Jennifer Gomoll Popolis
Sometimes, when you’ve read a large number of literary magazines, you begin to feel that one seems much like another. There is no danger of that happening with Circumference. This lively journal of poetry in translation presents a variety of poetic voices, languages, and styles through the ages.
Sometimes, when you’ve read a large number of literary magazines, you begin to feel that one seems much like another. There is no danger of that happening with Circumference. This lively journal of poetry in translation presents a variety of poetic voices, languages, and styles through the ages. And I do mean variety: poets include Roman epigrapher Martial (“Spectacles IX,” 80 A.D., translated from the Latin by George Held); French Dadist Paul Eluard (“Nusch,” 1949, translated from the French by Lisa Lubasch); and John Smelcer (“Raven’s Trans-Species Love Song,” 2006, translated from the Ahtna by Smelcer himself, as he is “the last person in [his] tribe who can speak, read, and write” Ahtna). I appreciated the inclusion of original texts side-by-side with the translations; with some knowledge of French and Spanish, I was able to experience poems in those languages more fully, as readers of other languages will be able to do as well. If I have a complaint, it’s that each poet is represented by only one poem. Chinese poet Wang Jiaxin merited a two-page introduction that had me psyched to read a selection of work by someone intelligent, engaging, and important. The one Jiaxin poem provided, “Pastoral” (translated by John A. Crespi, George O’Connell, and Diana Shi) is a lovely piece, in which the poet is driving in a snow flurry behind a truck full of sheep, only their dark eyes visible, “gentle and quiet, not knowing / where they were headed.” They gaze at the poet, “curious as children,” but he drifts back, letting the snow make them disappear. I loved the quiet beauty of the scene, as well as the implications of these innocent, unknowing creatures being sent perhaps to slaughter as the poet can do nothing but make them “disappear” from his own view. I’d have loved to see more of his work; perhaps future issues might include several works by a featured poet. Even so, Circumference is definitely a journal worth looking into.