take a look at Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, a 2007 volume of poetry from Guantánamo." />

The End of Oulipo?

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Lady Chatterley’s Brother

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Translate This Book!

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Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

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Tale of Genji

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Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • A Legacy by Sybille Bedford March 15, 2015
    Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedfor […]
  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter's translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an e […]
  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
    Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic compe […]
  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
    Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you'd expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we're still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press's Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collab […]
  • B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal by J.C. Hallman March 14, 2015
    here’s a conspicuous history of books that simply should not work: Books like U & I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length exercise in “memory criticism,” where Baker traces Updike’s influence on his own writing life while studiously not actually re-reading any of Updike’s books. Or books like Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s book that procrastinates away from […]
  • The Valerie Miles Interview March 14, 2015
    The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual […]
  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
    Look up at the sky, or down into the ocean, and what color do you see? We see blue, but not Homer—he never once employs the term throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, famously calling the sea "wine-dark" and the heavens "bronze." Neither did the Greek philosopher Xenophanes say blue—he described the rainbow as having only three colors. Th […]

Review of Poems from Guantánamo

We’ve got something a little bit different this week at The Quarterly Conversation: on the eve of the second anniversary of Barack Obama’s inauguration, we take a look at Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, a 2007 volume of poetry from Guantánamo.

As George Fragopoulos says in his consideration of what this book continues to mean, it’s a wonder that it even exists. You may recall that when the book was published, there was a flap about danger to national security and censorship; to quote the U.S. military, “poetry . . . presents a special risk, and DoD [Department of Defense] standards are not to approve the release of any poetry in its original form or language.”

Here’s a little bit of George’s answer to what this book tells us three years after its publication:

The anthology can be placed within a long-standing tradition of prison literature and, as Flagg Miller writes in his insightful introduction to the collection, “Forms of Suffering in Muslim Prison Poetry,” alongside a rich variety of Arabic and Islamic poetics and poetries: “From the earliest days of Islam’s rise among world religions in the seventh century, poetry has provided a steady moral compass for Muslims.” Miller goes on to illustrate the varied connections that exist between poetry and politics. The idea, to give but one example, is that language—here “vernacular Arabic”—can be used as a means for aesthetic and political dissent. This is important to note for two reasons: in the United States it has become convenient to obscure and conflate political motives with religious ones, thus summarily removing any reasoned discussion of the global climate that allowed for the horrific crimes perpetrated on 9/11 to be committed in the first place. We also tend to eagerly dismiss the potential for works of art to speak to us in a political manner.

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Another Guantanamo Book That would be Guantanamo by Frank Smith, as yet in French but not in English. Though you can read quite a bit about it here....
  2. Surrealist Love Poems If you’re looking to send an ambiguous message to your loved one tomorrow, this book might just do it. From the University of Chicago press...
  3. Some American books I really like / blurbs more than reviews / six novels and a book of poems Since most of the books I've reviewed here and elsewhere over the last couple years have been works in translation, I thought I would write...
  4. How to Write About Translation It seems like literary translation has gotten some traction of late in the press, which is a great thing. But at The Quarterly Conversation, codirector...
  5. Arabic Must-Reads The Guardian surveys a number of specialists for Arabic authors we should be reading: Roger AllenProfessor of Arabic language and literature, University of Pennsylvania The...

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