February 26, 2013

National Translation Month: Three Bulgarian poets translated by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

I am tremendously thankful to Claudia Serea for inviting me to introduce my new translation and publishing project. I am editing and (largely) translating an anthology of contemporary Bulgarian poetry. It is a distinct honor and privilege to present the English-speaking readers with a selection of brilliant, engaging, innovative and new poems by living, currently active Bulgarian poets. The anthology is still a work-in-progress, and it is expected to be published in June/July 2013 by Accents Publishing. I love every poem in the book, but I wanted to share with the readers of The Writing Center three poems by three authors. These are Vanya Angelova, Krasimir Vardyev, and Petar Tchouhov. I hope you enjoy their work.

I also want to say that I think the idea of National Translation Month is fantastic and admirable. Great work and thank you for all you do!

—Katerina Stoykova-Klemer


the horse’s nostrils breathe.
And the moist eye
is half-shut on purpose
Since he knows,
why does he need to see?
Only the habit
still prevents him
from rattling his hoofs
towards the stars.

Author: Vanya Angelova
Translated by: Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

Vanya Angelova was born in 1953. She holds a master’s degree in slavic philology. She is the author of the poetry books "Rain of Chinese Drops" (2003) and "The Possible Travel Notes of the Body" (2010).

the good son K.,

it's closing time dad
turn off the luminaries
close the taps of the springs
drain the lakes
fold the trees wither the fruit
arm the alarm of the forbidden one
feed the animals
check the ropes of the dome
kiss the snake goodnight
turn off the source
energy is expensive
keep grandpa’s inheritance
draw the shutters roll down the blinds
don’t be late for mom’s supper
finally free at last
go to the harbor’s tavern
to make passes at the white Russian girls
like a good father
and I, the good son
am going to kill my brother

Author: Krasimir Vardyev
Translated from Bulgarian: Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

Krasimir Vardyev was born in 1978. He is the recipient of ten national literary awards. He is the author of two poetry books and is about to publish a third one. His poetry has never before been translated or published in English.


Only her dress
is red
in the black-and-white photo
but this is not proof
of murder

it is not proof
of love

the night train passes
from one date to another
the door of the cabin opens

Only his eyes
are blue
in the black-and-white photo
but this is not a sign of weakness

nor is it a sign
of life

the night train passes
from one darkness
to another
the door of the cabin closes

Petar Tchouhov
Translated from Bulgarian: Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

Petar Tchouhov is the author of 11 books of poetry. He has received international recognition for his haiku. His work has been translated in many languages. He writes and performs music in several bands.

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer is the author of three poetry books, most recently The Porcupine of Mind (Broadstone Books, 2012). Her first poetry book, the bilingual The Air around the Butterfly (Fakel Express, 2009), won the 2010 Pencho’s Oak award, given annually to recognize literary contribution to contemporary Bulgarian culture. She hosts Accents – a radio show for literature, art and culture on WRFL, 88.1 FM, Lexington. In January 2010, Katerina launched Accents Publishing. Katerina is acting in the lead role in the independent feature film Diamond Days, to be released in 2013. Her text/audio blog featuring matters of writing and publishing can be found at http://katerinaklemer.com/ownaccent/

Accents Publishing:  http://www.accents-publishing.com/
Katerina’s website:  http://katerinaklemer.com/

February 20, 2013

National Translation Month: The Vanishing Point That Whistles

In this installment, I’d like to focus on The Vanishing Point That Whistles, an Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry published in 2011 by Talisman House Publishing. I was lucky enough to meet the writer, editor, and translator Paul Doru Mugur in the fall of 2007 at the launch of the previous poetry anthology he edited, Born in Utopia. I was pretty new to translations, but he made me the incredible offer to work with him on a new anthology. Four years later, the beautiful book was printed. 

Below is a fragment of Paul Doru Mugur’s introduction to the anthology that gives you a little background about Romania’s poetry scene. I also selected a few of my favorite poems in the book. Check out the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Vanishing-Point-That-Whistles/dp/1584980885.

And remember, in February and beyond: read, write, and share your favorite translated poems.
—Claudia Serea

Hyper-realism in Contemporary Romanian Poetry

The revolution of December 1989 brought the communist regime in Romania to a violent end. Everything changed after that. Historical hardships leave long and deep scars on people’s memories. Adorno, whose work is constantly cited regarding the way that various ideologies inform society and art, famously stated that writing a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric, and after such an experience it has become impossible to write poetry. Maintaining proportions, we may also say that, after the experience of communism in Romania, writing poetry and, in general, making art in a traditional format have turned increasingly difficult. New forms of expression, capable of reflecting not only the trauma of the past, but also the brutal transition to a new socio-economic reality, were sought. In addition, people grew suspicious of art, and accused it of lack of sincerity. This may explain why the poetic discourse of post-communist literary groups has begun to mimic reality to the point of blurring the borders between reality and life. In order to continue to be meaningful, poetry became hyper-real in Romania. The new forms of poetry amplified the banality and dreariness of everyday life to the point of making the real appear overwhelmingly flat, abject, super-boring, or horrible—in other words, excessively real, hyper-real.

From the start, a clarification is needed in order to avoid confusion. The meaning of hyper-reality in the texts of Baudrillard, Eco, and other cultural critics, and the meaning of Romanian hyper-reality are different. I am not referring either to hyper-reality as “the simulation of something which never really existed” (Jean Baudrillard) or as “the authentic fake” (Umberto Eco). Hyper-reality in the context of Romanian contemporary culture simply means the use of reality as a special effect.

This obsession with the real and the search for authenticity, the rejection of any form of compromise, and the contamination of esthetic by ethic are the main characteristics of contemporary Romanian poetry. A similar neo-realistic trend is present also in the recent Romanian theater and in the new wave of Romanian cinema.



I watch a story on children in north korea
so many things are told about these children
I get informed about how many there are and how poor
in less than a minute I swallow
statistics grams of food per capita per child per month
a few-years-old kid walks barefoot
mud up to his neck
struggles to scoop some water with a plastic bag
don’t drink this, you can’t drink this
the reporter insists
you’ll get sick if you drink this filthy water
15 years ago a young woman in germany or great britain
was watching a story on children in romania
probably waiting as I am now
for the reporter to hand the child a drop of clean water
I wish I cared but I don’t
they’re so far away
they’re so fucking far away
I go round the sun in my erratic
yet aseptic safety
I tell myself I’m being manipulated and I click off the tv

translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Adrian Urmanov



when i was a small child, i dreamt of being even smaller,
smaller than the table, smaller than the chair,
smaller than my father’s big boots.
no bigger than a potato is how i dreamt of myself.
because in spring they put po-
tatoes in the ground, and that’s it,
they never bother about them till autumn.

i dreamt of curling up in a hole among them,
sleeping sweetly in the dark,
turning to one side and the other all summer long,
then falling asleep once again.

in autumn i awaken still unrested,
unwashed like my brothers,
and when the spade thrusts near i leap out
and shout: stop digging, stop digging,
i’ll gladly come back home
if in spring you return me here.

so in spring i’m the first
they drop down into the hole.
in this way i could go on sleeping forever:
from the ground to the cellar, from the cellar to the ground,
year after year, undisturbed and forgotten.

translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Lidia Vianu



I’m a woman,
for a long time my body’s been floating
above an expanse of water, as white as moonlight,
indecent and silent.
I’m a cruel mother
who hugs her child
to the point of suffocation,
makes him one with herself
as once it had been,
when the big bellies were shady rooms to rest in,
were the good spaces along the street,
the rooms of unending vacations
without pain, without tears,
were the place in which no one gets separated from anyone else.
I’m a woman, often ugly.
Yesterday, my body was a paper boat
that I threw playfully on the surface of this water,
hoping it would carry me away.
Today, I’m the killer whale,
often beautiful,
waiting for the fisherman.

translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Claudia Serea



Listen closely to me and don’t forget this:
Life is like AIDS,
catch it and you’re done for.
Once there’s life in you, you’re dead.
Listen to me.
Or better, don’t listen.
You’re already dead.
Why should you listen?
You’re dead.
Dead deep down to the marrow of your mother’s heart.
To the marrow of your life.

Life is exactly like AIDS, well said:
Once you’ve caught it, you can’t escape.
You can’t possibly,
rid yourself of it.
You’re trapped in a mousetrap.
Poisoned in an anthill.

Life is like AIDS, no denying it:
A fatal disease.
Fateful, mortal.
Once you’ve caught it,
angels are already using your mouth to sing.

translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Petru Iamandi

Paul Doru Mugur writes poetry, prose, essays, and literary and visual art criticism. The founder editor of the journal RESPIRO, he co-edited three anthologies of poetry: The Vanishing Point That Whistles, an Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry published in 2011 by Talisman House, Locul Nimănui, Antologie de Poezie Americană Contemporană (Nobody’s Place, An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry), Cartea Românească, Bucharest, 2006, and Born in Utopia, An Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Romanian Poetry, published by Talisman House in 2006.


Claudia Serea is a Romanian-born poet whose poems and translations have appeared in 5 a.m., Meridian, Harpur Palate, Word Riot, The Red Wheelbarrow, Green Mountains Review, and many others. A two-time Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, she is the author of Angels & Beasts (Phoenicia Publishing, Canada) and The System (Cold Hub Press, New Zealand). More at http://cserea.tumblr.com/.

February 15, 2013

National Translation Month: Akram Al-Katreb, translated by Osama Esber

Akram Al-Katreb, translated by Osama Esber
Today, I would like to share with you the poems of a Syrian poet and friend, Akram Alkatreb, in the lovely renditions by Osama Esber. Alkatreb’s poems are heartbreaking, full of love and longing for his native war-torn country, which he addresses as if it were a beautiful woman. Enjoy!

—Claudia Serea

The War’s Cries

Her mouth, which resembles war cries,
The men who fall while dawn in their mind
Is a bird with its two wings.

Damascus Road

I think, for example, of riding a taxi
and hiding in the mountain, near Ibn Arabi’s shrine.

The photographer wants to take a photo for you on Damascus’s road,
While your sons are waiting for you at John the Baptist’s house:
Here, where a complete life happens for an angel from the Middle Ages.

At that hour,
wounds are higher than the ground
And people grow wings.

The City of the Blind

Barefoot, I want to walk towards you,
unable to pay for a ride.
Cut from a tree that bends in front of your house,
I want to escape to the age of 21
Because I am unable to forget the odor of your body
In the city of the blind.

This Syrian Face

All what you can do to this Syrian face is to return it
To Cezanne’s water colors.
It is beautiful to be a bust, without doubt, immune to decay
And stars never leave the eyes,
To be a real inscription on an old Egyptian tablet.

A Lonely Tree

This man, who stands alive and resists submission,
Performs his historic dance and goes to weep with the fish.

What surrounds him:
Wounded people in front of houses,
a lonely tree.

Under the Sun of the Caucasus Mountains

I did not mean insult while you are dying for me
I wait for you, like a Circassian man, dreaming of a mat under the Caucasus sun;
Or an Armenian longing to Ararat Mountain from the window of a train at al-Hijaz station;
Or a Palestinian from Diaspora remembering his mother’s face very well;
Or a Kurd playing on the Bouzuki all God’s sad songs.

I Cannot Describe all this Blood

How can I become an adult while running towards you,
Drunk a little bit, unable to describe all this blood
Even in an evil life?
Your body, which is excessively written, has the strangeness of little tricks,
The aura of the Arabian nights.

The Fertile Crescent is a book whose cover is ripped.

A Spartan Wedding

Once, on the bridge of the Orontes River,
There, where horses bath as if they are going to a Spartan wedding,
many pieces of clothes hang on trees,
And boys swim in the green waters
With the pieces of bread, sweet, and laughter.

In the evening one of them will go on a sedan chair,
The color of his body reflects the river.

Each Day that passes

Each day that passes
Is a sigh in front of your closed door,
Your mouth, which trembles, fascinates the men,
who are going to war,
While all night I turn to your face
As if I were 17 years old.

The City of the Sun’s God

In the city of the sun’s god
Hands in the streets draw god, sad as the sons of villages,
who wait for clouds to come on the backs of the sheep.

The great mother sleeps bare-headed
Her body is the Eucharist
Her body, which suffers.

The Trees of God

The mobs have no sense of honor,
They do not know your name that the horses take to the wilderness,
While sons of violence captivate you, and spray perfume on you.
No one pays attention to the trees of God
that grow out of blood.

I want to dream of you slowly

Syria, I miss you a lot,
Put your long war in the shadow of a tree,
I want to dream of you slowly
Without shedding one tear.

The Odyssey

To Hazim al-Azmah

This summer
The polar star stumbles over mount Qassioun like pears.

The beautiful woman, who
Was sitting there on a chair, was unable
To make me forget the face of Damascus from
A distance, which is not so far,
While you read about invaders and Borges’s labyrinth
And the wandering saints.


The bird, which we lost
On the edges of the prairies and cliffs.

Akram Alkatreb was born in 1966 in Salamiah, an ancient city near Hama, in western Syria. Salamiah is known in the Arab world as the "city of poets," because in almost every household there lives a poet or two. Alkatreb published four collections of poetry in Arabic and is a leading figure in what critics have called the “new wave” of Syrian poetry. Alkatreb has been living in United States since 2001.

Claudia Serea is a Romanian-born poet whose poems and translations have appeared in 5 a.m., Meridian, Harpur Palate, Word Riot, The Red Wheelbarrow, Green Mountains Review, and many others. A two-time Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, she is the author of Angels & Beasts (Phoenicia Publishing, Canada) and The System (Cold Hub Press, New Zealand). More at http://cserea.tumblr.com/.

February 13, 2013

National Translation Month: Mircea Cărtărescu, translated by Adam J. Sorkin

Pitfalls and Armpits: On Rhyme in Translating a Mircea Cărtărescu Poem

Romanian Writer Mircea Cărtărescu
Sometimes translations just flow, as if dictated magically by a muse situated between the language they derive from and English, but always they need to seem as if they do, whether they work out with ease or trauma. Indeed, often it’s a struggle, a tension between what one hears and intends, and what one can craft. Recently I faced such a problem revising the Romanian writer Mircea Cărtărescu’s poem, “Letter with Armpits,” which, in a collaboration with poet and friend Ioana Ieronim, I translated years ago without the rhymes that the author used effortlessly in every pair of lines except one. But that one oddity offered me solace: if Cărtărescu could skip one, so might I. Or two, three, more… And for honesty’s sake, I must admit his varied line lengths made it much easier to adjust syntax for words that rhymed or otherwise echoed in sound.

Omitting the opening rhymes was the first pitfall, and a necessity. The quick movement into narrative (as if the title and first line denoted something conventional) and the allusion of the second line to the 1934 James M. Cain noir novel (or maybe the 1946 or 1981 movies?) had to be maintained—lots of rhymes for “armpits,” but not this phrase. Similarly, narrative flow led me to forego forcing the 3rd and 4th lines to rhyme. But after that, I felt the musical pattern had to be established, even by inserting a very natural idea (“I think”—foreshadowing the participle two lines later, “scrutinizing”) to precede “India-ink.” A few strong rhymes fell into place (“risk”/“asterisk”; “darkness”/“P.S.”; the internal rhyme of “Braille” with the subsequent end word “tale”; and my favorite, the yoking of “server”/“fervor”). At other moments, I relied on slant or partial rhymes (“signature”/“fiber”; before that, if the reader accepts it, “verdicts”/“wax”; “mound”/“understand”; and “tale,” mentioned above, as an end rhyme paired with “mole”). To me, the odd line ending, “below,” set up “manifesto” nine lines later, just as “virgin,” hanging in space, perhaps resolved at the close with “unforeseen”/“skin”).

I could talk about resisted urges, a “without fail” to rhyme with “fishtail,” or turning “bizarre tale” into an awkward noun-adjective structure so as to add the obvious “bizarre and timeworn” to rhyme with (the nouns trading places) “a virgin and a unicorn.” Both impulses disrespected the original text. In the last stanza I badly wanted that “kiss” as an end-rhyme but it’s true echo popped up only three words later, in “missive.” After all, just as “read…bite…kiss” made a simple, direct, apt series, so “prospectus,” in my judgment, and the awkward “kiss”/“prospectus” couplet, maybe made their own apt, jokey point. (Yes, “prospectus” could have been “pamphlet” and “manifesto” a “leaflet,” a namby-pamby chiming for a dull, null effect.)

A lot happened on its own along the way, sometimes more consciously (the ee vowels in five of the final eight lines) than others (e.g., four lines right before those with long-a sounds).

There’s of course more, but I've reached my word limit.

Letter with Armpits  by Mircea Cărtărescu

you’re a letter with armpits
when he delivers you, the postman always rings twice
I lay you on the bed,
slip you out of your envelope of striped polyester
unfold you and read you while I think
about the hieroglyphics of your eyelashes’ India-ink.
I scrutinize deep precedents, profound verdicts,
until I arrive at a pair of round insignias
of red sealing wax.
it’s evening in the room
yet I take the risk
of following my findings as far as the asterisk
and the entangled signature
of anthracite fiber
but very agreeable.
although almost completely obscured in darkness
I can still construe your ankle’s P.S.
and after that, with my finger,
trace the Braille of your beige and coral mole
which tells a bizarre tale
about a unicorn and a virgin.

I can’t make much sense of you, likely I don’t at all understand.
your text gathers itself here into a little mound
and then somehow ends below
in a sort of fishtail.
you’re a database
only curves and graces,
a mainframe server
only keyboard and fervor.
you seem encoded in an incomprehensible script.

what do I read? what do I bite? what do I kiss?
a love missive or a financial prospectus?
an incendiary manifesto?
a desperate appeal? a terrifying curse? a plea on bended knee?
a telegram that reveals a death unforeseen?
who are you? what’s spelled out on your skin?

translated from Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Ioana Ieronim

Adam J. Sorkin is a prize-winning translator of contemporary Romanian literature. In 2011, he published Liliana Ursu’s A Path to the Sea, Ioan Flora’s Medea and Her War Machines, Ion Mureșan’s The Book of Winter and Other Poems, and, with Claudia Serea as his major co-translator, The Vanishing Point That Whistles: An Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry. In 2012, two chapbooks appeared, Dan Sociu’s Mouths Dry with Hatred and Ioan Flora’s The Flying Head. Sorkin is Distinguished Professor of English at Penn State Brandywine.

February 7, 2013

National Translation Month: Hafez, translated by Roger Sedarat

Claudia Serea, Guest Blog Editor
Welcome to the second blog installment of National Translation Month! This is a new project initiated by Loren Kleinman who asked me to guest-edit a month-long celebration of translation for the PCCC blog. I hope it will catch on and become a regular feature, much in the same way that National Poetry Month in April has become. During the month of February, I will post essays about the craft of translation and poetry translations from the Romanian, Arabic, Persian, Russian, and Bulgarian, requested specifically for this project from various translator contributors.

To get started, I’d like to share the Persian poet Hafez, translated by Roger Sedarat.

Again, remember, in February and beyond: read, write, and share your favorite translated poems.

—Claudia Serea

Ghazal 1                    

Hey wine boy! Keep giving us more to drink.
Love’s not something we endure or outthink.

The musky flower’s perfume in the breeze
Buzzes bees blindly to its core to drink.

Bound to the world, my beloved jangles
Chains of existence to sever the link.

The holy man knows best. If he insists,
Paint prayer rugs with rags and wine-colored ink!

We who’d drown in love know the wave’s terror.
Those with closed hearts, safe on the shore, won’t sink.

My selfish verse made me notorious.
(Truth remains hidden when the liars speak).

Hafez, don’t run away from his presence.
When caught by him, release the world and sing.

Ghazal 6                                

Who will recite this prayer to the sultan:
“Let love link the beggar to the sovereign” ?

When demon eyes watch me in the dark woods,
Offer light and shelter to the sovereign.

Idol, be mindful of dark eyelashes.
Deceit doesn’t matter to the sovereign.

A loving expression consumes a world.
Your selfishness looks poor to the sovereign.

In restless nights, I pray the morning breeze
Will carry the lover to the sovereign.

Moon-strike them, beloved! Cypress-shake them.
Show the lovers’ nature to the sovereign.

For God’s sake, give Hafez a morning drink.
He’ll bless you in a prayer to the sovereign.

Ghazal 22                                          

You don’t know words, just language of the heart.
Your sense of truth’s a pure gauge of the heart.

I need not bow my head to this cold world.
My thoughts live in hermitage of the heart.

I cannot find myself in clean order.
I’m lost in frenzied garbage of the heart.

My love goes looking for you in music,
Performing on the grand stage of the heart.

I need not be paid in their currency.
Your beauty gives me the wage of the heart.

Bad dreams won’t let me sleep. Where’s the tavern?
I’ll drink to the sacrilege of the heart.

I stained the sacred walls with my own blood.
Can wine clean me? Tell me, judge of the heart.

To keep my love eternally burning,
The mystics make a hostage of the heart.

I can’t stop singing that song from last night,
(Instilled melodic knowledge of the heart).

Though they shout it while I keep it within,
My love contains a strong surge of the heart.

Ghazal 31                                          
This dark sky knows how powerful night is.
Stars, can you say why our luck’s the brightest?

To keep outcasts from reaching your great trees,
Prayers in our circle hold your love highest.

I’m one of many killed by your dimple.
Under your chin’s where all beauty’s might is.

The moon mirrors the dark face of my horse.
His light hooves track where the sun’s gold ride is.

I can’t leave wine or the beloved’s lips.
They are my only religious guidance.

“Life swiftly flows in stealth, a cold dark breeze.”
(The black crow uses my pen to write this).

Who’s look has shot an arrow at my heart?
Hafez’s smile, a shield, lives as it dies.

Ghazal 35      
Do your own work; don’t judge what we have done.
We broke our hearts. Tell us what you have done.

God created Adam out of nothing.
No man knows the miracle you have done.

I am the reed; his lips hold my desire.
The wind tells me my job’s only half done.

The beggar stands removed from paradise.
Between these worlds you’ve made us stand alone.

Love’s ecstasy overwhelmed my being.
My mind couldn’t grasp what the heart has done.

Don’t fight the beloved’s violence toward you.
By his strict outrage true justice was done.

Hafez, enough of your poems. Stop here.
The world feels the power your verse has done.

Roger Sedarat
Roger Sedarat is the author of two poetry collections: Dear Regime: Letters to the Islamic Republic, which won Ohio UP's 2007 Hollis Summers' Prize, and Ghazal Games (Ohio UP, 2011). His translations of classical and modern Persian verse have appeared in World Literature Today, Drunken Boat, and Asymptote. Current translation projects include a collection of ghazals by Hafez and a prison diary by an Afghani child bride. He teaches poetry and translation in the MFA Program at Queens College, City University of New York. More at http://www.sedarat.com/.