Monday, April 30, 2012

Absinthe 17 Preview: Dimiter Kenarov

This is the fifth in a series of posts that will preview the upcoming issue of Absinthe, our 17th, focused on Bulgaria. In this post we present a poem by Dimiter Kenarov.

The Goat

Milking her, I had to watch out for her dung.
On occasion, lost in some metaphor, I wouldn’t notice
how her anus opened like an eye and beads
of obsidian rolled out from inside: large black tears
in the warm milk. Bitter sugar. At first I was mad
and wanted to punch her in the flank, give her the boot,
because pain is the deepest memory, the most
beastly. Like that time two blokes beat me up in England
and I was bleeding all over and every blow was like a stamp
in the soft wax of my face – a way to remember, to remember,
because there’s so little left otherwise, so little,
and how, while they were beating me, I thought how good
it’d be if I bled more often, if they rolled my face in shit,
so I wouldn’t forget the taste, the stench of life.
Either way, I never punched the goat. Either way
this world overflows with suffering like a clogged toilet
and the air stinks, but no one is paying attention –
one gets used to suffering, when it is daily
like a croissant with a glass of milk. We gulp it down eventually.
And the goat? Would you believe me how,
when I slit her kid’s throat, she didn’t eat for a week
and looked up long at the sky with her feline pupils,
as if that vacant azure could deliver her
from her loss? Then everything went back to its place:
she got the idea that I, who had slaughtered her kid,
was her kid. The imagination of pain is infinite.

Translated by Maria P. Vassileva and the author

(c) Elif Batuman

Read more about Bulgarian literature at the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers site.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Absinthe 17 Preview: Milen Ruskov

This is the fourth in a series of posts that will preview the upcoming issue of Absinthe, our 17th, focused on Bulgaria. In this post we present a brief excerpt from Milen Ruskov's novel Thrown into Nature.

from Thrown into Nature, translated by Angela Rodel

There is hardly anything more natural than hating Nature. Yet people don’t realize this due to their crazy ideas. For example, many think that this world is ruled by the Devil. As some of the ancients put it, the Devil saw the Kingdom of God and tried to make something similar. He is a sorry imitator, by their own admission. Yet not entirely inept, they add, and mighty cruel, too. But all of that is stuff and nonsense. Others reckon that the world is God’s doing. If this is so, then He is not who they think He is but just some moronic mad scientist. All that is stuff and nonsense, too. But if it’s not the one, nor the other, then what is it? — you may ask. That is a stupid question. This is what: the world is simply mad Nature’s work. Which is precisely why it looks the way it does, since it is her work. She is absolutely mad, the incarnation of chaos, a game of blind chance. I feel a deep-seated hatred of Nature. Yes, I do! If there is something I deeply and truly hate, it is Nature. Is there anything more endlessly energetic, more lavishly fertile and at the same time crazier than she? Of course not! If Nature put on a human face and strolled around the streets of Sevilla, she would have long since been locked up as a dangerous maniac, perhaps even burned at the stake by the Inquisition. She would be of the female sex, of course, giving birth to a child every five minutes, laughing and jumping about at the same time, and impregnated without a visible agent, as if by the wind itself. Yes, Nature is absolutely mad!…. READ MORE by ordering Absinthe 17.

Thrown into Nature was published in 2011 by Open Letter Books.

Read more about Milen Ruskov at the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers site.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Absinthe 17 Preview Video

Our assistant editor, Logan, again helps us to introduce the new issue of Absinthe. Absinthe 17 is a our special issue focused on Bulgaria and features great poetry and prose from seventeen Bulgarian writers.

Learn more by watching the preview video below or at YouTube here:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Absinthe 17 preview: Georgi Gospodinov

© Dobrin Kashavelov

This is the second in a series of posts that will preview the upcoming issue of Absinthe, our 17th, focused on Bulgaria. In this post we present a brief excerpt from Georgi Gospodinov's novel Physics of Sorrow.

from Physics of Sorrow, translated by Angela Rodel

Szervusz, kenyér, bor, víz, köszönöm, szép, isten veled . . .

I will never forget that strange rosary of words. My grandfather strung them out on the long winter evenings we spent together during my childhood vacations. Hello, bread, wine, water, thank you, beautiful, farewell ... Immediately following my grandmother’s quick and semi-conspiratorially whispered prayer would come his szervusz, kenyér, bor ...

He always said that he used to be able to speak Hungarian for hours, but now in his old age all he had left was this handful of words. His trophy from the front. My grandfather’s seven Hungarian words, which he guarded like silver spoons. My grandmother was certainly jealous of them. Because why would a soldier need to know the word for “beautiful”? And she simply could not accept calling “bread” by such a strange and distorted name. God Almighty, Blessed Virgin, what an ugly word! Those folks have committed a terrible sin. How can you call “bread” kenyér, she fumed, in dead seriousness.

Bread is bread.

Water is water.

Without having read Plato, she shared his idea of the innate correctness of names. Names were correct by nature, never mind that this nature always turned out to be precisely the Bulgarian one.

My grandma never failed to mention that the other soldiers from the village had brought real trophies home from the front, this one a watch, that one a pot, yet another a full set of silver spoons and forks. Stolen, added my grandfather, and they had never even taken them out to eat with, I know their type.

But my grandmother and Hungary were not at all on friendly terms,between them that spirit of understanding and cooperation as it was called in the newspapers back then just didn’t work out. Quite a while later I came to understand the reason for this tension.

I found it strange that my grandfather didn’t like to talk about the war. Or at least he didn’t talk about the things I expected to hear and had seen in movies, the constant battles, artillery fire, kurrr-kur-kurrr (all our toys were machine guns and pistols). I clearly remember asking him how many fascists he had killed and bloodthirstily awaited the tally. Even though I already knew that he couldn’t chalk up a single kill to his name. Not one. And to tell you the truth, I was a bit ashamed of him. Dimo’s grandfather from the other neighborhood had shot 38, most pointblank, and had stabbed another 20 in the gut with his bayonet. Dimo took a step forward, thrust the invisible bayonet a foot into my stomach and twisted it. I think I gave him a good scare when I dropped to the ground pale and started throwing up. It’s awful getting stabbed in the stomach with a bayonet. I barely survived.   READ MORE by ordering Absinthe 17.

Learn more about Georgi Gospodinov at the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers site.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Absinthe 17 preview: Virginia Zaharieva

This is the first in a series of posts that will preview the upcoming issue of Absinthe, our 17th, focused on Bulgaria. In this post we present a brief excerpt from Virginia Zaharieva's novel Nine Rabbits.

from Nine Rabbits, translated by Angela Rodel

Tomorrow my husband turns forty. What can I give him when he already has everything? I’ll give him myself.

I go and buy a black corset with garters, stockings and the most whorish pair of red high heels in order to erotically jumpstart our snoozing seven-year-old married life. That evening we go to another birthday party at the luxurious home of a famous poetess and critic whom the literary moguls hover around. I’ve put on the corset, I’m not wearing panties under my luxuriant skirts and while we discuss the problems of hermeneutics and the third phenomenological reduction to maintain erotic tension I discreetly masturbate on the armrest of a chair that the director of the Institute for Contemporary Art has nestled into…. READ MORE by ordering Absinthe 17!

Nine Rabbits will be published by Istros Books in 2012.

Read more about Virginia Zaharieva at the Contemporary Bulgarian Writers site.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Read Henning Koch's Novella "The Bones"

Over at The Quivering Pen, Henning Koch's novella The Bones is being serialized in 9 parts. Described as "a funny, frightening vision of an unspecified future in which America is a wasteland society whose currency is oil (and where) Mad Max would be right at home", it's worth checking out.

Koch was born in Sweden, currently lives in Berlin, and has worked as screenwriter and translator. He's been a contributor to Absinthe, including his translation of an excerpt by Birgitta Stenberg that appeared in issue 15.

(I'd also recommend picking up a copy of his story collection Love Doesn't Work, published by Dzanc Books in 2010.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

2012 Best Translated Book Award Finalists Named: Fiction and Poetry

Last night the finalists for the Best Translated Book Award were named and it looks to be a good collection. The winners will be announced on Friday, May 4 at 6:00pm at McNally Jackson Books as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. 

Fiction Finalists (in alphabetical order):
Lightning by Jean Echenoz
Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale
(New Press)
Upstaged by Jacques Jouet
Translated from the French by Leland de la Durantaye
(Dalkey Archive Press)
Kornél Esti by Dezső Kosztolányi
Translated from the Hungarian by Bernard Adams
(New Directions)
I Am a Japanese Writer by Dany Laferrière
Translated from the French by David Homel
(Douglas & MacIntyre)
New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani
Translated from the Italian by Judith Landry
Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski
Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston
(Archipelago Books)
Scars by Juan José Saer
Translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph
(Open Letter)
Kafka’s Leopards by Moacyr Scliar
Translated from the Portuguese by Thomas O. Beebee
(Texas Tech University Press)
In Red by Magdalena Tulli
Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston
(Archipelago Books)
Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean
(New Directions)
Poetry Finalists (in alphabetical order):
Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation by Amal al-Jubouri
Translated from the Arabic by Rebecca Gayle Howell with Husam Qaisi
(Alice James Books)
Last Verses by Jules Laforgue
Translated from the French by Donald Revell
Spectacle & Pigsty by Kiwao Nomura
Translated from the Japanese by Kyoko Yoshida and Forrest Gander
A Fireproof Box by Gleb Shulpyakov
Translated from the Russian by Christopher Mattison
(Canarium Books)
engulf—enkindle by Anja Utler
Translation from the German by Kurt Beals
(Burning Deck)
False Friends by Uljana Wolf
Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
(Ugly Duckling Presse)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Disappearing Act IV: European Films in New York

Starting tomorrow, those of you near NYC will have an opportunity to see some of the best recent European films as part of the Disappearing Act IV festival

The festival showcases 25 contemporary European films from Austria, the Wallonia-Brussels and Flanders regions of Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

There is also a pre-festival panel discussion this evening.

The schedule looks good and I wish I lived closer so I could see a few of these films.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Film of Nathalie Handal's poem "Biznagas", from "Poet in Andalucia"

Nathalie Handal's new book, Poet in Andalucia, looks to Federico Garcia Lorca's work Poet in New York, and seeks to recreate Lorca's "journey in reverse." According to Publishers Weekly, "Arabic, Spanish, Ladino Catalan, and fragments of other languages are woven together as the poems muse over borders between where one voice or language ends and another begins."

You can get a sense for this in the beautiful film by Rana Kazkaz, based on Nathalie's poem "Biznagas". The poem features Handal, along with Zayn Khalaf and Mary Sidor, and music by Kevin MacLeod. And you can read the English translation below.
(If you have difficulty viewing the full video below it can also be seen here.)


To belong
even if you’ve kept the hours
in your closet—
it takes years

to forget a person
who merely looked up at you—
it takes years

to understand why
while you walk
the leaves dictate
how your heart
will beat—
it takes years

it takes years
to hold the wind
in your mouth
have it accommodate what it can’t
a history
the clash of two moons
the slopes after heavy rain

and then the biznagas
remind you—
it takes years
to come back
from the direction
that divides you

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dutch Poetry Tour

Starting next week, if you're in New York or Pittsburgh, you'll have a great opportunity to hear work by six contemporary Dutch poets. The writers participating include Pieter Boskma, Hélène Gelèns, Erik Jan Harmens, Lucas Hirsch, John Schoorl and Joost Zwagerman.

You can read more about the tour here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"The Wild Ones," a documentary on the life of Birgitta Stenberg

Cineuropa reports on a new documentary film about the life of Swedish writer Birgitta Stenberg (an excerpt from her book Love in Europe appeared in Absinthe 15): 

"Right after World War II, before completing high school, an 18-year-old Swedish girl--Birgitta Stenberg--bought a one-way ticket to Southern Europe and plunged into a wild life with bohemians from around the world. She was exploited and exploited others, she had lovers of both sexes, took drugs, there were daily risks and adventures - not unlike, a bit later, US writer Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation, but told by a woman who became both a catholic and a communist and worked for the CIA. Today, at 80, a successful author with more than 30 titles to her credit, adding children’s books, plays, film and TV scripts, Stenberg looks back at the years where she got inspiration, made connection and laid the foundation for her career, in Swedish directors Lisa Belfrage and Marianne Gustavsson’s documentary The Wild Ones ... [the film] follow[s] Stenberg on trips to New York, Paris and Rome to meet former lovers and friends discussing their then choices and their consequences."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sex and Poetry

Now that I have your attention ...

The April issue of Words Without Borders is available and focused on Sex: "In these stories sex is both subject and object, cause and effect. See how Fatma Youssef al-Ali, Nadine Bismuth, Rubem Fonseca, Mar Gómez Glez, Eduardo Halfon, Fernando Iwasaki, Hanoch Levin, Giulio Mozzi, Felix Palma, Adrian Sangeorzan, Care Santos, and Sebastiano Vassalli address the facts (and fictions) of life." 

And for poetry, check out the new edition of Poetry International Web with work by Belgian poet Jan de Roek and Croatian writer Vlado Martek.

Monday, April 2, 2012

More Ingmar Bergman: "Bergman's Video"

I recently learned of a new documentary film project called Bergman's Video, six 45-minute episodes centered on a theme relevant to Ingmar Bergman and some of the more than 1500 videos from his archive.

The series is distributed by First Hand Films and they describe the documentary as: 

A light and entertaining look at the big stories and their makers: having exclusive access to Bergman's private archive with more than 1500 films, an eclectic collection of films was found, spanning from the more predictable ones by Tarkovsky, Bunuel, Truffaut, to the more surprising, such as ”Blues Brothers”, ”FoulPlay”, ”Jurassic Park” and ”Ghostbusters”.
A new insight into the genius of Bergman and most of all, a portrait of the greatest filmmakers of today. How they work, why they choose the themes they keep coming back to and why film is an artform like no other.  Each episode will focus on a theme ... Fear, Silence, Comedy, Death, Adventure and Insanity. For every episode one filmmaker gets to visit and experience Ingmar Bergman’s remote home, others Bergman’s Video will meet and interview around the world. 

The filmmakers and actors featured include Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Woody Allen, Gus van Sant, Robert de Niro, Michael Haneke, Claire Denis, Ang Lee, Lars von Trier, Agnieszka Holland, Martin Scorsese, Isabella Rosselini, and many others.