Women in Translation
Playlist by Open Letter Books
Roughly three percent of books published in the United States are translations, and only around 30% of those are books written by women. When you start looking at poetry collections, you’re taking a fraction of a fraction of a fraction, until you arrive at a number so small that, according to the translation database housed at Publishers Weekly, a scant nineteen translated books of poems written by women will be published by the end of 2018.

One of those is the easiness and the loneliness by Asta Olivia Nordenhof, a best-selling poetry collection that took Denmark by storm and arrives in English with Open Letter Books this October. With poems that double as social critiques, it addresses the difficulties of living under financial strain, various forms of abuse, and working in a brothel.

To round out Women in Translation Month, we wanted to create this playlist to celebrate Nordenhof and to shine a spotlight on a handful of other living female poets already available in translation.
1. from "the easiness and the loneliness"
Asta Olivia Nordenhof
2. In the Pose of a Question Mark
Valzhyna Mort
3. Parenthesis
Valerie Mejer Caso
4. Hello, Dracula
Ha Jaeyeon
5. The Sculpture Garden
Kim Haengsook
6. 4
Verónica Zondek
7. I Believe in This World
Kim Yideum
Asta Olivia Nordenhof • trans. Susanna Nied
a picture of three young boys with milk mustaches

i google them, dont want to know more about them than i already do, just want to be sure they arent dead

now you have to imagine that theyre in california

once a milk boy, now: hunched over in a library

a flowered shirt, from a distance you cant get an impression of what hes like

fingers against mahogany

and my grandmothers dresser that started to melt just because it was by the window

so now it has to be covered with a sheet during the months when the sun is sharpest

once a milk boy, now: a cats paw against a bare thigh

and the cactus that grows faster after i put it on the windowsill

a window to rest his chin against, very cool

thank you from a former milk boy licking milk from the little hairs on his upper lip

now its almost silent in the public pool

no one in the fitness center

its the sound of operating rooms, a heightened objectivity

the few who were in the big pool stood like strange water fruits

thank you milk boy for making my life so quiet and pleasant yesterday

my breasts, i lay examining them for lumps

until i turned totally white from boredom and made popcorn and noodles

i stood looking at the water in the pot as if it were something serious

or as if all thats left of me is such a seriously distraught state
Valzhyna Mort • trans. Valzhyna Mort, Franz Wright and Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright
How hard it is to draw ourselves up 
from the pose of a question mark
into the pose of an exclamation.
The left labia of Poland and the right labia of Russia part
and our heads emerge out of . . .
what?
By now we have sixteen names for snow – 
it’s time to come up with sixteen names for darkness.

In the pose of a question mark –
with our whole bodies we call ourselves into question,
confirmed by a urine dot.
Is it really us calling into a question?
Or adolescence has just birthed
a rumpled beach towel.

So blunt were
the midwife’s scissors
which with time turned into
brightly-polished avenues
jointed by a military obelisk. 
A tractor plant started manufacturing hair-rollers
and every Sunday sent mother 
a gift basket.
Her head in rollers –
the ideal reconstruction of the solar system –
was photographed for albums and calendars.
The principle of rollers clenching hair
underlay the national production of harvesters.
This became my first metaphor
which I gobbled till my mouth foamed
as if I had swallowed the whole Swan Lake.

My body didn’t belong to me.
Bent with pain,
it was making a career out of being a question mark 
in the corporation of language. 

The bureaucracy of the body drove me to the wall:
head didn’t want to think –
let the eyes watch
eyes didn’t want to watch –
let the ears listen
ears didn’t want to listen –
let the hands touch
hands didn’t want to touch –

let the nose smell the body 
which blooms with linden flowers of pain.

Where are my bees? 
Aren’t I sweet enough for them?
Valerie Mejer Caso • trans. Forrest Gander
Nothing's in the nest. No needles. No newborn ravens.
Maybe something like night in the deep hollow,
an eggshell planet, cracked in the middle, an empty bowl of soup.
Nothing's in the nest. No thread. No webs of words.
Maybe something like my navel, the eclipse of a magnifying glass.
A slice, mute with regard to its empty depths.
In the nest, nothing. The web unwoven. Dismembered.
In the space, something, yes. A piece of cloth. Sounding like flags
taking wing, a worm in its beak and suddenly, eyes, my eyes
which, cutting across the empty air, direct themselves at something noiseless over there.

Ha Jaeyeon • trans. Jake Levine, Soohyun Yang, and Hyemi Seok
If you let me inside you
I will stay by your side forever
And with the face of a child or an old man
I will give you all of my love.
From beginning to end
Even though all the rooms of the world are filled with sunshine
The fact that you’re alive, how beautiful to know
That I’m the only one who knows it.
It’s okay if you don’t abandon the boy in you and
It’s okay if I don’t desert the girl in me.
Even though all the rooms in the world are full of wide open doors,
The fact you’re in agony, how beautiful to know
That I am the only one who knows it.

If you give me your permission
To become a white bride or virgin lunatic,
I will be the evidence
That you are you.
In the gushing darkness
Rather than birthing a baby
We will give birth to ourselves.
The we that we will make
Will really live.
But only if you say hey
In a voice that’s never been used in the world.
Only if my ears don’t go deaf
In the sunlight that brightens this world.
Kim Haengsook • trans. Jake Levine and Jiyoon Lee
A pigeon is sticking its beak between its toes in, out, and in, repeatedly like a pendulum. I saw its name “Untitled II” beside its toes. The time was— nod, nod— passing.

A woman was sitting at its side, brushing the grass with the palms of her hands. Whenever her palm slowly moved, the grass changed the direction of its body to obey. Whatever she was thinking, I couldn’t see.
Verónica Zondek • trans. Katherine Silver
(...)

I doubt/ I stammer.

It’s just that

it’s just that I glimpse their bended heads I say/ their full torsos/ and though I know they don’t desire/ don’t desire more tongues of gold descending the slope hand in hand with the wind/ know they don’t want/ I can’t help but glimpse/ glimpse their knees devoutly poised like butterflies before you/ and I see/ right there I see/ how they strain/ how they fondle thoughts of initiating novices/ tender sprouts/ sparks/ thirsty daughters/ all tattooed with the curse of fire/ and I predict the forge/ how they can’t but forge offspring/ mute beings shrouded in windgusts/ for they didn’t fall when the blaze and the heat/ and now they seem grateful/ because they sing blinded by the sun/ they lift their legs/ their very thin/ over any even black body in the river/ only water this torrent/ aswirl at its vanishing points/ seething and a crowd of corpses where the wing may rest ... 

Watch.

Observe the wounded/ lacerated body/ festered by rebel wind.

Watch.

Watch how it slides unimpeded down the barren/ how down the trunkless immensity/ how down the bald slopes/ how amid the black skies/ the lonely and cacique skies/ how/ how it gnaws/ how it gnaws at your body and bygone/ your open wastes/ your thirsty daughters/ their mouths so dry from so much wind/ and watch/ watch how it cries a torrential cry/ with tears long lost under the mutilated trunks/ and how it sprouts everywhere in eyes of water/ and how it descends in cascades/ how it deploys that lost view/ how it attends to atrocities/ senseless profit/ the beast that we are.

(...)

A wind/ a wind that opens the womb/ a wind that shakes the earth/ that sprouts tenderness/ spills heat and swallows/ swallows the pain of men.

But no/ it doesn’t come/ doesn’t grope/ seems not to be there except when it kneads life/ when seedlings sprout/ and everything/ everything returns/ returns to begin again.
Continue reading on newpoetryintranslation.com
Kim Yideum • trans. Don Mee Choi, Johannes Göransson, and Ji Yoon Lee
Even when I walk alone at night,
even when someone quietly follows me into the back alley,
I believe.

I believe flowers will bloom.
I believe the stink and the pollen will trigger my allergies.
I believe in white blossoms because they wither.
I believe the girl who reveals her white nape under the flowering tree 
will receive merciless love.

Drag out the furniture and memorabilia,
tear open the curtains
and look at my body.
It is steeped in sounds and colours that touch the heart.
My love, O love,
look at what it hides from you.

I believe.
I believe in today’s news.
I believe in the travelling theatre.
I believe that the music and the circus won’t ever return.

I believe no music or reading will interrupt me.
No demolition or bombing raids will ruin my dinner.
O love, you’ll buzz in and out like a fly.
You’ll go on like this for a little while, then stop.

The flowers bloom even when I barely water them.
Some flowers sprout even though the soil is parched.
Those kinds of flowers are terrifying.
I put on a mask and flee.

I believe
the thief who escaped from the dark alley
might have been my lover waiting for me.
I believe
the killing won’t end, the raping won’t end,
and more wars will flare up.
I believe 
we’ll divvy up our pointless flaws
and finally disappear without ever making things good.
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