cover image White Blight

White Blight

Athena Farrokhzad, trans. from the Swedish by Jennifer Hayashida. Argos (SPD, dist.), $18 (72p) ISBN 978-1-938247-21-7

Hayashida, winner of the 2013 PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant, renders Farrokhzad's award-winning 2013 collection, Vitsvit, into terse, direct English laid out in black-highlighted white text on a white page. This initially off-putting aesthetic choice evokes a sense of language shining through redaction. Farrokhzad, an Iranian-born Swedish poet, playwright, and critic, opens with a short, introductory poem ("My family arrived here in a Marxist tradition," she writes, "My mother let bleach run through her syntax/ On the other side of punctuation her syllables became whiter/ than a winter in Norrland") before launching into a long, sparse poem composed almost exclusively of quoted speech from family members. "My father said: Your brother shaved before his beard started to grow/ Your brother saw the terrorist's face in the mirror... My brother said: Some day I want to die in a country/ where people can pronounce my name." Through this kind of dialogue, Farrhokhzad replicates the tremendous tension among family members and between an immigrant family and their cultural context, while interjecting with short lines of placement, contextualization, and aphorism. Revealing the ways poetry can address global political concerns, Farrokhzad's document of the trials of migration and a family's multifaceted responses to it constitutes an important addition to 21st-century translation. (Jan.)