Twelve Views from the Distance does not hesitate to present uncomfortable subjects (violence, lust, death, adultery, greed) with as much honesty as moments of beauty, love, and charity. It is an elegant novel; the overarching imagery floats gently on the surface of Takahashi’s words, carried smoothly from memory to memory, shading the events of the author’s life and presenting avenues into the world of his childhood….
Takahashi’s memoir presents not only the difficulties faced by citizens living through a war, but also the challenges of growing up in poverty, of being raised by a single mother who is forced to make ends meet in creative ways, and of exploring an alternative sexuality, among others. The novel presents twelve reflections on the time and place it depicts; some of the details are very specific, and many are universal. Throughout, Twelve Views from the Distance is unflinching, compassionate, and beautiful.
Only three percent of everything published in the U.S. each year is translated from another language, and much of that is non-literary stuff like manuals, help books, and other odds and ends. Due to this, the author writes, “It’s likely that American readers will not discover today’s Borges, Calvino, Neruda, or Kafka until long after they are dead, if they even discover them at all.” Particularly distressing is that of the tiny handful of translated pieces of literature released in this country, only a quarter are by women. Things need to change, but as this article points out, small presses are beginning to make a huge difference.
copy of the original-language text (if available in pdf), along with
a $50 entry fee for each nominated book ($30 if your press publishes five or fewer titles a year)
If original language text is available only in hard-copy, please send it by regular mail to: American Literary Translators Association, ATTN: National Translation Award, 900 East 7th St., PMB 266, Bloomington, IN 47405-3201.
Publishers will be asked to send THREE copies of the nominated book, if it is advanced to the Judges Round.
the importance of the translation and the literary significance of the original;
the success of the translation in recreating the artistic force of the original.
Translations of contemporary works are preferred, but important re-translations or first-time translations of older works will also be considered if they make significant contributions to international literature and its translation.
The National Translation Award supports ALTA’s goal of enhancing the status of literary translation, improving the quality of literary translating, and broadening the market for works in English translation. Recent winners include such distinguished translators as Richard Wilbur (2008), Norman Shapiro (2009), Alex Zucker (2010), Lisa Rose Bradford (2011), Sinan Antoon (2012), and Phillip Boehm (2013).
The award-winning book and translator for 2014 will be featured at the 37th annual conference of the American Literary Translators Association in Milwaukee, WI.
More and more academics are […] undertaking translation as a component of their professional activity and as a natural extension of their teaching. Whether they translate literary or scholarly works or other cultural documents, they are engaging in an exacting practice, at once critical and creative, that demands lexical precision; detailed knowledge of historical, political, social, and literary contexts; and a nuanced sense of style in both the source language and the target language. […] Every translation is an interpretation; each one begins with a critical reading, then expands and ultimately embodies that reading.
The Department of Asian Studies at Cornell University is pleased to announce a prize honoring the life and work of our colleague, Kyoko Selden. The prize will pay homage to the finest achievements in Japanese literature, thought, and society through the medium of translation. Kyoko Selden’s translations and writings ranged widely across such realms as Japanese women writers, the atomic bomb experience, Ainu life and culture, historical and contemporary literature, poetry and prose, Japanese art, and early education (the Suzuki method). In the same spirit, the prize will recognize the breadth of Japanese writings, classical and contemporary. Collaborative translations are welcomed. In order to encourage classroom use and wide dissemination of the winning entries, prize-winning translations, together with the original Japanese text, will be made freely available on the web. The winning translations will be published online at The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus <http://www.japanfocus.org/>.
Submit three copies of a translation and the original text of an unpublished work or a new translation of a previously published work to the Kyoko Selden Memorial Translation Prize, Department of Asian Studies, 350 Rockefeller Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853. E-mail submissions should be sent to email@example.com. Please provide both paper and electronic versions of the translation and the original text. The maximum length of a submission is 20,000 words. The translation should be accompanied by an introduction of up to 1,000 words. In case of translation of longer works, a 20,000-word excerpt should be submitted. The closing date for the first prize competition is May 30, 2014. Awards will be announced on August 31, 2014. A prize of $2,500 will be given to the author(s) of the award-winning translation.
Modeled after similar organizations in Europe, the newly formed Emerging Literary Translators’ Network in America is designed to provide support for beginning and early-career literary translators. If that sounds like you, click here to find out more.
The newest issue of Asymptote, one of the very best journals of international writing out there, contains lots of gems, including a short story by Tawada Yōko, who in my book, is nothing short of a genius. (Whenever I hear all of the hype about Murakami Haruki being in the running for the Nobel Prize for Literature, as we did last week before Alice Munro finally took home the prize, I always secretly hope that Tawada, who is so much more creative and brilliant than Murakami, will stage a radical upset.)
Here is how the story in Asymptote begins:
One day, when you open your eyes, perhaps there will be a tiger standing beside your pillow. The sky is azure, the earth is amber, and should the two go to war, all words shall be swallowed up in the turbulence and suffer a hundred falls, a thousand scratches; and no beast, bird, or man shall be able to tell the chill from the swelter, joy from dolour. Perhaps the tiger will speak to you. No one may learn the words of the tiger, but on that day, perhaps you will listen carefully to what it says, and comprehend.
“I believe in low theory in popular places, in the small, the inconsequential, the antimonumental, the micro, the irrelevant; I believe in making a difference by thinking little thoughts and sharing them widely. I seek to provoke, annoy, bother, irritate, and amuse; I am chasing small projects, micropolitics, hunches, whims, fancies.”—Judith Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), p. 21.
But Achilles,weeping, quickly slipping away from his companions, sat on the shore of the gray salt sea, and looked out to the wine-dark sea. —Homer, The Iliad
Lapham’s Quarterly has a fascinating little article on the trouble of translating Homer, specifically his age-old description of the sea as “wine-dark.” I remember being especially fascinated by this turn of phrase when I first encountered it in Japanese. My imagination turned with images of dark, sultry, deep red wine, but as this article shows, the phrase may have meant something altogether different to the Greeks. The result: things only get more complicated for the translator, who has to decide on a meaning and chose an English turn of phrase that best represents that interpretation.
One of the most poetic visual artists is the American surrealist Joseph Cornell. Each one of his small-scale installations—whether it be filled with antiques, bits of broken glass, balls, sand, or clippings from books and magazines—serves as a small, intimate world that draws the viewer in, inviting him or her to make sense of the work’s poetically suggestive juxtapositions. For this reason, the Japanese poet Takahashi Mutsuo, has long been drawn to Cornell’s work.
Takahashi Mutsuo This World, or the Man of the Boxes Dedicated to Joseph Cornell
Pilgrim on earth, thy name is heaven, Stranger, thou art the guest of God. —Mary Baker Eddy
The shade of sooty quince The bloom of dusty roses ——And beyond that A fence of metal wire entwined with vines Of spiderwort or knotgrass perhaps?
There tossed among the plants Reclining in a weather-worn wooden armchair Hands folded at his abdomen like a dead man Who could he be this man who looks as if He was washed here from some distant world? This man is a decrepit adolescent a broken angel Swept here by the ark of dreams a boat in the shape of a box When was that? Yesterday or a hundred years ago?
The world to which this man really belongs is not here The world to which this man really belongs Is far away through the fissures of dream Guarded by sensible, steadfast parents This man wearing a starched collar is a clever boy He has two beautiful younger sisters And a younger brother with an upright spirit This family of angels with wings hidden under their fancy dress Is enveloped in golden happiness That world of distant memories Is like a box floating in a galaxy of tears
One morning suddenly that box-shaped boat ran ashore In the doorway to that timeless world of happiness When was that? A second or a hundred million years ago? Dreams are always nightmares interlopers with foul intent Drawn by death the father was pulled backward And the rest of the family were dragged quickly away It was here they disembarked the backyard of a sickly city Here not even angels could escape human fate The mother grew ill from anxiety the sisters grew thin And wrinkles spread across the brother’s spotless soul
In this false world perched atop the scales This man was the quiet, noble head of the household Working harder growing old faster than everyone else But that was not the reality of who he was His real self is hidden under the disguise of an old man Strewn across his chair seated like a corpse He inhales the blue-green seas of his own world of reality Watches clouds trailing behind airplanes over the sea And pricks up his ears to overhear the daytime dialogue of the stars
This man suddenly stands from his chair And slowly descends through the fallen leaves Underground he finds his own private box-like world With objects neatly stored in shelves and drawers Candy boxes pill boxes candle boxes Cut-outs from old images musical scores lost wooden blocks Shells brass rings sky blue marbles Cracked glasses soap bubble sets—— These too are fragments of the real world Drifted here through the fissures of dream This man gives himself plenty of time How long? One week or thirty years? He chooses the fragments then puts them together In just the right place in just the right box While the faint reflection of the golden happiness Belonging to the real world so far away Turns into pale afternoon sunlight and falls Upon his deftly moving fingers
Is this man no longer at his chair in the garden? Is he no longer at his basement table? If he is nowhere to be found This man must never have been here at all What we thought we saw was nothing more Than the shadow of his real self His shadowy eyelashes drawing the bow of vision toward the real world His shadowy hands caressing the flotsam from the real world It is not for us to lament his absence Like little birds we should descend into the garden to bathe as usual And play on his basement window like light
Then what about these boxes? The objects captured inside the princesses The ballerinas the rabbit princes The parrots the honeybees the butterflies Does this man lodge inside them Borrowing the forms of these ephemeral creatures? Like the garden and basement these boxes are also Cheap hotel rooms inhabited briefly by this man’s shadow It swings upon the roost pours some sand Creates nimble cracks across the panes of glass And then vanishes The destination for his shadow is the real world These wistfully nostalgic boxes before us are The frames around the well through which We peer into that world and are drawn in
NOTE: Takahashi originally wrote the poem “This World, or the Man of the Boxes” for an exhibition of Cornell’s work held at the Kawamura Memorial Museum in Sakura, Japan. This poem was such a success that in 2010, when the same museum once again held a large scale Cornell exhibition, the curators invited Takahashi to write one poem to accompany each of the artworks. The result was the collaborative exhibition “Intimate Worlds Enclosed: Joseph Cornell x Takahashi Mutsuo,” which drew large crowds and quickly sold through multiple prints of its catalog. The English renditions of the poems in the catalog were done by Jeffrey Angles. For more information, see the museum’s website: http://kawamura-museum.dic.co.jp/en/exhibition/201004_cornell.html.
TAKAHASHIMutsuo (1937- ) came to international attention in the 1970s for his bold expressions of homoerotic desire. He is one of Japan’s most prolific contemporary poets, with over three dozen anthologies of free-style verse, haiku, tanka, and other forms of poetry to his name. He is also one of the most thoroughly translated contemporary Japanese poets, with four volumes of his poetry available in English. A translation of his memoirs Twelve Views from the Distance, translated by Jeffrey Angles,was published in 2012 by University of Minnesota Press.
“The exercise has confirmed my long-held suspicion that my translators are three times cleverer than me, with a better command of English as well as the ‘into-language,’ plus a knowledge of the mysterious art and science that is translation itself. As a writer I can be bad, but I can’t be wrong. A translator can be good, but can never be right. Translators are jugglers, diplomats, nuance-ticklers, magistrates, word-nerds, self-testing lie detectors, and poets. Translators rock.”—David Mitchell, explaining the insights his debut in translation gave him. Read more in our exclusive interview with him, which you can find in our last issue! (via asymptotejournal)
The March 11, 2011 earthquake that shook northeastern Japan also reverberated throughout Japanese society, forcing it to reconsider many of things things that it had taken for granted—its usage of energy, its relationship to the natural environment, its relationship with the government, and its modes of organizing at the grass-roots level. Almost immediately, writers took action. Many figures known for their involvement in social issues, writers such as Ōe Kenzaburō, Tsushima Yūko, and Ishimure Michiko, began respond and publish statements to the press, helping to use their influence to help shape reconstruction efforts and talk about new directions for the Japanese nation.
Perhaps the segment of the Japanese literary world where the seismic forces of 3/11 were felt most strongly, however, was the poetic world. Many Japanese newspapers include regular columns that include free verse (shi), tanka, or haiku poems, but in just the few days after 3/11, poetry began to emerge from those small columns and take a more prominent place in the news, eventually finding its way into a central position in the discourse that had started unfolding across the nation. Poetry exploded into the mainstream, serving as one of the ways that the nation thought about and processed its own complicated feelings about the disasters.
Because I was in Japan at the time and experienced the quakes, numerous aftershocks, and anxiety personally, I have been unable to forget it. After a few weeks of uncertainty and great worry, everything I had come to Japan to do was cancelled, and so I cut my stay short and returned to the United States ahead of schedule. As one way of working through the experience and my complicated feelings about returning to America, I began translating a number of poems about the quake and the resulting disasters, mostly poems written by poets whom I admire. Most of those translations have been published in various journals, mostly online.
Here is a collection of links to some of those translations. Some appear with the original Japanese. Most of the poems first appeared in the May 2011 special issue of Handbook of Contemporary Poetry 『現代詩手帖』dedicated to the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. Some were also published in a special section in the daily newspaper Asahi shinbun published in commemoration of the first anniversary of the quake. Others were published in various magazines or newspapers, but still, these poems are only the tiniest tip of the iceberg. There are thousands upon thousands more poems out there.
In celebration of National Poetry Month 2013, I wanted to share a site showing a number of poems in the original handwriting of the poets. Although we all have all seen Emily Dickinson’s envelope poems, I realized while looking at this page that I had never seen Virginia Clemm Poe’s deliberate, calligraphic handwriting, or the childlike, big writing of Anne Sexton. Somehow a poem comes alive in such a different way when written in the author’s own hand. Check the photos of the manuscripts out by clicking here.
David Burleigh at The Japan Times, just published this review of my translation of Takahashi Mutsuo’s memoirs Twelve Views from the Distance 高橋睦郎『十二の遠景』. He describes how the book describes the grinding poverty and difficulty of Takahashi’s early life, then states,
Takahashi invokes a world that has now mostly disappeared, along with its bitterness and hunger. Yet it was also a rich world, for those who managed to survive it.
And what was the secret of survival? Undoubtedly to some extent it was the poet’s imagination. Near the end he writes: “My undeveloped, youthful soul felt a strong affinity for what was outside my world in the realm of the other.”
With photographs and a retrospective afterword by the author, this is an excellent translation of an absorbing and necessary book.
Because I worked on this translation a little at a time, often working in half-hour increments pilfered from other projects, this translation took me a number of years from start to publication, beginning in 2006 until around 2010. It was then another couple of years before it found its way into print in late 2012 with University of Minnesota Press, which took quite a chance on deciding publish this rather unusual, but profoundly beautiful book. This project was a long labor of love, and so it means an enormous deal to me that this book review—the first to be published—is so enthusiastic.
Each year, University of Chicago holds a contest in which people submit translations from Japanese into English. The winners are placed online and win a significant cash prize. This year’s winners were just announced: Annika Culver and Andrew Murakami-Smith. Here is more information, plus links to the two super stories online.
Annika A. Culver is Assistant Professor of Asian History and Asian Studies Coordinator at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She recently published the book Glorify the Empire: Japanese Avant-Garde Propaganda in Manchukuo (University of British Columbia Press, 2013). Current projects include a book chapter, “Japanese Mothers and Rural Settlement in Wartime Manchukuo: Gendered Reflections of Labor and Productivity in Manchuria Graph, 1940-1944” for Dana Cooper and Claire Phelan, eds., Motherhood and War, and a monograph on images of women and consumerism in early 20th century East Asia. In autumn 2013, Culver will join the faculty at Florida State University as Assistant Professor of East Asian History.
Andrew Murakami-Smith is an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Language and Culture at Osaka University. While writing his dissertation on “Dialects and Place in Modern Japanese Literature,” he did two years of research at Osaka University. After obtaining his Ph.D. from Princeton in 1997, he returned to Osaka to work as a translator at a patent lawyer’s office. He has a continuing interest in regional dialects and cultures of Japan, especially the dialect, culture, and image of Osaka. He has translated into English some 15 works of modern fiction, poetry, and essays relating to Osaka.