Sometimes we read fiction to escape, to experience the art of writing, or to lose ourselves in plot. Non-fiction is often imagined the territory of learning, absorbing direct information on a topic. We often forget that fiction still has this power, to take you somewhere real you’ve never been, to introduce you to people you might not have otherwise met. Fiction can convey social realities and erode the “otherness” of others. Sometimes even when we set out to read to escape, to read for fun, we are confronted with truths about our world. But of course, true art about the human experience never eludes the social and the political.chop! chop! read more!
Ros Schwartz has been a literary translator for 36 years and has been an active participant in the evolution of the profession. She has translated over 70 books from French to English by writers as diverse as Moroccan author Tahar Ben Jelloun and French crime writer Dominique Manotti, as well as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. She has presided as vice-chair of the Translators Association, as chair of the European Council of Literary Translators Association and as chair of English PEN’s Writers in Translation program. Most recently Schwartz translated Translation as Transhumance, which was reviewed by Cleaver.
In this interview, Ros Schwartz discusses the process of translating a book about translation, including her work with Gansel, her theory of translation, and translation as activism.chop! chop! read more!
Dear June, “Jack” and I have been dating for over two years now. We’re planning to move in together when my lease runs out in June, and are starting to talk in very general terms about settling in for the long run. I think he loves me, but I have started to worry that he loves me more for my family than for myself. There are five of us: Mom, Dad, Nonie, Jack, and me. Except for Nonie, my kid sister who is away at college, we all live within a few miles of one another. My parents still live in the family home, which is a great place—the house all the neighborhood kids always wanted to hang out in, not just because it is very comfortable and has a pool and a basement with a ping-pong table and other great kid amenities, but also because of my parents, … chop! chop! read more!
POETRY AS PRACTICE How Paying Attention Helps Us Improve Our Writing in the Age of Distraction A Craft Essay by Scott Edward Anderson In this lyrical essay on the writing life, Scott Edward Anderson shows how poetry can be more than a formal approach to writing, more than an activity of technique, but a way to approach the world, which is good for both the poet and the poem.—Grant Clauser, Editor Walking in Wissahickon Park after dropping my twins at their school in Philadelphia, I find muddy trails from the night’s heavy rains and temporary streams running along my path. The fuchsia flowers of a redbud tree shine brilliantly against the green of early leafing shrubs. A few chipmunks scurry among leaves on the forest floor. Birdsong is all around me: I note some of the birds—if they are bright enough and close enough to the trail or I recognize … chop! chop! read more!
He put his book down and looked at me over the top of his glasses. “I never said that, Billy.”
“Said what, Anton?”
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
“Oh, that. Yeah, someone turned what you actually said into a show-don’t-tell rule. On behalf of all the writers who should know better, I apologize. If they’d read your stories, they’d notice how skillfully you balanced showing and telling.”chop! chop! read more!
I recently finished a memoir manuscript about my bipolar mother and her eventual suicide.
Light, easy writing, right? When I tell strangers about my manuscript, they cock their heads in sympathy as if to say, “You poor thing. ” Some even suggest I’ve misconstrued the events in my own life. Surely your mother wasn’t really mentally ill. You must have it all wrong. Others lean in as if they are about to hear a juicy story. But the majority recoil: Mothers. Daughters. Mental illness. Who would touch such a topic?chop! chop! read more!
When will we stop imaging climate change in the future and how can we reorient ourselves to this reality? Adrian Parr’s new academic work on climate change, Birth of a New Earth, attempts to answer this question by tapping into the recent trend of considering the positive, some might even say utopian, possibilities that the crisis of climate change allows. She argues, “Regardless of environmental harms and changes in climate impacting people differently, there remains a shared human experience of hardship that will intensify as time passes. For this reason, the environmental and climate crises contain the political potential to radically change social life so it evolves into a more equitable, inclusive, collaborative, and voluntary social system.”chop! chop! read more!
Compulsory diversity reads like a checklist: one character of color, one queer character, one character with a disability. Ta-da, instant diversity, just add water and stir. Predictably, this shallow formula reads pretty false. Black characters written by black authors are always going to be more real. Bookish people on twitter have been talking about this for a couple of years now and a phrase that I’ve seen pop-up a couple of times is “stay in your lane.” I love this analogy. We’re all readers and writers on the same highway. We all want to do good art that reflects the world around us. We should be aware of all the cars on the road. We shouldn’t merge just because that’s where all the traffic seems to be going: changes to our destination can be dangerous. Your writing and your perspectives are important.chop! chop! read more!
Time of Gratitude is an unusual text: the collected pieces are both prose and poetry, some of them written for events and some written as personal reflection. Translator Peter France has organized the book into two sections. The first one is devoted to Russian and Chuvash writers and artists, including Boris Pasternak, Kazimir Malevich, Varlam Shalamov, and Chuvash poet Mikhail Sespel.chop! chop! read more!
Curtains checked for anthrax, podium erected.
The balloons will fall to the floor if elected.
The ass-groper, interloper, and false hoper
Will find themselves shoved out the door if elected.
Over the past year I lost a great deal of weight and am much healthier and happier. I also look good, if I do say so myself. I worked hard and I am proud of my accomplishment. But I am not so happy when this coworker of mine, whom I will call “Jefferson” although she is actually named after another president, keeps telling me that she is proud of me.chop! chop! read more!
For Mireille Gansel, the work of translation is an all-consuming task. Before embarking on a project, Gansel first immerses herself in the world of the poet she is translating. She studies the historical context of their writing as well as the personal context. Wherever possible, she engages with their physical environment: she visits their home, observes their writing space. And, ideally, she listens to the poet read their work aloud. Attempting to translate a single German word, “sensible,” in a poem by Reiner Kunze, Gansel travels from West to East Germany to “[listen] to the poet read, alert to his intonations and facial expressions. In the tiny blue kitchen, I was conscious of his precarious everyday life.” She imagines the letters from friends in exile that he’ll never receive, and the mingling of his two languages, a German abstracted by Nazism and a Czech repressed by war, both of which survive in the poetry of his contemporaries, in songs from his childhood. Here, in this intersection of past and present, Gansel finds the word for “sensible”: fragile.chop! chop! read more!
Do Roy and Celestial have an ordinary American marriage? The title of Tayari Jones’ fourth novel implies that perhaps they do in fact have a quintessential American life, and in many ways they do…chop! chop! read more!
He doesn’t notice the desert.
The smell of the dead rising, birds or fish, saltwater
feeding on air or salt air on the water, the sand
turning black as it wraps his ankles like a skeleton hand.
He doesn’t know why the horseshoe crab shells
Above all else, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is a novelist’s novel. Literary-minded readers will revel in the novel’s allegorical framework extending anywhere from cautionary tale to failed bildungsroman to a metaphor of novel reading itself.chop! chop! read more!
Situated between a national and a personal history, Kiki Petrosino’s poetry book Black Genealogy sifts through the past in search of lost identity, language, bodies, and self-possession amidst the legacy of the Civil War and slavery in America. The book details an exploration of both a familial and a larger American reality through the lens of a contemporary African American persona.chop! chop! read more!
For the uninitiated, if it’s even possible there exist humans unaware of Flowers in the Attic, the series concerns a family called Dollanganger (in hindsight, perhaps a sly play on doppelganger?) who, for reasons I can’t and don’t even care to remember, end up living with the mother’s parents in a big old Gothic mansion in Virginia, where the mother agrees to lock her four children away in an attic for an unspecified stretch of time. (Spoiler alert: it turns out to be years.)chop! chop! read more!
For those of us still traumatized by the 2016 Presidential election, the debut novel Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado, is the emotional and intellectual release for which we have been waiting. It is electric with the #Resist spirit. It underscores the importance of the #MeToo movement. And, it tackles issues such as gender, language, and human interaction through a fresh, folkloric perspective. Winner of the Bard Fiction Prize and finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, the Kirkus Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize, this collection of ten short stories is timeless, yet also a necessary way to transition from 2017 to 2018.chop! chop! read more!
the first day I met my editor,chop! chop! read more!
When Hans Herbert Grimm’s semi-autobiographical novel Schlump was published in 1928 alongside All Quiet on the Western Front, it was advertised as a “truthful depiction” of World War I. It is no surprise that Grimm took on the the pseudonym Schlump, just as his protagonist does, to hide his identity. As explained by Volker Weidermann in the afterward, Grimm “describe[s] the German soldiers of the Great War as less than heroic,” and “the entire war as a cruel, bad joke.” While this caused the Nazis to burn his book in 1933, today it gives the text, translated by Jamie Bulloch, a feeling of authenticity.chop! chop! read more!
My friend BR gives me the manuscript of his novel because he wants to know what I think. I read it and we make plans to meet in a café to talk. The novel is mediocre, like almost everything BR writes. I give him my critique, which essentially rests on one problem: he tries to maintain too much control. As if he were afraid that the story he’s telling wasn’t enough for a novel, he stretches out his descriptions and rambles on.chop! chop! read more!
Moira’s son is snuggling against his grandfather on the couch. That’s all. Just resting on the old man’s shoulder, his forehead against his frayed collar. Michael looks tired, sweaty. There’s color high in his cheeks, as if he’s just come in from play. The sliding glass door is slightly open, and She can hear her father singing to him, something low, soft, painfully familiar. His knee moves up and down in steady cadence with the song. Eyes closed, they seem lost in each other’s comfort. She tries to swallow, but it tastes like acid, so she spits into the grass.chop! chop! read more!
I wear my love for foxgloves
on my digits, nibble on each
to slow the fibrillations.
Oh, it will never happen here, the nurse says. If she is concerned, she is too nice to show it.
Everyone is so nice here. The nurses, the lawyer who helps us with the paperwork, the people from the refugee center who bring us clothes; even the doctor, the surgeon who amputated all of our fingers, except for one of my thumbs, is a really nice man.chop! chop! read more!
I suppose I should tell you that I didn’t buy the apartment. Randi the realtor called (remember her, with the forehead?) and said the owners were still undecided, but I had visited by myself the week before, and it didn’t feel right anymore. I guess it was too big for just me and Pammy. Too many rooms, too many spiderwebby corners. They ended up selling it to that Polish couple, I think. For now, I’m living with my dad, who sayschop! chop! read more!
Dritan wondered whether he made the right decision in telling them to go ahead, so sure that he would catch up. Had he been sure though? He began to feel the numbness set in his hands, in his wrists, in his shoulders and back, though it wasn’t long before he felt his muscles begin to burn and cramp, giving him no choice but to stop kicking. His ears filled with the sounds of the others splashing onwards, though now the splashing came from all around him as the tides and waves had pulled them all apart.chop! chop! read more!
It’s moonlit and muggy out as Peety Alfaro walks to work. Under the yellow streetlights, he pauses to wipe the condensation off his glasses. Once done, he affixes his large and thick lenses back onto his face and takes a deep breath. Exhaling, he tugs rapidly at his white tee to cool off. Then he nods hard and continues walking, shoulders back and head up.chop! chop! read more!
puddle son of a bitch
light the east
In the ground, the real
never of a boy
How a couple recovers
I do not know
Agony of mother, father
Two weeks from his due
We gave ourselves matching haircuts
but only temple rye cures. Temper
your dog but only scaremongering
ignites crows. Shared the phobia collar
but only in shifts. See but only gavels.
An iris’ pillory but only a shaker of gifts.
But only our handsome freckles
divvied among avenue skin.
On the Mason jar she pasted a product label so as not to create any bubbles beneath it. The jar was made of extra-thick brown glass that distorted vision like coke-bottom spectacles. The label thus enabled the public to quickly pick the one they wanted. She was proud of her job. She put back the jar on the conveyor belt.chop! chop! read more!
“But Martin was born in Lancashire,” I said to the man seated across from me the afternoon of the arrest.
The man, whose black hair was slicked neatly back, offered me a cigarette.
I declined. “Martin’s not German, much less a German spy.”
The man placed a cigarette between his lips and lit it with the flick of a silver lighter. He inhaled deeply and then exhaled, the smoke blue-grey in the dimly-lit room.
“Mrs. Ridley,” he said. “We have ample evidence of your husband’s activities in support of the Third Reich.”
“Madam, I assure you, everything is in order.”chop! chop! read more!
Sunlight sealed behind
cirrus behemoths, I am
deep in left field. Suited
up in stripes, I wait for
something to come my
way. One cloud becomes
a prickly pear. I’m grateful
for my hat. Leafless trees
BERLIN STORY: Time, Memory, Place by Emily Steinberg with an introduction by Tahneer Oksman Like fresh snow covering over a messy urban landscape, there’s a kind of concealing but also unifying quality to the fourteen central images of Emily Steinberg’s “Berlin Story.” Following a four-panel introduction, in which our narrator introduces herself as having grown up an anxious, fearful depressive, lost in the grip of, among other things, the “images of death, murder and gratuitous Nazi sadism” shown to her in Hebrew school, we are presented with still portrayals of an uninhabited, idyllic setting. Each drawing, contained in an unframed rectangle, presents its viewers with a narrowed angle, or point of view, proximate to or regarding the famous Wannsee Villa, a mansion located in the suburbs of Berlin. The drawings are in black and white, cramped with details composed from demarcated lines, some of them even slightly wobbly marks. From … chop! chop! read more!
don’t know what was wrong
with the person who did this,
but I met my wife when this
was a drugstore, years before
the chaos you see here. Harney’s
Nissan, going a hundred, slammed
a Mazda; pieces of cars
flew into the windows of Town
Hardware, slid and banged three
On the eve …..of never forgetting…..I still
want to run away…..from you together….. or
not run….. but bite or register….. bionic judgment
always there….. to be crushed by….. unblinking
jacked….. and futuristic….. Some trees are easier
to climb than others….. Ailanthus for example
with a ladder leaned up against it….. or a poplar
Adonis was a painting. Or rather, he was a boy, but his limbs and lips looked as though they were made of artistry and creamy filaments of paint. It is no wonder, then, that Venus loved him. She kept him pillowed in her lap, far from the wars and deaths of heroes, and whispered him stories, her warm breath travelling across his lips. On days she was forced to leave him, Adonis made love to the forest instead, exploring it slowly, deliberately. On one of these days of absences and longing, a wild boar came across Adonis and gutted the canvas of his torso from stomach to collarbone. When Venus returned and found his broken body, she discovered the shape of heartbreak. Distraught, she made the spray of his blood bubble into hard teardrop seeds. And so, nourished by the blood of the most beautiful man to have ever been loved, the pomegranate blossomed into existence.chop! chop! read more!
If I could be anywhere
in the Fall
it would be Korea
walking rubberized pavement
to the top of Namsan Tower
surprised by snow in October
He taught me how to bend their arms
so they stayed. To solder them
solid with lead and resin, perfect
alchemical drops. Each striped
in mathematical candy—purple
for seven, green for five—it took
a simple decoder. But how
to speak to me, his daughter
striped in a thrift-store skirt
We prayed this way until sunset, when finally all of the bodies had been brought up high on the shore. We took the water-seeped wood, as we were used to do, and carried it to Branches’ Farm, where all wet wood went to dry. Then we carried back with them to shore piles and piles of dried wood. This went on right through supper—for no one ever ate until this task was done. There on the sand our men lay the wood from old shipwrecks and piled the bodies to make the pyre. As the flames reached high, our women closed their scarves around their bodies and made their way back to their homes to start the very late supper. Father Joe took this time to look out over us while enjoying his dinner of salt bread and water. We would sometimes look up to see his candle in the window momentarily lighting up his shadowy face and take comfort.chop! chop! read more!
When coarse human events become necessary,
people dissolve, a gloom powers profit, the claws
of paper and paper’s God hold sleuths to be prevalent,
that all men are prequel, and cowed by certain
alien fights. Knife liberty and hirsute happiness
secure fleece rights. Governments are prostituted,
driving their powers and the discontent of the governed.
Any storm of cover meant these end: flight
of the steeple, falter and a polish to parachute
a true glove ornament. Lay its foundation on
such prince piles: organs, eyes—sing its powers.
Such a storm shall seem to effect their safety.
“Women shouldn’t drive,” my chauffeur tells me.chop! chop! read more!
BEAUTY IN ELEVEN ENCOUNTERS by Ollie Dupuy i could blame it on the culture of america, korea, science, but i boil it down to being the first korean word i learned, yeppuda yeppuda rolling off the tongues of halmonis and imos and echoing around the room like a bullet: beautiful beautiful. they flap sun-spotted hands to my sister’s and my hair, our flat stomachs, our long legs, and the only word i could understand was yeppuda. i begin to think of it as a science, as a fact, a ledgehold in the vast canyon of earth and universe. sun is yellow. clouds are white. i am beautiful. yeppuda, yeppuda. it takes a little time but i discover tragedy backwards, and suddenly i’m a victim of a crime i didn’t even know existed and i can’t stop thinking about my mother crying into the golden light of a therapist’s office. (no … chop! chop! read more!
Back in 1962, German was still a popular graduate major at Stanford. The world was different then. That entire summer, Mary Lois and I turned out to be the only two grad students who’d stayed in town. We saw more of each other than I might have wished.chop! chop! read more!
Some still see the shadow of the earth’s other moon,
a ghost satellite over a ghost tide
before one light was absorbed into the other.
No silhouette hides in the rushes,
I discovered a near-limitless capacity for patience on my parents’ back porch, hiding out, eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and reading Richie Rich comics. I was skipping school, biding my time until the end of the afternoon when I could pretend to come home. That first morning, I had slunk down behind an old green aluminum chair and sat in an upright fetal position, knees to chest, arms swaddling legs. I counted the boards on the floor, twenty-five. The rails along the side, forty-eight, and 360 holes in between the crisscross side rail, 250 yellow leaves on the porch, 423 reds, five points in this yellow leaf, eight in that red leaf. I counted my fingers and my toes and every letter in the alphabet, and then, when that was done, I made up a new game. I spelled out every letter:, A, AY, B, BEE, C, SEA. I spelled my name: Ay, En, Gee, El, Eye, Cue, You, Eee. I spelled out whole sentences. “Angie is skipping school today.” “School sucks.” It wasn’t long before I was bored.chop! chop! read more!
Before the puppet show, Melissa and I split
a stolen Valium. As the children gathered,
a dreamy feeling descended on the eighth
grade me, benevolence for all I saw—the cheap
hand puppets, a mouse and giraffe who
became Jonah and the whale. I put my mouse
into the mouth of Melissa’s giraffe while God
“Ow! Shit! MOTHER of the dear LORD!”
My teenage daughter flies into the kitchen at this Sunday morning blasphemy and then freezes, as if the knife is meant for her. I freeze too, shocked by a surge of envy. I miss being her. Miss flirting with waves instead of the undertow.chop! chop! read more!
He was a little boy, and the sudden, spectacular storm had frightened him. Kenny had seen storms before but none like this. Lightning forked wickedly outside the trembling window, and thunder boomed inside his head, his chest. Torrents of rain lashed at the house.chop! chop! read more!
Holiday party season is once again upon us—a time of dough-forward cookie trays and ornamental cabbages, of feigned interest and conversational quicksand. This year, why not ride the crest of incivility that has taken our nation by storm? Say what you mean. Say whatever you feel like, then get the hell out of Dodge. Examples follow…chop! chop! read more!