Opening any collection of international literature and art always generates a bit of apprehension on my part. So much depends on the credibility of the editors (whom I don’t know), the quality of the translators (whose skill I’m being asked to trust), and the value of the selections (read on) and their creators (whom I probably don’t know—“unsolicited manuscripts are encouraged”).
For comprehensiveness, this volume of The Dirty Goat covers a respectable amount of prose, a lot of poetry, a little bit of the visual arts, and an essay. It’s safe to assume that the assortment will vary with every biannual edition. So, is it new, is it mainstream, is it a coffeehouse collection, do I have to Google every name?
There’s no explanation provided, except the material itself, and it’s quickly obvious that it’s pretty good. All of the contributors and translators have excellent credentials, (and they’re not all academics!). The majority of the pieces (versus the authors) may have less appeal to the average reader/person on the street. I exclude the Peruvian pieces, because they all speak, and speak well, to current issues.
The organization is the shortest collection to the longest. The sole essay, by Jeremy Larochelle on “Trends and Themes in Recent Poetry from the Amazon: From Abundant Rain to Dying Lakes,” is actually the introduction to a collection of, yes, poetry from the Amazon. The introduction implies that most of the poetry is Peruvian but offers us reassurance that, as one of the translators, the contributor is sincere in providing us with a view of the concerns and views of the poets. The pieces certainly read that way.
Although some of the English word choices are not part of our daily language, both the English and the original Spanish clearly carry the sensuality, the imagery and the weight of the message. Even while the poets are attempting to ‘send a message’ about what is happening to the Amazonian rain forest, they provide a depth of feeling that carries one readily into the context.
In the sections where the poems and prose are translated from the French, they are pleasant, thoughtful, and, thankfully, not predictable. The works are ‘modern’ without reaching to be ‘cutting edge,’ with some of the longer French prose pieces in the memoir style.
The visual art in this issue is transference work, photographs (of video games) processed and then used as a reference for paintings. They’re visually appealing, and an interesting experiment. This brings up another limitation of international collections. More background and biography would be nice. We have short professional biographies, but the works that have the most impact are the ones that give us the context and intent at some length. This would be a concern with the anthology, not the authors, of course.
The prose of Charles Lowe is both entertaining and thoughtful, as are all the stories in this issue Each of the authors leave the reader with the feel of established and practiced craft. And there are surprises, works by Silvina Ocampo—a friend and colleague of Jorge Luis Borges. Her work is as stimulating as his. The other authors may not be as well known internationally, but there are few that don’t prompt one to look for more.
The works cover much more geography than I imagined a collection could garner on a regular basis; “Literature from Around the World” is an accurate claim. The languages/nationalities include Russian, Lithuanian, Persian, Eritrean, French, Italian, Finnish, and German, with Spanish representing much of South America. But it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to add the word “quality” to the claim.