Letter from the Editor
It’s been a long winter. The COVID-19 pandemic has a way of contracting and expanding time: the year moves steadfastly forward, yet each day is eerily similar to the one before. Space and distance have undergone a similar distortion: our worlds shrink, loved ones are suddenly far even when they are in the same city, yet distance also collapses, with nearly everyone in the world operating in relation to the same public health concern, Zooming in from myriad time zones into the same virtual room. Staying in touch has never felt so vital, or so labor-intensive. With this in mind, I wanted this issue to focus on Correspondence. The epistolary dimension is always-already present in translation: the exchange, the reaching across borders, languages, and systems of thoughts and meaning. This year, for many of us, it has also served as our primary social lifeline.
I am so grateful to the translators who have responded to the call and sent their work to us, as well as to Alissa Tu, Reem Taskayan, Kevin Jang, and Chloe Asano for their assistance in putting this issue together, and to Dr. Amelia Glaser for her endless support.
In a collaboration that partially inspired this issue’s theme, Alyn Mare & Macs Chávez share two poems they have written to, and translated for, each other: a lovers’ exchange, which offers intimacy amidst a militarized landscape: “curve paw in trust / shaking yes i hold my own hand, will u hold mine too / we hold it together against crushing tedium, hugging drone // air force x borders x daily life x the tepid coffee.” “We met on Tinder,” they explain. “First it was hard to understand what each other was trying to say. Through poetry and exercises of pleasure, sex, food and the desert, we [wove] both languages into our own.” Later, in a far more bitter lovers’ discourse, Paula Cucarella, translated by Alaric López, details the abusive codependence created by hegemonic power. “Via loudspeaker, America / you sound so sweet // And I forgive you everything, thanks to your excellent Internet connection” she writes, before raising the question, “And what will we do about the bastard we make in my mouth?”
Bitterness returns again, in both Dan Pagis’s “Letters,” translated by Shoshana Olidort, and Marina Tsvetaeva’s “An Attempt at Jealousy,” translated by Lev Nikulin and Aster Fialla. In a moment of meta-correspondence, Pagis addresses his deceased father in order to confront him about a suitcase of withheld letters which could have bridged the rift in their relationship. Their discovery arose through a visit intended as a “bridge that could get us across [their] long silences.” Now they would prompt another type of reaching-across: an acknowledgment, an illumination, a form of revenge. Conversely, Nikulin and Fialla translate Tsvetaeva’s jilted accusations through the reparative work of collaboration. “As Tsvetaeva entered into poetic conversations with other poets, we have tried to do so with her and with the others who have tackled her work in general and this piece in particular,” they write. “In this translation, we most prioritized the communication of the vicious, biting tone of the original, searching for an emotional throughline which would carry Tsvetaeva’s bitter and acerbic breakup poem to the reader across language and time period.”
Similar acts of repair are enacted solo by Gavia Boyden’s translation of Rosabetta Muñoz’s “Ligia” and Reem Tasyakan’s transcription and translation, “All Each Other’s Miracles.” “Ligia” is awash with loss: crosses erased by wind, holes in the photograph, people removed from the future. “In the center of the beloved country / there is a kite,” the poem tells us, where the kites are “the dreams of the Chileans…A fatherland is made by cutting the strings / tethering the colorful kites.” These are losses that cannot be repaired, but through poetic documentation and translation, they are given afterlives. This archival resurrection is also the driving force behind Tasyakan’s “Miracles”: a family narrative forged from a devastating narrative of separation and incarceration, observed by the narrator in Polish and Russian, related to her daughter in Arabic, and translated by her granddaughter into English. “I wondered if I was in a sense disrupting the natural state of the narrative because I was changing not only the language but also the form. The story remained strictly oral for decades and held tremendous value that way because the impromptu spoken word has a rawness and authenticity that cannot be fully represented in writing. Also, Palestinian dialect is normally reserved for the spoken rather than the written word,” writes Tasyakan. “Then I realized that in another sense, recording it in a new language and format can be seen as continuing my grandmother’s legacy in a unique and fitting way…Perhaps this process doesn’t disrupt the natural state of the narrative as much as it echoes and embodies it.” Finally, a different kind of cross-generational echo is rendered in a haunting visual form by Alexia Struye, in her visual translation of postcards sent from grandparents to grandchildren from a tour through Italy.
It is an honor to present these works and to facilitate a space where they may form other intertextual correspondences, where other threads may spark and weave together. Like the cover image, “Early Spring,” by Tanbelia Belaschuk, in which the budding forms of a new season connect like nature’s circuit board, we begin to emerge from a long hibernation with renewed potential for encounter. But first, we honor the moments of correspondence which have permeated our isolation, energized us against atomization, and enabled us to invite each other in again and again, even when we could not do so physically. In this very tradition, I hope this letter finds you healthy and safe, and offers you good company.
With warmth & solidarity,