by sabrina jaszi, mirgul kali, and ena selimović 

It’s an absolute thrill to present the second issue of Turkoslavia Journal, featuring fourteen authors, twelve translators, and eleven languages. We experienced for ourselves how a journal’s second issue could be so different from its inaugural one—from the submissions stage all the way through to publication. The twelve works that comprise this issue put forth a very distinct picture of Turkic and Slavic literatures than that offered by the first issue: different languages, time periods, forms—and a much greater emphasis on poetry!

The issue presents a community of writers that includes, in no particular order, Memtimin Hoshur, Ognjen Obradović, Jakub Kornhauser, Hamid Ismailov, Sultan Rayev, Talasbek Asemqulov, an unknown Bosnian shayk, Geo Milev, Yuriy Serebriyanski, Urmuz, Betül Dünder, Bashorat Otajonova, Aziz Nesin, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Munawwar Abdulla, Vlad Beronja, Shelley Fairweather-Vega, Piotr Florczyk, Edin Hajdarpašić, Dorotea Lechkova, Ariadna Linn, Marina Sofia, Öykü Tekten, Shokhrukh Usmonov, Will Washburn, Claire Roosien, and the Turkoslavia team—with this year’s guest poetry editor, Zohra Saed. Thanks to our postcard fundraising campaign and the generosity of good friends, we were able to employ a graphic artist to design the banner and images for this issue, Tim Peters

An early 20th century Bosnian poem uses the Arabic alphabet to declare love while a more recent short story by an Uyghur writer employs the epistolary form to juxtapose private and political loyalties. Betül Dünder, Bashorat Otajonova, and Geo Milev’s poems ponder complex feelings toward family and lovers, against a backdrop of dread. Ognjen Obradović’s bleak architectural snapshots speak to Jakub Kornhauser’s ironic vignettes, and to Vladimir Mayakovsky’s harsh urban panoramas. Talasbek Asemkulov and Yuriy Serebriansky’s protagonists contend with natural forces and bizarre circumstances at the verge of adulthood. Animals find themselves caught up in the desires of their human and semi-human owners in Urmuz and Aziz Nesin’s short pieces. 

notes from the editors

ena selimović     There are many firsts in this second issue. If one caption for Issue 1 read: “You think you know your colleagues? Yourself? Try launching a literary journal together,” then Issue 2’s read: “Now try launching a poetry-centered issue.” Of course, we never set out to make Issue 2 a “poetry issue”—or the poetry issue—but when it nonetheless took shape, we were tasked with learning more about how we—individually and collectively—approach poetry from our newfound perspective as editors of this journal and as translators who focus on prose in our own work. We pride ourselves on the fact that translation can resist myths of purity and is pluralistic by design, a fact that should apply equally to questions of form. (I personally dislike generic distinctions but can see their importance and convenience.) So many lines simply stick:

“at a castaway moment i got caught in rain / no way we grow outside the mornings” 

“would-be socialist pioneers slide down / at bargain prices” 

“No surprise then that small groups of frustrated youth move into empty bells.”

The editorial process was exhilarating, at times daunting, and immensely enjoyable. We were grateful to Zohra for warmly and affirmingly accompanying us through the process. So, yes, prose takes a front-row seat in our own work, but 1) it’s a long first row and 2) seat assignments change. 

sabrina jaszi     An indisputably dark assemblage of works, Issue 2 reveals sharp glimmers of humor: the backhanded compliments lobbed at a beloved by an unknown Bosnian shayk; the jeering spit-bombs dropped in Mayakovsky’s futurist cities; the chipper slogans plastered across Obradović’s urban hellscapes. Humor takes many forms, from absurdism, to mawkish overstatement, to satire, to ironic recollection, and has many jarring contiguities—animal death, political violence, and natural disaster, to name a few. The translators’ work leads the reader to comic aspects of the pieces, and their paratexts, including the images by Tim Peters, give credence to the feeling that—yes, there really is something to find funny. Eroding a somber atmosphere of political violence, I found, for example, a sly laugh in the self-absorption of two lovers in Hoshur’s “A Letter from Afar,” encapsulated by the image of the narrator moodily smoking a cigarette in nature as he contemplates suicide. The playful and sensual action of the excerpts in Three Storms performs a similar subversion of despotic nature. Otajonova’s flowers and butterflies seem a poor match for nightmarish fear, but the near-frivolity of her images forces terror to be less terrible. In all these works, lightheartedness, which appears only if a reader chooses to apprehend it, acts as a tiny weapon, a pinprick to the grandiose forces of history, politics, nature, religion, or even love—whose need to overwhelm and overtake can threaten in many spheres, not least that of art.  

mirgul kali     In this issue, we are presenting a trio of excerpts from novels by Uzbek, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz writers, the translation of which involved, to a lesser or larger extent, working with the Russian original or intermediary text. The translator Shelley Fairweather-Vega’s informative introduction to these excerpts explains why the Russian language has been and continues to be vital to the task of making Central Asian literature available to the rest of the world. It’s important to challenge the dominance of Russian by exposing its subtle yet pervasive workings inherited as part of the racially and linguistically biased Soviet-era translation policies and methods. As Shelley points out, the method included the production of a literal trot by a native language speaker which was then made “literary” by a Russian-language translator. The final work stated the original language but didn’t mention the name of the first translator, often a person of non-Russian ethnicity, thus creating an impression of a direct, unproblematic translation. At Turkoslavia, we are committed to listing all the languages involved and, if known, the mode of their input, the aesthetically unwieldy, seemingly extraneous detail perhaps cluttering the title and contents page, yet highlighting the occasionally fraught and complex nature of translation. We strive to name all translators who contribute to the final published text—to honor their presence, time, labor, and choices, which necessarily influence the subsequent translations and bring the text into another language.