PEN America is thrilled to showcase the work of recipients of the 2016 PEN/Heim Translation Fund. Each week through the fall, we’ll feature excerpts from winning projects along with essays by the translators on what drew them to a particular piece and why their work matters now. The Fund, which awards grants of $2,000-$4,000 to promote the publication and reception of translated world literature in English, received a total of 171 applications, spanning a wide array of languages of origin, including Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, Chinese, Czech, Hindi, Yiddish, and more.

Since 2009, the Fund’s annual contribution for grant awards has been augmented by support from Amazon.

Book of Minutes is translated from the original Catalan. Read Dolin’s essay on translating Gorga here

[Small, hollow, metal sphere]

“Small, hollow, metal sphere with a little ball inside that causes it to resonate at the slightest movement.” Like any other book, the dictionary is also written in the first person singular. Each page about me, every word written, thinking of me—a definition for the indefinite, order for the disorder. I understood it while reading the entry for jingle-bell, the entire universe was resonating inside me like a little ball, as if I, too, were a metal sphere. Bright and hollow.

 

[I open the dresser drawer]

I open the dresser drawer and find the definition of tenderness under the letter h: handkerchiefs with embroidered initials, lavender scent, well-pressed and folded in quarters, the way light each night is folded into the four cardinal points. I open drawers and turn over objects so that I find them when not looking for them, so that the surprise bear hugs me against grandma’s generous chest.

 

[At night, questions are phosphorescent]

At night, questions are phosphorescent and are watching us with their cat’s eyes Phosphorescent as buried bones. And like bones, hard, strange, and persisting beyond answers.

 

[First daylight enters through the window]

First daylight enters through the window and the mirror opens up delicately, like a bible with its almost-transparent pages. I get out of bed barefoot and draw near it, intending to read myself. As you well know, the eye cannot watch itself, nor can the letter pronounce itself—the tiles are so cold they seem made of the same substance as silence. I go back to bed and nestle myself under the warm down of your sleep. When you wake up, look at me from your eyes, pronounce me from your lips. Tell me who I am apart from who you are.

 

[There was never any wolf]

There was never any wolf hidden among the lower branches of the thicket. The wolf is inside the basket you are now swinging like a carefree girl, up and down, moving rhythmically; ambushed inside the heart, systole and diastole, moving rhythmically; at the center of time, tick tock, moving rhythmically. You’d rather not know. You cover the evening with a checkered tablecloth and sprinkle a gift of honey on the flowers to make it appear as if the world is born and grows under the slogan of happily-ever-after. Look on the bright side: What’s there to fear, if you live in the house of fear?

 

 

Publishers and editors who wish to express an interest in any of these projects are invited to contact PEN Literary Awards Coordinator Arielle Anema (arielle@pen.org) for the translators’ contact information. 


Gemma Gorga’s Book of Minutes, translated from Catalan, is available for publication. Individual prose poems from the collection have been published or are forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, Circumference, Hayden’s Ferry, Image Journal, Interim, New England Review, Life & Legends, Poetry International, and Washington Square Review.