Beginnings and Endings

Curtis Bauer, Translations Editor

This summer a friend loaned me Mary Ruefle’s collected lectures, Madness, Rack, and Honey, but I just started it a few days ago, months after that kind gesture of hers, of sharing and entrusting me a book. My summer has been a bit like that — kind gestures and trust, late, haltingly delayed starts, and now that summer is about over, I’m beginning. Just as Ruefle’s book begins with the essay “On beginnings,” it so wonderfully addresses the implicit end.

About a year ago I was asked by the editors at Waxwing to fill in for Sarah Valentine, the Translations Editor who needed some time away from the post for personal reasons. You can do this for a year — three issues — and then we’ll see if you want to continue to work with the journal somehow as she’ll most likely be back. I wish I could say that I jumped at the opportunity. I should say that here as I think that’s what I told Justin, Erin, and Todd, but I didn’t. I asked some friends, fretted about losing a little more time, and I wondered what I could offer this spectacular new journal where I could possibly no longer submit my own translations and poems. Nonetheless, I agreed, and though I had a clear enough idea of what I wanted to do with my year as Translations Editor for Waxwing, those ideas were clarified after presenting on a panel at the American Literary Translators Association conference in Tucson, AZ, with Jen Hofer, Yvette Siegert, and Jesse Lee Kerchaval, three spectacular poets and translators. Our panel discussed women poets on both sides of the River Plate — Argentina and Uruguay. The room was packed; we read sample work by our poets, discussed their work, and fielded questions; and then Jen drew our attention to the obvious: we were three women and one man talking about translating women from South America. The numbers were inverted. Many of us are aware of the numbers, thanks to the good work of VIDA and organizations like PEN and ALTA: fewer women are published in literary journals than men; fewer translations are published in this country than in most other countries in the world; and fewer women translators than men are published just about anywhere.

I wanted to do my part to change that. Call it an experiment, call it a vision, a mission not overtly stated; or perhaps it was my editorial policy pilot study. In the three issues of Waxwing I have edited, I have tried to read all submissions blindly, without looking at the names of the poets or the translators (this is complicated, but possible), and I am happy to say, I have selected mostly women writers, translated by women. There have been several other cases where I selected women translated by men or men translated by women. Perhaps it is a rule of threes, but I seemed to have arrived at a perfect combination in this last issue with Raquel Salas-Rivera, who not only wrote her poem in Spanish, but also translated it into English.

I’ve also started the policy of translator notes. This is loose — perhaps too loose if you ask some of the contributors who have asked me what I’m looking for — but I’ve wanted to offer the translators every opportunity to participate in a conversation about craft, process, the creative act of translation, anything really that would provide room beside the original work to discuss her/his work on equal ground, and not be hidden or overlooked by the journal. I’m glad I’ve done this: each issue’s translators have offered valuable insight into their work and the work of the translated authors. This issue has an essay by Mira Rosenthal about Tomasz Różycki and getting drunk in the toolshed, and a spectacular treatise on language and decolonizing reading practices by Raquel Salas Rivera.

With this issue I had planned on, in fact relished, the fact that my year as Translations Editor would come to a close. An ending, somewhat in the style of Ruefle’s treatise on beginnings — if you haven’t read it, order a copy from the good people at Wave Books. In fact, when I wrote Justin, Erin, and Todd to see if I might accept a spectacular new Neruda translation for a forthcoming issue and check in about relinquishing my editorial responsibilities, I was relieved when they said Sarah would be coming back. I’d have part of my life back; I could write my own poems, finish those translation and essay projects. Relief. The End … kind of.

Days later, a note from Justin explained the situation: it’s a long story, but … would I want to continue? I didn’t reply. I was going to think about it. I did think about it as I put the final touches on Issue #10: Follain … Różycki. One poet made me want to write poetry, and the other, whom I met years ago at residency, has changed — is changing? — the poetry world in Poland; and both translators are women I’ve met more recently but whose work I’ve admired and feel lucky to publish. I reread the poems and translations by Raquel Salas-Rivera, Kanya Kanchana, and Eloisa Amezcua. I wanted to tell Waxwing, No, I can’t do this anymore. I need some time for myself again, but reading and rereading this work I knew I’d say yes. I knew I’d found a way, though small perhaps, to change our exposure to translation, to indicate to our readers (even if only through some subtle way) that Waxwing is a place where female writers and translators know that their work is taken seriously, and to still publish some of the best work being written around the world.

As I begin a longer term as Translations Editor for Waxwing, I do not plan to change how I read submissions; I will continue to look for strong, captivating writing, whether poetry or prose, no matter the gender of the writer or translator. I am interested in new translations of familiar writers — as mentioned, you can look forward to a mesmerizing new reading of Neruda in our next issue, as well as a whisper of a poem by Mandelstam — as well as showcasing unknown voices from lesser-translated languages.

I want to thank all our contributors for such rich and varied work. And I thank you for reading and sharing what you have found in your visit to Waxwing. I hope you enjoy this fabulous compilation as much as I enjoyed reading it. I look forward to reading your work and our upcoming conversations.

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