What I’m Reading Now… by Zach Savich


Moved out of the place with built-in shelves, alphabetized, arranged by genre. We’re trying piles now. Disordered stacks, insulating a drafty apartment. You have to look through everything to find anything. Here are five from the top flights near my desk:

Karen Emmerich’s Literary Translation and the Making of Originals (Bloomsbury)

Fascinating critical essays by a celebrated translator—packed with big ideas for specialist and general readers. What’s the original a translation should be faithful to? Is it better to think of translation as “translingual editing,” as “a mode of textual proliferation rather than a mode by which semantic content is transferred,” as part of the larger and ongoing work of a text’s composition? With chapters on Gilgamesh, folk songs, Dickinson, Cavafy, Spicer. The first sentence of the intro is as thrilling as remembering that distant afternoon when your father took you to discover ice or deciding to buy the flowers yourself: “This book has the perhaps immodest goal of challenging the time-honored tradition…of referring to the objects of literary translation as if each were a known quantity, a singular entity whose lexical content is stable or fixed: ‘the original,’ ‘the Arabic original,’ ‘the original French text,’ ‘the source text,’ ‘Kafka’s German,’ and so on.”

Arthur W. Frank’s The Wounded Storyteller (University of Chicago)

Prime in my pile of books about illness, dying, medicine. It discusses first-person accounts, their common narrative patterns. I argue with parts of it. E.g., discussing what he calls “chaos narratives,” Frank writes that “those who are truly living the chaos cannot tell in words.” And I think, “But aren’t we always in chaos? Shouldn’t illness be an invitation to consider the contingency and precarity that are ever-present, and the language they require, and what that reveals about ourselves, not to narrate our way to safety?” But of course I’d say that, I’m a poet! The book can answer to those reactions, and Frank’s discussion of the recent history of illness memoirs—of how recent that genre, as we might think of it, is—should be of interest to anyone thinking about memoir. Get the second edition, and read the afterword first. Contact me if you know of a book that does similar work with “lyric patterns” or that shares my cranky suspicion of most sorts of redemption, restitution, conclusion? Or write it?

Anna Moschovakis’s They and We Will Get into Trouble for This (Coffee House)

I love this book. I’ve tried to write a review of it, or an essay about it, several times. I’ve never been happy with the result. But I keep reading it, have been reading it “now” for a year. Maybe I need to finish Emmerich’s book and read it again: translation is a (guiding? underlying?) mode and metaphor here. Three long poems. Serial poems? Essayistic? In “compromised” forms. Including a sequence of translations or mis-translations or responses to translations after a set of poems by Algerian poet Samira Negrouche. Maybe this book, overall, explores forms of compromise, of different ways in which a text or a life can be “after,” get after, come after? These are poems of “that fringe of the body’s ability to breathe.” Poems that ask “what would an ethical happiness look like.” Perhaps, it looks like asking that? I guess I want to write a review that simply says these are poems that I keep reading, “my hand ahead of my heart ahead of my hand.”

Marosa di Giorgio’s I Remember Nightfall, translated by Jeannine Marie Pitas (Ugly Duckling)

Lovely perplexing obsessive magical poems of casual angelic annunciations, cannibalism, underground creatures, disquieting domesticity. Here is a description of eating a fairy: “One time, my mother decided to trap one; she killed her, skinned her, and set her in the middle of the night, of the meal, and that creature retained a bit of life, an almost unreal death, she seemed to have fled from a funeral banquet, or jumped out from the casket of some marvelous corpse. We devoured her and it was like she was alive. The ring I now wear was once hers.”



Suzanne Scanlon’s Her 37th Year, An Index (Noemi)

I do like a book of radiant, impatient prose.