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Count Down to the Best Translated Book Award in Poetry with Three Percent

By Harriet Staff

The Best Translated Book Award announcements are taking place this Friday, May 4, at McNally Jackson Books in New York as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. Three Percent has decided to highlight all six poetry finalists up to the announcement of the winner, and have so far written about Uljana Wolf’s False Friends, translated by Susan Bernofsky (Ugly Duckling Presse); Hagar Before the Occupation / Hagar After the Occupation by Amal Al-Jubouri, translated by Rebecca Gayle Howell with Husam Qaisi (Alice James Books); and engulf — enkindle by Anja Utler, translated by Kurt Beals (Burning Deck).

Judges for the Award in Poetry are Brandon Holmquest, poet, translator, editor of CALQUE; Jennifer Kronovet, poet, translator, editor of Circumference; Erica Mena, translator; Idra Novey, poet, translator, Executive Director of the Center for Literary Translation at Columbia University; and Kevin Prufer, poet, academic, essayist, and co-editor of New European Poets.

A bit from yesterday’s post, wherein Erica Mena condensed her review of Wolf’s book:

This book moves deceptively quickly, thanks to all its brilliant poetics and puns. It’s worth a second, third, even a fourth read. It demands to be read out loud, in the way that good poetry does. The book is organized alphabetically (“a DICHTonary of false friends true cognates and other cousins” reads the text on the title page). Each letter gets a short, 6­–12 line block of prose full of alliteration and punning. The alphabet runs the gamut in English, then the second section of the book begins (on noticeably different paper, and printed differently, to accentuate the shift) in German. The original German poems have one obvious difference from the English: they are titled with words rather than listed under the letter of the alphabet. So “A” is, in German, “art / apart.” What especially stands out is that almost all the words in the German section that function as a title are English words—or at least, cognates to English words.

There are English quotes and phrases peppered throughout the German section as well. In “bad / bald / bet-t / brief” Wolf writes, “stattdessen morgens zu berg (take a bet?) und nachts out of bed (siehe ad).” The corresponding line in Bernofsky’s English reads, “standing on end instead (fake a bet?) and at night out of hand (see the ad).” Bernofsky takes the English embedded in the German and re-appropriates it to fit the rhythmic and sonic requirements of her line. “Fake a bet” is similar enough to “take a bet” at least in terms of sound, but it means something stranger, more open-ended. The same goes for “at night out of hand” rather than “out of bed.” The English that Wolf originally used would have made clear sense as a phrase in Bernofsky’s translation (though to a German reader in the original may have been somewhat more unclear). Bernofsky tweaks the phrases with inspiration to unsettle the poems.

Keep up with future short pieces for Three Percent’s Five Days of Poetry here. They should include writing on Last Verses by Jules Laforgue, translated from the French by Donald Revell (Omnidawn); Spectacle & Pigsty by Kiwao Nomura, translated from the Japanese by Kyoko Yoshida and Forrest Gander (Omnidawn); and A Fireproof Box by Gleb Shulpyakov, translated from the Russian by Christopher Mattison (Canarium Books). Congratulations to all nominees and good luck!


Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, May 3rd, 2012 by Harriet Staff.