Happy Birthday, Asymptote Book Club!

It’s been one year since a minuscule team of volunteers operating on a shoestring budget launched the Asymptote Book Club and what an adventurous journey around the world it has been! Although we are sometimes at the mercy of publishers’ schedules and catalogues, we’ve made a deliberate effort to be as diverse as possible: 12 countries, 12 languages, 7 men and 5 women. 

But it’s about more than just ticking the boxes. Our editors have made a real effort to find not just high-quality literature and sterling translations, but also works which make us ponder, debate, and want to explore more about a particular author or country. And they have a pretty good eye for winners: two of our selections were English Pen Translates Award winners and another two were shortlisted for the inaugural National Book Award Prize for Translated Fiction in the US.

Then there are all of the unseen skirmishes behind the scenes with late arrivals from abroad, postal delays because of snow or holidays, sudden changes in publishing dates… Still, it has been a labour of love and a venture that I’m very proud to be associated with.

And the excellent, superb, phenomenal news is that we are doing a ‘counter-Brexit’, i.e. we are expanding into the EU! In other words, as of immediately, you can subscribe to the Book Club if you have an address in the EU (previously, it was only open for the US and UK).

I have to admit I’ve not managed to read all of the books, as review demands and other reading challenges came in. The three early summer titles are a blur: Brother In Ice by Alicia Kopf, transl. Mara Faye Lethem; The Chilli Bean Paste Clan by Yan Ge, transl. Nicky Harman and Revenge of the Translator by Brice Matthieussent, transl. Emma Ramadan, but I look forward to exploring all of them in the near future.

Of the ones that I did read, each one has meant something special to me.

December 2017: The Lime Tree by César Aira, transl. Chris Andrews – got me started on a love affair with this Argentinian writer 

January 2018: Aranyak by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, transl. Rimli Bhattacharya – the dark Bengali horse which most surprised me and which I still find myself thinking about

February: Love by Hanne Ørstavik, transl. Martin Aitken – this short Norwegian novella was the most emotionally wrecking, had me on tenterhooks

March: Trick by Domenico Starnone, transl. Jhumpa Lahiri – the cleverest in its blend of everyday minutiae and intertextuality

July: The Tidings of the Trees by Wolfgang Hilbig, transl. Isabel Fargo Cole – the most personally relatable and relevant

August: I Didn’t Talk by Beatriz Bracher, transl. Adam Morris – the most interesting from the political point of view, can see it becoming a talking point now and in the future, with Brazil descending once more into totalitarianism

September: Moving Parts by Prabda Yun, transl. Mui Poopoksakul – the boldest choice, the funniest and most experimental and also most blatantly contemporary

October: Like a Sword Wound by Ahmet Altan, transl. Brendan Freely and Yelda Türedi – the most ‘moreish’ – really got swept up in the family saga, the political intrigues and historical period

November: The Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić, transl. Ellen Elias-Bursać – have just started this one, which I expect will be very emotionally resonant with me, as one of my best friends lived through that terrible period in Yugoslavia (with a Serb mother and a Croat father)

We had our first ever Book Club meeting in London on Thursday evening and we couldn’t quite agree on an overall favourite. Do I have a personal one? I think each one gave me something different to love and I simply cannot pick between them. But if you were to twist my arm, I might have to choose Hanne Ørstavik and Ivana Bodrožić.

I cannot wait to see where the second year of our travels will take us. If you want to join us in our exploration of world literature, you can find all the details about the Book Club and how to subscribe here.

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Happy Anniversary, dVerse Poets!

I’ve become a much less frequent visitor to the dVerse Poets Pub in the last few months, but it’s still the friendliest, most fun poetic community that I’ve come across. They are celebrating five years of poems, discussions, shared thoughts and laughter, so join us there , find out what Brian Miller (one of the founders of dVerse) has been up to recently, and take part in the first challenge of the week: a quadrille about ‘Journeys’.

A quadrille is a poem of 44 words exactly. Here is my attempt.

Refugees

The journey’s start
your journey’s end
Ouroboros alone knows
when we are done exploring in porous dinghies
or flour containers
in baroque façade deceptions
carton jungle of dead ends
where our feet move on and on for miles
yet our hearts not one iota

Calais

Getting to Know Each Other

It’s the 4th anniversary of dVerse Poets Pub and we’re celebrating all week. For today’s prompt, I’m using some ice-breaking tricks and techniques so all the pub goers can get to know each other a little better. The instructions were as follows:

1) Find three words that describe you well or mean a lot to you – you don’t need to explain why they mean so much to you, but they do have to be oozing with significance. For example, for me, I might choose: Vienna, swoosh and fairness.
2) Now, choose three words to describe things or people that you are grateful for, to build on the gratitude discussion we were having yesterday.
Let me again give an example: children, words, friends.
3) Now write a short poem (no longer than 12 lines please, but it can be shorter if you like) incorporating these six words.
 To my surprise (but perhaps to nobody else’s), my poem came out a tad more melancholy than I had expected…

 

Words between friends

all bridges, camp-fires, the silences still precious…

Words between children

flash-floods, fence-mends…

I’m always too late

but all heart for all that.

My quest for fairness a shade too thorough,

digging deep long after they’ve moved on.

Should I surrender to the swoosh

alone in the snow?

My sky is always cold and gray.

This means nothing to me…  Oh, Vienna!

 

Maybe this song is to blame – one of the first I remember recording from the radio.

 

Ode to My Fellow Pub Poets

Picture from www.utahlivebands.com
Picture from http://www.utahlivebands.com

After a short summer break, the dVerse Poets Pub reopens its doors and celebrates its third anniversary. This is no small matter in a world where blogs come and go at lightning speed, especially community-based blogs, where we share our poetic thoughts and feel free to experiment. The poem below is based on Catullus and his famous Ode to Lesbia, and it’s dedicated to all of the talented poets (and moments of fun and serious talk) that we’ve had here at the Pub.

Let’s live and love then, my dear friends,

another glass of champagne? …don’t mind if I do..

and give old naggers’ disapproving frowns short shrift.

The sun rises and sets on repeat.

[Over and over and over and over…

//the joy of repetition really is in you.]

But we? Once our sun’s snuffed out, it’s the graveyard shift.

So cover me in poems, a thousand,

then a hundred more, then let’s start over again.

Oh… is that taking it too far? / No, wait!// Don’t turn away…

A million poems later, let’s fudge the score

so no cold calculating eye can quell our enthusiasm!

www.notonthehighstreet.com
http://www.notonthehighstreet.com

And

if in doubt for entertainment

dancing on tables

is also great                  and would suffice.

Happy Birthday, Dear Bloggy!

Rainbow Cake from www.migros.ch
Rainbow Cake from http://www.migros.ch

Today my blog turns two – so toddler tantrums are probably on the cards now. So far, it’s been an utter joy and delight, if somewhat demanding of love and attention. Above all, it’s been malleable, unformed one might say. A little bit of everything I happened to fancy or think or want to post.

I started it for purely utilitarian purposes: it would act as an accountability instrument. Force me to gather my thoughts, force me to write (not necessarily post) daily, force me to share with others instead of hiding. In 2 years I’ve posted 310 blog posts, which is on average one new one every 2 1/2 days.

And it’s been successful as an accountability tool. Modest internautic success, but more than enough for me, an unknown name (pseudonym) with no novel yet to my name and just rekindling my passion for poetry after a hiatus of a couple of decades. I didn’t expect many people to find me, read me, let alone comment or follow. Yet around 350 people do – thank you so much! I get an average of 30-35 views per day, although that wonderful dVerse Poets community does bump up my numbers every time I link one of my poems to their site. My most successful month ever was August 2013, when I was writing solidly (at my novel, at my poetry and at my blog, triple whammy) for at least 8 hours a day. So quantity and practice does make a difference. Building tribes and platforms? Pah! I leave that to those writers who have actual published books to sell. At the moment, I’m just too excited exploring.

I love the international reach of the blog. The vast majority of views do come from the US (more than 9000 – so much for claims that Americans do not read!), with the UK limping in second place with only 5000, followed by France, Greece and Canada. I do wonder what the lone person from Mauritius and Syria thought when they came across my blog… I wish them well, in their very different, probably much more difficult worlds.

www.designscapeuk.com
http://www.designscapeuk.com

The most popular topics on my blog are roughly what I expected: poems, poetry and book reviews, but I am very much amused by the search terms most used for finding me. David Foster Wallace, Tawara Machi and Poetry Workshop are all rather surprising entrants into the Top 5, but the one in the top spot will have all those who know me snorting with laughter. Are you ready for it? It’s Country gardens. Now, although I love beautiful houses and gardens, I am a very inexperienced and clumsy gardener. In fact, I have the opposite of green thumbs and manage to cheerfully kill off any plant that I buy or receive as a present. So it’s rather ironic! I hope those who are diverted to my website via this term are not too horrified by what they find here instead!

‘Twas the Day…

… after we returned from the summer holidays and all through the house… cobwebs and dust bunnies were having a party. The washing-machine was churning at full pitch, the fridge had started humming but was bare and hungry. ‘Twas the weekend before school started, so lists were pinned up, checked and found wanting. Protractors had been bought and lost, felt-tip pens had become separated from their lids and were gasping for rehydration. School clothes and pencil cases begging to be legibly marked with the child’s name. Not for the first time, I wished we had given our children shorter names. Shoes had been miraculously outgrown during the holidays. Haircut appointments needed to be made. Telephone messages listened to, some of them requiring replies. Several bills had floated into our postbox and needed rather urgent payment. Above all, we needed food. But supermarkets on a Saturday are a nightmare. I braced myself for battle with wonky trolleys, careless people chatting in front of the aisles I needed to access, the endless queues at the cashier…

FlowerssmallI drag the shopping bags inside the house to find those two bouquets waiting for me. Soundlessly. Shyly. I wonder. I approach them gingerly. I see a little note: ‘Happy anniversary, darling!’ It’s the first time since we got married that I had completely forgotten our wedding anniversary. I thought forgetting was something that men did. Or at least my man. And, just as I call out, blushing, my family rushes downstairs in an avalanche of love. One bouquet, they explain amidst giggles and gurgles, was not enough – they could not agree which one was nicer: romantic or exotic. Finally, they decided that Mama was both.

Samuel Peralta is hosting at the dVerse Poets Pub (sadly, for the last time) and he has asked us for a prose poem. Not quite sure if this qualifies – I fear it’s more prose than poetry. But one celebration I haven’t forgotten is Chinese New Year: Happy Year of the Wooden Horse, everyone!

 

Secret

DSCN5197

A bottle of grains flung in the sand

harvest moon pregnant with damp

a world of murmurs subsiding to buzz

autographs given with minimum fuss

I wonder where all unspeakable is kept

in what tangle of lies it is wrapped

I wonder when we shall be whole

when the ravenous beast is full.

This is an experiment with near-rhymes or slant-rhymes, which are words that almost rhyme but not quite.  As a very auditory person (I used to record lessons in high school, so that I could learn them better), I love playing around with rhymes and rhythms. I usually do far too little of that in my poetry.

This is the 100th poem that I’m posting to this blog – my hundredth poem since I started writing again in February 2012.  It may not feel like much, an average of 5 a month, but it is such an improvement to my previous (zero) output! I can also report a change in attitude towards poetry. I used to think of it as a form of procrastination (to avoid having to deal with my novel). But I have now come to love it in its own right, to actually work at it and try out new things.  In no small part, thanks to such a fantastic group as the dVerse Poets, so I’m dedicating my 100th poem to them.