Front Cover by February James, Untitled, 2018.
WATERCOLOR. Courtesy of the artist.
Volume 60, Issue 3
“TO DWELL IN A MYTH is to dwell in a prison.” It takes a few paragraphs, but eventually that’s how Mahmoud Darwish boils it down, in an interview published in these pages, translated by Amira El-Zein and Carolyn Forché. Myths are prisonhouses; if they don’t fall, they make us dream, as Darwish did, of breaking out. For young writers in the United States, such words may seem strange, coming from a poet whose words express the dreams of an entire nation. In this country, the number of creative writing programs continues to mushroom at a rate most often found in Ponzi or pyramid schemes, with thousands of young writers each year earning their M.F.A.s and Ph.Ds. Their dream is to break in, not out. For some, Darwish may already be a central figure in their personal pantheon, even if they’ve never visited a country where poets draw rock star–sized crowds, much less lived or grown up in one. Though he is also central to ours, we’d still think twice before coveting his shoes. To wish someone a life in interesting times is thought to be a curse; to be a poet in a land where the literary word is valued more than bread or shelter certainly is. And yet, if the United States continues its current slide through disaster capitalism into post-democratic dictatorship, the hopes of our young writers may one day be realized.
As Jim English demonstrated fifteen years ago, in his ground-breaking study on The Economy of Prestige, the form of literary value most recognized today is the prizewinner. What those prizes stand for is a more complex matter: as English points out, the most prestigious literary awards in the West, to a large extent, work antithetically to major market forces, to the point where bestseller lists have next to no overlap with high culture prestige. (When LitHub recently crunched the numbers on writing programs in the United States, their article’s ironic subhead read “Danielle Steel doesn’t have an M.F.A., and other shocking revelations.”) No surprise, then, that — other than Darwish, who may still be something of a market force in the Middle East — we aren’t offering you potential bestsellers in this issue, though we do feel the publications in these pages are prizeworthy.
What this issue will do is encourage our readers to reflect on what constitutes literary and cultural value, prestige, and celebrity in these times. We bring you, for example, a conversation among Eduardo Halfon (whose novel Mourning won this year’s Edward Lewis Wallant Award for Jewish American fiction), the two translators of that novel, Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn, and Avinoam Patt, one of the Wallant Award judges. We also publish here the first two winners—Christopher Ayala and Zachary Frank—of the James W. Foley Memorial Prize, given annually to MFA candidates at UMass who “express a political awareness and sensitivity in their prose, and whose concerns extend beyond the limits of their particular circumstances and home language.” Adrienne Su’s poem “Across-the-Bridge Noodles” interrogates a rather different form of commemoration, as does Katie Farris’s contribution, which mobilizes a museum catalogue as selfie blazon. An essay on Europe from Erri De Luca demonstrates how reading, in his own life, has grounded both activism and cosmopolitanism, and another from Javier Calvo argues for adventure and discovery, not slavishness, in translation. In registers that are almost diametrically opposed, fiction from Pete Duval and Allison Kade demonstrates the centrality of art to whatever it is we choose to celebrate. Finally, in a generational portrait that somehow manages to be simultaneously loving and unsparing, Emily Douglas returns to her roots, spading and fertilizing her native soil.
Since the early Enlightenment, Jim English argues, we’ve tended to conceive of art “not as a set of human practices and activities essentially continuous with other practices and activities but as a special, distinct, and indeed transcendent domain.” He notes that “the rise of cultural prizes since the nineteenth century is profoundly linked to this aesthetic tradition; and the ideas of timelessness and immortality, in particular, are invoked constantly in the discourse of and about them.” And so, as the leaves begin to burn bright, then fall, in this, our sixieth year, we join in wishing you yet another bountiful harvest. —Jim Hicks, for the editors
Baiba Bičole, translated by Bitite Vinklers
Silvina Ocampo, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Katie Lateef-Jan
Erri De Luca, translated by Jim Hicks
Eduardo Halfon, with Lisa Dillman, Daniel Hahn, and Avinoam Patt
Table of Contents
Across-the-Bridge Noodles, a poem by Adrienne Su
Keepers, a story by Pete Duval
But Her Features, a poem by Lauren K. Watel
An Untitled Collection of Generalizations
That Mobilize the Eye, a poem by Katie Farris
Our Present Does Not Decide Either to Begin or to End,
an interview of Mahmoud Darwish, with Liana Badr,
Zakariyya Muhammad, and Mundher Jaber,
translated by Amira El-Zein and Carolyn Forché
Upon a Peak in Darien, an essay by Javier Calvo,
translated by Mara Faye Lethem
East Meets West. On Polish and American Poets
in Conversation, an essay by Piotr Florczyk
I walked by a school, a poem by Vladimir Gandelsman,
translated by Olga Livshin and Andrew Janco
Artwork by February James
The New Skin, a poem by Matilde Casazola,
translated by Caelan Tree
When I Discovered Sacrifice by Fire,
a poem by Chad Parmenter
heavenly body postmenopausal, a poem by Jenny Grassl
Monsoon Season, a story by Christopher Ayala
Dark Smoke Rose, a story by Zachary Frank
There Is No Sadness, a poem by Neil Shepard
Buy Rum or Read Bakhtin,
a story by Julio Travieso Serrano, translated by Peter Bush
The Rendezvous, a story by Susan Mersereau
Monotropa Uniflora, a poem by Christine Butterworth-McDermott
A Dark, Unruly Space, an essay by Emily Douglas
Walking on a Path by Fisher Creek,
I Flushed a Flock of Doves, a poem by Jesse Bertron
Notes on Contributors
CHRISTOPHER AYAL was a Juniper Fellow in Fiction at the UMass MFA for Poets & Writers and winner of the inaugural James W. Foley Memorial Prize for Fiction. His work appears in Big Big Wednesday. He is at work on a novel and collection of poems.
JESSE BERTRON is a plumber’s helper living in Austin, TX. He has an MFA from Vanderbilt University and serves as co-director of poetry at Round Top, an annual poetry festival in Central Texas. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Rattle and Ruminate, among others.
BAIBA BIČOLE, born in Latvia, left as a refugee during World War II and since 1950 has lived in the United States. A prominent Latvian poet, she was known primarily in the West as an exile poet, her work banned in Latvia during the Soviet regime. She is the author of six collections of poetry and has received major Latvian literary awards.
PETER BUSH'S selection and translation of stories, Barcelona Tales, has just been published by OUP, his translation of Leonardo Padura’s Grab a Snake by the Tale by Bitter Lemon, and Quim Monzó’s Why, Why, Why? by Open Letter.
CHRISTINE BUTTERWORTH-MCDERMOTT'S work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Cimarron, The Normal School, River Styx, Southeast Review, and William and Mary Review, among others. She is the author of a chapbook, Tales on Tales: Sestinas; the full-length collection, Woods & Water, Wolves & Women; and the founder and coeditor of Gingerbread House Literary Magazine. A full-length collection about Evelyn Nesbit, Evelyn As, and another chapbook, All Breathing Heartbreak, will be published in 2019.
JAVIER CALVO is a literary translator and author from Spain. He has translated the work of J. M. Coetzee, Joan Didion, Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie, David Foster Wallace, George Saunders, Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers and Marlon James, among others. His latest novel is Piel de plata, published by Seix Barral in 2019.
MATILDE CASAZOLA, born in the city of Sucre, is a Bolivian poet, novelist, and songwriter. At the center of her work is a great reverence for the Bolivian landscape and its people. Throughout her oeuvre, Casazola grapples with themes like illness, exile, and the struggle of the laboring class—all woven into a universe of dreamlike magic. Casazola’s many titles include Bodies, The Flesh of Dreams, and The Underground Cathedrals.
Palestinian MAHMOUD DARWISH was born in al-Birwa in Galilee, a village that was occupied and later razed by the Israeli army. Because they had missed the official Israeli census, Darwish and his family were considered “internal refugees” or “present-absent aliens.” Darwish lived for many years in exile in Beirut and Paris. He is the author of over thirty books of poetry and eight books of prose, and earned the Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize, the Lenin Peace Prize, and the Knight of Arts and Belles Lettres Medal from France. Darwish served from 1987 to 1993 on the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Mahmoud Darwish died in 2008 in Houston, TX.
ERRI DE LUCA is an Italian novelist, essayist, translator, and poet, winner of the European Prize for Literature, the European Book Prize, the French Prix Femina Étranger, and the German Petrarca-Preis, among other awards. His most recent novels areNatura esposta (Bare Nature) and Il gioca dell’oca (Chutes and Ladders).
LISA DILLMAN is the director of the Honors Program and senior lecturer in Spanish at Emory University. She is coeditor, with Peter Bush, of Spain: A Literary Traveler’s Companion and has translated many other novels and scholarly works, including books by Eduardo Halfon, Andrés Barba, Gioconda Belli, Eugenio Cambaceres, Juan Filloy, Juan Eslava Galán, Lorenzo Mediano, and Sabina Berman. In 2016, she won the Best Translated Book Award for her translation of Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World.
EMILY DOUGLAS is a writer of fiction and nonfiction and has been a professor for over twenty-five years.
PETE DUVAL, author of Rear View: Stories, teaches in Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing and at
West Chester University. He lives in Philadelphia.
AMIRA EL-ZEIN is an associate professor in Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar. She is the author of Creativity and the Sacred; Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn; and the coeditor of Culture, Creativity and Exile. She is a published poet in Arabic, French, and English, and her books include The Bedouins of Hell and The Jinn and Other Poems. El-Zein’s translations include Les Tarahumaras of Antonin Artaud, Malraux par lui-même by Gaeton Picon, and a co-translation of the poetry of Mahmud Darwish in Unfortunately It Was Paradise.
KATIE FARRIS is an award-winning fiction writer, poet, and translator. She is the author of the hybrid-form text boysgirls and the chapbooks Thirteen Intimacies and Mother Superior in Hell. Most recently she is winner of Fairy Tale Review’s Flash Fairy Tale Prize, the 2018 Anne Halley Poetry Prize from the Massachusetts Review, and the 2017 Orison Anthology Prize in Fiction. Currently, she is an associate professor at San Diego State University.
PIOTR FIORCZYK'S most recent books are East & West, a volume of poems, and several volumes of translations, including I’m Half of Your Heart: Selected Poems by Julian Kornhauser and Building the Barricade by Anna S´wirszczyn´ska, which won the 2017 Found in Translation Award and the 2017 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award. A doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California, he is completing a volume of poems based on Holocaust testimonies entitled From the Annals of Kraków.
CAROLYN FORCHÉ is the author of four books of poetry: Gathering the Tribes, which received the Yale Younger Poets Award; The Country Between Us, chosen as the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets; The Angel of History, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Award; and Blue Hour, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has translated Flowers from the Volcano and Sorrow by Claribel Alegria, The Selected Poems of Robert Desnos (with William Kulik), and Mahmoud Darwish’s Unfortunately, It Was Paradise (with Munir Akash). She compiled and edited Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness.
ZACHARY FRANK is a recent graduate of the MFA for Poets and Writers at UMass Amherst, and has just completed a move to Baltimore. He was a 2019 fellow at the I-Park International Artists-in-Residence Program in East Haddam, CT. This is his first published story.
VLADIMIR GANDELSMAN was born in Leningrad in 1948 and has been living in New York and St. Petersburg since 1991. He is the author of thirteen poetry collections, a verse novel, and a collection of essays, and has received several prestigious awards in Russia. In English translation, his work has appeared in Crossing Centuries: The New Russian Poetry and Modern Poetry in Translation, among others.
JENNY GRASSL'S poems appeared most recently in the Boston Review 2018 annual poetry contest, as a runner-up prize selected by Mary Jo Bang. Her work also appears in the anthology Humanagerie, as well as Ocean State Review and Rogue Agent. Her poems are forthcoming in Rhino Poetry, Phantom Drift, and Radar Poetry.
DANIEL KAHN is a freelance writer, editor, researcher, and translator. His translations include Creole, The Book of Chameleons, My
Father’s Wives, Rainy Season, and A General Theory of Oblivion, all by Angolan novelist José Eduardo Agualusa. The Book of Chameleons won him the 2007 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Other translations include the autobiography of Brazilian footballer Pelé.
EDUARDO HALFON was born in Guatemala City, moved to the United States at the age of ten, went to school in south Florida, studied industrial engineering at North Carolina State University, and then returned to Guatemala to teach literature for eight years at Universidad Francisco Marroquín. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Roger Caillois Prize, José María de Pereda Prize for the Short Novel, and Guatemalan National Prize in Literature and has written fourteen books published in Spanish and three novels in English. Halfon is currently a visiting professor in creative writing at the University of Iowa.
MITCHELL JACOBS lives in Vientiane and teaches English at the National University of Laos. His poems appear in journals such as Missouri Review, New Ohio Review, Ninth Letter, Ploughshares, and Poetry Northwest.
FEBRUARY JAMES works primarily in oil pastels, occasionally utilizing watercolor and graphite powder in her art. She is compelled to investigate what factors influence identity formation, how truth is conditioned by the frameworks through which it is received. Using sites such as family and domesticity to examine sexuality and the body, death and the subconscious, and the hidden emotions that exist between us and what we see and experience.
ANDREW JANCO holds a PhD in Russian history and works as a digital scholarship librarian at Haverford College. With Olga Livshin, he has translated poets ranging from Anna Akhmatova to Anastasia Afanasieva.
Nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the Massachusetts Review, ALLISON KADE'S short fiction has appeared in Joyland Magazine, Juked, Citron Review, Annalemma, Fractured West, Flash Fiction Magazine, jmww, After the Pause, and more. Her nonfiction has appeared in Bloomberg, Inc., GOOD Magazine, Real Simple, Travel +Leisure, Forbes, and elsewhere.
KATIE LATEEF-JAN is a PhD candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in Comparative Literature and Translation Studies. Her translations from Spanish have appeared in Granta, Review, and Zyzzyva.
MARA FAYE LETHEM'S writing has recently appeared in the New York Times Book Review, BOMB, and A Velocity of Being: Letters to a
Young Reader. She has a short story in the anthology Berkeley Noir, due out from Akashic Books in 2020. Her translations include novels by Patricio Pron, Max Besora, Javier Calvo, and Marta Orriols.
SUZANNE JILL LEVINE is the general editor of Penguin’s paperback classics of Jorge Luis Borges’s poetry and essays, and noted translator of distinguished writers such as Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, Manuel Puig, Severo Sarduy and Adolfo Bioy Casaresa. She is a research professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara, where she directs a Translation Studies doctoral program. She is also author of the chapbook Reckoning, The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction, and the prize-winning literary biography Manuel Puig and the Spiderwoman: His Life and Fictions.
OLGA LIVSHIN is a Russian-American poet, translator, and essayist. Her work has been recognized by CALYX journal’s Lois Cranston Memorial Prize and the Cambridge Sidewalk Poetry Project, and is published widely. A collection of poems and translations of poetry by Vladimir Gandelsman and Anna Akhmatova is forthcoming from Poets and Traitors Press.
SUSAN MERSEREAU is a short-fiction writer born in Saint John, New Brunswick. Her stories have appeared in Grain, PRISM international, Riddle Fence, Filling Station, and Nashwaak Review.
A central figure of Argentine literary circles, SILVINA OCAMPO was born in Buenos Aires in 1903. In 1937, Sur magazine published Ocampo’s first book, Viaje olvidado, and in 1940 she coedited The Book of Fantasy with Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares. She published thirteen volumes of fiction and poetry during a long, varied, and much-lauded career. Ocampo died in Buenos Aires in 1993. La promesa, her only novel, was posthumously published in 2011.
CHAD PARMENTER'S poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Kenyon Review, Crazyhorse, and Harvard Review, and are forthcoming in Plume and the Birmingham Poetry Review. One of his chapbooks, Weston’s Unsent Letters to Modotti, was published by
Tupelo after winning their Snowbound Chapbook Award. The other, Bat & Man: A Sonnet Comic Book, was published by Finishing Line.
AVINOAM PATT is the Philip D. Feltman Professor of Modern Jewish History at the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic
Studies at the University of Hartford, where he is also director of the Museum of Jewish Civilization. His books include
Finding Home and Homeland: Jewish Youth and Zionism in the Aftermath of the Holocaust. Most recently, he is coeditor of an anthology of contemporary American Jewish fiction, The New Diaspora: The Changing Landscape of American Jewish Fiction, in celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for American Jewish Fiction with Mark Shechner and Victoria Aarons.
ALISON PRINE'S debut collection of poems, Steel, was a finalist for the 2017 Vermont Book Award. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Field, and Prairie Schooner, among others. She lives in Burlington, VT, where she works as a psychotherapist.
JULIO TRAVIESO SERRANO is a Cuban writer, translator, and adjunct professor at the University of Havana. His first book won the Granma Publishing House Prize. He has subsequently published other short stories, essays and novels, including Para matar al lobo (Killing the Wolf ); Cuando la noche muera (When Night Dies), and El polvo y el oro (Dust and Gold), which was awarded the Cuban Literary Critics Prize. His latest work includes a book of short stories A lo lejos volaba una gaviota (Far Away a Seagull Was Flying), novels Llueve sobre la Habana (Raining on Havana), El enviado (The Envoy), and El cuaderno de los disparates (The Notebook of Madness). In recognition of his contribution, he was awarded the Order of Cuban National Culture. His work has been translated into fourteen languages.
NEIL SHEPARD'S latest book, How It Is: Selected Poems, was published in 2018. His sixth and seventh books of poetry were Hominid Up, and a full collection of poems and photographs, Vermont Exit Ramps II. His poems appear in Harvard Review, New England Review, Paris Review, Southern Review, and Sewanee Review. He founded and directed the Writing Program at the Vermont Studio Center and the literary magazine Green Mountains Review.
ADRIENNE SU is the author of four books of poems, most recently Living Quarters. Recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, she teaches at Dickinson College, in Carlisle, PA. Recent poems appear in Bennington Review, New Ohio Review, Poetry, and Vinegar & Char: Verse from the Southern Foodways Alliance.
CAELAN TREE is a poet, translator, and veterinary nurse living in the Pioneer Valley, MA. She holds an MFA in Poetry and Poetry in Translation from Drew University and is the author of the chapbook Quiet in the Body. Her work has appeared in The Healing Muse, Animal Literary Magazine, and others.
BITITE VINKLERS is a translator of Latvian folklore and contemporary literature. Her translations have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous anthologies and journals, among them Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Denver Quarterly, Subtropics, and Poetry Daily. Translation collections include Imants Ziedonis, Each Day Catches Fire: Poems; Knuts Skujenieks, Seed in Snow: Poems; and Aleksandrs Čaks, Selected Poems.
LAUREN K. WATEL is a poet and fiction writer, as well as an occasional essayist and translator, who lives in Decatur, GA. Her piece is from a collection called Potions (potion = poem + fiction).