A few years ago I had the honor of accompanying a delegation of poets and writers—all faculty at the William Joiner Center’s Annual Writers’ Workshops—to an international literary conference in Hanoi. Our distinguished Vietnamese hosts had gathered to honor their friends and colleagues for sustaining a cultural exchange begun in 1988, long before diplomatic relations were restored. For more than twenty years the efforts of these men and women from both countries had bridged a gulf of post-war resentment, and brought some of Vietnam’s most revered writers to the U.S. It was a thrill to witness former, so-called enemies reading one another’s poems in English and in Vietnamese, strengthening ties made possible by their mutual desire to understand and embrace each other’s humanity.
The third volume of Consequence features poetry in translation to celebrate these friendships. In her book, Why Translation Matters, Edith Grossman reminds us: “Translation always helps us to know, to see from a different angle, to attribute new value to what once may have been unfamiliar. As nations and as individuals, we have a critical need for that kind of understanding and insight. The alternative is unthinkable.” Yet only three percent of books published in the U.S. are translations, and less than one percent if you count only poetry and fiction. Big publishing houses have mostly abandoned translation to the small presses. Amazon’s imprint, AmazonCrossing, may improve access to foreign literature here in America, but these translations are chosen for bottom-line performance, based on what’s already selling well in European markets. Too many important authors from cultures we ignore at our peril—and sometimes theirs—will never be known here.
When accomplished writers devote time and talent to translation—devotion meagerly compensated—they deserve to be recognized, and read widely. Often, they are taken for granted by publishers and readers alike. This issue applauds their unique contributions to the literary arts by publishing the work of ten poets in new translations. Most of the poems are in bilingual format. Consequence will continue to publish new translations of prose and poetry that are faithful to the author’s artistry, and a pleasure to read in English. We will look for work that reveals the humanity we share with people whose culture and language seem strange to us. Our magazine focuses on war, but not narrowly. We search for the deeply rooted causes and far ranging impact of violence around the globe. Diverse, unfamiliar cultures challenge us to question our assumptions, and our response has a moral dimension. It’s seems fair to ask if we don’t owe it to ourselves, and to those outside the comfort zone of our own language, to try to understand more than just the words that need interpreting. This is part of our mission here at Consequence.
If you are new to our magazine, you will discover a nuanced approach to the culture and consequences of war. Literature and art can capture our most destructive but also most vulnerable moments. With the support of our readers and friends we will keep bringing you the depth and range of human experience.