Obituary of the Last Radium Girl (#2)

Mae Keane

Obituary of the Last Radium Girl
Mae Keane dies at 107

She stunk at the job. Faster, fast, faster,
the boss barked. No slacking slacker
at eight cents a dial. She watched
the clock her small hands made glow–
a face incandescent, luminescent with radio-
active radium paint.

Here’s a tip, use your lips
to sharpen the bristles. Dip
your brush in the glow,
suck, suck, &
wrist watches will flow. But she
grimaced, told the boss “lip-pointing, no!”

He barked her out of a job.
That was 1924. In ‘27
the dying began gums
bleeding, bones
jaws Mae, mostly
spared, lost her

then came colon &

But on she ticked. What luck!
She’d stunk at her job.

(David Owens, The Hartford Courant, March 3, 2014)



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Translation Reviews Round-Up

Los Angeles Review of Books Interview

When Nathan Scott McNamara from the Los Angeles Review of Books wrote to ask if we could talk, particularly about my three most recent translations, I wrote back, “I am a devotee of all things translation as to me all writing is translation, translation the essence of all writing. I translate in order to become a better writer. I write in order to become a better translator. So yes, gladly. Ask away.” Click here to read A Perpetual Layering of Language and Meaning: An Interview with Writer and Translator Jenny McPhee.

Neapolitan Chronicles                                                Anna Maria Ortese

“Ortese’s people are all in primary colors, so vivid that they jump off the page. Moreover, it is splendidly translated by two masters of their trade, Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee…this book will be of interest to Ferrante fans. But Ortese is worth reading for herself. Her mixture of the surreal and the real in all of this work is original and compelling. An example of prose that has lasted and will continue to do so.” – The Arts Fuse

“This collection of writing and reportage about Naples was a major inspiration for Elena Ferrante. Ortese’s portrait of the Italian city just after World War II is of a place of poverty and desperation.” – The New York Times, New & Noteworthy

“The texts in this book are kept together by a tension in the gaze, which wants to avert the eyes and cannot do it because compelled to watch, compelled to witness, and to write. And it is not her private world Ortese wants us to see: but to take part in the intensity of her scrutiny, to see with her.” – minor literature[s]

“Elena Ferrante has cited Ortese (1914-98) as one of her greatest influences, and the connections are obvious in this collection of short stories and essays, which infuse a grimy, chaotic Naples with unsentimental menace rather than romantic mystique. Ortese gathers concrete details about the realities of poverty, and, like Ferrante, delineates moments of status tension with blunt accuracy. The narrator of ‘The Silence of Reason’ encounters an old literary friend and describes his presence in the room as ‘an abyss, a chasm full of hands clapping, which created a desolate sound, an endless sigh.’ The story’s skewering of Neapolitan intellectuals caused such an outrage that Ortese had to leave the city.” – The New Yorker, Briefly Noted

“The new edition of Neapolitan Chronicles, by Elena Ferrante’s English translator Ann Goldstein and co-translator Jenny McPhee, presents more reason for celebration than simply the re-emergence of this seminal work. For one thing, until now, Ortese’s book has never appeared in English in its entirety; Frances Frenaye’s 1955 translation lopped off part of the longest of the five pieces that make up the volume and added three not present in the original. For another thing, Goldstein and McPhee have included a preface and afterword Ortese wrote for Roberto Calasso’s 1994 Italian re-issue, and these commentaries by Ortese help to illuminate her aims in writing the book as well as her feelings about its rocky reception by Neapolitans. The translators’ own introduction provides additional context.” – seraillon

“Though it has patches of satisfactory writing, ‘Neapolitan Chronicles’ is a shallow, obtuse, insufferable book, its faults so glaring and pervasive that I fail to understand how anyone can overlook them.” – The Wall Street Journal

(I found this WSJ review pretty interesting in its fierce negativity. It is not unlike how the Sud group responded to Ortese’s book–and Ortese–when it was first published. The reviewer here shows no interest in Ortese as a literary figure at a time and place, sadly a very common critical approach to women authors. In any case, reviews come and go. The book remains.)

“The translator is often hidden in publishing’s shadows (indeed, the series of events for translators at Italy’s biggest book fair is actually called “The Invisible Author.”) But many readers of Ortese may actually find their way to this book through the two translators that have brought her work to English-speaking readers: Ann Goldstein, Elena Ferrante’s translator, and Jenny McPhee, an accomplished novelist whose new translation last year of Natalia Ginzburg’s seminal work of nonfiction, Family Lexicon, was widely lauded.” – Cleaver Magazine

The Kremlin Ball            Moscow, view of Red Square with St. Basil Cathedral and Spasskaya Tower, 1931

“This is a glimpse of 1920s Moscow, among the Soviet high society. It’s the aftertaste of the revolution. Published posthumously, Malaparte’s court chronicle captures Stalin as the surveyor of every intrigue and scandal from his nightly opera box.” – The New York Times, New & Noteworthy

“Malaparte drops names, titles, and geography freely, and this version of the text has excellent notes that keep someone less familiar with Moscow and Soviet people well informed, while Jenny McPhee’s introduction helps to frame the book with Malaparte’s biography.” – Cleaver Magazine

“Malaparte is bedeviled by the issue of religion in Russia’s new communist heart. Where does Christ fit in this loudly, mockingly atheist realm? Furthermore, where is death? Malaparte’s musings on the fate of the old guard – among them such characters as Leon Trotsky’s sister – are both referential and, thanks to Jenny McPhee’s translation, effortlessly flowing. The narrator’s speculations about the aristocrats are interwoven with colorful traceries of Moscow. As the dream of communism sours, Malaparte explores the repressed sentimentalism and despair of his hosts, and the ominous shadow of something more dangerous than idealism.” – The Arkansas International

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Dying #5


The motions

I’ve got these down

they are expensive

they cost me


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Obituary of a Wartime Spy (#1)

I was very heartened by the recent New York Times project called “Overlooked” addressing the fact that many accomplished and, indeed, heroic women were never given an obituary in the Times due to the fact that they were women and deemed not important enough to merit a eulogy in print. Such Better-Late-Then-Never acknowledgement is so important. The Times project inspired me to dig out a poetry project I began some time ago while in a class at The Poetry School in London led by the superb British poet and writer Simon Barraclough.

For years I have been collecting obituaries–an art form I revere–of intrepid women who lived long and intriguing lives, some with brief flashes of fame, others with enduring careers, most of whom I had never heard of. The women I collected shared a few things: they were women, they were dead, and they had each made it through the obituary gatekeepers to get an avowal of their lives into print and the public eye. They also tended to be quite old when they died. I had no idea what I was going to do with these obituaries but was finally inspired by Simon to make found poems out of them. (My Obituary Series of poems is not to be confused with my series of poems called “Dying,” but they do share a theme, I suppose.) The Times project made me realize that by letting this series of poems languish in a file somewhere on my computer, I was contributing to the great silence that is integral to the female experience on so many fronts and in so many ways. Paradoxically, I value silence greatly, above much else, it is up there with love in my pantheon of virtues, but when silence is used, as it has been so systematically, as a weapon against us, we indulge it at our peril. So in praise of women, of silence, of speaking up, of obituaries, and of poetry, here is the first of my found poems.

Eileen Nearne

Obituary of a Wartime Spy
Eileen Nearne dies at 89

Only the cats remembered
her parachute-heart,
licked her

once-shaven head, admired
her once bright loyalty-
blue eyes.

But one by one they left
her too, padding across
a shadow-life out

into the Torquay brume, leaving
her alone, headed for
a pauper’s grave.

The medals finally gave
her away. “Destiny,”
she liked to say.

(John F. Burns, The New York Times, September 21, 2010)

More on Eileen “Didi” Nearne here and here.




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The Kremlin Ball by Curzio Malaparte, translated by me–and a reading in Bushwick.

malaparte cover

The Kremlin Ball by Curzio Malaparte has just been published by New York Review Books. If you have never read Malaparte than this will be a discovery, if you have, then you know the thrill you are in for. It is available here at 20% off.

Also, on Friday, April 20, International Translation Day, I will be giving a reading along with other translators at the excellent reading series Us&Them at Molasses Books in Bushwick at 8pm. More information is here.

Hope to see you there!

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Neapolitan Chronicles by Anna Maria Ortese, Translated by Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee: Upcoming Events

Dear All, Ann and I were very intrigued by these powerful stories that evoke yet another Naples, Ortese’s Naples, complicated and disorienting, painful and stunning, always infinitely fascinating. Our translation collaboration was also an enthralling adventure. As we write in our introduction: “Translating and writing are profoundly collaborative acts across time and texts, involving an ongoing, cacophonous conversation among writers, readers, and translators. We have not only been part of this greater conversation; we have also carried on a conversation with each other for more than twenty years. The decision to challenge and explore our own process as translators by collaborating on a text in this way and seeing what came of it was interesting, informative, surprising, and above all, delightful.” I hope you will find this book as beguiling as we do and we would love to see you at any of our upcoming events.

Neapolitan Chronicles                                                Anna Maria Ortese

“Required reading for Ferrante fans and scholars of Neapolitan literature.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Ortese’s articles and stories serve as a provocative showcase of how a city once associated with ‘ecstatic happiness… deteriorated into vice and folly.'” — Publishers Weekly

“Anna Maria Ortese is a writer of exceptional prowess and force. The stories collected in this volume, which reverberate with Chekhovian energy and melancholy, are revered in Italy by writers and readers alike. Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee reward us with a fresh and scrupulous translation.” — Jhumpa Lahiri, author of The Lowland and In Other Words

“As for Naples, today I feel drawn above all by Anna Maria Ortese … If I managed again to write about this city, I would try to craft a text that explores the direction indicated there.” — Elena Ferrante in Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey

“This beautiful book is a landmark in Italian literature and a major influence on Elena Ferrante—both as a way of writing about Naples and because Anna Maria Ortese may have been the model for the narrator of Ferrante’s quartet of novels set there. Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee have rendered Ortese’s lively, Neapolitan-inflected Italian in vivid, highly engaging English prose.” — Alexander Stille, author of The Sack of Rome and Benevolence and Betrayal

“This remarkable city portrait, both phantasmagorical and harshly realistic, conveys Naples in all its shabbiness and splendor. Naples appears as both a monster and an immense waiting room, whose inhabitants are caught between resignation and unquenchable resilience. Beautifully translated, this lyrical gem has been rescued from the vast storehouse of superior foreign literature previously ignored.” — Phillip Lopate, author of Bachelorhood and Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan

“Anna Maria Ortese’s Neapolitan Chronicles is a mother lode, in every sense, for the work of Elena Ferrante. Ferrante drew inspiration from Ortese, not only for the characters, voices, and places in her great tetralogy, but for the power of the woman’s voice that narrates them.” — Judith Thurman, author of Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller and Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette

“Naples is a vast succession of cities—Greek, Samnite, Roman, Byzantine, Aragonese, Spanish, Bourbon, Savoyard—and every phase has had its chronicler. In the aftermath of World War Two, battered, humiliated Naples found no abler witness than Anna Maria Ortese. Sixty-five years later, with international interest in Naples unexpectedly high, Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee have given us an essential, eloquent translation as faithful to Ortese’s time as it is vividly alive for our own.” — Benjamin Taylor, author of Naples Declared and Tales Out of School

“Gives an essential glimpse into the origins of Ferrante’s work … A mesmerizing companion to Ferrante’s Neapolitan project as well as a daring work of both social criticism and narrative inventiveness that stands, toweringly, on its own.” — Seraillon

“Anna Maria Ortese was the last great writer of the generation that produced Italo Calvino and Primo Levi. Today, few critics would disagree with the poet Andrea Zanzotto, who rates her as ‘one of the most important Italian women writers of this century.'” — The Independent

“An astonishing descent into the underworld … A modern artist has rarely rendered so intensely the spectrality of all things.” — La Repubblica

Upcoming Events

Friday, February 23 – 3:45pm – NYU Casa Italiana (by invitation only)

Ann Goldstein, Jenny McPhee, and Rebecca Falkoff will be discussing “Traduttore/Traditore: The Art of Translation” at this NYU Italian Studies Graduate Student Roundtable event focused on “Translation: Professional Practice and Literary Craft.”

Sunday, March 4 – 5:00pm – Dorothea’s House, Casa di Cultura Italiana, Princeton, N.J.

Lessico Famigliare: Novelist and translator Jenny McPhee will discuss her love of things Italian and read from her most recent work, a translation of Natalia Ginzburg’s most celebrated novel, Lessico Famigliare (Family Lexicon). The program will feature an Italian/English format with McPhee reading in English and Princeton University Professor Pietro Frassica reading in Italian. McPhee, who grew up in the Princeton area, has also translated works by Primo Levi, Giacomo Leopardi, and Paolo Maurensig, among others. Click here to learn more about this event.

Tuesday, March 13 – 7:00pm – Community Bookstore in Brooklyn

Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee, translators of Neapolitan Chronicles, celebrate the publication of Anna Maria Ortese’s classic work. Click here to learn more about this event.

Wednesday, March 14 – 11:15am – Leo A. Guthart Cultural Center Theater (in the Joan and Donald E. Axinn Library) at Hofstra University

Join Jenny McPhee, Ann Goldstein, and Giovanna Calvino for a discussion of the art of translation and Italian literature. They have translated works by Natalia Ginzburg, Italo Calvino, Primo Levi, Elena Ferrante, and Anna Maria Ortese, and they will talk about how translations endure over time, why works need to be retranslated, how we build a readership for works in translation and much more. Click here to learn more about this event.

Tuesday, March 20 – 7:00pm – Book Culture, 450 Columbus Ave, NYC

Celebrate the release of Anna Maria Ortese’s Neapolitan Chronicles with the book’s translators Ann Goldstein and Jenny McPhee at Book Culture on Columbus. Click here to learn more about this event.

Saturday, March 24 – 2:00pm – Goethe-Institut (Festival Neue Literatur) NYC.

This year’s translation event at the Festival Neue Literatur, entitled “Inside Translation | Outside Ourselves: Connecting Our Worlds,” pays homage to works in translation that have enlarged our lives and countered literary, political, and cultural isolationism. Panelists are Yoko Tawada, Barbara Epler, Ann Goldstein, and Jenny McPhee. Moderated by translator and Guggenheim Fellow Tess Lewis. Click here to learn more about this event.

Tuesday, March 27 – 7:00pm – 192 Books, 192 10th Ave, NYC

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Dying #4

The Heart Nebula

My vocation is
to perform
the voices of
the dead.

My vocation is
to assemble
body parts.

My vocation is
to fill
a bathtub full
of my organs.

I live
in a wounded

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