Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Translation Trouble

During the Engdahl discussion, several people (including me) pointed out that small presses publish a lot more works in translation than big presses. So in the spirit of various polls of women rations that were conducted in the wake of Juliana Spahr's essay about gender inequity, I think I'm going to do one based on translation:

Ugly Duckling: about 1/4th of many many books
Green Integer: too many for me to count in both categories...
Fence Books: 30 American books, [correction:] 3 books in a special French series
Ahsata Press: about 60 books, as far as I can tell 0 in translation
Future Poems: 0 out of 10
Flood Edition: 23 books, 2 in translation (though none of those are contemporary)
Edge books: 37 books, none in translation
Roof Books: 90 books in English, 4 books in translation
Nightboat books: 9 books, 0 in translation (or 1 if you count Natalie Stephens)
ingirumimusnocteetcomsumimurigni; 3 books, none in translation
Atelos: 29 books, 0 in translation
Palm Press: 16 books, 0 in translation
Chax Press: 77 books, 0 in translation (!)
Atticus Finch: 12 books, 1 in translation (the Illiad...)
U of Iowa Poetry Press: 12 books, 0 in translation [Apparently I was wrong about this one - I was looking at the series edited by Mark Levine and Ben Doyle, not the entire press]
Omnidawn: 22 books, 2 in translation
Post-Apollo Press: better than half in translation
Subpress: 14, 0
Wave BOoks: 50 books, 1 in translation
Litmus Press: 12 books, 5 in translation.
Burning Deck: somewhere between half and a third of the book are in translation.
BOA Editions: about 1/5 or 1/6th of the books.

These are just some presses off the top of my head.

PS: Another issue to look at is what kind of poetry is published. How many publish contemporary poetry in translation?


Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

That's pretty alarming, JoGo! What's worse than not being able to find translations is not being able to publish a translation.

I'd be interested in seeing a number from something like Burning Deck, considering Waldrop runs that and does translations. How are presses that are run by translators different than other presses?

Obviously you guys have done a large % of translations, which I suppose makes me second paragraph question even more germaine.

2:55 PM  
Blogger François Luong said...

Litmus Press: 12 books since 2001, including 5 in translation.

4:56 PM  
Blogger dbuuck said...

wondering if publishing translations costs $ for rights? paying translators? paying for pub rights? i'm thinking here of say new directions, which publishes lots of poetry in translation but presumably is paying, say, the estate of inger c (& perhaps S Neid as well?). whereas the really small presses don't have the $ to pay translators or for translation rights?
just curious...

6:00 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

I'm not sure what Johannes would say, but I think there's the idea that, beyond rights, publishers won't make money back on translations, hinging on the idea that Americans want to read work by Americans. I'm not saying that about every press, but I feel that is the idea holding folks back.

Call it cynical but...I can't think of a way to finish that sentence.

6:14 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Actually foreign government usually subsidize not just the translators but also the publishing costs. I doubt New Directions pays much to the Christensen estate. We had to pay for the rights to the Michaux book we're publishing this fall and a small fee for the Saarikoski, but it's not much in either case even though they are major modern European poets. Usually poets - especially if young - are all too pleased to have their work translated into English. That's not the issue.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Yes, Amish, I've gotten that. Publishers who publish very obscure American poets will say that my translations of Swedish poets are too obscure and won't sell. That's of course a shadow reason. The real reason is elsewhere.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

If I could go twice is cynical, I'd say the real reason is that American publishers are afraid you'll like a foreign poet more than an American one and stop buying their regular output or something.

8:39 PM  
Blogger anna said...

David: Publishing rights in translation may come into consideration if you print the poems in the original language, in which case you have to ask the original publisher (in the case of French poetry). The translation is copyright the translator.


10:25 PM  
Blogger François Luong said...

Oh, I was writing under Anne's account.

Anyway, I am surprised not to see Burning Deck listed.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

the Iowa case is sad, because they used to (back in the 1970s) publish lots of great anthols of translations like "Postwar Japanese Poetry" and others——

Iowa used to have poets "in residence" from all over the world——have they halted those programs?——

7:00 AM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

Well, they have the International Writing Program and every Fall, they bring in writers from all over the world who basically spend the their time here writing and attending events (readings, etc.). But that's a fair point- it seems like there'd be a market for translations from that. However, rarely have I heard anything about publication despite the end goal of the workshop attached to the program being to produce a publishable manuscript.

The closest I've come is that a play I worked on was read in Portland, but not on my account!

7:06 AM  
Blogger Colie Collen said...

La Presse is an imprint of Fence Books run by Cole Swensen, and specializes in contemporary French poetry in translation. So far we've published 3 books, with two coming out this spring.

7:19 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

here's the list from the 70's (not sure if it's complete:

Modern Hebrew Poetry, Univ of Iowa Pr, 1980.

The Poetry of Postwar Japan University of Iowa Press, 1975.

Modern Chinese Poetry: 20 Poets from the Republic of China, 1955-1965, University of Iowa Press, 1970.

Contemporary Yugoslav poetry, University of Iowa Press, 1977.

Contemporary Korean Poetry, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 1970.

Alibi & Other Poems by Stefan Aug. Doinas,
Internnational Writing Program- Iowa Translation Series, University of Iowa, 1975.

Contemporary Latvian Poetry, University of Iowa 1984.

The Aztec Calendar and Other Poems, Bartusek, Antonin,
International Writing Program / University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, 1975

Modern Bulgarian Poetry, University of Iowa: Sofia Press, 1976

The Postwar Poetry of Iceland, Univ of Iowa Pr 1982

RUSSIAN POETRY: THE MODERN PERIOD, Anthology, The University of Iowa Press, (1978)

the two most recent are:

The Book of Korean Poetry, University of Iowa Press, 2006

An Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women Poets, University of Iowa Press, 2005.

7:20 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"We had to pay for the rights to the Michaux book we're publishing this fall and a small fee for the Saarikoski"

Michaux and Saarikoski——
what books are these?
when will they be available?

7:32 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


No of course the answer is not a conspiracy.

You can't expect Ron Silliman for example to start reading works in translation when: 1) his aesthetic is opposed to the kind of messiness that results from translation 2) translation is not an important part of his literary upbringing (it's "the American tree" after all). That's just a case study.

We've already published the Saarikoski as well as tons of other books of modern poetry in translation ( The Michaux is "life in the folds", which we will publish this spring in Laura Wright's translation.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...


Certainly not a "conspiracy," as that would imply that it's a conscious choice.

In grade school, we are constantly hammered with American/English texts- outside of that nothing is even talked about, at least in my suburban Atlanta upbringing. To be honest, it didn't get much better at UGA either. I suppose this is similar to what most other Americans go through as well in school.

Translation is messy? I'll have to think about that for a bit...

9:54 AM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

I get some strange sense that the publishers are also more willing to take works translated by already established poets pre-translation project- your Swensens, Ganders, etc. As if they're thinking people will buy a book more for the translator than the translatee. I may be amazingly off on this, but it's a simple observation.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

No, that's probably true.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

They call small press publishing a labor of love because they think labor of misguided megalomania doesn't sound as good, but I kind of like it.

Yes, it's appalling that there are almost no books of poetry in translation published each year in America.

It's also appalling that there are thousands and thousands of American poets sending manuscripts into contests, and the same couple hundred people keep getting to churn out new models of the same poems.

And what's even more appalling is that nobody appears to be reading those books by the same couple hundred people, even though thousands of new poets join the workforce every year.

Oh, but the most appalling thing of all is that the country -- make that the world -- fell into a ditch while we were worrying about who was getting or wasn't getting published.

Don't get me wrong, I like Action Books, or at least the ones I've seen -- they keep selling out at Saint Mark's, and there really aren't that many other bookstores left in New York.

It would be amazing if every poet had a translation manuscript to keep paying rent on. It would be amazing if every poet even just tried to read a little in the languages they were required to study long ago.

Oh! I know what would be most amazing of all -- if poets some day decided to stop scolding each other. (I can't stop, obviously. Poets of the future, or the Faroe Islands maybe, it's up to you.)

1:49 PM  
Blogger Verse said...

Counterpath Press: 14 books, 6 in translation.

Speaking as a former editor of a press and as a magazine editor who's worked hard to find and publish stuff in translation: there isn't nearly as much work in translation coming into magazines and presses, probably for obvious reasons. I also think that it's harder for an editor to evaluate a book of translations, especially if one doesn't know the original language at all. Then one is tempted to evaluate the manuscript as if it were written in English, which of course is a problem. Also, rights (and $) can cause problems, especially if the poet isn't alive. A friend of mine has been translating a dead poet from Argentina, and the poet's estate wants such prohibitively high fees, there's virtually no chance a book will ever appear in English. When he translates living poets from Argentina, who understand that there'll be no money, he has no problems.

2:02 PM  

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