Letter from the Editor: Issue 21

February 13, 2023

Dear Readers:

The strong arm of authoritarianism has sent ripples across the world and across the pages of this journal. Two of the poets whose work has been included in Alchemy were imprisoned in 2022 for their outspokenness about oppressive rule in their home countries [1]. Given the current state of politics around the world, we dedicate this issue to the concept of autonomy. We all deserve our rightful share of it, especially when it comes to decisions about our bodies, families, homes; our access to healthcare, natural resources, books. Occasionally we’re granted a new level of autonomy over something, but more often it’s taken away from us. We look for solutions when the latter occurs and when we can’t find solutions, we look for a means to settle the upheaval that the sense of powerlessness creates in our minds.

When our editorial team first conceived of this issue, we envisioned a selection of works that together would spark a candid and cogent epiphany about the importance of autonomy of all kinds. This, we hoped, would be an antidote to the inner turmoil so many are experiencing in society related to loss of freedom. Straight-forward realizations like that are rare, however. What arose instead was a compilation of intricate accounts and communiqués expressing poignant and distinctive emotional struggles for autonomy in disparate contexts. This, we realized, is even better: powerful messages are often most honestly delivered through variety and complexity. The nuances depicted in this patchwork of words, mixed media, sounds, and colors vigorously fuse together to articulate that the internal journey we face in our yearning for and striving toward autonomy is defined by reflecting, questioning, learning, reframing, insisting, and transforming. While those processes may not always bring about external change, they reveal our profound capacity to secure autonomy of the mind and demand psychological and political self-determination by speaking out.

Our cover features Maria Titan’s vibrant painting, “Girl on Fire,” which delightfully captures the sense of pure satisfaction that moments of free-thinking and free-being can generate. Dauda Yusuf‘s visual art series “Introspective and Retrospect”—through tangibly close depictions of facial expressions and intimate experiences—offers a window into personal moments of meditation, speculation, concentration, and celebration.

Our access to introspection does not end there. Vyxz Vasquez’s translations from Tagalog of Luna Sicat Cleto’s work portray inner contemplation through dense but delicate lines. The poems simultaneously evoke wonder and unease, which often culminate in a sense of control over a fleet of emotions through conclusions like, “All parts of yourself seem to be / a clay jar that has not tasted moss / and now—receives water.” The succinct figurative language in Maziar Karim’s Farsi poem “Freedom” illustrates that deprivation of justice equals dehumanization. Karim’s simple but potent gardening metaphor enhances and emboldens his call for demanding the breakdown of a system that robs its citizens of their rights. Similarly, Alex Buckman’s translation from German of Rilke’s “The Panther” takes a celebrated poem to a new level of refinement in a way that allows readers to relate more closely to the animal’s loss of power and state of defeat. We surface from this clear-cut translation with both renewed sympathy for the panther and a newly born understanding of its dilemma. McCalee Cain’s translations from French of author Nafissatou Dia Diouf’s short stories “Quicksand” and “Until Love Do Us Part” lead us along the journeys of conflicted narrators who are compelled to consider potentially life-altering decisions. We access the inner turbulence of the protagonists through a close perspective that allows us to witness them gain new levels of personal liberation.

Other pieces in this collection present answers to mental and emotional turmoil in the form of imagined responses or direct addresses, verbalizing and poeticizing a desire for more control over their personal lives, rights, or environment. Neon Mashurov’s striking translation of Artem Kamardin’s very recent poem “Kill me, militiaman!” addresses the heedless violence of the police in Russia and seeks to reclaim power through tongue-in-cheek taunts, demonstrated in lines like “Tear me to shreds! / Stomp me into the dirt! / The buds of the Russian Spring have bloomed!” (Kamardin was arrested after reciting the poem publicly.) Marc Petrie’s original poem “After Barbara” tackles unsettling questions about climate change and thoughtless wars. Using an experimental approach to translation, Petrie responds to Jacques Prévert’s post-WWII poem “Barbara” through the lens of current ecological challenges. As the speaker grasps for a sense of command over disempowering changes, we go along for the ride; we see the outlook is bleak for all, but we feel in concert. Benjamin Landauer’s translations from Chinese and Japanese feature speakers trying to come to terms with their inner and outer worlds. The diary-like closeness makes us feel like trusted witnesses to their confessions; the subtle outward demands included in them give the sense that the speakers are gaining an upper hand in shaping their own images and reputations.

Finally, a selection of visual art by Mariaceleste Arena, Richard Vyse, Martyna Benedyka, John Woodcock, and Leslie Espino accompany the poetry in a variety of media, including digital, watercolor, oil, monotype, and reclaimed material. These pieces complement the textual works with vitality, delicacy, sensitivity, and ingenuity, and we’re excited to include them as another medium for translation, and another expression of autonomy.

Thank you to the Alchemy editorial team members who worked on this issue, including Bahar Abdi, Nolan Dannels, Kira Jacobson, Nilufar Karimi, Neon Mashurov, Makenzie Read, Lucien Herzog, and Evelyn Vasquez. Their discerning tastes and insightful feedback facilitated the merging of separate pieces into a meaningful whole. Thank you as well to UCSD alumnus and Alchemy web designer Kevin Jang for his guidance with the website. And finally, none of this would be possible without the vision and support of our faculty director, Amelia Glaser, to whom we’re immensely grateful for all the care and energy she infuses into teaching, advising, and everything translation.

We’re greatly appreciative of the talented poets, authors, translators, and artists who have crafted the texts and visual arts that comprise this issue, and we’re grateful to our readers, for their attention and dedication.

With warmth & respect,

Reem Hazboun Taşyakan

[1] You can read our detailed statements about the arrests of Ali Asadollahi and Artem Kamardin at the links below. Update: Ali Asadollahi was released from prison on February 23, 2023.

  1. alchemy.ucsd.edu/ali-asadollahi-statement-12-19-22/
  2. quote.ucsd.edu/alchemy/kill-me-militiaman/

By Evelyn G. Vasquez

digital art, 2022