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The Watchlist: April 2016

By M. Bartley Seigel

Every month, from the reviews desk to you, Words without Borders reviews editor M. Bartley Seigel shares a handful of forthcoming titles he's excited about and thinks you should be excited about, too. In honor of National Poetry Month, and in collaboration Colin McDonald—marketing and events coordinator at Seminary Co-op Bookstores in Chicago—who helped compile this list, let us all sally forth into a few new poetry titles worth our good attentions: 

From Omnidawn, Flesh of Leviathan by Chus Pato, translated from the Galician by Erin Moure; ISBN: 9781632430175; US$17.95

Says the publisher: “In Flesh of Leviathan, Chus Pato alters her cadence to record, in sombre lyric form, the direct address of a singular voice that seems to emerge from time itself. In these poems, worldly things are largely absent and those present are iconic: birds, skies, winds. Through them, Pato articulates the possibility of thinking, the foreignness of any thinking subject, the borders to be crossed to move thinking forward, and the relation of thinking with time as humanity approaches—or not—time’s end.”

Says Zoë Skoulding, author of The Museum of Disappearing Sounds: “Chus Pato’s Flesh of Leviathan evokes the ambiguous, mythical body of Leviathan, which is both dragon and whale, devouring predator and post-apocalyptic feast, suggesting the machinery of state at the same time as the non-human wilderness. In richly sensual imagery, a process of linguistic rewilding releases the birds, forests, and flowers of poetic invention and fills them with unexpected energies.”

Read poems from Flesh of Leviathan in Lana Turner 8.


From Seagull Books, Like Bits of Wind: Selected Poetry and Poetic Prose, 1974-2014 by Pierre Chappuis, translated from the French by John Taylor; ISBN: 9780857423382; US$27.50

Says the publisher: “One of the central figures from a remarkable generation of French-language poets, Pierre Chappuis has thus far only been represented in English translation in fragments: a few poems here and there in magazines, online reviews, and anthologies. Like Bits of Wind rights that wrong, offering a generous selection of Chappuis’s poetry and prose from the past forty years, drawn from several of his books. In these pages, Chappuis delves into long-standing questions of the essence of life, our relationship to landscape, the role of the perceiving self, and much more. His skeletal, haiku-like verse starkly contrasts with his more overtly poetic prose, which revels in sinuous lines and interpolated parentheticals. Together, the different forms are invigorating and exciting, the perfect introduction for English-language readers.”

Says you after reading an excerpt from “Blind Distance” in The Fortnightly Review:


From Ugly Duckling Presse, Algaravias: Echo Chamber by Waly Salomão, translated from the Brazilian Portuguese by Maryam Monalisa Gharavi; ISBN: 9781937027643; US $16.00

Says the publisher: “The fifth and most critically acclaimed volume of poetry by Syrian-Brazilian poet Waly Salomão (1943-2003), Algaravias: Echo Chamber takes its title from an entangled history, referenced in an etymological epigraph: ‘From al-garb, the West; that language of the Arabs considered corrupted, little understood by the Spanish. Also a name of a plant, given that name for the messiness of its branches.’ Its ruminations on passage, self-placement, virtual geography, human-electronic interaction, poetic consciousness, and mortality are inflected by Salomão’s dual heritage; they also confront the isolating nature of the dictatorship he lived through as well as the aggressively optimistic discourse of post-dictatorship ‘modernization’ efforts: the torrential influx of mass media and multinational corporations, and the sterile, touristic, and militarized landscapes of modern space and spectacle.”

Says Sergio Bessa, writer, translator, and scholar of concrete poetry: “In Brazil, the name of Waly Salomão will mean different thing to different people. For many he will be remembered as the deft lyricist of some of the most original pop songs that came out in the 1970s. Others will recall him as the cultural entrepreneur who would eventually become Brazil’s first Secretary of Books and Reading during President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva’s first tenure, with the charge to promote literacy among underserved populations. It is not an overstatement to credit Salomão with the task of reorienting the course of Brazilian literature in the aftermath of concrete poetry: his stature as a major poet is only beginning to be assessed.”

Read three poems from Algaravias: Echo Chamber in The Brooklyn Rail.


From Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Aeneid Book VI: A New Verse Translation by Virgil, translated from the Latin by Seamus Heaney; ISBN: 9780374104191; US$25.00

Says the publisher: “In a momentous publication, Seamus Heaney's translation of Book VI of the Aeneid, Virgil's epic poem composed sometime between 29 and 19 BC, follows the hero, Aeneas, on his descent into the underworld. In Stepping Stones, a book of interviews conducted by Dennis O'Driscoll, Heaney acknowledged the significance of the poem to his writing, noting that ‘there's one Virgilian journey that has indeed been a constant presence, and that is Aeneas's venture into the underworld. The motifs in Book VI have been in my head for years—the golden bough, Charon's barge, the quest to meet the shade of the father.’”

Says The Irish Times: “Heaney rises unfailingly to the demands of these high moments in his wonderful and unflagging translation. What is perhaps less predictable, given his expressed reservations, is that he is also totally successful in bringing to vigorous life the less appealing part of the poem, Anchises’s imperial prophecies that make it ‘the worst of books,’ such as the lines about ‘the internecine savagery and slaughter / Of a civil war’ between Caesar and Pompey. But, of course, whatever his political judgments, we should not be surprised to be reminded that Heaney is not only an incomparable poet of personal and lyrical description but also a great civic poet.”


From Headmistress Press, A Crown of Violets by Renée Vivien, translated from the French by Samantha Pious; ISBN: 9780692536919; US$10.00

Says the publisher: “Renée Vivien (née Pauline Mary Tarn, 1877-1909) was an English expatriate who made her home in Paris during the Belle Époque. In 1903, Vivien’s collection of translations and adaptations from the ancient Greek poetry of Sappho became one of the first works of modern European lesbian literature to be published by a lesbian writer under her real name. This courageous act was the death-sentence of her literary career. Parisian critics who had praised the mysterious ‘R. Vivien’ as a young man of poetic genius began to snub at first and then simply ignore the newly un-closeted woman poet. Even in the face of ridicule and disrespect, Vivien continued to write and publish poetry, short stories, translations, plays, epigrams, and a novel based on her real-life romances with Natalie Clifford Barney and the Baroness Hélène van Zuylen van Nyevelt van Haar (née Rothschild).”

Says Meg Day, judge of the Charlotte Mew Prize: “I think it's very rare to encounter a new lesbian poet through translation and I am very excited to support this collection in its positive obsession and literary innovation alike. If it is that we are encouraged to each become the lover of Renée Vivien through her work, then this translator has succeeded in making the poet's wishes as transparent as an invitation can be: ‘The nave has been adorned to welcome you aright.’”

Says Kate Thomas, author of Postal Pleasures: Sex, Scandal and Victorian Letters: “This is an invaluable collection that brings Renée Vivien to life for English-speaking readers. Émigrée and sexual adventurer, Vivien wrote poetry strewn with broken harps and beautiful corpses. Pious’s delicate but fearless translations draw out the bruised passions and troubadour rhythms that make Vivien essential reading for anyone interested in lesbian literature, fin-de-siècle poetics, or the agonies of sensual love.”


From White Pine Press, Luminous Spaces by Olav H. Hauge, translated from the Norwegian by Olav Grinde; ISBN: 9781935210-801; US$22.00

Says the publisher: “Luminous Spaces spans seventy years of Hauge’s poetry with over three hundred poems, a third of which have never appeared in English. It also includes a generous selection from his four thousand pages of journals previously unpublished in translation and an intimate forward by his widow, Bodil Cappelen.”

Says Marvin Bell: “‘During those years when I lived a truly spiritual life, they called me sick and locked me up.’ Intense forces are in play in the writings of Norwegian poet and diarist Olav H. Hauge. His Luminous Spaces is the life work of a restless mind and a troubled heart seeking insight into the spiritual, alert to the bleakness and beauties of nature, and intimate with philosophy and literature. His prose is rich, his poetry finely cut. Here is writing born of the need to know and the will to survive. Like the conch of which he wrote, his writings record the building of a soul to speak from solitude.”

Says you after reading this poem provided by the publisher:


This is the ocean.
All serious,

vast and grey.

Yet just as the mind

in solitary moments

suddenly opens its

shifting reflections

to secret depths

—so the ocean, too,

one blue morning

may open itself

to sky and solitude.

Look, says the gleaming ocean,

I too have stars

and blue depths.

Published Apr 11, 2016   Copyright 2016 M. Bartley Seigel

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