Travel blog

Transcript Armenia

Literature Across Frontiers have launched a new look for their trilingual review of international writing, Transcript. The first focus of the magazine is on Armenian writing with poetry, prose, interviews, essays and even proverbs from writers in Armenia and the Armenian diaspora - published in French, German and English translation. And alongside the writing there's photography from Word Express participant and photojournalist Anahit Hayrapetyan. Visit the issue at

Retracing routes: The closure of the Thessaloniki-Istanbul train line

Train, by Anahit

In October 2009 the Word Express project took writers, film-makers and photographers on an artistic and geographical journey. Starting in Sarajevo, Ljubljana and Bucharest, they travelled over land to Istanbul, documenting their process in their art and writing, making friendships with future collaborators along the way.

Today, it would be impossible to recreate a similar journey, as the Thessaloniki to Istanbul train line has officially closed. The line once connected Greece to countries like FYR Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria, as well as travelling eastwards to Turkey, making Thessaloniki a true gateway between Europe and its Asian neighbours. In the face of Greece's recent severe economic troubles, rail cuts have been put in place including the closure all international train lines from Greece. Although sources vary about when exactly this took place, it was certainly the case at the beginning of 2012, and looks set to remain the case for the foreseeable future.

Greece is, very publicly, negotiating its way out of financial deficit and the outcome of this process is still uncertain. As is the case with many other European countries, Greece's future relies on the outcome of the austerity measures brought into place by its new government, and perhaps there will again be a time when Thessaloniki connects Europe to Istanbul by train. Until then, the situation is not quite as dramatic as travel website 'The man in seat 61' claims: Greece is thankfully not quite '...cut off from the rest of Europe!' Currently, buses still run from Thessaloniki to Istanbul providing an overland and perhaps more inspiring alternative to flying.

The link between travelling and creating art often seems to be taken for granted, or ignored, but there certainly seems to be something about travelling in the slower, more old-fashioned pace which informs the process of writing or making visual art in a way which flying, for all its greater accessibility, can't compete with. Perhaps it could even be said that overland travelling mimics the making of an art work; the slow evolution of ideas, the subtle altering of elements until the finished piece is completely different to the ideas which it is rooted in. A further update by 'The man in seat 61' in July gives tentative cause for more hope, since a weekly train has been reinstated between Skopje, Macedonia, and Thessaloniki. Perhaps this is in hopes that easier access to Greece will give its economy a boost, but there is also value in the fact that Greece is once again connected with its neighbouring countries in a less detached way than by aeroplane. It seems encouraging that the new government seems to value this connection, and perhaps this bodes well for more cultural dialogue within and beyond Europe.

More information about the Thessaloniki-Istanbul bus route can be found here: Turkey Travel Planner Information about the rail cuts in Greece is available here: Turkey Travel Planner dates the end of the Thessaloniki-Istanbul train to May 2011, writes that from 13th February 2011 all international trains from Greece were cancelled.

Article by Rebecca Shore for Literature Across Frontiers. Picture by Anahit Hayrapetyan.

Word Express poets taking part in Parnassus Festival 'Poetry Olympics'


From the 26th June-1st July, London's South Bank Centre will be hosting the Poetry Parnassus festival - a series of events including poets and speakers from around the world - as part of the cultural Olympiad. The event's organisers have tried to include poets, rappers and speakers from every country competing in the Olympics, including some of the Word Express project's own poets.

 Literature Across Frontiers will be hosting its very own poetry reading on the 30th June, including readings from Els Moors (Belgium), Katerina Iliopoulou (Greece) and Ana Ristović (Serbia), while Anat Zecharia (Israel), will be taking part in a reading of erotic poetry on the 28th June. Other events include ongoing projects such as the 'poetry takeaway', drop in workshops and a 'World Poetry Summit' on the opening day of the festival. 

 In the run up to the event, British writer S.J.Fowler spoke to Katerina Iliopoulou about Poetic culture in Greece, her translations of English language poets and the effects of economic turmoil on writers, which can be read on the Parnassus website. Parnassus have also made a series podcasts on the festival which can be accessed here.

Beguim---moors_-els-_c_-alexandra-cool_thumbnail   Katerina_iliopoulou_thumb_thumbnail   Ana_ristović_thumbnail     Anat_zecharia_small_thumbnail    

Article by Rebecca Shore for Literature Across Frontiers

Zaza Koshkadze in conversation


As the founder of the Pink Bus poetry project, a one-time student of musical conducting and a Word Express participant, Zaza Koshkadze takes a proactive attitude to art, working with and promoting the writers he admires, having taken up writing himself to create the kind of the poetry he felt his native Georgia was lacking. Recently, Koshkadze has had his collection of poetry accepted for publication and has also been published in major Georgian arts magazine, 'Tabula Art'; testament not only to his dedication but also his talent, which is at last gaining recognition by the mainstream arts scene in Georgia.

Word Express: Could you say a little bit about how you got involved with Literature Across Frontiers and Word Express? How much impact do you think your involvement in the project has had on you as a writer?

Zaza Koshkadze: There was a poets/translators workshop in Bratislava in 2010 co-organized by LIC and LAF and the Ministry of Culture of Georgia recommended my candidacy on it. Regarding impact, yes it was a pretty big impact. For example, Richard Gwyn, who I think is a master of crafting poetry concepts and forms, convinced me to change my lineation and take off some punctuation marks because the manner of lineating poems I used before did not correspond to the concepts of my poems - and he was absolutely right. Since then I always use his advice and my poems seem much more intelligent.

Apart from that, after having a week of literary people from different countries reviewing and discussing my poems I got more motivated and that's really important for every writer, because writing is not an easy job. My visit in Istanbul was so full of new things; I met plenty of writers and we are now friends. These kinds of literary trips abroad are always very important for writers from countries such as Georgia which is not an active player in world literary processes.

WE: You write very openly about 'real life' issues, which has made it difficult for you to be published until now – what is it that drew you to these themes? Is this also what drew you to translate the work of authors such as Chuck Palahniuk, who are also perceived as being controversial?

ZK: I always had faithful readers, people who are interested in new literary voices and attitudes to the language which are such painful things here. They even think Jesus was speaking Georgian and that God will judge the world on the doomsday in Georgian! I'm not kidding, it's very often said by fanatic nationalists here. So I don't think that it's my problem that I've not been published till now, I think the problem is that my country is very homophobic and phobic in general. And considering all this, my first poetry collection "Porn chants for old whores" was not easy to publish, in case it may cause a big rage of "society", despite the fact that it's not pornographic at all. And I'm not going to change the title only because these incompetent people do not like it.

What drew me to these themes? Well, I started writing mostly because I did not like what was written before in Georgian, neither thematically nor stylistically. I started writing doing everything on the contrary to what was done and I found it quite poetic. I mean if there were billions of conventional poems about being in love with angel-like girls with neat souls, I wrote a poem about loving fat old women and so on. It was shocking for most readers. But some women loved it though.
I've translated Chuck Palahniuk not only because he is perceived as being controversial, but also because he is a mainstream writer with controversial ideas which is so rare and which I loved in him most.

WE: Do you feel that part of a writer's work is to say things other people cannot or do not say? Some of your poetry – I'm thinking of 'Midnight dance for cancer', for example – reads as though you are giving a voice to those who are not listened to, do you feel that this is an important part of your work?

ZK: I don't think it's necessary for a writer to say things other people do not/cannot say or accept, but it's preferable. It's hard to say that some things are parts of a writer's work, I don't feel I ought to do anything in particular for anyone. All I know for sure is, the most important part of a writer's work is to overcome all the fears about how society will react to his works and thoughts, to find their own voice and be contemporary. And to be in love with working in solitude.

As regards to my poem, my mom really has a cancer, I was told about it when I was twelve years old and it almost killed me that time. I was too young to understand it. That was drilling my mind for many years and finally I decided to write about it and I wrote it. I only changed characters and tried to describe how I could end up if things went much worse than they did. I think the most important part of my work is that it puts a big question mark after aesthetical values of society and the way it understands beauty.

You can see some of Zaza'z poetry being read in Slovak, Georgian and English

Interview by Rebecca Shore for Literature Across Frontiers

From Wales to Serbia via Istanbul

IMG_2005ii Another Word Express collaboration to bear fruit in 2011 was Milan Dobričić’s Serbian translation of Owen Martell’s Dyn Yr Eiliad (The Other Man).

Both writers gained an interest in one another’s work after meeting on the Word Express journey to Istanbul, an initiative of Literature Across Frontiers. This collaboration has been achieved with the help of funding from the Wales Literature Exchange’s Translation Grant, taking Welsh literature to new readers.

Dyn Yr Eiliad, Martell’s acclaimed novel was originally shortlisted for the Arts Council of Wales’ Welsh Book of the Year Award in 2004. Martell has since published a book of short stories, Dolenni Hud and translated Martin Crimp’s play Attempts on Her Life into Welsh, as well as taking part in the Word Express project. Milan Dobričić’s other recent projects include a poetry collection, Blessed Losers, and a book of short stories, Lye. We caught up with Milan and Owen to talk about the collaboration.

WordExpress: Firstly, Milan, congratulations on the completion of the project! Could you say a little bit about the translation process; did you work closely together throughout or did Owen provide a literal translation for you to work from, or something else?

Milan Dobričić: My work on the translation started at Tŷ Newydd, during a one week workshop. As I met Owen earlier during our journey and as we grew up to be constant room-mates and good friends, I decided not to opt for translating one of his short stories, as many others did, but wanted to do something really important: to translate his wonderful novel, despite it being rather big and not easy to translate. So we worked through first 20 pages together, and after that I used his translation into English, and constantly communicated with him through email and Skype.

It was especially important to have good pronunciation of Welsh names, as in Serbian we write a word the same way we pronounce it, so I had to transcribe all the names, and Owen helped me by recording all the pronunciations I had problems with. During translation process I even managed to find a couple of errors in the English text, and I am very glad that the English edition will be a bit better thanks to me too.

WE: How did your collaboration evolve? Did you decide you wanted to work together before this opportunity came about, or were you both looking to do a translation project before you decided to work together?

MD: My idea was to translate and publish his novel evolved from our friendship, constantly talking about literature, and especially after having the chance to read the whole novel in English. So, I particularly wanted to translate him. The same thing is with the poetry of Pascale Petit; I found her on the internet, read some poems, contacted her, read her collections, applied for grant and now I am translating her poetry into Serbian! I also have an agreement to translate Siân Dafydd's novel The Third Thing, maybe next year.

WE: Owen, You've talked about how translations can be used to 'illuminate ideas in the original' (Q&A with Sherman Cymru) did you find yourself wanting to emphasise different aspects, almost rewrite the text? Or, if you worked more independently of one another, did you find it hard to completely hand over your work to someone else?

Owen Martell: I didn't find it at all hard to "hand over" the text to Milan. I met him in 2009 for the first time, in Belgrade, and then roomed with him on overnight trains to Istanbul. We became friends and had many interesting and varied discussions, along the way and afterwards. He's a rare being inasmuch as, before coming to Tŷ Newydd, he knew Wales not only for Ryan Giggs but for Total Network Solutions of Llansanffraid too. When he suggested translating the novel, then, I had no doubt he'd do a sterling job.

I'm unable to read the Serbian version, obviously, but if the incisiveness and frequency of his questions over the course of many months is anything to go by, the translation can't fail to be excellent. And now that the book is finished and published, I feel very proud - for Milan, for myself and for the two of us together. I thoroughly enjoyed the process and the kinship. Whether it was me trying to explain such and such a reference or him telling me about the way one might or might not translate such and such a phrase into Serbian, the feeling was of sharing a common language. We provided those explanations to each other so that we might understand, in the practical realm and ... somewhere else too.

Interview by Rebecca Shore for Literature Across Frontiers

Owen_Martellii Milan_Dobricic_1ii

The Word Express story

To tell the story of Word Express so far, Literature Across Frontiers has put together a new slide show using photography and music from our multi-talented participants. It features music from poet and flautist Ivan Hristov's band Gologan, photography from Welsh prose writer Owen Martell, Bulgarian poet Kamelia Spassova, photographer and film-maker Yiannis Isidorou and documentary photographer and poet Anahit Hayrapetyan and other participants... we hope it brings the journey to life for you!


World Express news roundup

The Word Express community hasn’t been sleeping, so here follows a short roundup of our poets’ recent activities and achievements:

Great news first: more and more Word Express authors are getting published – both in their country of origin and abroad in translation! Not only have many poets published new books recently, also formerly unpublished writers have been or are about to be published for the first time. Just to name a few, Ryan Van Winkle published his first poetry collection in 2010 and Zaza Koshdadze is preparing to publish a collection of his poetry, which has long been rejected by publishing houses for being “too provocative”.

Word Express at the ITEF opening

  We are also happy to report that many Word Express poets have been able to publish their work in translation or are currently working on

 translation projects that are about to be published. For example, Alex Epstein’s second book, Lunar Savings Time, has been translated into English, a Chinese and Syrian publisher bought translation rights for two of Barış Müstecaplıoğlu’s novels, some of Radu Vancu’s poems have been chosen for American and Swedish anthologies, Marko Pogačar’spoetry is already available in German and Spanish translation and his latest book, Predmeti/ Subjects is about to be translated into Macedonian. And Anahit Hayrapetyanis currently working on a bilingual book featuring her poems in Armenian and English. Also, Siân Melangell Dafydd’s debut novel Y Trydydd Peth ( The Third Thing) has been chosen for the best of edition of LAF’s Transcript Review where excerpts of it can be enjoyed in English, French and German translation. Furthermore, Georgian “Peacetime” magazine, in which Word Express author Zaza Koshkadze recently

And last but not least, Mirt Komeledited two special issues in Slovenian magazines dedicated to the Word Expressproject. Unfortunately, there has also been a case of mis-translation, read more about what happened to Mima Simić’s story My girlfriend in our travel blog. got his own section „Koshka trip“ has started to publish poetry by Word Express authors. You can already find Richard Gwyn’s poetry in Georgian translation and Ryan Van Winkle's poems are about to follow.

Apart from having their own work translated, the Word Express community has also been active the other way around – many Word Express participants have translated literature of foreign authors into their mother tongue, thereby contributing to tearing down “linguistic walls” in literature.

Word Express writers have also been presented to a broader audience via various recent interviews. The American art magazine BRN published a six-pages interview with Nurduran DumaninterviewedVictor Hernandez Cruz, poet and chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Read the interview here. Furthermore, on the occasion of the English translation of his short short stories, Alex Epstein was interview by several magazines. Ryan van Winkle, got quite some attention as well after publishing his first poetry collection. You can find new interviews on his Word Express page and his blog. And an interview with Siân Melangell Dafyddis about to be featured in  LAF’s Transcript Review.

Moreover, Word Express poets have been frequent participants of various literary festivals and events, as well as set up projects on their own: Anahit Hayrapetyan participated at the Romanian Days and Nights of Literature festival in 2010, Marko Pogačarwas invited to the 4th Belgrade Book and Poetry Festival and Ryan van Winkle worked as a co-coordinator for this year’s Reel festival – podcast with interviews by him with writers from Syria, Lebanon and Scotland can be found online at the Scottish Poetry library.  Not to forget Zaza Koshkadze, who  has been working on a project of a different kind: the first Georgian horror and sci-fi website. Of course, this is just a small selection of the numerous activities that Word Express writers have been involved in – see the different poets’ bios for more information!

To end this proud roundup with some more good news, Word Express poets have also found recognition via awards and scholarships. Congratulations to Marko Pogačar, who was awarded two scholarships (the Austrian Milo Dor scholarship and a scholarship by the Civitella Ranieri foundation. We also congratulate Elizabeta Bakovska, for winning the first prize at the 60 th annual most distinguished national short story competition in Macedonia.

For more news, check out the newly updated Word Express participants’ pages! You will find plenty of new material in translation and more information on the poets’ recent activities!

„There are no spoilers in flash fiction“ - Alex Epstein in interview

Alex Epstein

Russian Israeli Word Express writer Alex Epstein, author of the short short story collections Lunar Savings Time and  Blue Has No South, has recently been interviewed by several online magazines to celebrate the publication of his latest collection, Lunar Savings Time, in English translation.

Read more about Alex Epstein’s poetics of the short-short story, his inspirations and influences from literature and real life in the Kenyon Review and The Short Review!

Misled in translation


When a work of literature is translated into another language, this is usually a joyful event for both author and readers – a broader audience can discover his or her work.

But what if the text that is made accessible in a different language differs distinctly from its original and readers from different countries, reading what is sold as the same text, actually are presented very different messages?

This is what happened to Word Express author Mima Simić- a short story writer from Croatia. Her story My Girlfriend was chosen as a representative of modern Croatian literature in the anthology Best European Fiction for 2011 - but what ended up being published is a significantly changed, one could even say censured version of what Mima Simić sent in. One should add that when the publisher, Dalkey Archive Press, received Simić’s text, it wasn’t in Croatian, but already in an English translation made by the author herself and proofread by experts. And that the changes were made without even once consulting the author, as normal practice when editing. The interventions from the editor deleted one of the story’s central motive, the narrator’s gender/sex ambiguity and replaced the text’s subversive potential with a heterocentric perspective. Have a look for yourself and see Mima Simić’s reaction to this in an essay published in Three Percent, including several examples of the different “girlfriends” the Croatian and American readers are confronted with.

Urban walls of invisible poetry - the poem, a guerrilla fighter

jasmina topic

1. Anna Kappauf : A lot of your poems talk about the process of writing itself and they often build up a direct connection between living and writing poetry. For example, one of your poems is entitled “We never live except when reading”, and in another one it is stated that “all my experiences go straight into literature“ – could you elaborate this two-way process of reading and living that your work emerges of? 

Jasmina Topić : Yes, this is true, but I don’t think that because of literature, life has to be on stand by. Rather, I think that reading and writing brings a whole new dimension in our perception of reality, and sometimes perhaps even more, transposes us beyond the visible reality. This can only be done in literature, precisely in poetry, because fiction has some other ways of still letting everyday routine inside the story. There are not many novels that succeed to go beyond, but then, they become poetry, don’t they?! This is of course one point of view. The other one is: when I say, “we never lived except reading”, I am actually thinking of how sometimes some stories and emotions from our life are too unreal, too unreachable. And then we struggle to live something that can’t be reality, but it is not literature, either, and we find ourselves in some sort of vacuum. It reaches a point of journey where you are a double faker, but it still is a creation, and you are still an artist. I hope my answer doesn’t sound too complicated - but it is complicated! ( laughs ). Of course you can’t split life and creation, but you’re entering, as an artist, in a thousand of small worlds and many more borders, inner states of mind etc.

2 . A. K : You also add a political aspect to your writing, calling “a poem (…) a guerrilla fighter”. How would you describe the relationship between the political reality of your country and your work? And from your experience as an editor of Manuscripts, would you say that the new generation of authors from former Yugoslavia has a distinctive political awareness that they put into their texts?

J. T.: There is no politics in my poetry. When I say that a poem is a guerrilla fighter, I think only of the perception of poetry today, the almost invisible status that poetry has in media, publishing houses, bookshops etc. Really, in my country and in countries in the region, it is very hard to reach the audience through media, and big publishers rarely print poetry books. Only small publishers do that if they find the money - and in Serbia we have very good poets from different generations, maybe even better ones than the prose writers. But if I enter a bookshop, poetry is on well hidden places and it happens that you can’t find new books, even if you know exactly what are you searching for.

Concerning Rukopisi (Manuskripts), it is a very important job, bringing back together young people from ex-Yu republics, because these still have the same cultural climate, with similar history, topics, economics and perception of literature. Some of these young people have the chance to hear and meet other young authors form Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and vice versa (Serbia) for the first time. As for political awareness, there are no rules, sometimes we have stories and poems with subtle war memory background (mostly from Bosnia), but it doesn’t happen often. They just write about the topics typical for their age. Manuskripts are still the only books of this type in the region and we are very proud of our achievements.

3. A. K.: Another frequent topic in your poetry is the subject city – would you describe your poems as urban poetry and what importance has this urban setting in your poetry?

J. T.: I don’t think there are such things as urban or rural or idyllic or whatever poetry, it is just a place that you live in and it affects you. I think that, on the other hand, urban setting has a lot of effect on each modern poet, because most of the people do live in cities. If, theoretically, all poets of one country would live only in rural surrounding they would probably write more about the sheep, or quiet life, or I don’t know, crops! In a way, climate affects our physical predispositions, colour of our skin and other things in the same way that places where we live affect our way of perception, our mentality and the way we create. So, when I write about city surroundings, it is about things, situations, relations that are happening to me within “these urban walls”. But, yes, I must confess, we usually define urbanity as a way of being modern, looking towards the future or the destruction of the world as we know it. I wish that poetry never will come to that level to be treated as a product of literature industrialization.

June 2011

For more information about Jasmina Topić , read her biography and poetry in translation!

Ryan van Winkle is participating in the Reel Festival 2011!

Reel Festival is a touring art festival that aims to spread awareness of areas in conflict via film, music and poetry. This year, it focuses on and takes places in Syria, Lebanon and Scotland. Word Express poet Ryan van Winkle, Emily Ballou, William Letford, Tom Pow, Golan Haji, Rasha Omran, Mazen Maaroufand Yehia Jaber will represent the po Ryan Van Winkle etry part with translation workshops, poetry readings, panel discussions and a 'literary cabaret'. These events are presented by the Scottish Poetry Library, Etana Library, the British Council and Literature Across Frontiers. For a full programme visit:

Word Express is becoming even more multilingual!

Gokçenur Yaprak_öz_thumbnail Efe Duyan

Katerina Iliopoulou has started a translation project for the Greek online magazine Poema. The magazine will feature poems by the Word Express poets in Greek translation. Poems by three of the Turkish poets, Efe Duyan, Gokçenur Ç and Yaprak Öz are already available online in Katerina’s translation. Next, the Bulgarian poet Iana Bukova will translate some of the Bulgarian Word Express poets for the magazine. The idea is to collect the translations for a planned anthology in print. Read the translations on Poema!

Translation of Literature Means Peace

Nurduran Duman

Pomegranates in Istanbul, by Kamelia Spassova

Translating is a kind of cropping. You crop one piece to another field and get the new yield which will go on forever to feed in a different language. Translation is the harvest of two different cultures. When you translate a poem into another language, you transfer a new breath, a new culture to that language. A world passes to another world. They are not the same worlds anymore. After the translation the two worlds, especially the second one, both become richer. And translating is very serious work, you have to be sensitive and hardworking as a translator. And as a reader you aslo should be sensitive and careful to choose the right translation. As a reader I sometimes wonder if I would be the same person if I didn’t read Hamlet or Kalevala. As a poet, would I be the same poet if I didn’t know Pablo Neruda, Anne Sexton, Hermann Hesse or Tagore? Or would lots of people in the world be the same people, holding prejudices towards other people from different cultures. Translation takes away the wall of prejudice, makes the people know each other. If you know each other, you’ll understand, too. If you understand someone you can’t feel bad things about her. You can’t hurt her. You can’t let your polticians bomb her country. So if the world aims for peace, countries should have a literature translation programme. When all countries’ works are translated to all the others’ languages, then the world can have the peace.

But when we look at the world at the moment we see that many languages are being isolated. For example Finnish. During my trip in Finland for the Turku Book Fair (2010), I felt that Finnish has a rhthym and I liked it. Turkish is a rhythmic language too. But Finnish has a little bit more of a thicker sound. Finnish and Turkish are in the same linguistic family, Ural-Altaic. They are both read as they are written, they are both agglutinative languages… In my poetry I always try to push my language’s limits and try to use all of its opportunities. As a poet I try to do this as much as I can. I believe that, Finnish also has very many opportunities and possibilities for poetry. I think Finnish poets are lucky because their material is generous, I think Finnish is a generous language. And Finland has different beauties. The world should look at this culture’s literature. And the world should look at Turkish culture too. We have lots of wealth to exchange… Both writers and readers give importance to books in translation in Turkiye, lots of translated books are published every year, we like to read about other cultures. For example Kalevala, the Finnish national epic was first translated from Finnish to Turkish in 1965 by Hilmi Ziya Ülken and secondly in 1982 by Lale & Muammer Oğuz…

Literature should not be used as a political weapon in the world. Works in isolated languages aren’t being translated to other “powerful” languages. This means that culture is being isolated. If one culture doesn’t know the other culture, how are people from different cultures to know each other? How will they understand each other? If you understand you won’t be “the other” anymore.

* This article was originally written in English and appeared in the Finnish magazine Kaltio translated into Finnish by Paavo J. Heinonen. Read some of Nurduran's poems in English translation on her poetry page.

Inspired by a Word Express adventure...

a poem written and translated by Yaprak Öz

Vassilis Amanitidis, Yaprak Öz & Radu Vancu (at the Sofiapoetics Festival)
Vassilis Amanitidis, Yaprak Öz & Radu Vancu (at Sofiapoetics Festival, 2010)

Sarı, Sakalındaki Küçük Tüyler Gibi

uykunun beyaz salıncağı
papatya tozu
bir park hayali
yeterli bu öğledensonrayı seninle geçirmek için

kaçmak istiyor kalbim çünkü gerçeklerden
medet ummak düşlerden
deli ilaçları çok düş gördürür çünkü insana
renkli düşler, Alis’inkiler gibi Harikalar Diyarında

uykunun beyaz salıncağı sallanmaya hazır
öğle güneşi dantel perdelerin arasında
kedicik ayakucumda sıcacık
düş görüyor o da
o bir dişi kediyi ben de seni
çok sarışın bir kız olarak kendimi görüyorum senin kollarında
ama tenim hala esmer
küçük bir çingene kızı gibi
sevişiyorsun benimle düşümde tıpatıp sensin
ben o kadar sarışınım ki ama hala esmerim

bir avuç papatya tozu uyumadan önce
iyi gelir insana
kokla, içine çek sarı çiçek tozunu
ve çocukluktan kalma o mutluluk duygusu
doldurur burnunu sapsarı bir uykuyla

iyi gelir uyumadan önce hatırlamak
Sofya’daki o parkı
o küçük parkı, bir kaydırak iki salıncaklı
iki de sokak köpeği bir orta çeşmesi vardı
mevsimiydi sonbahar yapraklarının
bir sarı yaprak almıştım yerden hatıra
gazeteci sorular soruyordu Vassilis’e, bana, Radu’ya
küçük, huzurlu, sarı bir parktı Sofya’da
o parkı hayal edeceğim şimdi
oturduğumuzu seninle sarmaş dolaş
oradaki tahta bankta

Blonde, As The Little Hair In Your Beard

the white swing of sleep
camomile pollen
the dream of a park
is enough to spend this afternoon with you

for my heart wants to escape from reality
to find remedy in dreams
one can dream so much because of lunatic pills
colourful dreams, like Alice’s in Wonderland

the white swing of sleep is ready
afternoon sun comes through the lace curtains
kitty sleeps so warm next to my feet
he is dreaming too
he, about a female cat and me, about you
I see myself as a very blonde girl in your arms
though my skin is still dark
like a little gypsy girl’s
you make love to me you exactly you
I’m so blonde yet so dark

a handful of camomile pollen just before sleeping
is good for you
smell it, inhale the yellow flower dust
and that familiar feeling of childhood happiness
fills your nose with a blonde blonde sleep

recalling memories is good before sleeping
recalling that park in Sofia
that little park, with a slide with two swings
with two stray dogs and a fountain
it was the season of autumn leaves
I picked a yellow leaf as a remembrance
a journalist was asking questions to Radu, me, Vassilis
it was a little, peaceful, yellow park in Sofia
now I’ll dream about that park
I’ll dream about you and me embracing
sitting there on a wooden bank

Read more of Yaprak's poetry in translation

“Poetry can make death look minor”

Q&A with Radu Vancu

Radu Vancu in Istanbul

January 5th 2010

Here is Romanian poet Radu Vancu’s poem Lumea nouă (The new world) – as performed onstage at a Word Express event in Istanbul in October 2010. We wanted to know more about the story behind the poem, the process of translation and Radu’s personal poetics. So in between busily trying to complete his next collection, he kindly took the time to answer our questions. Here is the poem:

Lumea nouă

Dar, deocamdată, lumea asta:
lumea care a început cândva
între unşpe fără cinci şi unşpe şi cinci
în dimineaţa de noiembrie, cu strigătul tău mic
anunţând separarea definitivă a vertebrelor
şi erecţia mecanică a spânzuraţilor.

Lumea ta se sfârşea cu marele animal de lemn,
cu piele aspră şi rece, în burta căruia
erai închis. Oameni pricepuţi
au aşezat cu grijă în pământ
animalul bej cu puiul în marsupiu
şi au tras pământul deasupra ca o cortină.

Şi aerul s-a tras atunci ca o cortină
şi am văzut lumea nouă: te odihneai în a şaptea ta zi,
cu jumatea de rachiu alb în faţă, fericit ca un rege,
aşteptându-mă cu paharul pregătit.
Oasele mi s-au topit de fericire şi groază şi am rămas pe veci îndatorat
animalului care te dusese să te nască acolo.

The new world

But, for the time being, this world only:
the world which began that November morning
sometime between five to eleven
and five after eleven, with your small yelp
announcing the definitive separation of the vertebrae
and the mechanical erection of the hanged.

Your world ended with the great wooden animal,
and its cold rough skin, in whose belly
you were enclosed. Skilled people
carefully set the beige animal in the ground,
its pup still in its marsupium
and drew earth above it like a curtain.

And then the air was drawn like a curtain
and I saw the new world: you rested on your seventh day,
with a tankard of cheap brandy in front of you, happy as a king,
a second one poured and set out for me.
My bones melted with bliss and dread and I remained forever grateful
to the animal who had brought you there to be born.

( Translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Radu Vancu)

Radu Vancu reads 'The New World' from Literature Across Frontiers on Vimeo.

1. You translated this English version along with Adam J Sorkin, did you work together or did one of you translate and then the other edit?

Some of the English versions of my poems are indeed translated by Adam Sorkin, and some other by the excellent poet Martin Woodside. With Mr. Sorkin, I delivered a rough literal translation, and he put his finishing master touch on the literary version. Mr. Woodside did not require a literal version, he did all the work by himself – and the result is absolutely remarkable.

Now, I don’t know which situation is preferable – I was fortunate enough to have at my disposal two wonderful poets and translators, but I am aware that very few people have the kind of expertise that Mr. Woodside has, and I almost wouldn’t trust anybody else on doing this; on the other hand, I also doubt my personal expertise in English, so I know that Mr. Sorkin might have his own uncertainties regarding some lines or phrases.

But what is really amazing is that, despite the general improbability of a good translation, poetry manages to circulate around the world in good linguistic shapes & versions. And that is, of course, due to marvellous persons like Adam Sorkin and Martin Woodside, but also to the marvellous translinguistic energy of poetry, which seems to need rather compatible souls than compatible words in order to disseminate its message. 

2. When you introduced the poem in Istanbul you stated your aims to be nothing more than a 'domestic poet'. ‘Domestic’ is often said to mean stuck at home, unambitious or unworldly, but there is nothing boring or narrow-minded about the poem, in fact you seem to take on the world and questions of life and death. Does 'domestic' for you mean dealing with relationships and family? Could you perhaps elaborate on these poetics - why do you seek to write about your family relationships first and foremost?

Without any prior intention, my books have finally proven to be about the people I love – my wife, my suicidal father, my son. Even my doctoral paper dealt with a very good friend of mine, Mircea Ivănescu, who happened of course to be a great poet. I found it difficult to understand why my poetry was so domestic, but I finally understood that it all came from the extremely demanding task I demanded to poetry – which was, and still is, to make the poet a better man. 

As we all know, Romantic poets believed that poetry was a sort of magic actionism which could help one modify the world by controlling time, space, and causality. A lesser Romantic myself, I don’t believe that poetry can change the world, but I still think it can change the poet as a person. (And, if good enough, the reader. Not if only poetry is good enough, but if the reader is also good enough.) This is my personal, domestic magic actionism – poetry must make you a better person for the people you love. Which, of course, implies dealing with the main questions regarding their life and death – which are, actually, the main questions on this world. So, you see, being a committed domestic poet comes to deal with the toughest things on Earth.

3. Is the 'new world' a sort of rebirth in the marsupial pup? Or does your father die forever along with the animal that he was born with? And are you 'forever grateful' for this rebirth? or for his first birth? Can you elaborate on the images here.

The poem comes from a whole book I wrote trying to cope with his suicide. He hanged himself when I was nineteen, basically because he had been unemployed in the last two or three years, he had five children to raise and he could practically see no opportunity of getting hired somewhere. So I know he was extremely unhappy in his last years, and this is why I am ‘forever grateful’ to the animal, that is the coffin, who took him in its marsupium to give him (re)birth there, in the new world – because I know he’s happy there, waiting for me to have a drink and chat about some things more pleasant than unemployment (even though I quit drinking two years ago). 

Whenever I tend to be angry with him because of my selfish feeling that he abandoned me here, I think about this poem, with him drinking happily his brandy in the new world he has chosen, and I’m also happy for him. You see, poetry, even (or maybe mostly) domestic poetry, makes death look minor. This is why we should also be, when thinking about poetry, ‘forever grateful’. 

Read Radu’s biography and poetry in translation .

Other useful links:
The book about Radu's father, published in November 2010, is entitled Amintiri pentru tatal meu/Memories for my father and you find out more on . Radu's collection about his son, also published in 2010, is Sebastian in vis/Sebastian in dream   and you can find out more by visiting

Katerina Iliopoulou in conversation in Istanbul

Katerina Iliopoulou on Word Express from Literature Across Frontiers on Vimeo.

Read some of Katerina's poetry in translation.

Istanbul: a writer’s palimpsest

November 2010

Having just released a book entitled "The Parthenon Bomber", it somehow feels right to leave Athens for a while, and come to Istanbul, which in my family - refugees living in Peran until 1923 - is still called Konstantinople.

I prefer Istanbul for etymological reasons. Some say the name derives from the Greek phrase "Is Tin Polin" (To the city) and it feels so proper. Because here one (willingly) falls prey to the stereotype - and rightly so. Istanbul is the archetypal city: vibrant, colourful, edgy, antithetical, harsh, secretive...

In this sense the city is a canvas of interpretations and the fact that Literature Across Frontiers brought together here some 25 young writers from across Europe turned this canvas into a constantly changing palimpsest. Having joined Word Express, a project of travelling writers, since its launch, and coordinating events for it in Thessaloniki and Athens, I have now become myself a layer in this narrative of diverse friendships, debates, collaborations, impressions, and ideas that gets written once a year when the project participants meet in Istanbul.

One feels singular in this city - perhaps because of its vastness and depth. Singular but never alone. This can also be a nice metaphor for literature. One that Word Express encapsulates in a perfect paradigm.

Christos Chrissopoulos is a novelist, essayist and translator. He was born in Athens and is among the most prolific young prose writers on the Greek literary scene. Cat at the Nazim Hikmet Cultural Centre, by Yiannis Isidorou
A cat in the audience at the Nazim Hikmet Cultural Centre, with
Christos Chrissopoulos and Barış Müstecaplıoğlu
by Yiannis Isidorou

Word Express at the Istanbul Tanpinar Literature Festival, 2010

Word Express at the ITEF opening

Sunday 1st November 2010 , Istanbul

Despite Sunday's shocking events in Taksim square, the city is staying strong. We have been reminded that some of the conflicts in this region are still tragically current. So the need to built relationships across frontiers is just as pressing. Indeed friendships are being built between writers as we speak and we have been discussing ideas how to keep the network strong over the coming years. 

On Saturday the Word Express participants attended the openıng of the 2nd Istanbul Tanpınar Lıterature Festıval at Ciragan Palace. Today we will be at the TUYAP book fair and Word Express writers will be keeping attendees on the shuttle bus rapt with mobile poetry readings from 12pm. You can also join us later at Romeo and Juliet bar for a multimedia performance.

From left to right Word Express writers at the event: Augustin Cupsa(Romania),  Yaprak Öz (Turkey) and Radu Vancu (Romania), 



Cosmin Borza discusses the work of Romania's 'Generation 2000' poets, including Radu Vancu and Claudiu Komartin in an essay at Asymptote.


At the Sofia Poetics festival, which was organised by Word Express participant Ivan Hristov, Scottish based poet Ryan Van Winkle caught up with fellow festival guests SJ Fowler and Tomasz Rózycki. To hear Fowler and Rózycki discussing their work and reading some of their poetry, listen to the Scottish Poetry Library podcast here.