from Calque 5
Roberto Echavarren, "AMOR DE MADRE"
Translated from the Spanish by Ben Bollig


Roca, eco, arena seca;
corre del barranco
agua candente: cada grano
de mica al sol, papila, broto, piedra,
lengua reseca, recoge polvo
del talud que baja. Llaga removida
sube a la nube, vapor hoy,
chubasco, quién sabe. Lamo salpicaduras.
A pleno sol un soldado cruza la calle;
tuvo más paciencia que yo:
arrastraba el uniforme (paso a paso).
El sol nació en mi corazón (por un momento).
Relegado por la madre a una vida subalterna,
nació lejos de su corazón reservado a otro.
El caso (no obstante) vuelve disponible
una fresca aventura: árboles sobre piedras
al costado del camino dan sombra;
agua murmura en la bomba.



ROCK, echo, hard sand;
from the ravine runs
white-hot water: each grain
of mica in the sun, bud, shoot, stone,
sere mouth, collects dust
from the sloping screen. Gouged wound
rises to the sky, vapour today,
downpour who knows when. I lick the splashings.
A soldier crosses the street in full sunshine;
he had more patience than I have:
he dragged his uniform (step by step).
The sun was born in my heart (for a moment).
Cast down by the mother to a subaltern role,
born far from its heart saved for another.
The case (however) makes available
a fresh adventure: trees among stones
alongside the path cast shadows;
water murmurs in the hose.


Roberto Echavarren was born in Uruguay, and studied in Germany and Paris, before taking posts teaching Latin American and Comparative Literature at London and then New York University. Currently, he divides his time between Montevideo and Buenos Aires. He has published a series of books of poetry, as well as novels and essays, including important texts of the neobarroco, art, and androgyny. He wrote and co-directed the film Casino atlántico (1989). He was one of the editors of the key anthology of contemporary Latin American poetry, Medusario (1996). He is also an accomplished translator.

Ben Bollig is Lecturer in Spanish at the University of Leeds. His books include Néstor Perlongher. The Poetic Search for an Argentine Marginal Voice (University of Wales Press/ University of Chicago Press, 2008) and, edited with Pablo San Martín, 31. A Bilingual Anthology of Saharawi Resistance Poetry in Spanish. He is an editor of Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies and is one of the coordinators of the Poetics of Resistance research network.

Evgeny Baratynsky, "The Skull"


Усопший брат! кто сон твой возмутил?
Кто пренебрег святынею могильной?
В разрытый дом к тебе я нисходил,
Я в руки брал твой череп желтый, пыльный!

Еще носил волос остатки он;
Я зрел на нем ход постепенный тленья.
Ужасный вид! Как сильно поражен
Им мыслящий наследник разрушенья!

Со мной толпа безумцев молодых
Над ямою безумно хохотала;
Когда б тогда, когда б в руках моих
Глава твоя внезапно провещала!

Когда б она цветущим, пылким нам
И каждый час грозимым смертным часом
Все истины, известные гробам,
Произнесла своим бесстрастным гласом!

Что говорю? Стократно благ закон,
Молчаньем ей уста запечатлевший;
Обычай прав, усопших важный сон
Нам почитать издревле повелевший.

Живи живой, спокойно тлей мертвец!
Всесильного ничтожное созданье,
О человек! Уверься наконец:
Не для тебя ни мудрость, ни всезнанье!

Нам надобны и страсти и мечты,
В них бытия условие и пища:
Не подчинишь одним законам ты
И света шум и тишину кладбища!

Природных чувств мудрец не заглушит
И от гробов ответа не получит:
Пусть радости живущим жизнь дарит,
А смерть сама их умереть научит.

1824, 1826


The Skull

Departed brother, who has disturbed your sleep
And trampled on the sanctity of the tomb?
Into your house, all dug up, I stepped down —
I took your skull in my hands, dusty and yellow.

The remnants of your hair — it wore them still.
I saw the slow course of decay upon it.
Horrible sight! How powerfully it struck
The sensible inheritor of that ruin.

Along with me a crowd of mindless youths
Above the open pit laughed mindlessly.
If only then, if only in my hands
Your head had burst forth into prophecy!

If only it had taught us — rash, in bloom,
And menaced hourly by the hour of death —
The truths that lie within the ken of tombs,
Uttering them in its impassive voice!

What am I saying? A hundred times is blessed
That law which has embalmed its lips in silence.
And righteous is that custom which demands
Respect for the solemn sleep of the departed.

Let the living live! Let the dead decay in peace!
O man, worthless creation of the Almighty,
Recognize finally that you were made
Neither for wisdom nor for omniscience!

We need our passions as we need our dreams.
They are the law and nourishment of our being:
You will not bring under the selfsame laws
The noise of the world and the silence of the graveyard.

Wise men will not extinguish natural feelings.
The answer they search for no grave shall supply.
Let life bestow its joys upon the living —
And death itself will teach them how to die.

1824, 1826


Ilya Bernstein is a poet, translator, and editor of Osip Mandelstam: New Translations (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006).

Evgeny Baratynsky (1800-1844) was, next to Pushkin, the brightest light in the Golden Age of Russian poetry and the most thoughtful of all Russian poets.

from Calque 4
Lawrence Venuti, Introduction to Five Poems by Ernest Farrés

This introduction was published in Calque 4, and included the text, "An Edward Hopper Lexicon." Lawrence Venuti's translation of Edward Hopper was recently awarded the 2008 Robert Fagles Translation Prize.

Please click on the images below to enlarge.

Lawrence Venuti is a translator as well as a translation theorist and historian. He translates from Italian, French, and Catalan into English. Recent translations include Antonia Pozzi's Breath: Poems and Letters (2002), the anthology Italy: A Traveler's Literary Companion (2003), and Massimo Carlotto's crime novel Death's Dark Abyss (2006). He is the author of The Translator's Invisibility (2nd ed., 2008) and The Scandals of Translation (1998) and the editor of The Translation Studies Reader (2nd ed., 2004). He is professor of English at Temple University.

Ernest Farrés (Igualada, 1967) is a journalist in Barcelona and the author of three volumes of poems in Catalan: Clavar-ne una al mall i l’altra a l’enclusa (1996), Mosquits (1998), and Edward Hopper (2006). He has also edited an anthology of young Catalan poets, 21 poetes del XXI (2001).


A Conversation with Dwayne D. Hayes,
editor of Absinthe

A couple of months ago I started a conversation about magazine publishing with Dwayne D. Hayes, editor of the excellent biannual, Absinthe: New European Writing. Here goes a record of some questions exchanged:



Steve Dolph: Describe the history and purpose/mission of Absinthe.

Dwayne Hayes: Absinthe started as a crazy idea over six years ago when I discovered there was not a print publication exclusively dedicated to presenting contemporary European writers. I’ve been greatly influenced by my reading of the Europeans and the Russians and envisioned Absinthe as a way to present the 21st Century Dostoevskys, Becketts, Joyces, Akhmatovas, etc., to English-speaking readers.

SD: Reading Absinthe has made me think a lot about what a magazine devoted exclusively to Latin American literature would be like, and what it would do for readers here–maybe it would have saved a few people from having to find out about Roberto Bolaño from Jonathan Lethem, who knows. But one thing I know they’d see is how incredibly diverse the literature is, and this is something I have noticed in Absinthe–the diversity of the work. What are some of the things you’ve learned about European literature that you didn’t know six years ago?

DH: Well, you mentioned diversity and I think that’s the main thing I’ve learned. We’re not publishing “European literature” as if there’s some simple, single classification for this work in terms of style, themes, etc. We’re publishing literature from Europe in all its diverse forms and we don’t have a specific aesthetic that we’re trying to present or fit this work into. And, of course, I’ve been introduced to so many fantastic writers that I’d never read before and that’s what I particularly enjoy about producing Absinthe. I never know what exciting piece of writing might be in the mailbox today for me to explore.

SD: What are your personal goals in publishing literature in translation? How did you come to it?

DH: Our personal goals with Absinthe are very humble … to become the biggest-selling literary magazine in the world. Actually, we simply want to continue to present the work of the best European writers and provide an opportunity for their work to be read and recognized. We publish writers we enjoy reading but our interests are broader than literature and we’ve started to feature full-color inserts by European artists and filmmakers. Our plan is to continue to expand that coverage as we move forward. We hope our readers discover great writers and seek out additional work by these writers, maybe by ordering a book that’s been published by Open Letter or Archipelago or by seeking out their work at Words Without Borders or Two Lines.

SD: Would you say your editorial goals are opening up? Like soon you’ll have to replace the word “writing” from your subtitle with “art”? I loved the Zines Series piece by Alexander Egger in Absinthe 9 and (in addition to wondering if it had been translated) it made me think about connecting visual artists to literature in translation, and the general overlap between translated literature and text-based visual media, where there is a different kind of translation happening–though an eerie shudder runs up my spine whenever the editor of a poetry magazine prefaces her “translation issue” with something like “all communication is translation…we translate our thoughts into words” etc.

DH: I wouldn’t say that our editorial goals are opening up. Our “master plan” (aside from taking over the world) was for Absinthe to become a journal/magazine of European literature/art/culture, etc., and we’ve finally been able to expand on that a little in these last two issues. There will be more of that happening but we’ll always maintain an emphasis on presenting writing in translation. As far as replacing “writing” from the subtitle and replacing it with “art” we’re far more likely to remove the entire subtitle, especially the word “European.” For some people the idea of “European lit” closes them off to experiencing the great work in Absinthe.

SD: What do you tend to look or from literature in translation that is different from what you seek in American literature?

DH: I think we’re looking for humor, seriousness, a grappling with the “big ideas”, a dismissal of the “big ideas”, a good plot or no plot, a good story, or line, a creative use of language, an understanding of what it means to live in the world today or yesterday or in the future … really I think we’re looking for the same things we seek in American literature: great art. We want to approach the work with new eyes to see and new ears to hear and that requires openness and curiosity on the part of the reader.

SD: Much ballyhoo has been tossed around recently about the notorious 3% statistic for the percentage of books published in translation here in the states. To wit, John O'Brien's blistering piece in CONTEXT 21. Is this merely a publisher/translator cold war, or are there larger cultural issues at stake in this discussion?

DH: Well, there’s probably some other dynamic at play in John O’Brien’s essay and I can’t comment on that but regardless of the validity of the 3% statistic it does seem to reveal a woeful lack of curiosity about the world among American readers and publishers. And this is backed up by our inability to speak other languages or to even possess a passport. It’s interesting that every year at AWP, without fail, we’ll have a lot of people walk by our table, pick up Absinthe, see that it features European writers, and put it back down as if they’ve picked up a virus. I’ve had people seem offended, “why on earth would you publish a journal of European writers?”

SD: I’ve received identical reactions when selling CALQUE. I say we publish literature in translation and they give me this look like “what for?!” My gut response is to say this reaction is xenophobic, but is that too simplistic?

DH: It’s possible that in those situations the response is xenophobic but I think it again points to some failures in the way we educate. I’ve seen statistics indicating that only 9% of Americans are fluent in a second language and just over 40% of high school students study foreign languages. We’re probably just not that interested in the rest of the world, unfortunately.

It would be wrong to suggest there is some ideal percentage of books that should be translated into English, as if once 10% of the books published in the US are translations then there will be world peace. I don’t know any of these people that O’Brien claims believe “translations, de facto, are good because they are translations” or the “rubbish about translations saving the world.” Obviously, we, along with all the other publishers I know, reject work in translation that is just not good writing. Yet we can cultivate an interest in the world, in the views and opinions of the “other”, and make publishing decisions that take this into consideration without sacrificing the quality of our efforts. But this won’t happen among the large corporate publishers because their focus is on the bottom line. So again, smaller literary enterprises (usually non-profit) like the ones we’re talking about and the small presses like Open Letter, Archipelago, Ugly Duckling, Dalkey Archive, Zephyr, etc. are incredibly important.

SD: Possibly a related question: What is your response, as a periodical publisher, to the fact that literary translation, can rarely put all your bread on the table, and even prolific translators tend to rely on professorships? Should this come with the territory?

DH: Well, it’s the same plight that other writers face, unfortunately, and it’s a reflection of what we value. It would be great if there was a way for translation to be more respected and for there to be dollars available for translators to spend their time translating. But, sadly, at Absinthe we’ve not been able to come up with a way to pay our translators yet. It’s been difficult to find consistent financial support for a journal of European writing and so we often struggle just to survive until the next issue.

SD: And yet the practice of literary translation seems, at least to me, very strong. Not a day goes by when I don't discover a new translator or a group of people publishing interesting work. Is there a connection among these phenomena? Or do you think it not that strong at all?

DH: It does seem strong to me but then again that could just be related to the company I keep. When I started Absinthe some of the other projects like Words without Borders, Circumference, and CALQUE, and publishers like Archipelago and Open Letter were either new or just getting started so there’s been a lot of movement recently and everyone seems to be generally very supportive and encouraging of the work that’s being done. We’re excited to find that after we publish an issue we’ll receive a few emails from other journal publishers who want to get in contact with a writer or translator we’ve featured in order to publish more of their work. So, despite the discouraging statistics and anecdotal evidence, there’s a lot to be optimistic about.

SD: I agree; I feel a great sense of optimism each time the catalog for a press like Archipelago, UDP, or Open Letter is announced. But going back to your last response–and this is something I am obviously thinking about constantly–what are some ways magazine publishers can interest more people in what we do?

DH: Good question and something I, too, think about a lot. To generate interest in magazine publishing, particularly those focused on translation, will require some creative ideas and some failures. Partnerships are important to this and I look at what is done at the Center for Literary Translation at Columbia University as a model, with there affiliation with Words Without Borders and Circumference. There are collaborative opportunities between literary magazines that should be explored and, of course, publishers need to view themselves as more than publishers. Last spring we co-hosted a festival of European film and writing here in Michigan and that generated some interest and is something that we plan to continue on an annual basis.

SD: Tell us about new work coming out from your publication that you're particularly excited about.

DH: Absinthe is published biannually and we recently published our 10th issue so we’re quite thrilled to have reached that milestone. The issue features some great work from Turkey and Poland, and elsewhere. We’re also in the planning stages on a special feature on Romanian fiction that’s planned for fall of 2009 and since we’re early in the process I can’t say much about it but it’s something we’re quite excited about.