Seven and a half years ago I posted about a remarkable literary magazine called Two Lines: “they present everything bilingually—completely in the case of poetry, usually only the first page in the original for prose.” I’m happy to say they’re still around, and the latest issue, Some Kind of Beautiful Signal, which the Center for the Art of Translation kindly sent me, is full of good things. Hands down the most exotic original language is Zapotec, represented by two Natalia Toledo poems, translated by Clare Sullivan not from Zapotec but from the author’s Spanish translations (also provided), “Cayache batee ladxidó’ guidxilayú” (Fire is reborn on the soil of the earth) and “Gurié xa’na’ ti ba’canda'” (Seated in the shadows). The highest-profile inclusion would be a tie between an excerpt from Lydia Davis’s new translation of Madame Bovary and a brief piece by Roberto Bolaño, “La traducción es un yunque” (rendered by Natasha Wimmer, oddly, as “Translation Is a Testing Ground” rather than the literal and surely more evocative “Translation Is an Anvil”). There are two quirky tributes by one writer to another, Marcel Cohen‘s “Doxa” on Paul Celan (or rather Celan’s wristwatch) and an excerpt from Gennadi Aygi’s О да: свет Кафки (O Yes: Light of Kafka) on Kafka (or rather Kafka’s luminosity). Aygi (whom I wrote about here) is also represented by a poem, “Предзимний реквием” (Requiem Before Winter: In memory of Boris Pasternak), and “Несколько абзацев о поэзии” (A Few Notes on Poetry). The translation I most surprised myself by liking was Kurt Beals’ of Anja Utler’s “für daphne: geklagt” (for daphne: lamented); here are the first few lines in German, then English:

mir selbst: wie entstachelt! von ihm als: habe sich alles
gedreht bin: gewittert, gepirscht jetzt — ganz: der gehetzte
schweiß — schnell ich: durch äste, gestrüpp ihm entstürzen
die: fangen zu greifen an haken gepeitscht mir — schneller —
myself: as if dethorned! by him as: if it had all
turned now am: scented, am stalked — fully: quarry my
sweat — rush: through branches, through brushwood from him
they: light into grab hook whipping — swifter —

And there’s a whole section of Uyghur poetry (though the introduction is a bit over the top, and not everyone would agree that Mahmud al-Kashgari wrote in Uyghur), and more stuff from Russian (Andrey Dmitriev, Aleksandr Skidan, and Mikhail Shishkin), translations from Chinese, Spanish, Urdu, Persian… Well, you can see the list of authors, titles, and languages here. And the physical object is beautifully designed and typeset. I have my quibbles (the Soviet cigarettes in the Dmitriev story are Sever, not “Severok,” and why on earth are the Uyghur poems transliterated on pages 264 and 266 with every word capitalized [“Niz-wani-ta Turup Niz-wanika Yoklunmasar”]?), but they are only quibbles; this is a fine series, and I wish it every success.


  1. marie-lucie says

    Isn’t this dethorned, not dethroned? I think that Stachel means ‘thorn’ or ‘spine’ – Stachelschwein means ‘porcupine’ (lit. ‘spiny pig’).

  2. Ms. Wimmer is having second thoughts about her interpretive translation of yunque.

  3. I agree with m-l about “entstachelt”.

  4. One could dethorn a rose, or one could dethorn a lion’s paw. Which is this?

  5. Isn’t this dethorned, not dethroned?
    Yes, of course; fixed now, thanks. As you can imagine, that’s not an easy text to transcribe, and I probably made other typos as well.

  6. “[T]he more directly the writer speaks to the reader, the more easily he or she transcends cultural barriers. It’s hard enough to communicate across cultures, but when formal conventions get in the way, it’s even harder.”
    Someone who says something like this probably shouldn’t be trusted to make translations (as if the form of a literary work were less important than the content!). Unless, as in this case, their theory is directly opposed to their practice, a very common thing in artists of all sorts.

  7. marie-lucie says

    JC: their theory is directly opposed to their practice, a very common thing in artists of all sorts.
    This is hardly uncommon among non-artists.

  8. J.W. Brewer says

    What’s the theory of exoticism that makes Zapotec more exotic than Uighur/Uyghur? The latter apparently has substantially more speakers, but it also has more speakers than (looking at the other languages in the issue) Danish, but I wouldn’t say that makes Uighur less exotic than Danish. Plus, Zapotec may well have more speakers living in the U.S., and Oaxaca seems a less exotic place for Americans to visit than Uighurstan/Sinkiang/whatever-you-may-wish-to-call-it.

  9. marie-lucie says

    Uighur/Uyghur is a Turkic language, one member of a large group spoken in various parts of Eurasia. Although the languages of this group are very different from Indo-European languages, there has been contact and mutual influence between the two linguistic groups from time immemorial. Not so with Zapotec, a language family belonging to the Oto-Manguean group of Northern and Middle America. The Wikipedia article on Zapotec gives a number of examples of phonology, morphology and syntax which support the characterization of the language as extremely different, and therefor “exotic”, from the point of view of English and other Indo-European languages (as well as Turkic ones).

  10. Yeah, frankly the Turkic languages are much of a muchness (with the exception of Chuvash). Zapotec, now that’s the kind of language you don’t see every day.

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