Letter from the Editor: Issue 22

August 22, 2023

Dear Readers:

So much of the natural world is composed of layers: the earth, the ocean, the atmosphere. In a more abstract sense, human concepts, activities, and creations are layered as well. By titling our Summer 2023 issue “Layers,” we aimed to draw in a set of texts that would further our understanding of the role of layers in literature, translation, and in our world more broadly. We wondered, would these pieces simply reinforce the idea that layers are all around us? Would they inspire us to investigate the characteristics of each layer and the ways they interact with each other? Or would they encourage us to allow the layers to be revealed in their own time?

A layer makes the entity it belongs to more intricate. It can also strengthen that entity and make it more resistant. But for a layer to truly be a layer, it must differ in some way from what surrounds it, even if just in that separateness. Appreciating this means accepting that the resulting complexity—of a text, a work of art, a person, a community—may be impossible to fully access or comprehend. It means considering the ways that layers build upon each other to produce something new. These factors form a strong metaphor for the beauty and favorability of diversity—of groups, cultures, languages, and literary forms. Differences come together to weave the fabric of society into an enhanced whole that is stronger and more meaningful than the sum of its parts. We can recognize the whole and the parts, but we may never understand the full picture or unveil all of its intricacies.

In this issue, the translation process shows the creative capacity of a diversity of languages and forms. Translation is layered by nature in the way it actively examines the overlap between languages and cultures. It manifests a distinct and separate unit still containing in some way the imprint of the original. Through their versatile use of method, structure, and genre, the contributors to this issue optimize translation, demonstrating the power of both translation and diversity. The artwork we selected for our cover, Damariz Aisupuro’s “El Elemento Ke Falta, Está En El Cielo” or “The Missing Element is in Heaven,” visually articulates the combined capacity of tangible and conceptual layering through the medium of collage. Aisupuro’s piece combines various cultural objects as well as structures and colors, and juxtaposes the natural with the synthetic to introduce a figure who encapsulates the merging of distinct ideas and objects to create something extraordinary.

Through a set of works advancing the limits of translation, we witness delightful new ways of combining content and form. The textual is layered onto the visual, such as in Julia Kott’s translation from Spanish of Emmanuel Molina’s “There, cops tragan verga every two seconds.” Kott explains that the blue and white images, which are layered themselves with light and color filters, were selected together with Molina to “[capture] the dreamy, haziness of imagined utopias.” With this, we understand that not only does the translation contain different visual levels, but that those levels complement the poem’s illusory themes. In Inna Krasnoper’s original work “Irrturm,” the textual and visual work in conjunction again, along with a multiplicity of languages. But another layer is added in as well: Krasnoper’s original audio recitations. The recordings—sometimes evoking a haunting echoey quality in delivering the various tongues—stand apart from the visual pieces while simultaneously providing a new understanding of their dynamism. Similarly, two languages are paired together in Chengru He’s “Forever Joy Variations”—a set of translations from Chinese based on Li Qingzhao’s Cí poetry. In these pieces, the visual also plays a role in the linguistic layering as English words and Chinese characters occasionally overlap and spacing and enjambment enter in to further diversify the varied English versions of the poetry. Similarly, reality is layered with fantasy in Rituparna Mukerjee’s translation from Bengali of Prabuddha Ghosh’s “The Tale of the Lost Mirror and the Tall Lamp” to share a message about control, division, and isolation. Comedy is layered with solemnity in Camille Uglow’s “On Overthinking”—a translation/adaptation of Michel de Montaigne’s French essay that reimagines his work as a Twitter thread to consider the ways that deep philosophical thought might most effectively reach readers today. And finally, poetry is layered with prose along with an unexpected combination of languages in Pauline Lacanilao’s original work “False Cognates,” which cleverly depicts the intersections between languages and cultures, and questions the ways we internalize the meaning we take from those intersections. The diversity of form and genre born from these interpretations of the translation process make the meaning and experience of the artistic output stronger and richer.

Other pieces in the issue consider the space between layers. They present a collective refrain about the human desire to bridge gaps between thought, action, and experience, and they represent that desire as a simultaneous state of acknowledgement, bewilderment, and longing. In Matina Vossou’s note about the intricate and colorful paintings in her visual series, “Postcards From A Postponed Posterity,” she describes human faces as “perfectly unfinished mosaics of emotions and ideas.” This speaks to both the unique and evocative way she depicts the human face as well as the paradoxical nature of completeness. That there are multiple levels, stages, and states of being in all things implies that while those parts are layered together, they’re never quite whole—but we’re always yearning for them to be.

The yearning to fuse layers together comes through in Miriam Drev’s poem, “The Double Ring.” In hers and Barbara Carlson’s translation of the work from Slovenian they write, “You come from somewhere else, and for a short time still remember. Being from both sides briefly,” conveying the sense of ambivalence of existing in between different stages in life and the urge to be a part of both. In Antonette Ramos’ translation from Tagalog of German Villanueva Gervacio’s “Crayola,” she states, “I am trying hard to brighten / the color of the fields, trees, mountains / sun and flying birds / using frayed and broke / n colors,” expressing the way that a sense of lack brought on by differing class levels—symbolized by breaks in the crayons—is felt in even the simplest acts and can hinder creativity, at least to a degree. We see separation between generations and also between the behaviors of the more and less devout in Dave Seter’s translation of Patricija Gudeikaitė’s poem, “epitaphs.” In the lines, “they walk after black hearses—/ while we play cards—/ and they are unable to hear—/ or share—our sharp laughter,” Seter not only displays varying responses to a tragic death, but also the distance between mourners and a curiosity, if not desire, to reach across the space, share, and be heard. We see a similar longing regarding the layering of day upon day in Mustafa Bozkurt Gürsoy’s translation from Turkish of Ahmet Haşim’s “Desire at the End of a Day.” One line reads: “Again the birds of the golden towers / Decree the repetition of life.” Here, the recognition of the breaks between days is reflected onto the birds, who seemingly watch over the recurring rupture, confirming both its inevitability and banality. If recognizing layers means acknowledging their distinction from one another, this particular set of works shows us that it’s part of the human condition to strive for connection across differences. In following that instinct, differences can be recognized and divisions can be reconciled.

I’d like to express my appreciation to Alchemy editorial team members Bahar Abdi, Kira Jacobson, Nilufar Karimi, Olga Mikolaivna, Makenzie Read, Evelyn Vasquez, and Vyxz Vasquez for their thoughtful input on this issue’s theme and selections, as well as to our faculty director, Amelia Glaser, whose patience and insights inspire me throughout the editorial process.

I’m immensely grateful to Panchami Bhattacharjee, Judita Gliauberzonaitė, Branka Hrvoj-mihic, Neon Mashurov, Barış Taşyakan, Evelyn Vasquez, and Vyxz Vasquez for their generous assistance and careful attention during the translation review process.

Finally, many many thanks to the writers, translators, and artists whose work made this issue possible, and to our readers, for their continued interest in Alchemy.

With warmth & respect,

Reem Hazboun Taşyakan