“Women in Translation” – curated & introduced by Jesse Lee Kercheval

In August when I was reading submissions for this issue of TQ, it was Women in Translation Month. Every translator know the sad fact that only 3% of the books published in the United States were originally published in another language. The University of Rochester website Three Percent, whose name comes from this statistic keeps a database of titles in translation published in the US. In 2013 literary blogger Meytal Radzinski examined it and wrote that women writers contribute less than 30% of the literature that is translated into English. To repeat that depressing statistic, only 30% of the 3% of work in translation is work by women authors. So in August 2014, Radzinski started Women in Translation Month which is dedicated to the promotion of women authors from around the world and seeks to draw attention to this alarmingly low number of translations by women authors published in English.

That first year, Radzinski set out with two simple goals: to increase the dialogue and discussion about women in translation and to read more work by women in translation. Since then, other translators, editors and readers have taken up the cause, writing about work by women in translation. Now August as Women in Translation Month involves readings and events held in all over the English speaking world which help introduce people to the amazing body of work written by women. All of this is featured each year at https://womenintranslation.com

All of this was on my mind as I read for this issue and it struck me how many wonderful translations of women authors I was reading. We had not sent out a special call for translation by women, nor had I planned this feature on women in translation in advance. These were regular submissions. But the quantity and quality of the work we received moved me deeply. After talking it over with the other translation editor reading for the issue, Nancy Naomi Carlson, and consulting our editor-in-chief Kristina Darling, we agreed I would curate this special selection of poetry by women for this issue of TQ, showing that the affects of Women in Translation Month last beyond August and that there is a growing body of work out there just waiting to be published.

For this feature, I’ve selected work from the Argentine poet Silvina López Medin, translated by Judith Filc; the Brazilian poet Lívia Natália, translated by Tiffany Higgins; the young Guatemalan poet Vania Vargas, translated by Jose Garcia; the Latvian poet Inga Pizane, translated by Jayde Will; the young Mexican poet from Oaxaca Marianna Stephania, translated by Mark Statman; the Russian-Armenian poet Tatiana Daniliyants, translated Katherine E. Young and the Swedish poet Marie Lundquist, translated by Kristina Bicher. I hope you read them all, in the spirit of Radzinski’s original wish for Women in Translation Month.

And, please, also read the work by women in translation in the regular translation section of this issue, including a selection from a fictionalized memoir by Miren Agur Meabe, translated from Basque by Amaia Gabantxo, and poems by the Israeli poet Yudit Shahar, translated from Hebrew by Aviya Kushner.

Three Poems by Tatiana Daniliyants

Translated by Katherine E. Young

Wearing its news, the whole world
digs painfully into me,
probing my reaction…

Three Poems by Marie Lundquist

Translated by Kristina Bicher

Two women watch over your grave.
Me and the person I might have been. Read more >>

“Notes for a Fado” by Silvina López Medin

Translated by Judith Filc

intermission: an old, old man clinging to a paper
goes over the lyrics
the tip of his shoe
moves toward and away from the floor,
he stamps the beat, no longer stamps it but
hints at it, has somewhat lost
control over his body…

“The Weary Hour” by Lívia Natália

Translated by Tiffany Higgins

I wasn’t invited to participate in the world’s carnival.
Or I came too late,
after the makeup already had fallen away
and hair had become disheveled…

Two Poems by Inga Pizane

Translated by Jayde Will

It wasn’t a date –
we simply went to the shop for laundry detergent,
because our dirty laundry basket was full.
It was a completely normal spring day.
Airplanes roared overhead…

Three Poems by Marianna Stephania

Translated by Mark Statman

Open your body to its center and let light penetrate.
Write the poem within, into flesh.
Paint blue your entrails, mix your blood.
Sew up your mouth…

Two Poems by Vania Vargas

Translated by José García Escobar

what you see is not even the shadow of my wild side
I could’ve been Bonnie Parker
with this urge to peak out the window
to constantly flee
watch the past destroy itself
like the nocturnal cities do
when the rearview mirror trembles
Jesse Lee Kercheval is a 2016 NEA in Translation Fellow and is the author of fourteen books including the poetry collection Cinema Muto, winner of a Crab Orchard Open Selection Award; The Alice Stories, winner of the Prairie Schooner Fiction Book Prize; the memoir Space, winner of the Alex Award from the American Library Association. She is also a translator, specializing in Uruguayan poetry. Her translations include The Invisible Bridge: Selected Poems of Circe Maia and Fable of an Inconsolable Man by Javier Etchevarren. She is also the editor of the anthology América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets. She is currently the Zona Gale Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she directs the Program in Creative Writing.