Literary MagNet: Mira Rosenthal

Dana Isokawa
From the November/December 2023 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

I wish you were here,” says the speaker of Tomasz Różycki’s poetry collection To the Letter (Archipelago Books, November 2023), translated from the Polish by poet Mira Rosenthal. This phrase recurs throughout the book, addressing many figures—a lover, the self, a god, an absent hero—as the speaker seeks to make sense of the despair and communal losses weathered by eastern Europeans during the past century. Różycki wrote the book in 2015, when Poland’s right-wing populist political party won a majority in Parliament; Rosenthal committed to translating the book in 2017, when she felt similarly authoritarian forces rising in the United States. The poems are intimate and wry, philosophically complex, and charged with metaphors for absence and language itself. Rosenthal discussed the path to publishing her English translations of poems from Różycki’s collection in journals that welcome translated work.

Mira Rosenthal, translator of Tomasz Różycki’s poetry collection, To the Letter.   (Credit: Slav Zatoka)

Although Rosenthal has been translating Różycki’s work for two decades, she notes it was both a “challenge and play” to capture To the Letter’s “virtuosic sonic texture” and ironic tone. In sending out the English translations for publication, she was guided by the belief that “the point is not to publish but to connect.” The first journal to publish a poem was Guernica; the online magazine of arts and politics ran “Phantom” in 2019. Guernica is edited by volunteers and regularly features poetry, fiction, memoir, reportage, and interviews “exploring identity, conflict, culture, justice, science, and beyond.” Submissions in all genres are open via Submittable, including for Guernica Global Spotlights, a series that reprints experimental prose by authors outside of the “Western literary corridor.” Contributors are paid $50 for a poem, $100 for an essay, and $150 for fiction or reportage.  

Publishing literary translations requires specialized editorial coordination and expertise: Translators usually must confirm the piece’s translation rights are available, and publishers must evaluate the merit of a translation, edit it, and—in some cases—also edit the piece in the original language. Two Lines, an online journal that has long championed translated poetry and prose, has a particularly “nuanced understanding of the art form,” says Rosenthal. Two Lines is “the only place I know that asks area studies experts to review translation submissions they’re interested in before they accept them,” she says. Italian translator Olivia Sears helped launch the journal in 1993 and, in 2000, founded the Center for the Art of Translation, which now publishes the journal as well as books. Located in San Francisco, the center also hosts events and offers educational programming. Submissions to the journal will be open in early 2024.  

“I’m always on the lookout for new journals that show a dedication to literature from other areas of the world,” says Rosenthal. Her curiosity led her to Cagibi, established in 2017. Founding coeditor Sylvie Bertrand says Cagibi takes its name from the French word for “a space made out of an unused corner...a cabinet, a cubbyhole, a shed, a place where one stores all kind of strange, unusual, meaningful, forgotten stuff.” The journal is devoted to place-based prose and poetry, with an emphasis on translation and world literature. “I appreciate that they publish poems bilingually, reminding us of the translated status of the English that is in conversation with another place and linguistic tradition,” says Rosenthal, who placed Różycki’s “Wind” in the journal in 2019. Cagibi releases quarterly online issues and an annual print edition. Submissions are open year-round via Submittable.  

When translating from languages with literary traditions unfamiliar to her, Rosenthal says: “I find that [other] translators, as the most attentive readers of the poem, provide compelling background, fill me in on essential context I often know nothing about, and point out wonderful subtleties that come to the fore when working between languages.” She praises the editors of the online journal Plume for offering this context. Plume, which showcases original and translated poetry every month, runs a feature called “The Poets and Translators Speak” in which contributors briefly comment on their pieces. The editors note a fondness for prose poems and an interest in “a sense of the uncanny, foremost, and of the fineness of language, the huge absences to which it points and partakes of, and the urgency and permanence of its state of departure—the coattails forever—just now—disappearing around the corner.” Submissions are open each year from April 15 to May 15 and from October 15 to October 31.  

After receiving an encouraging rejection from Paula Deitz, editor of the Hudson Review, Rosenthal submitted a second batch of translations to the print quarterly, which then accepted “A Glass.” Rosenthal felt that Różycki’s formal yet inventive work suited the review, which publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and criticism. Founded in 1948, the review featured E. E. Cummings, W. S. Merwin, and Wallace Stevens, among others, in its inaugural issue. The editors accept submissions of fiction from September 1 to November 30 via their online submission system or by postal mail, nonfiction from January 1 to March 31 via postal mail, and poetry from April 1 to June 30 via postal mail. 

As a poet herself, Rosenthal says she sometimes has to choose between submitting her own poems or those of an author she has translated: Magazines often accept only one submission per author in a given genre and do not differentiate between original and translated work. “I’d love to send out a plea to editors to create a separate translation category,” she says.


Dana Isokawa is the editor in chief of the Margins and a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.