The Magazine #5, 180209, Will Firth

Over the past few months we have been negotiating with the Serbian Ministry of Culture, the Crnjanski Foundation, and translator Will Firth for the rights to publish the first English translation of Miloš Crnjanski’s Roman O Londonu (A Novel of London), considered by many to be the greatest work of Serbian literature of the twentieth century, and one of the classic works on what it means to live in exile. The translation of this 800+ page epic, which will be done by master translator Will Firth, will take almost two years, so we are planning to release sometime in 2020. 

The novel, which concerns a Russian emigré to London, is based on Crnjanski’s own experiences there in virtual exile in the 1940s. It paints a rather horrific view of London from the eyes from someone who lives in a constant state of rejection and alienation, beset by memories of home with no opportunity to make a home of where he is. Published in Belgrade in 1971, Roman o Londonu won Crnjanski, who died in 1977, Serbia’s most prestigious literary awards, including the Union of Serbian Writers award for LIfelong Contribution to Serbian Literature.

What we are presenting below is an essay by Will Firth which gives a brief background on the recent history, linguistic and political, of the Balkan region, and serves as a worthy prequel to the novel. 

Although we only have one other Serbian work in print, it is a grand one, Cat Painters: An Anthology of Contemporary Serbian Poetry, edited by Biljana D. Obradović and Dubravka Djurić, and we are putting that on sale, today only, for half price.

And look for a surprise translation from the Serbo-Croat in the very near future…

Language and Politics in Ex-Yugoslavia

Will Firth

(Appearing simultaneously in the bilingual Balkan anarchist magazine Antipolitika.)

For a newly formed state in a turbulent postwar situation, questions of language and linguistics are often less important than consolidating an army and administration, securing the borders, ensuring communications, producing essentials such as grain, coal, steel, electricity, and so on. This was the case when the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia was formed in 1946. Parliamentary elections had been held in November 1945, at which the communist-led National Front secured all the seats, and a government of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia was established in 1946. After reforms in 1953, Yugoslavia experimented with ideas of economic decentralization and self-management, where workers had input into the policies of their factories and shared a portion of any surplus revenue. The Party’s role in society shifted from holding a monopoly of power to being an ideological leader. As a result, the name of the Party was changed to the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. In 1963, the country itself was renamed the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Language and power

These changes show that linguistic and semantic considerations were enmeshed with the political dynamics of wielding and maintaining power. The ideological language of the early Yugoslav period bore many of the traits of the discourses and diatribe in other state-socialist countries. Black-and-white, authoritarian terms such as “enemies of the people” were in common use in the immediate postwar years, when the country was ruled with the same Stalinist ruthlessness as other East Bloc states and the liquidation of real or imagined opponents was an almost daily occurrence. Following the Tito-Stalin Split of 1948 and Yugoslavia’s expulsion from the Communist Information Bureau, the country began to take an independent course in world politics, shunning the influence of both West and East. Estrangement from the Soviet Union was used to obtain US aid via the Marshall Plan, and Yugoslavia founded the Non-Aligned Movement and went on to play a leading role in it. The ideological language of the 1940s and 50s gradually began to mellow.

A noteworthy ploy in the early Yugoslav period was the codification of the Macedonian language, a long-term process that culminated in 1944 and was implemented in the years that followed. Ever since the collapse of Ottoman power in the Balkans, the historical region of Macedonia had been hotly contested territory, and its division between Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria resulted in the First Balkan War (1912-13) and Second Balkan War (1913). Bulgaria was a Nazi ally for most of the Second World War and occupied a large part of Macedonia. After the expulsion of Axis forces from the southern Balkans in 1944, the largely communist and pro-Yugoslav partisans were able to gain control. Instituting a nominally separate language in the new Socialist Republic of Macedonia, as part of Yugoslavia, was a way of cementing that power and countering Bulgarian influence. The Macedonian idiom was widely considered a Bulgarian dialect until 1944. The new Macedonian standard language for use in the media, administration, schools, etc., was based on the dialects around the cities of Prilep and Veles, some distance from the eastern part of the country whose dialects bear more resemblance to Bulgarian, and a version of the Cyrillic alphabet was adopting that is based strongly on Serbian rather than Bulgarian. The definition and drafting of a language can be seen as an important element of “nation-building” in the interests of those in power. Bulgarian and Macedonian are mutually intelligible to a high degree today, but the existence of a discrete and internationally recognized Macedonian language and nation is ultimately a product of the power dynamics of the 1940s.

Yugoslavia became increasingly integrated into the world economy, with large Western corporations producing in the country, raw materials being sold for the world market, large numbers of Yugoslav citizens working abroad (and often sending money back home), and international corporations marketing their goods in Yugoslavia—including “cultural” products such as popular music. These influences found their way into language to a greater extent than in more isolated state-socialist countries.

Many specialists consider Yugoslav policy toward minority languages to have been exemplary. Although three quarters of the population spoke Serbo-Croatian, no single language was official at the federal level. A range of community languages enjoyed official status in the constituent republics and provinces, e.g. Hungarian, Ruthenian, Slovak and Romanian in Vojvodina; Albanian, Turkish and Romany in Kosovo; Italian in Croatia, etc. A total of sixteen languages were used by newspapers, radio stations and television studios, fourteen were languages of tuition in schools, and nine at universities. As a state born out of the struggle of a multi-ethnic partisan movement, this was arguably a fair and progressive recognition of the country’s linguistic diversity. The Yugoslav People’s Army was the only institution of national significance that used Serbo-Croatian as the sole language of command.

However, this legal equality could not disguise the de facto dominance of Serbo-Croatian. As the language of almost 75% of the country’s 22 million inhabitants, and of the centre of power in Belgrade, it functioned as an unofficial lingua franca. It was a compulsory subject in all schools, whereas relatively significant smaller languages such as Slovenian, Macedonian and Albanian were not taught outside the respective region at all. Their status was correspondingly low.

On a personal note, I was stunned to see the absolute disinterest and unveiled loathing of young linguistics students at the University of Zagreb (Croatia) in 1988-89 when they were required to take a semester course in Macedonian. As if it was an imposition for them, cool cats from a northwestern metropolis, to have to learn the “primitive” idiom of some deep-south Balkan backwater.

The Serbian variant of Serbo-Croatian, with twice as many speakers as the Croatian variant, enjoyed the greatest prestige. The army used the Serbian form of the language in issuing commands.


Any look at language policy in Yugoslavia must deal predominantly with Serbo-Croatian. This South Slavic language was spoken as a native tongue by almost three quarters of the population—and as a second language by much of the rest.

A language with a gamut of different dialects and variants, Serbo-Croatian was effectively standardized by Croatian and Serbian writers and linguists in the mid-19th century in the Vienna Literary Agreement, which met with broad acceptance. There were slightly different Serbian and Croatian standards from the outset, although both were based on the same subdialect (Shtokavian). From 1918, Serbo-Croatian served as the official language of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

The idea of linguistic standardization often stems from the striving to create a nation and is thus a firm component of many nationalisms. Every state aspires to intervene in language and transform linguistics from a descriptive discipline into a normative doctrine that would mould language rather than recording and studying it the way it is, free and ever mutable in everyday use.

Through the subsequent fifty years of socialist Yugoslavia, Serbo-Croatian language policy amounted to a balancing act, adjusting policy and key terminology in order to maintain an equilibrium. Allowing a degree of inner diversity while maintaining the stance that it was still a uniform language served the interest of the existing system.

In 1954, major writers, linguists and literary critics, backed by the major cultural institutions Matica srpska in Serbia and Matica hrvatska in Croatia, signed the Novi Sad Agreement. Its core tenet was that “Serbs, Croats and Montenegrins share a single language with two equal variants that have developed around Zagreb (western) and Belgrade (eastern).” The agreement insisted that the Latin and Cyrillic scripts have equal status, and also that the two main pronunciation models (Ekavian and Ijekavian) be on par. It stipulated that “Serbo-Croatian” should be the name of the language in official contexts, while the names “Serbian” and “Croatian” could be retained in vernacular use. Matica hrvatska and Matica srpska were to work together on a dictionary, and a mixed committee of linguists was tasked with preparing an orthography to codify spelling. During the 1960s, both books were published simultaneously in Ijekavian Latin in Zagreb and Ekavian Cyrillic in Novi Sad. A unitarian spirit prevailed—a polycentric model of linguistic unity.

Bosnia-Herzegovina was the most ethnically diverse region of Yugoslavia and people there needed a command of both scripts. One example of how this worked in practice was provided by the main Sarajevo daily newspaper Oslobođenje (Liberation), which was published in Latin one day and Cyrillic the next.

As early as the 1950s, the communist leader and later dissident Milovan Đilas advocated a shift away from central planning toward more economic autonomy. His arguments for greater democratic input into decision-making ultimately led him to criticize the one-party state itself and rigid party discipline; he suggested the retirement of state officials whom he saw as abusing their power and blocking the road to reform. Particularly in the northwest of the country, the 1960s were marked by a gradual emancipation from the Stalinist policies followed after World War II. Major reforms in the mid 1960s introduced elements of a market economy, and a phase of democratization in the League of Communists between 1966 and 1969 saw a bigger role given to its organizations in the individual republics and provinces.

Arguably as part of this general move toward greater regional autonomy—and also rooted in a long-standing awareness of Croatian particularities—Croatian intellectuals published a “Declaration on the Status and Name of the Croatian Literary Language” in 1967, which centrists in Belgrade perceived as a separatist affront. The Matica hrvatska challenged the Novi Sad Agreement and the common orthography and started work on its own, which was published in 1971 as the Croatian Orthography Handbook. The book was promptly banned as part of the clampdown on the “Croatian Spring” in 1971 but was published abroad in 1972.

The vying of different currents in the statist political mainstream found linguistic expression in various fields. In the 1980s, for example, there were increasing objections to the language being called Serbo-Croatian (or even Croato-Serbian), not least in Croatia. Awkward constructs emerged to take account of these sensibilities in the late Yugoslav period, e.g. dictionaries and reference works referring to “the Croatian or Serbian language” in their titles. What would a foreigner with no knowledge of the complex linguo-political situation think when a crucial definition contains the ambiguous word “or”?!

Since the end of the Cold War and the demise of Yugoslavia as a geopolitical buffer between East and West, the fragmentation of ex-Yugoslavia’s territory has been accompanied by a process of linguistic “Balkanization.” Thus the dominant discourse in Serbia and Croatia today is that they are two, albeit closely related languages. Bosnian has likewise been established as an official standard in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in Montenegro a separate standard (including two new letters!) has been introduced and recognized by the International Organization for Standardization as a separate language. This move by the marginally dominant pro-Western camp in Montenegro is one of many tools in an ongoing geopolitical campaign to consolidate a separate Montenegrin identity and, ultimately, to check Serbian influence.

Not much has changed in a purely linguistic sense. Many of these alterations are declarative in nature, reflecting policy at a superstructural level. Despite the centripetal developments of the last two decades, the differences between the variants of Serbo-Croatian are still generally less than between the international variants of English, for instance.

To sum up with the words of the scholar Branko Franolić (1980): “Language policy in Yugoslavia consists of a series of alternations between centralist and pluralist tendencies. These tendencies are always present, only their relative emphases change. Language planning in Yugoslavia is an outgrowth from and instrument of political decision-making and overall social planning.”

The future

It is easy to criticize these developments, particularly in retrospect, and considerably harder to sketch a positive vision of linguistic policy and practice in this part of the world. Respect for diversity should be a key concern, and language must no longer be used as a tool for nationalist or power-political manipulation.

An encouraging thrust in this direction is the “Declaration on the Common Language” presented in early 2017 after preparatory regional conferences held by open-minded authors and journalists in Podgorica (Montenegro), Split (Croatia) , Belgrade (Serbia) and Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina). Its anti-nationalist theses present a counterpoint to the post-Yugoslav mania of exclusionism and the “nationalism of small differences.”

Misogynist language is another ingrained problem in the Balkans (as in many other countries). Male violence, macho culture and the depreciation of unpaid domestic work are foundations of the authoritarian and patriarchal societies we live in—and correspondingly are reflected in language. But many individuals are challenging these structures on a daily basis and trying hard to avoid modes of communication that are sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc. This awareness and this struggle are good preconditions for whatever “macro-linguistic” solutions and definitions are adopted in future.


—Will Firth,

The Magazine #4, 180204, Jill Darling

Our comrades in the fight against literary banality, Spuyten Duyvil, have just put out Jill Darling’s (re)iterations(s). We published Jill’s a geography of syntax in 2016 and are happy to say Jill is going to be helping out with this magazine. A poem from a geography of syntax follows, and you can buy her book on the website, today only, for half price. 

Besides poetry, Jill writes fiction and non, and a recent and fascinating essay on Wendy Walters’ Multiply/Divide and contemporary urban/corporate politics can be found at Entropy. You can hear her in conversation with T. Hetzel on Living Writers, and you can hear her read the poem, below.


Achy Breaky, like Resilience 

from a geography of syntax


The clang of seasons

plays like distinct hues melted into liquid

while we gather the pieces

move ahead on the game board, or go to jail

claim property, sell out

I am trying to say that little is more than accumulation

sorting the details will only take us to September 

You are what you earn

Correspondence hangs uneven like background music

there is a reason country songs are popular

on the jukebox

dreams, mishaps

the easy metaphor



The Magazine #3, 180128, Farès / Thompson

Peter Thompson

I doubt this press would exist– at least not in its current form– without the help and consultation of Peter Thompson, Professor of Romance Languages at Roger Williams University. It was out of conversations with Peter a decade or so ago that the Diálogos imprint was born, and he is my go-to, always, for advice on all matters concerning the art of translation and on what ought to be translated. So we’re happy to see him embarked on a new project and giving us an early preview.

Nabile Farès

What follows here is an excerpt from Peter’s in-progress annotated translation of The Olive Grove (Le Champ des oliviers)— the first novel in Nabile Farès’s trilogy La Découverte du nouveau mondeFarès (1940-2016) is Algerian-French (complete bio and other works here), and the experience of exile colors all his wildly various writings. He is poet and novelist and everything in between; his language can whirl in imagistic torrents, relax in lyrical simplicity, or engage philosophical discourse… sometimes all at once, as you will see below. 

If you like what you see, you can pick up copies of two other Farès titles, the novel Exile and Helplessness and the more recent poetry, Exile: Women’s Turn, on our site, today only, for half price. Today only, also, pick up any of Peter’s other translations and/or his own books, also half price.


From: The Olive Grove (Le Champ des oliviers), by Nabile Farès, translated by Peter Thompson

I. … 8:57 at night. February 8, 1971. Track 10. A train leaves Paris, headed for Barcelona. My garnet-colored suitcase (Brandy Fax speaking, also writing, reading, staring, living, weeping, longing, puking, also…) carries within it some red wool pants, a shirt, five pounds of oranges, a cartoon of cigarettes, briefs, a pair of shoes. A chunk of Paris, Three Books. One of these treats primitive societies. The suburban trains (Brandy Fax observing) (Brandy Fax is the name I’ve given myself in order to fully sketch out (me, a primitive from the Old World) the framed panorama of Westernness: that edge between two worlds) sport strange, glowing signals as, switching tracks, they branch off from the Main Lines and veer toward the tenements you see (Brandy Fax here) all lighted up like radios. His right hand (Brandy Fax is writing this) rests on the cover of a paperback. Entitled The Steppes. Followed by other accounts. He gazes through windows above the tracks (Brandy Fax doing the looking) and his image trembles, his forehead furrowed like autumn land waiting to be plowed. He’s not on the platform. But on the train, on a train that doubles his body with a rail reality, a real reality. He’s alone. The compartment is Deluxe Second Class. Where he can read or write under a white fluorescent light. The SNCF blankets are merely part of a universe run through with power lines that bring the night right up to you eye. The impossible winter nights are beginning their hellish rounds (Brandy Fax thinks about the two freezing months he’s just spent in Paris with the most astounding person it had ever been his fate to encounter) while the SNCF conductors fret over this passenger who fills a solitary compartment with pen, notebook, volume. “Yes.” “That will take you a while?” is asked. Who’s asking? Who asks? “A while of what?” One could say? A long time of what? Of launching words into the air? (Brandy Fax’s own culture is one of orality.) But he says. Brandy Fax. He says. To keep on being what in fact he is. He says. “No, I don’t have much more to do. An hour or two. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll stay all night. My night.” “OK. OK. We’ll decide later. You have a berth?” “Yes. And more… my couchette is number 45.” The conductors leave. Night waxes around the train while the billboards retreat from the tracks, toward the roads, lobbing flashes (sharp) of white light across my eyes. This is his third trip to Barcelona and he, Brandy Fax the Fifth ( ) ( ) has put aside what he wanted to write about one of the most central figures North Africa had ever known. The O… A doubt persists. This dissertation on the meaning of a rare Ogress, little known in Europe, will never get anywhere (where) (see the light of day) (night) (perhaps not) (?) (Who knows?) Obsession? The slow task of remorse, as the poet said (You’ll devote the bulk of your time to obsession) Obsession! The quality of the works that arise from it. May obsession go fuck itself along with all its creations. “That’ll take you a while?” I’ve seen it all. An hour or two. I’ve seen it all. And I’m leaving. Me. Brandy Fax ( ) ( ) For Barcelona. As I’m leaving I think “I must have been a victim (I am a victim) of a global thought. Not mine. But one belonging to everyone else. Everyone who wanted to keep me under the ground. Down in the barely-reachable loci of mystery. (rarely visited). (of mystery) The mystery of my eloquence. This eloquence that has (already) run me through a good many wars.” Yes. Who can speak about an Ogress without having one. On top of the ability (that faculty!) to avoid the all-consuming work on the Ogress. Certain artistic gifts. Utterly artistic. Scientific, even. Because I’m a scientist. Me. Brandy Fax ( ) ( ). I’m sewn together from all the cloaks of science, scientificness. And the audience was huge. Hardly smaller than a movie’s. They wanted the movie version. Probably. Thought they were going to see a movie. I stepped forth. But not at all as they had wished. And such is, was, the Truth the Irony of this question “What do I signify? Me? The Ogress of Obscure Name…” since I’ve spoken of a being whose reality everyone knows or suspects and yet who doesn’t exist. Enigma! Yes. Enigma. The Ogress doesn’t exist. She doesn’t exist. “Like a railroad A house A tree Power lines A traveler A fluorescent light A tangerine A cigarette A cigarette butt A glance A star A thought A book A conductor An Austerlitz Station A month A day A February An omelet A winter Paris A nice hot shower Peanuts A typewriter A night of love A doctorate A backyard A Monsieur-le-Prince Street A Metro ticket A bus An espresso A few bad days A meal at Claude’s A brawl Private lessons An OK Bar A pimp’s life Pastis drinks Pastis drinks triple strength Brown hands Potatoes Ragouts Potato ragouts A manuscript A railroad crossing” Yes. The Ogress exists.

The Magazine, #2, 180121, Victor Rodríguez Núñez and Katherine M. Hedeen

The current Kenyon Review (JAN/FEB 2018, Volume XL Number 1) features a special section, Generation Zero: New Cuban Poetry, edited by Katherine M. Hedeen and Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, translator and author of With a Strange Scent of World, herein.

In the introduction (available online), they write:

It’s not a cliché by any means to declare that few times in its history has Cuban poetry been more varied, innovative, critical, and attractive than it is right now. And an undeniable part of it is the verse written by what has been called Generation Zero (Generación Cero), poets born after 1970 and who began publishing after 2000.


The work by these young poets reaffirms Cuba’s long, rich tradition of dialogic poetry, which finds its identity through the identification with the other, and is marked by tensions between commitment and autonomy, dialogue and creativity, continuity and rupture.

This introductory essay is a succinct analysis of the situation of contemporary Cuban poetry, and indeed poetry in the Spanish-speaking world in the present ideological environment. They note, for example, that not a single Cuban poet was included in the recently released anthology El canon abierto: Última poesía en español [The Open Canon: New Poetry in Spanish] published by Visor, the most respected poetry press in Spain, in 2015, and add:

Cuban poetry has had to confront, above all in the seventies, neo-Stalinist aesthetic standards, which demanded, among other things, “reaching the people,” being clear and direct. This is precisely one of the paradigms of the so-called “poetry of experience,” which prevails in Spain today, with offshoots in Latin America, especially among the contemporaries of Generation Zero, the self-designated “poets of uncertainty.” By contrast, the young poets selected are very well aware, from historical experience, of the danger of making aesthetic concessions in the name of coherence and transparency, and, as such, they defend poetry’s integrity.

Which makes us wonder if we in the English-speaking world, where “coherence and transparency” continue to be the ideological vogue, might have something to learn from this collection.

And here’s a poem to read and listen to from With a Strange Scent of World, by Víctor Rodríguez Núñez and translated by Katherine M. Hedeen, The sound files features Victor reading the poem in the original Spanish and  Kate reading the translation.
Kate and Victor both teach at Kenyon, where Kate also serves as Translation Editor for Kenyon Review
Pick up a copy of With a Strange Scent of World for half price, today only.

Praise for the Neutrino

For Jesús Selpúveda

I celebrate you

                       because no one in the world 

is smaller

               and still 

you cross galaxies nebulas stars

not reacting 

Because even as light

                                 you move

much slower than light

or rest motionless


the theory of a warming universe

Because thanks to you

                                   the past was only

reheated plasma and not ashes

Plasma’s density reached 

billions of tons

by cubic centimeter

Because no one knew

                                 until now

you were ninety-seven percent

of everything

                    leaving only three to be divided up

among sons of bitches and the rest

Because thanks to you

                                  no one’s far 

from anyone now and everything tends to join

And it doesn’t matter if

in a solid flame

                        at a radiant point

I celebrate you

                       because you are

                                                essence of spasm

matter of tenderness

                                 or that tiny bit of nothing

my aunt uses to brown her custards

Thank god

                  the world isn’t infinite

Like a verse

                    it’s made up of syllables 

that can be counted

The world fits in an alexandrine

Elogio del neutrino

Para Jesús Sepúlveda

Te celebro

                porque en el mundo nadie 

es más pequeño que tú 

                                   y sin embargo 

atraviesas galaxias nebulosas estrellas 

sin reaccionar con nadie

Porque aún siendo luz

                                  puedes moverte 

muchísimo más lento que la luz 

o descansar inmóvil 


la teoría de un universo caliente

Porque gracias a ti 

                            el pasado fue solo 

plasma recalentado y no cenizas 

La densidad del plasma 

era de billones de toneladas 

por centímetro cúbico

Porque nadie sabía

                             hasta ahora 

que eras el noventisiete por ciento 

de todo

           quedando solo un tres a repartir 

entre hijos de puta y demases

Porque gracias a ti 

                            nadie se aleja 

ya de nadie y todo tiende a unirse

Y no importa que sea 

en una llama dura 

                            en un punto radiante

Te celebro

                porque eres 

                                  la esencia del espasmo

materia de ternura

                             o ese poco de nada 

con que mi tía dora sus natillas

Gracias a dios

                      no es infinito el mundo

Como el verso

                      está hecho de sílabas

que es posible contar

El mundo cabe en un alejandrino

The Magazine, #1, 180114, Mark Statman and Izzy Oneiric

We initiate, this morning, what we hope to make regular weekly feature from Lavender Ink / Diálogos, a mini-magazine with a poem or two, a quick announcement, or other oddments. This morning, two poems.

The first is from That Train Again, by Mark Statman. You can listen to Mark read it as you go. If you like what you see and hear, consider picking up a copy from our website for half price, today only.
Mark has brought to the press two of his own books and a translation, and is one of our consultants in matters of translation and contemporary poetry. Now emeritus from the New School in NYC, Mark lives and writes in Oaxaca, Mexico, with his wife, artist Katherine Koch, who did the artwork for the covers.


Image Not Dispayedfrom heaven
angels, seraphim, oak leaves
this some

come to earth
with a wren’s call

five small eggs in
a sparrow’s nest
nest suspended in a young pine

white flowered petals
white, once fallen
with the wind 
now rising

Mark Statman, from That Train Again


Next we have a poem from Crossing Bryan Ferry, by Izzy Oneiric. You can listen to Izzy read this poem and others from the book at the Soundcloud link also.  And you can also grab a copy from our website for half price, today only.
Izzy lives and writes in New Orleans, where she also works for the New Orleans Public Library and helps us coordinate the New Orleans Poetry Festival.


In Manhattan’s Attic

I rush the stairs like a
caffeinated asterisk, rattle 
dinner plates in bas-relief.
This is a room of miniature dioramas: Acropolis, Big Ben,
Valley of the Kings
demurely lit in obsessive detail.

Very few people know it exists.

In this attic I am giant.
This attic has a sky.

With satin hammer, rowdy letters, 
I shatter glass partitions, swinging 
between story and a secret.

Someday the Eiffel Tower will be mine.

Izzy Oneiric, from Crossing Bryan Ferry



From Única Looking at the Sea

An excerpt from Única Looking at the Sea, by Fernando Contreras Castro, translated by Elaine S. Brooks; the opening:

More from long habit than any other principle of order in the world, the sun began to rise, hesitating along the edge of the hill, as if at the last minute it had decided to light one more day instead of rushing into the abyss of the previous night.

All quiet on the Western front, the flies were yawning and the buzzards were shaking the early morning leftovers from their wings.

In the persistent drizzle and the toxic vapors from that unchanging sea, the night divers took a tally of the cargo extracted from the depths. Before the day divers arrived to add their arm strokes, the night divers hustled to sort out from their haul the edible and the sellable items. The second category included aluminum cans, glass bottles, all types of paper and other metals, for which the smelters scarcely paid more.

The day divers were just beginning to awaken, still stretching and yawning when they opened the doors to their makeshift shacks on the shantytown’s beaches bursting from the sea of plastic fish.

Those who were coming from afar readied themselves once again to ascend the fossilized clay hill that led to the last stop of the city’s bad conscience.

An Excerpt from The Virgin Mountain

From The Virgin Mountain, by Roberto Echavarren, translated by Donald Wellman and the author.

A doll of rough wood

carved with a knife,

dressed in sky blue

red flowers with yellow center

and yellow with red center,

stars that are flowers, 

she even has panties, a small square

of cloth glued to the perineum,

shawl with embroidered edging

in zigzag, X, Greek Y,

orange and green head strap,

around her neck and that of her son

light green trimming,

one foot in the air,

the leg raised

takes a step.


The rainbow, is it a sign?

asked the enraptured English tourist;

yes, the Tarahumara woman answered: 

it’s a sign that it might rain, or not.

Never Made in America Reviewed on Don Yorty’s Explorations

Don Yorty provides a thoughtful review of both the book by Martín Barea Mattos and Mark Statman‘s translation, along with video of their joint performance in Montevideo at the Mundial Poetico (shot by yours truly). Certain of Barea Mattos’ linguistically playful poems present difficulties in both translation and performance, as does the one you’ll see performed in the video there, “La (E) resultó economia de lenguaje” (“The (E) came out of an economy of language”), a poem which resulted from Martín’s fascination with the Spanish E, which is not only ubiquitous in the language but also on street signage, as in the “no parking” (ie no estacionmiento) sign. The poem reverses Perec’s obsession in La Disparition, as the poem plays on the multitude of Spanish words which begin with E. 

Read the review here.

John Vanderslice new book launch in NYC

Lavender Ink author John Vanderslice (Island Fog, 2014) launches his new book The Last Days of Oscar Wilde (Burlesque Press) at the Oscar Wilde bar in NYC next January 13. Should be a fun and decadent evening. Reserve tickets here.

New Orleans Poetry Festival, 2018

Again this year Lavender Ink/Diálogos is proud to co-sponsor, with Trembling Pillow Press, the New Orleans Poetry Festival. This year the fest will take place April 20-22, 2018, once again at the Healing Center in New Orleans. The site is open and now accepting proposals for panels, readings, workshops, and tables at the small press fair. Come help us make it an even bigger success this year.

Visit the site by clicking here.

Recent Writing from North Africa

I’ve been reading Francophone writers of Northern Africa lately and thought to recommend a few that might serve as background to those which have appeared and are appearing from Diálogos. Recent Francophone literature from and of Northern Africa—Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia—ranks as some of the most ambitious, incisive and artistically interesting literary work of the past half century, though it is little known in the English-speaking world. Many thanks to Peter Thompson who got me started in this investigation.

One author I would recommend to everyone is Assia Djebar, and of her many books especially Fantasia: An Algerian Calvalcade. In this work that defies easy classification as fiction, nonfiction, or even poetry, Djebar collages together a sequence of narratives that include factual histories, Djebar’s own lyrical memoirs, excerpts from diaries of both French and Algerian actors, and fictionalized narratives from various personae, to trace the recent history of Algeria. Beginning with the French blockade of Algiers in 1830, Fantasia traces the country’s conquest and suppression by the French, which precipitated an almost constant state of war that culminated in the Algerian Revolution in 1954. Both a stylistic, theoretical and political tour-de-force, Fantasia, in the excellent translation by Dorothy S. Blair, is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the historical forces that are shaping North Africa, the Mideast and Europe today.

I also just read Abdelwahab Meddeb‘s TalismanoMeddeb grew up in Tunis. 10 years old when Tunisia gained independence, he benefited from an education that taught him both French and Arabic classics, and apparently everything in between. Talismano abounds with cultural references from all sides of the Mediterranean; indeed, he treats the coastline of Mare Nostrum as a single country, almost as a single city. With his vast erudition and wide-ranging travels he is equally at home in Tunis or Rome or Marseilles or Athens, with Jewish alchemists, Greek classicists and Koranic scholars, with prostitutes, priests, magicians and scientists. He punctuates his dense, incantatory prose with an array of allusions and hints buried in a syntax as labyrinthine as the medinas of Marrakesh or back streets of Rome. Talismano, in fact, is a novel of back streets, perhaps of all back streets, for as the author or narrator (one is never certain which) is wandering the alleys of one city he can turn a corner and suddenly be in another, as a chance encounter in  Tunis or Algiers will remind him of Rome or Paris and the narrative will simply follow. Meddeb is as bawdy as Henry Miller, as ambitious as Joyce, as visionary as Rimbaud and as wily as Proust, though likely he’ll first remind you of Celine. Jane Kuntz’s translation of this challenging work is, too, a stunning achievement.

Another I want to mention is Tattooed Memory, by Abdelkébir Khatibi, recently translated by Peter Thompson and released from Editions L’Harmattan. Like the other two books I’ve mentioned here, Tattooed Memory is hard to classify. Is it a novel, a memoir, a theoretical work or even a long poem? Amazon refers to it as a novel, but if we take that term as is commonly taken in the book business in the US, as a form in which the matters of first importance are “plot” and “character,” in which language is considered best when it is “invisible” and not even worthy of critical attention, I would have to say that Tattooed Memory could be almost anything but that. As Thompson says in the Translator’s Introduction:

This is a translation that “reads like a translation,” and it does so because it is meant to. That is because the original reads like a translation. Or, to be exact about it, the original reads in Khatibi’s unique “bilangue.” This is a word, different from the adjective “bilingue” (bilingual) which Khatibi invented to explain what language was doing to him.

For Khatibi, born in Morocco but educated at the Sorbonne, whose dissertation was entitled Le Roman maghrébin (The Maghrebin Novel), language can never be invisible. To speak French is always to speak the language of force, the language that the colonizers forced on his parents and on him. Thus his memoir will be a memoir of language, of how his language came to reside in him as translation, from the very beginning, from the first pronoun to the last period of the theoretical discourse. Tattoed Memory is a kind of Derridean memoir, a memoir that does not have recourse to le mot juste Flaubert imagined to be his goal. It is a memoir in which every word is, in fact, unjust.

Still to come, for me, several writers of the generation before Djebar, Meddeb and Khatibi, like Kateb Yacine and Driss Chraïbi, and the lesser known (ie less translated) Albert Memmi and Mohammed Dib.

My hope is that the work of Nabile Farès, Youssouf Amine Elalamy, Abdelkader Djemaï and Mohamed Loakira, herein, makes some contribution to this most vital branch of post-colonial literature. As with Khatibi, Djebar and Meddeb, it is difficult to classify their work as fiction or nonfiction or poetry. While Farès and Loakira utilize the convention of the line, Exile: Women’s Turn and …and the spring is veiled over are not collections of discreet poems but series composing unified narratives. Conversely, Elalamy’s use of anaphora and lyrical refrains in Nomad Love makes that work read as much like a poem as a novel, and the same can be said of Farès’ novel, Exile and Helplessness, and the two novellas that comprise Djemaï’s Father / Son.

Release of Fanon City Meu

Diálogos is proud to be releasing Jaime Luis Huenún’s Fanon City Meu, Spring, 2018, translated by Thomas Rothe. This book takes political poetry in a new direction, where the voices of the colonized and their colonizers form a dissonant choir bearing testimony to the centuries of violence that have shaped Latin America. Inspired by Martinican intellectual Frantz Fanon, the book examines issues of race, colonialism, and revolution through a poetic discourse that only seems to find solace in irony. Huenún, a renowned Chilean-Mapuche poet, draws parallels between the alienation of South American indigenous peoples and the experiences Fanon documented in the Caribbean and Algeria, breaching national and linguistic barriers that often work to isolate the “wretched of the earth.”

Fanon City Meu is Huenún’s second full-length collection of poetry to be translated into English, following Port Trakl in 2008. Both books form part of an ongoing project to engage with the work of prominent international poets and intellectuals, such as George Trakl and Osip Mandelstam. Huenún questions the limits of so-called indigenous literature without abandoning issues relevant to the Mapuche struggle for self-determination, urging readers to reflect on the inseparable bond between language and politics.

Hedeen article in Translation Review

The latest issue of Translation Review (#94) features a review by Kate Hedeen of Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems, recently released from Copper Canyon, which cites our “Open Letter” of November 2015. The full text is not available online but the first page can be previewed at the link above.

Release of Exile: Women’s Turn

The death of Nabile Farès in August, 2016, was a great loss to Francophone North African letters. Farès was a Berber, born in Collo, on the Kabylia peninsula, a part of Algeria that was never fully subdued by either Arab or the later French conquerors, and his first language was Berber. He was a teenager during the Algerian War, when his parents sent him to France to study and to be safe from the conflict. He became a poet, novelist, dramaturge, ethnologist and psychoanalyst of some renown in France, with recognition in Algeria (and the US) coming only recently. His numerous novels and books of poetry all center on issues of exile and colonialism. He worked closely with translator Peter Thompson over the years to see several of his works translated into English. They were working together on Exile: Women’s Turn at the time of his death, and we are proud to be able to release this work into English now.

Thompson explains the genesis of this book in the Translator’s Introduction: 

…this poetry arose from a special moment in African migration and exile. Men, before the 1980s, had always been the ones to leave North Africa in search of work (mainly in France and Spain). They found dubious lodging–often in exploitive dormitories–and sent money home. That changed when women, in a considerable wave, undertook the sea crossing on their own. Exile: Women’s Turn is that journey, and that sea change in women’s destinies.

You can read a more complete biography of Farès here. Diálogos also has in print Exile and Helplessness (L’Exil et le désarroi), a novel (also available as ebook), and we recommend two earlier translations by Peter Thompson, A Passenger from the West (novel) and Hearing Your Story (poetry) both from UNO Press. 

…it is the great merit & beauty of these poems to speak to & of (without the male arrogance of claiming to speak for) the women (of his native Algeria, & of elsewhere & not only in the Arab world) in their double exile, “these women [who] resembled / Clandestine vowels / Of the Unwanted Languages,” humbly declaring his work to be “your voyage // my translation.”
Pierre Joris, author of h.j.r., and The University of California Book of North African Literature.