Earlier this summer, Penn State Brandywine Distinguished Professor of English Adam Sorkin received the second prize ("Silver") Award for poetry published in 2011 from ForeWord Reviews in the online magazine's Book of the Year contest for his translation of poet Liliana Ursu's A Path to the Sea published by Pleasure Boat Studios. Sorkin is a leading translator of Romanian poetry to English.
ForeWord Reviews, the only review trade journal devoted exclusively to books from independent houses, according to its website, has no "translation" category, so Sorkin was a bit surprised by the honor, which he shares with his co-translator, prominent American poet Tess Gallagher.
"The book had to compete as a book of poetry. So, while one can never expect to win any award, I personally thought that the chance of any recognition for the book was, what should I say, a double long shot, farfetched-squared," he said playfully. "I feel honored as one of the translators, of course, and I know that this is an honor for the author."
ForeWord Reviews magazine boasts roughly 20,000 readers to its print issue and 150,000 unique visits a month to its website, so Sorkin said he considers this his 15 minutes of fame. "This may be seen as one of those fifteen minutes of celebrity that Andy Warhol talked about. Maybe five or ten minutes, actually, but let's remember, Warhol said that, in our media world, everybody would have this same fame, so I can't get cheeky about it."
All kidding aside, Sorkin said he sees a recognition such as this as validation of translation in his field that "not only is the work I participate in good, but the poetry I choose to work on is itself at a high level of excellence."
The first Ursu book that Sorkin translated, along with the poet herself and Gallagher,—The Sky Behind the Forest—was published by a major British poetry publisher, Bloodaxe Books, and selected both as a British Poetry Society Recommended Book and short-listed for the Oxford Weidenfeld Prize.
"Liliana Ursu is a writer of deep feeling who is talented in both inventing and expressing the world she perceives in images that engage the reader with their power," Sorkin said. "Many of the poems hint at and thus include her personal history and the various places in the world she has been, most of all her native Romania, as well as the United States (she has taught in the United States three times and twice at University Park). But above everything, to me, poems are about themselves, and they invite the rest of us to be included in their world of passionate vision and compassionate response to our shared human dimensions."
Sorkin said he worked "side-by-side" with Ursu to translate, revise and polish the translation, at which point Gallagher joined the effort. "She is a master at condensing language and making the image and line much more dramatic, among other things."