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Of Difference and Distinction

English is a treasure trove of words, each with a precise meaning. It is also a source of confusion and frustration, since so many of those words have subtle connotations and refuse to stand still.

Illustration by Chad Wys

The Partition

Mainly, she wanted to be left alone. She didn’t want a husband or a wife or a partner or a lover, she didn’t want a companion or a pet or friends, she didn’t want to be closer to her parents or siblings or relatives. She enjoyed her solitude, relished it. She had plenty to occupy herself—her work, her house and garden, her hobbies. She was not at all lonely. She was thoroughly happy, being alone.

This perplexed people.

Illustration by Melody Newcomb


She had moved to Germany to be a writer but quickly found there wasn’t very much to write about. Germany was calm. The people were friendly and straightforward. If you managed a few words of German they would say, “Your German is very good.” When you gave them exact change they would smile.

André Løyning

Knausgaard’s Triumph

All of this is surprisingly interesting, even addictive, as has often been pointed out in reviews. But no one can pinpoint precisely why. A striking element in the praise of Knausgaard—and he has garnered almost uniform praise in the English-speaking press—is the recourse to vocabulary not normally considered complimentary. “Boring” comes up an enormous amount.

Apollinaire’s “Zone”

Apollinaire experimented with audacious techniques for generating verse. On occasion he would sit in a café and weave overheard phrases into the composition. Read David Lehman's translation of "Zone," the central poem in Apollinaire's career.

Glebov Junior

On Friday evening Glebov Senior took a turn for the worse: The ache started in his chest, spreading to his shoulder and then into his back. The ambulance was sent for. 

11 Questions for Marilyn Hacker

August 19, 2010

Marilyn Hacker is the author of twelve books of poems, including Names, Essays on Departure, and Desesperanto. Her ten volumes of translations from the French include Vénus Khoury-Ghata's Nettles and Marie Etienne's King of a Hundred Horsemen, which received the 2009 American PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. She lives in New York and Paris. She translated Habib Tengour's narrative poem, "This Particular Tartar," for VQR's Summer 2010 issue.

1. How did you choose “This Particular Tartar” to be translated? Are you working on translations of other works by Habib Tengour?
The humor combined with a certain pathos of the "Tartar" sequence appealed to me (and of course the way it's also a satire on the situation of Maghrebin Arabs in France). I've now translated four quite different sequences by Habib Tengour (sections from one are in the Yale Anthology of 20th Century French Poetry), showing both his wry, demotic side often approaching social satire obliquely, and his more lyrical and—as well—surreal poetry, which is also syntactically challenging.

2. In the process of translating “This Particular Tartar,” were you in discussion with Tengour or with others who’ve translated him, such as Pierre Joris?
No—though Habib has seen all the translations I've done, and had run them by at least one bilingual friend—who may or may not have been Pierre, whom I know and admire as well. I tried to take care to choose poems of Habib Tengour's that Pierre Joris had not translated.

3. “This Particular Tartar” is an epic poem with many voices and many moods. What is your routine for approaching such a large-scale work? For example, do you concentrate on the same section over a period of time, or do you work on many sections at once?
I tend to translate one section at a time, then reread it on its own, to see how it stands up as a text in English, then again beside the French—and once again when the sequence is complete, reading the entire piece in English alone and then in both languages.


Cuando todos los siglos vuelven,
anocheciendo, a su belleza,
sube al ambito universal
la unidad honda de la tierra.

More Letters of Dostoevsky

Translated from the Russian and Edited by S.S. Koteliansky


One of Dostoevsky's early letters has recently been published in Russia. It gives quite a clear picture of his state of mind during the first years of his literary activity.

With his "Poor Folk," completed by him in the spring of 1845 (when he was 24), and published in January, 1846, in Nekrasov's Peterburgsky Sbornik, Dostoevsky all at once became a literary celebrity. The manuscript of "Poor Folk" was taken by a friend of his to Belinsky, the leading critic, who was so enthusiastic over it that he declared that a new genius had arisen in Russian literature, and prophesied a brilliant future for Dostoevsky. Belinsky also published an article in the Otechestvennya Zapiski in 1845 praising Dostoevsky to the skies.