UConn’s international literary press wins award with latest book ‘Last Dream’

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The Academy of American Poets awarded the book “Last Dream,” published by the University of Connecticut’s international literary press World Poetry Books, the 2020 Raiziss/de Palchi Translation Award. The $10,000 dollar award recognizes Geoffrey Brock’s translation of 19th-century Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli’s work, “Last Dream,” from Italian to English.  

“Getting this news was a great tonic during lockdown,” Brock said in a press release. “I hope it helps bring attention to the work of a great poet who deserves to be much better known in English. Strangely, there has been a spate of Pascoli translations recently—maybe this is his moment to make an impression in English.” 

Brock’s work was long admired by the editors at World Poetry Books, according to Managing and Senior Editor Brian Sneeden. He said that upon receiving Brock’s manuscript, the editors were eager to read it, knowing it was by the “influential yet notoriously difficult Giovanni Pascoli.” 

“What was evident to us at once was that Brock had, in an impressive way, given his translations a musicality and attention to meter and internal and end rhyme, which recreated for the reader in English an experience of Pascoli’s innovative musicality,” Sneeden said. 

“Last Dream” was published in the summer of 2019, and later received the Raiziss/de Palchi Translation Award in the summer of 2020. According to a press release, the award was created in 1995 through an endowment by Sonia Raiziss Giop. The Academy of American Poets issues the award every other year to recognize translators of modern Italian poetry into English. 

“Poetry deepens our understanding not only of human experience, but of language, and specifically what language can do, how it can give shape and geography to our interior spaces and lives — and in sharing them realize a greater connection with others, and even build communities,” Sneeden said, when asked about the importance of translating works of poetry. “I agree with George Steiner, who wrote that without translation, ‘we would live in arrogant parishes bordered by silence.’ It is translators who cross the borders of language and culture to bring vital expressions of language into English, both as a service of preservation, and to introduce readers in English to a broader world of literary invention.” 

World Poetry Books was founded in 2017 by Peter Constantine, director of the UConn Literary Translation Program and professor in the Literatures, Cultures, and Languages department. Constantine mentioned that the mission of World Poetry Books was inspired by the “the great number of remarkable poetry works worldwide that have not been translated into English.” He further mentioned that he wishes World Poetry Books to be a window into the international world of poetry. In 2019, Constantine and the Humanities Institute introduced World Poetry Books as a collaborative initiative.  

According to its mission statement, “World Poetry Books is an independent publisher dedicated to the discovery, translation, and promotion of vital poetry written in languages other than English. We introduce extraordinary works from a wide range of cultures and eras because we see world literature as a network of languages that enhance and enliven each other. Therefore we champion exceptional literary translators at all stages of their careers, and invite our readers to celebrate the art of translation, essential to the vibrant circulation of words and ideas.” 

Sneeden said that the press currently has 11 books from seven different languages in production for the 2020-21 season. One of them is a debut English collection of poems by Jerzy Ficowski, who was a writer, translator and a Polish resistance fighter in World War II. The collection will be translated by Jennifer Grotz and Piotr Sommer. There will also be an English debut by Mexican poet Jeannette Clariond, whose work pays homage to Mexican culture and the Nahuatl language, translated by Samantha Schnee. 

According to a press release, World Poetry Books is the first international literary press housed at UConn and it is the only literary press in the country that is dedicated solely to publishing poetry in translation.  

“As a new literary press … This award reaffirms for us the importance of our mission in championing exceptional international poets and translators,” Sneeden said about the importance of the award to the press. “Poetry is not generally recognized as the most lucrative of publishing fields, yet we believe that, as Ezra Pound put it, poetry is ‘news that stays news’ and offers readers new and essential forms of expression.” 

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