How long have been poetry editor at Asymptote?
Since July 2011. Before that I was a contributing/nonfiction editor. The journal was founded in January 2011 by Lee Yew Leong.
What shapes your decisions about which poems to publish?
The first question I ask is: is the poem a translation? (Asymptote is a journal of translation.) Then I think about whether it is a good translation and that involves many complicated and also intuitive things. The most important factor is whether the translator attends to the form of the original and finds a way to re-imagine it in English, even if that means making up a new form. I care less about apologies for “losses” in translation than the strange excesses generated by this very noble but also dirty work. Walter Benjamin called them “ample folds” (trans. Harry Zohn). I also think about what kind of English a poem has been translated into: what idiom, what dominant/marginalized aesthetic of Anglophone poetry. This has everything to do with whether a translator reads a lot of poetry in English and is aware of their formal choices rather than simply translating “meaning.” There is a lot of guesswork, pretending to understand German just by looking at it, and Google Translate involved in what I do, and this is its joy. But I also I get to consult my brilliant Asymptote colleagues, most of whom know multiple languages and are translators themselves.
We like to publish foreign poets/texts that have not appeared in English before or that challenge popular notions of what, say, Japanese poetry is “supposed to be like.” Also: recovery projects, especially of very old texts; weirdly religious or erotic poetry (often they are the same thing); folk traditions; poetry from endangered languages or any language we have not been able to feature before; non-Anglophone avant-gardes and conceptualisms.
Also! Experimental Translation! I am curating a special feature of texts created through unconventional practices for our January 2016 issue (submission guidelines here).
Do you always write in English or have you ever written Hindi poetry?
I learned Hindi (among other languages) at school and sometimes spoke it with my friends, but English is my native language, so that’s what I write in and translate into. Mainly I translate from French, but I’ve been learning Old English and Latin. If you learn a new language you get to take over a small country; that’s my theory. A small country is born in your head.
What’s your favourite coffee?
South Indian filter coffee.