomparable translator David Shook explains, Sánchez’s poems “bear witness to the migratory experience of the contemporary indigenous Mexican” and explore the complex world of the Zoque community in Chiapas today. In a complex juggling act familiar to many writers of lesser known languages, Sánchez translates her own work into Spanish, which has in turn been translated beautifully into English by Shook. I especially urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to hear Sánchez read her work in the original Zoque, and to seek out Shook’s book-length collection of her poems, forthcoming soon from Phoneme Press.
I’d love to go on at length about Yardenne Greenspan’s sharp-edged translation of Hebrew writer Rachel Shalita’s problematic and magical story, “The Ecstasy of Saint Francis,” and what its “broken” narrator might have to say to the conflicted work-study student in Tomislav Kusmanovic’s droll translation of Croatian writer Maja Hrgović’s glibly dark “Back in Five Minutes.” Or to compare the very different flavors of delicious strangeness in the German and French fiction so brilliantly and painstakingly crafted in English by Emily Banwell Lagrone and Edward Gauvin.
This issue also collects Boris Dralyuk’s powerful translations of three influential turn-of-the-century Russian poets, opening with Nikolay Gumilyov “The Lost Tram,” a “lavish, feverish vision of imperial St. Petersburg” filled with “vivid imagery and insistent rhythm” that, as the translator points out, “bring to mind Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau ivre.” In his translations of 9th century Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin, Lucas Klein boldly and nimbly introduces us to “one of the most ambiguous and densely allusive poets in the Chinese tradition.” Anthropologist and translator Philip Amin-Grant amplifies the stunning, full-throated voice of modernist Persian poet Forough Farrokhzad, whose iconoclastic life and poems made her one of the Iran’s most influential poets of the 20th century.
And, finally, it is a special joy to feature the winners of the 2014 Best Translated Book Award: Italian poet Elisa Biagini and her translators, Diana Thow and Sarah Stickney. In Thow and Stickney’s dazzling translation, Biagini’s surreal, understated poems create haunted domestic spaces that are urgent, disturbing, and luminous. May they invite you in and keep you there, as all of this issue’s works did me.