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Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice

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    Morts Division Streetwins the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection prize 2014

    A poet whose first visit to Aldeburgh poetry festival was as a volunteer returns this weekend as a prizewinner. Helen Morts Division Streetwas chosen from a shortlist of five as the winner of the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection prize 2014. The win places her in a distinguished line of poets to have taken the 25-year-old prize, distancing her decisively from the subject of one of the shorter poems in her book. In The Collective Works of Anonymous, the 29-year-old poet writes Ill raise a glass to dear Anonymous: the old / familiar anti-signature. Other poems deal with Sheffield riots and the miners strike, which convulsed her native city in the years before she was born. Division Street is properly and richly ambitious, speaking to culture now in a way that is both eerily prescient (Seven Decapitations) and a mirror to what has been lost (Scab, Pit Closure as a Tarantino Short), said one of the three judges, Anthony Wilson.

    The three-day festival will also showcase the work of another rising star, Hannah Silva, whose specially commissioned performance piece, Shlock!, is described as a powerful feminist satire for the cut-and-paste generation the result of a collision between Fifty Shades of Grey, the radical punk-pirate Kathy Acker and the sounds of Sonic Youth. But its not all about novelty. One of the highlights this year is a rare appearance outside her homeland by the great Brazilian poet Adélia Prado, who is making her UK debut at the age of 78 after winning the USs Griffin prize for lifetimes achievement in the summer. Her visit coincides with the first UK publication of her work. But among the celebrations will be a note of melancholy, as this is the last festival for Naomi Jaffa, who is stepping down as director after 22 years.

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    by Arundhathi Subramaniam

    Who ripples hospitably
    out of her halwa-pink blouse
    and sari (Synthetics are so practical
    to wear on trains, na?). Who invokes
    the protocol of Indian railways to ask
    for your phone number even before
    the journey begins. Who unwinds
    her life story, well-oiled,
    without a single split end.

    Shes Hindu,
    a doctor, like her husband.
    The Matron warned her
    about inter-faith unions,
    but she had no doubts,
    not even in 93 when others did.

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    Poet Andrew Motion talked to returning Desert Rats about their experiences in Afghanistan for a series of collaborative poems

    One hundred years after the war to end all wars, young British soldiers are still coming home from battlefields, just as their fathers and grandfathers did. Last week, the union jack was lowered for the last time at Camp Bastion, a desert settlement the size of Reading that has been HQ of UK operations in Afghanistan since 2006. Of the many thousands of troops who passed through Camp Bastion, 453 would die in Afghanistan, with many more mutilated, injured and traumatised.

    On Sunday, Remembrance Day, veterans of Britains fourth Afghan war, a conflict that according to a BBC poll 68% of Britons consider to have been not worthwhile, will salute the flag, stiffen to attention at the sound of the Last Post and remember the dead.

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    A fictional government report on the most benighted citizens of Ceauescus Romania, this is satire written in a time when all hope of change seemed futile

    Marin Sorescu, one of Romanias most widely known poets, was a shrewd comedian, loved by his readers and tolerated by the political establishment. At the same time, more critical than he appeared, he wrote poems that were far too outspoken to have been publishable while Ceauescus miserable regime still tottered upright. This weeks poem, Peasants, (arnii), is one of those.

    Peasants is a translation by John Hartley Williams and Hilde Ottschofski from the Bloodaxe collection, Censored Poems. It draws on two books by Sorescu, Poezii alese de cenzur and Traversarea, and was published in 2001, some five years after the poets premature death. A further collection, The Bridge, gathering up the extraordinarily brave poems he wrote during his final illness, with translations by Adam J Sorkin and Lidia Vianu, appeared from the same publisher in 2004.

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    Alberto Manguel writes an open letter to the poet, imprisoned in Iran for her defence of the Bahái Faith
    News: Leading authors mount international protest to defend persecuted colleagues

    Dear Mahvash Sabet,

    Its almost an impertinence, I feel, to write to a poet who is being kept behind bars for her words and beliefs. King Lear, imprisoned at the end of the play with his daughter Cordelia, tells her that they will become Gods spies. That is what you as well have become, bearing witness to societys injustices, prejudices and inability to understand that no matter what society might do to a poet, the poets words will still be free in the minds of the readers, and continue to conjure up ideas, engage the mind in conversation. Perhaps theres consolation in this.

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  • 11/13/14--08:47: Bruce Killeen obituary
  • My father, Bruce Killeen, who has died aged 86, was a painter and poet, and a passionate man. He loved vermilion and the ember colours, raw umber, burnt umber, burnt sienna, cadmium red, chrome yellow, titanium white, ultramarine, cobalt blue. He painted every day, and wrote and photographed and taught.

    Bruce was born in Sutton Coldfield, then in Warwickshire, son of Irene (nee Evans) and Major Charles Killeen. His father fought in both first and second world wars and later started a paper and sticky tape factory in Birmingham. Bruce went to local schools and read English literature at Oxford, but never received training as an artist; training, he said, was for racehorses.

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    Bookies favourite Tempest has awards for her poetry but with hip-hop album Everybody Down she has moved towards the mainstream and the Mercury judges love a female MC

    Mercury nominees 2014: Jungle
    Mercury nominees 2014: GoGo Penguin
    Mercury nominees 2014: FKA twigs
    Mercury nominees 2014: East India Youth

    Who? Kate Esther Tempest is the Next Generation poet, playwright, social activist and rapper from south London whose observations cover class and relationships with warmth, sincerity, fragility and humour. She started out as a rapper and a spoken-word poet, shes lived in squats, studied music at the Brit school, created Everything Speaks in its Own Way, a collection of poems published on her own imprint Zingaro, The Glasshouse, a forum theatre play for Cardboard Citizens, the plays Wasted and Hopelessly Devoted and the award-winning poem Brand New Ancients. Her debut album proper, Everybody Down, tells the story of three individuals grappling with loneliness in the city, with each song representing a new chapter in their lives. The characters featured in this album, and her previous works, are being made into a novel due to be published next year.

    The album: Everybody Down

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    In this second volume of A David Moodys biography, the controversial poet, creator of The Cantos, is preoccupied by music and Mussolini

    Theres a gut-wrenching moment about 100 pages into this latest instalment of David Moodys three-volume biography of Ezra Pound. It is January 1928, and the long-established literary magazine the Dial has just awarded Pound a prize, describing him as one of the most valuable forces in contemporary literature. Cause for congratulations, perhaps? Not a bit of it. A renaissance, Pound announced in 1915, is a thing made by conscious propaganda. But the writers who benefited most from the renaissance his propaganda had made (Eliot, Joyce, Wyndham Lewis) were no longer in the mood to admit that they couldnt have done it without him. All Eliot could manage, in 1928, was the confession that he found himself seldom interested, these days, in what his old friend and colleague was saying, only in the way he says it. Lewis, the most wildly inventive member of the original gang, and among the neediest, had got into the habit of damning to rather different effect. Pound, he declared, had become an intellectual eunuch. Joyce, meanwhile, was minding his own business, as usual. Moody seems surprised by this negativity. His prose lapses, most uncharacteristically, into cliche, as he ponders the blackness of the ingratitude. The problem he seems unwilling to address is that by 1928, Pound, unlike the others, had little to show for all the propaganda.

    The despondency soon lifts. This is a critical biography, and its great strength lies in its conviction that the attitudes and activities of the man are primarily of interest insofar as they illuminate the poems he wrote. Not that there was any shortage of attitudes and activities during the decades covered by the current volume. Pound moved twice, with his wife Dorothy somewhat intermittently in tow: from London (the place lacking in interest, / last squalor, utter decrepitude etc) to Paris, in 1921; and then from Paris (ditto, but with less fog and mud) to Rapallo, on the Ligurian coast, in 1924. Shortly after, two children arrived: a biological daughter, Maria, by his lover, the violinist Olga Rudge, and a legal son, Omar (Dorothys, by another man). Moodys account of the man who had these experiences focuses on the two preoccupations that, in his view, did most to shape the work: music and Mussolini.

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    Ruth Padels exploration of religious understanding, Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth, and Kevin Powers Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting, drawing on his Iraq war service, among the 10-strong shortlist

    From Ruth Padels venture to the Middle East to Kevin Powers glimpse into the life of a soldier in Iraq, the shortlist for the prestigious TS Eliot prize for poetry spans continents to reflect musicality, mastery and ambition.

    This morning, the Poetry Book Society announced that Padels Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth, in which the award-winning British poet looks at the common ground shared between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, finding that Making is our defence against the dark, had been shortlisted for the prize alongside Iraq veteran Powers debut collection Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting. I tell her, writes Powers, how Pvt. Bartle says, offhand/ That war is just us/ Making little pieces of metal/ Pass through each other.

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  • 10/23/14--07:10: Frank Miller obituary
  • Frank Miller, who has died aged 86, was a well-known poet and jazz musician in New York, although wider public recognition evaded him. Whereas his contemporaries and, in some cases, his friends, such as the comedian Lenny Bruce, gained large followings, Frank remained in the shadows.

    His parents, William and Louise, divorced when Frank was 10. He learned to play the piano and trumpet at Bermudian Springs high school in York Springs, Pennsylvania. In the early 1950s he moved to New York, where he found work playing jazz and mixing with the artists and writers that were emerging as a new voice. Frank gradually became part of the beat generation and began to write freeform lyrics that he performed over his own improvisations.

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    It was a Christmas in South Carolina that reawakened the musician and Radio 6 DJs love for Thomas and inspired her to mark his centenary with her most ambitious project yet

    Dylan Thomas, whose centenary we will celebrate on Monday, was the most musical of poets. His work is so full of rhythm and melody that one of lifes great pleasures is to read him aloud, feeling those syllables roll around your mouth while the rhythms find their ebb and flow. It is no surprise that his poetry has exerted a special appeal to composers. It was his childhood friend Daniel Jones a fellow Kardomah boy with whom Dylan would talk Einstein and Epstein, Stravinsky and Greta Garbo, death and religion, Picasso and girls who provided music for the songs in Under Milk Wood as well as dedicating his Fourth Symphony to Dylans memory. Stravinsky himself set Do not go gentle into that good night. Later, jazz maestro Stan Tracey, composers John Corigliano, Mark Anthony Turnage and many others would be inspired by his work.

    I was brought up in Swansea. Our house enjoyed almost the same view over the crescent of Swansea Bay as had Dylans childhood home in Cwmdonkin Drive. I knew about Dylan and I read his work. But the idea that I should set his work to music didnt come until about 10 years ago, when I was living far from Swansea, in South Carolina.

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    Despite a lifetime of chaos and alcoholism, John Berrymans poetry is brilliantly funny. Sam Leith toasts his pal, whose work he has adored since he was a teenager

    The great American poet John Berryman would have been 100 today, had he lived. One of the things most people know about him is that he did not. He killed himself at 57 after a lifetime of chaos, alcoholism, mental illness and extremely hard work.

    During his lifetime he was competitive. One of his late collections was called Love & Fame, and he was very interested in both. When Robert Frost died in 1963, Berrymans reaction was: Its scarey [sic]. Whos number one? Whos number one? Cal is number one, isnt he? Cal was Robert Lowell.

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    One-time highest-paid female actor in the world has announced shes swapping front of screen work for a stint pursuing other creative endeavours such as directing and poetry

    Kristen Stewart, the Twilight star who just two years ago was named the highest-paid female actor in the world by Forbes magazine, has announced she is to take a break from acting.

    Speaking to USA Today, Stewart said she would take time off to pursue other creative endeavours after starring in 10 films in the past four years.

    Im taking some time off because Ive been working for two years, she said. Im an actor and thats my art form, and because I started so young, Ive always felt intimidated and insufficient when I think about other forms of art I want to create. Im going to take so much time off.

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    On St Crispins day, historically a day of battles, we look back at some of the literary canons most vivid depictions of the heroes and hell of combat

    Today is St Crispins day and, as such, the anniversary of two battles Agincourt and Balaclava that took place on 25 October and in a further coincidence resulted in arguably the two most famous examples of martial writing in literature: Henrys we happy few speech on St Crispins eve in Henry V, and Tennysons The Charge of the Light Brigade. Other depictions of battle run them close, however

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    Influenced by Baudelaire and Rimbaud, the late poet made her name in the 60s then disappeared from the world of literature thankfully, her poems are back

    The photograph of Rosemary Tonks on the cover of this book was taken by the Observers Jane Bown in the 1960s. Tonks sits in a Soho cafe wearing tweed trousers, with a mannish beauty and a determination about her stance that extends to the set of her jaw. What is most interesting is the strength of her presence, because what she would become famous for is absence. After making her name between 1963 and 1974 her work celebrated by Cyril Connolly, Al Alvarez and Philip Larkin she went missing in the 70s. In a 2009 Radio 4 documentary, Brian Patten speculated about her whereabouts in vain. And now, as one looks twice at the photo, it does seem as if she might be on the point of standing up and leaving the cafe for good.

    Forty years after her disappearance, this fascinating collection of her work returns her to us, and editor Neil Astley tells how 10 years ago he went in search of her (tipped off, one assumes, by her family, who knew where she was). Hers is an extraordinary, disturbing and melancholy tale. She broke with poetry as you might turn your back on a destructive love affair. She became a socially challenged Christian based in Bournemouth and changed her name to Mrs Rosemary Lightband. A hopeful name for a life that sounds more embattled than breezy. She died in April this year, aged 85. It is Astleys contention that she probably had a borderline personality disorder. He describes a shocking bonfire in which she burned priceless family heirlooms because she saw them as idolatrous a loss of oriental treasures to make Sothebys weep. Meanwhile the Bible had become the one book she would countenance. She would not have agreed to the publication of her collected poems, yet the delicate decision to overrule her is something Astley persuasively defends.

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    by Dylan Thomas

    Should lanterns shine, the holy face,
    Caught in an octagon of unaccustomed light,
    Would wither up, and any boy of love
    Look twice before he fell from grace.
    The features in their private dark
    Are formed of flesh, but let the false day come
    And from her lips the added pigments fall,
    The mummy cloths expose an ancient breast.

    I have been taught to reason by the heart,
    But heart, like head, leads helplessly;
    I have been told to reason by the pulse,
    And, when it quickens, alter the actions pace
    Till field and roof lie level and the same
    So fast I move defying time, the quiet gentleman
    Whose beard wags in Egyptian wind.

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    A poem that first appeared in 1967 explores the thirst of desire, necessary as wine, water and gin-fizz

    Rosemary Tonkss two collections of poetry excited many young English readers in the 1960s. So sassy, fresh, sexy and French, we thought and wanted more. But there were to be no more poems after the publication of Iliad of Broken Sentences (1967), the collection in which this weeks poem, Hydromaniac, first appeared. Tonks, more prolific as fiction-writer than poet, published the last of her six novels in 1972. Then, in the spirit of her admired Rimbaud, though for different reasons, she stopped writing. Neil Astley, who has recently edited the two poetry collections for Bloodaxe under the title Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems fills in the biography in fascinating detail here. Tonkss poetry seems influenced both by the symbolists and the situationists, and sometimes feels like an erotic extension of the dérive, in which sex is an aspect of urban geography. Hydromaniac is one of the rare poems that finds rest. In the beginning, the speaker marks the loved body as if she were a marble-smith. The body gains solidity from an image that also suggests Michelangelo, planning to release the angel from the block of marble. Subsequently, the body resembles the pleasure page in a daily newspaper. The stroking fingers, were reminded, are those of a writer and reader, a hungry consumer as well as a thirsty lover.

    Hydromaniac has roots in an everyday metaphor. Desire is thirst; its satisfaction is blissful, necessary refreshment. Tonkss figurative language flows with a demotic ease, mixing the colloquial and the metaphorical so they form a single register. I sniffed you to quench my thirst is plain enough, while effecting a synaesthesia continued in the transferred epithet of the soaking wet chords. The adjectives in the phrase huge, damp sheets of lightning inevitably suggest bed linen, luxuriantly king-sized and moist with body fluids, as well as the sheet-lightning before the storm. Metamorphosis continues: the overflow of the music could float a canoe. Tear in line 8 is a verb, but tear cold also looks like a compound adjective minus hyphen. Somehow this cleverness is entirely unfussy.

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    Welsh wordsmith Dylan Thomas was born on October 27 1914. Celebrate the 100th birthday of the author of Under Milk Wood by testing your knowledge of his life and work

    Cerys Matthews on setting Thomas's poems to music
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    A party where you pay to have verse read to you in a bordello-style setting is packing in the punters. Are poetry and sex work really comparable?

    I am in the back room of the Backroom cocktail bar in New York, reclining on a fur-covered day bed. Next to me is a woman. She wears a leather corset and harem pants, like a gypsy girl from a fairytale. She is barefoot. In the dim candlelight, she asks what Im in the mood for something sexy? Something dark? I tell her what will please me, and she reads me a poem.

    She calls herself a poetry whore, and I have paid for her company. For the next 10 minutes or so, she will read me her verses, converse with me, entertain me. Between sheer curtains I can see several other transactions unfolding around us, hear stanzas and lines being murmured in close quarters. Now and then, the madam passes unobtrusively through, keeping an eye on her rent boys and girls.

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    Michael Hofmann is an essayist, poet and translator of over 70 books. Answering your questions on countless topics: poetry, writing, the politics of translating, Kafka... read what he had to share

    A big thank you to Michael for sharing so much of his time and wisdom with us.

    Thank you Michael! That was just brilliant.

    (And thank you for going over time too and answering so many questions.... I think we'll keep the comments open for a while longer if anyone still wants to chip in.... I'm sure there are lots of people out there virtually-applauding too.)

    YuanMei asks:

    a) What do you think about Michael Hamburgers work, as poet, translator and essayist? Do you think a translators importance wanes with the passing of time?

    b) Who would you have liked to translate that you have not translated yet?

    Hello , Yuan Mei.
    a. Not an awful lot, I have to say. I like that he had 'his' principal authors - Holderlin and Celan - and think most of his best work was on them. I think probably it does, unless you're Constance Garnett.
    b. I'm sorry not to have translated any Thomas Mann ever. Some new book in the next 5 or 10 years. I'm very happy with the people I've done.
    c. I can't say. I wish I knew. It's of a piece with other things one suspects about them - some of them said by Napoleon.

    carolinebermo wants to know:

    As a poet do you find that you have to hold back on making your prose translations too poetic? Would you say that practising writing and translating poetry is a great asset when you turn to translating prose?

    One more question: Do you find that some of the best translated lines you have created came very quickly, instinctively, or are you most proud of ones that were very tricky and required a lot of puzzling over?

    Hello. There is that, yes. But I think that's one of the reasons who cross-genre translating is liable to be good. One brings one's flexibility, ear for a sentence, sense of clash and contiguity, and writes interesting sentences. And luckily someone else is in charge of the overall shape and compass of a book.

    Probably very quickly. I don't believe in unpicking the Gordian knot any more than Alexander of Macedon.

    Lynkeus says:

    Michael, Im a grateful fan, as your translations have opened so much literature from the German worlds for us. (I dont share your thoughts on Stefan Zweig, though.) Could I please ask for a few comments on Heideggers position in 20th century German literature? Somehow I feel that he has a presence that most of us dont quite know how to deal with, and Id be very interested to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

    A dubious figure, isn't he. I don't know the first thing about him - well, I suppose I do, Celan, Sein und Zeit, Nazi party membership - he comes across to me as working with the tools of poetry, the tools of Rilke, not to put too fine a point on it. Who's another dubious figure...

    samjordison also had some advice for CunninghamEck:

    Speaking as a publisher from the other end of the equation, the thing that most commonly seems to work for us is when a publishing deal is set up with a publisher abroad... i.e. if A German publisher gets in touch thats more likely to go through than a translator alone - so possibly start by approaching companies publishing in your destination language - Although of course there are always going to be exceptions and variant circumstances...

    Yes, one really shouldn't! It makes me a little sad, German publishers touting for English versions of their own books. I wish there was more coming from England. I'm waiting for them to leave the EU and boathook themselves towards the US.

    Reading Group host samjordison has a question of his own:

    I have a question too! How do the other stories from Kafka that you are about to start working on compare to those collected in the Metamorphosis collection? Are there significant differences? (Or is it too early to start asking questions about them?!)

    Another lost answer here - and probably out of time. Yes, far too early!

    BJohnson says:

    I love your reviews of American poets. If I had my choice I wish Great Britain would revel in the hallucinatory lines of James Schulyer. Who are some of the American poets of Schulyers generation you would hope would be increasingly read?

    He's older, but I love Weldon Kees (d.-55?) Schuyler is fabulous. Berryman, Lowell, Bishop, the usual suspects. I remember as an undergraduate reading Ed Dorn's Gunslinger - perhaps time for that again. Do people still read cummings?

    Camaradeau asks:

    Do you have the impression, as I think many people do, that literary translation is generally undervalued by the academy? And supposing this were so, do you think aspiring literary translators would have anything to gain - or, on the contrary, everything to lose - by choosing to pursue their work outside the academic milieu? Many thanks!

    Yes, of course I do. But that's perhaps only part of their undervaluing what they are pleased to call 'the primary text'. A translation is a sort of first-equal text. I don't work for academies or for people with German - it wouldn't make sense. I do my work for readers, to make available outstanding books and particularly 'German' books that they otherwise wouldn't be able to read.

    ID6423288 asks:

    Are there any German writers (with translations in copyright) who you feel have been badly mistreated by their translators?

    I don't know. You see, I don't regularly read English translations of German books. For a long time it was thought that Thomas Mann had suffered at the hands of Helen Lowe-Porter, and I'm sure the new John Woods versions are better, suppler, funnier. Rilke - before Stephen Mitchell.

    Henry King says:

    Daniel Weissbort said its easier to translate a collection than a single poem. Have you found this true? And does the way you translate change if you know the poem in hand is going to be part of a larger project?

    I'm not sure I understand what he means. Perhaps there's some benefit in making one's own context? I did a lot of translating single poems for my 2oth century German anthology; it didn't feel different to the whole volumes I did later from some of the poets - Benn, Eich.

    Dylanwolf brings up Michaels review of Martin Amiss latest novel for the London Review of Books:

    As a fan of Martin Amis, I found myself often agreeing with what you said and thinking actually yes, thats what I love about his writing. Strange!

    Can I ask who you would cite as an anti-Amis? Which contemporary author is wading fearlessly into the deep stream, rather than splashing through puddles?

    That's funny - but for me, comforting. Then there are these qualities, only I happen to find them less beguiling than the Amophiles. I'm a little loath to try and oblige - I don't want to be a lightning rod to some other poor writer, just because I like him better!

    theorbys asks:

    Do you think there is a stand out author of prose fiction in the German language in the last couple of hundred years or so, the one, possibly two, you would put in the time capsule?

    Kafka; Musil; the early Thomas Mann, if you could chronologically rig up your capsule.

    leroyhunter says:

    Few non-Anglophone writers have achieved the profile or had the influence on the English literary landscape of WG Sebald (in recent years, anyway). What is your estimation of his writing? Why do you think he has seemingly struck such a chord with readers (and writers) in England?

    Hi. I'm sort of agnostic about him. I've taught the Rings of Saturn (and will do again), didn't like Austerlitz, and couldn't finish (which hardly ever happens) The Emigrants. It's too difficult to try and second-guess popular taste, but this instance seems to be a rare one of the English readership receiving direction from above - the head - rather than the hips or stomach, as usual. He's the beneficiary of an egghead conspiracy, in other words. Maybe.

    DrCaroSummers says:

    By sheer coincidence, I will be discussing your translation of Die Verwandlung with my students next week - the context is a module focused on German literature as an object of cultural exchange. I (and they) would be interested to hear how you feel about the question of ownership of the translation, as this is something we have discussed in seminars. To what extent do you feel controlled by English-language literary and/or publishing norms when you translate? And especially as a translator with your own cultural prestige, do you feel there is a struggle for power in the translated text?

    Dear Dr CS, I try to keep things in an amiable footing. When I was looking at my Kafka last night, I was surprised that it seemed rather relaxed, not-stiff. I would have expected it to be more 'papery'. The imperative or the urge that comes from English is always to be more casual and more friendly. But more own sense of it while actually doing it was that it was like translating from Latin. All about constructions, very little about 'feel' or diction.

    BenWilkinson says:

    Two questions - both, Im afraid, rather grasping on my part - first, can we look forward to another volume of collected reviews and occasional criticism from you, a follow-up to 2001s Behind the Lines? And second, after a longish hiatus, Ive been happy to spot a few of what George Szirtes once called that rare, strange, much valued item these past years: a Michael Hofmann poem. Is a new collection in the offing?

    Dear Ben, good news - well, some good news! I'm getting copies of the second collection next week, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?, and Faber are doing it early in the new year. Poems - I've thought for some time there will be some - I feel like the fairground ride that's stuck at the top, and am just about to go tumbling down the steep hill to general screams.

    In reply to nilpferds request that the Guardians Reading Group select one of Michaels translations of Joseph Roth, Reading Group host samjordison asked which one Michael would personally recommend:

    As a completist or totalist, I always resist the idea that Joseph Roth wrote one great book and you can forget about the others (as with Malcolm Lowry as well). So there's the question: Radetzky March or other? I think probably I would concede Radetzky March for these purposes. But there are others! A few wonderful stories/ novellas - Leviathan, Legend of the Holy Drinker, Stationmaster Fallmereyer - and some of the later novels, The Emperor's Tomb, Weights and Measures (not done by me, but/ and a lovely book), the 1002nd Night.

    ID6146263 asks:

    Do you write any poetry in German?

    Only terribly briefly, when I was 19. They're gone. I seem to remember they were quite American.

    nightjar12 says:

    There has been a lot of discussion about the humour in Kafkas writing. I appear to be one of only a few who do not find it funny, or only very rarely on which occasions the next sentence usually wipes the smile off my face and I feel ready to cry. Do you think that Kafka intended it to be amusing? Am I taking it too seriously?

    Of course. It's both. My father started reading them to us when we were children. The place where the little dessert apples get stuck in the interstices of Gregor's armour still makes me cry. There's so much pain in Kafka. But then you should think about the pleasantness - sweetness, gratitude - of his late postcards to his parents - thanking them for 'good butter' - and the lovely alertness of his humour. Gregor skitters down the bed and hurts himself against the bed-post. Outcome? "This lower end of himself might well be, for the moment, the most sensitive to pain." You smile, but there's the promise of worse pain, maybe, to come, from this body he is just getting to know. Fabulous!

    Dylanwolf asks:

    Michael, have you ever seen any productions of Steven Berkoffs stage adaptations of The Metamorphosis, The Trial and In the Penal Colony? If so, what did you think of them?

    I have in fact. Metamorphosis. An eternity ago. If I'm even thinking of Berkoff. It was too physical for me. Virtuoso scrabbling around. I'm not a balletophile.

    gorky1 says:

    Poetry- but what is poetry anyway? More than on rickety answer has tumbled since that questioned first was raised. But I just keep on not knowing, and I cling to that Like a redemptive handrail. Wistawa Szymborska -SOME PEOPLE LIKE POETRY-(translated by Baranczak and Cavanagh)

    Two questions: who, in your opinion, has the best theory to explain what poetry is? Which of Thomas Bernhards novels is his masterpiece?

    Dear Alexey Maximovitch, thank you! I WS a little bit recessive, and wish she would have stepped forward a little more. But that's OK. (The Baranczak/ Cavanagh translations are amazing.) I can offer you two of my own: the controlled release of information, and a machine for re-reading - ie something you can't shake of, or get to the end of, even after 100, or 1000 readings.
    It's probably his last book, Extinction, isn't it?

    CunninghamEck has more questions:

    Do you have any opinion on Ernst-Wilhelm Händler? Do you think his novels will ever appear in English, and do you yourself have any interest in translating them?

    If a translator falls in love with a contemporary novel written in their source language, and wants to launch a project to find and English-language publisher willing to publish a translation, as a first step is it better to approach the author or their publisher? Or is there an even better first step?

    I'm sorry to say I've never heard of him. New, old, living, dead? A blank. With reference to your other question, I've several times translated whole books on spec. (Which you shouldn't!) I would translate 10 or 20 pages, get in touch with the author, start trying publishers. English is terribly important to almost all foreign writers -even if there's so little for them here, that's the irony.

    MythicalMagpie has had a coincidental arrival:

    Oh now that is Kafkaesque. The book has just come through the letterbox, right this second! Looks good though. Thank you.

    That's service.

    CunninghamEck asks:

    Do you intend to translate more of your fathers novels?

    Funny answer - not at the moment. I translated his last 3 novels - The Film Explainer, Luck, and The Little Flower Girl - I was embarked on the first of those when he died in 1993. Another book of his that I love is The Parable of the Blind - but that's been done.

    nilpferd says:

    Writers like Kafka and Joseph Roth, who youve also extensively translated, lived on the cusp of enormous change and upheaval. Do you think that great literature can only emerge in conditions of impending Weltuntergang, or is an authors own outlook and fantasy sufficient?

    Oh, and please make a case for the Reading Group taking on one of your Joseph Roth translations at some stage in the coming year.

    Whose hand do I have to bite off for that to happen? Sure, like anything!

    Giuseppe Cornacchia asks:

    What would you recommend to poetry translators? Do you think only poets can really translate poetry?

    Y-yes. But I almost think there are two separate commodities. There are the translation of poets by poets, which are inhabited and animated and redone and made over - all that kind of thing - but all that means exercising your own judgement as writer, and 'making it you' kind of thing. There is another much less personal, less invested kind of translation, less self-conscious, and for that a non-writer is ideal.

    theorbys asks:

    What do you think are a few of the best novels written in the German language in the 20th century?

    The Man Without Qualities. Numero Uno.
    Rilke's novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge - same translator, Burton Pike - is one of my favourite books. Another is Robert Walser's The Assistant. And then of course I love my Koeppen and my Roth.

    Malunkey says:

    a) Ive always thought that The Metamorphosis is uncannily close to perfection. Every detail seems just right, from the woman with the boa to Gregors relationship with his sister. Every aspect of the world Kafka creates in this story seems to be resonant and true. I think it stands out from all his other fiction as the one absolute masterpiece. Would you agree?

    b) How did you handle the Ungeziefer problem? I remember Nabokov arguing quite firmly that it had to be some kind of beetle that Gregor turned into.

    I wouldn't be so - captious, is it - as you. I agree, I think it is perfect, but I think quite often in Kafka you have passages that are so dense, so fluid at the same time, and so concatenated - a little system of onward hooks - and those to me are perfect. All done with such apparent freedom and imagination. The Stoker. So many.

    Joel Ferdon wants to know:

    What about Gottfried Benn fascinates you the most? Drew you to his work? Do you still love his work after spending so much time with him and in his head?

    It's his word 'fascination'. He calls it a primary category, and I'm inclined to agree. I feel enormous tenderness and compassion for him. And yes. Still.

    ForgetIt asks:

    To what extent do you agree with Dr. Johnson when he wrote

    A translator is to be like his author - it is not his business to excel him.

    where he does so (excel him), the original is subtly injured ... And the reader is robbed of a just view

    Two lovely quotes - so extra good to hear you're not convinced by them! Surely the major risk is the opposite case: that the translator is inadequate. Translating anything - even 'good morning' - will involve loss. So if you have something that fits beautifully, or even on occasion a little better than your original, I think probably use it. A little redress. Who's going to mind? The author? The reader? I don't think so. Only the sort of critic for whom the translator has no basis for existence anyway.

    Hello! So many questions. Thanks everyone. This thread is fascinating already.

    I've spoken to Michael and he's standing by ready to answer in a few minutes. Looks like he's going to have his work cut out.

    Dear Sam, hello, yes. Hi, all y'all, and thank you.
    Already lost one answer due to incompetence at this. Stay tuned.

    Michael Hofmann is kindly joining us, live from Florida, to answer your questions for the next hour. Add your questions in the comments section below!

    Michael Hofmann is the translator of the superb edition of Metamorphosis And Other Stories that weve been following this month and on Thursday 30 October he will join us for a live Q&A.

    Hofmann has also translated Kafkas Amerika and The Zurau Aphorisms: he is, in other words, extremely well placed to answer questions about the great writer. But fascinating as Kafka is, it would be a shame to limit ourselves to one writer in the company of such a distinguished translator: Michael Hofmann has translated some 70 books from German into English, including Hans Falladas Alone in Berlin, as well as books by Joseph Roth, Patrick Suskind, Thomas Bernhard, Wim Wenders and Peter Stamm.

    Why I write? With the example of my father before me as I was growing up, it was all I ever wanted, or felt fitted to do. In obedience to a genetic imperative - my father wrote 12 novels in 12 years and dropped dead, my (maternal) grandfather edited the Brockhaus Encyclopaedia. Out of allegiance to certain twentieth-century practitioners, in particular Lowell, Brodsky, Benn and Montale. To bring confusion to my languages, and clarity to myself.

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