The 2014 Best Translated Book Award Poetry Shortlist


We weren’t really ignoring the poetry finalists. We were just SUPER excited about the fiction shortlist! After a much too long delay, here’s our closer look at the ten finalists for the 2014 Best Translated Book Award for Poetry.

RelocationsRelocations: 3 Contemporary Russian Women Poets
By Polina Barskova, Anna Glazova, and Maria Stepanova
Translated from the Russian by Catherine Ciepiela, Anna Khasin, and Sibelan Forrester
Zephyr Press
200 Pages
ISBN: 9780983297086

Polina Barskova, Anna Glazova, and Maria Stepanova all were born in the early to mid-1970s and came of age during perestroika. They are old enough to have visceral memories of Soviet life but young enough to move adeptly with the new influences, new media and new life choices introduced in the post-Soviet era. In distinct ways all three are engaged in the project of renovating Russia’s great modernist tradition for a radically different historical situation. They write poems of imaginative daring, pushing recognizable scenarios into the fantastic, the surreal or the speculative, bending form and language to the task. They also display a cerebral firepower boosted by their education in institutions Soviet, European and American, and which they exercise in their chosen professions—Barskova and Glazova are academics, teaching at Hampshire College and Cornell University respectively, and Stepanova is chief editor of the influential online journal Open Space. Barskova, Glazova, and Stepanova read one another attentively and have published reviews of each other’s work, a mark of how they perceive themselves as engaged in the same project of “modernizing” Russian poetry. The broad trend in Russian poetry after the collapse of Soviet-era literary paradigms has been dispersal—of hierarchies, of institutions, of poetic models and of poets themselves, many of whom live and work outside the cultural capitals, whether abroad or in the provinces. These poets are moving beyond the Russian modernists’ engagement with totalitarianism to address subjects such as the Holocaust and the war in Chechnya, and they are doing so in a fundamentally new mode. (from the publisher)

The_Guest_In_The_WoodThe Guest in the Wood
By Elsa Biagini
Translated from the Italian by Diana Thow, Sarah Stickney, and Eugene Ostashevsky
Chelsea Editions

301 Pages
ISBN: 9780988478763

Cryptic, searching, probing, these are innovative poems of the mysteries of the body, of everyday life, of mortality. In the preface, Angelina Oberdan compares Biagini’s concise diction to Emily Dickinson, her lines to Kay Ryan, her terseness to Ellen Bryant Voight. Oberdan writes that in her intense interaction with contemporary American poets, many of whom she has translated into Italian, Biagini “started to feel the responsibility to write about the taboo or what makes us uncomfortable.” (from the publisher)

The_Unknown_UniversityThe Unknown University
By Roberto Bolaño
Translated from the Spanish by Laura Healy
New Directions
772 Pages
ISBN: 9780811219280

Perhaps surprisingly to some of his fiction fans, Roberto Bolano touted poetry as the superior art form, able to approach an infinity in which “you become infinitely small without disappearing.” When asked, “What makes you believe you’re a better poet than a novelist?” Bolano replied, “The poetry makes me blush less.” The sum of his life’s work in his preferred medium, The Unknown University is a showcase of Bolano’s gift for freely crossing genres, with poems written in prose, stories in verse, and flashes of writing that can hardly be categorized. “Poetry,” he believed, “is braver than anyone.” (from the publisher)

White_PianoWhite Piano
By Nicole Brossard
Translated from the French by Robert Majzels and Erin Mouré
Coach House Press
112 Pages
ISBN: 9781552452738

Between the verbs quivering and streaming, White Piano unfolds its variations like musical scores. Pronouns and persons, poetry and prose: White Piano, superbly translated from the French, narrates a constellation of questions and offers a “language that cultivates its own craters of fire and savoir-vie.” (from the publisher)

By Danielle Collobert
Translated from the French by Nathanaël
Litmus Press
104 Pages
ISBN: 9781933959177

Originally published in 1964 by Éditions Gallimard while Collobert was living as a political exile in Italy, this prose work was written against the backdrop of the Algerian War. Uncompromising in its exposure of the calculated cruelty of the quotidian, MURDER’S accusations have photographic precision, inculpating instants of habitual violence. (from the publisher)

In_The_MoremarrowIn the Moremarrow
By Oliverio Girondo
Translated from the Spanish by Molly Weigel
Action Books
93 Pages
ISBN: 9780983148074

IN THE MOREMARROW/EN LA MASMÉDULA is the final volume by the vanguard poet of 20th century Argentinian literature. “In the fabled history of experimental South American literature, Girondo’s En la masmédula stands alongside Trilce as a marker of the fruitful extremes to which that modernism—anywhere & everywhere—can take us.”—Jerome Rothenberg (from the publisher)

Paul_Klees_BoatPaul Klee’s Boat (In the Grip of Strange Thoughts)
By Anzhelina Polonskaya
Translated from the Russian by Andrew Wachtel
Zephyr Press
160 Pages
ISBN: 9780983297079

Unlike many of her contemporaries, Anzhelina Polonskaya did not receive a classic Russian literary education, so her work is considerably more idiosyncratic and less anchored in tradition. This book, her first collection in English translation since 2005, includes her cycle “Kursk,” an oratorio requiem with music by David Chisolm that will be performed across Australia and the United States. (from the publisher)

Four_Elemental_BodiesFour Elemental Bodies
By Claude Royet-Journaud
Translated from the French by Keith Waldrop
Burning Deck
368 Pages
ISBN: 9781936194131

Claude Royet-Journoud is one of the most important contemporary French poets whose one-line manifesto: “Shall we escape analogy” marked a revolutionary turn away from Surrealism and its lush imagery. His spare, “neutral” language, stripped of devices like metaphor, assonance, alliteration has had a great influence on recent French poetry. (from the publisher)

The_Oasis_Of_NowThe Oasis of Now: Selected Poems
By Sohrab Sepehri
Translated from the Persian by Kazim Ali and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati
BOA Editions LTD
93 Pages
ISBN: 9781938160226

Sohrab Sepehri (1928-1980) is one of the major Iranian poets of the 20th century. Well-versed in Buddhism, mysticism, and Western traditions, he mingled Western concepts with Eastern ones, creating a poetry unsurpassed in the history of Persian literature. In Iran, his Persian verses are often recited in public gatherings and lines from them were used as slogans by the protesters in 2009. This edition collects poems from three of Sepehri’s most important books, including the highly acclaimed “Water’s Footfall.” (from the publisher)

His_Days_Go_ByHis Days Go By the Way Her Years
By Ye Mimi
Translated from the Chinese by Steve Bradbury
Anomalous Press

38 Pages
ISBN: 9781939781215

Ye Mimi is a young Taiwanese poet and filmmaker. A graduate of the MFA Film Studio Program at the Art Institute of Chicago, she is the author of two volumes of poetry, most recently The More Car the More Far (Taipei: Garden City Publishers). Her poetry has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Asymptote, Jacket 2, and other international literary journals. (from the publisher)

Have you read any of the ten titles on the 2014 Best Translated Book Award Poetry shortlist? Who do you think will take home the prize? Comment below and let us know your thoughts.

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.