Pigeon Picks: The best of translation on the Internet

Image: Jurek D., Flickr (license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

With the announcement of the Man Booker International Prize longlist for fiction in translation, the Pigeon’s turned magpie and collected together the most glittering sites for and about translated literature on the Internet, from online magazines to audio archives and e-poetry. Feast your eyes and ears and make space in your brain for a word-rush of new ideas.


A sparklingly curated and beautifully designed online magazine of international writing, Asymptote publishes translations into English of contemporary and occasionally classic writing from big names and new voices, along with excellent reviews, interviews, essays and artwork. Many of the pieces also include translators’ notes and audio recordings of the original texts. To give you an idea of what they publish, and the editors term ‘the eclectic patter of languages’, the latest issue includes a traditional Mongolian legend, Bosnian poems, translations based on Sumerian cuneiform tablets, Hebrew drama, an extract from a Persian biography – and much much more.

The editors of Asymptote value translation because ‘it unleashes from latency ideas and emotions to a vast sea of others who do not have access to the language in which these ideas and emotions reside’. Amen to that.


Listening to poetry in a language you don’t know is a delightful way to get lost. If you haven’t tried it, carve out some time to fill your ears with the treasures of Lyrikline, which features poems, audio recordings and translations into multiple languages – no English-first hierarchy here. New poems are added everyday, and as well as using the search function, you can browse by poet, language, country or target language of the translation. Or simply hit the ‘random poem’ button. Then sign up to the community to create and share lists of all your favourites.

Words without Borders

With a themed monthly online magazine of writing in translation, an education programme and a book-publishing arm, this established organisation works hard to ‘promote cultural understanding through the translation, publication, and promotion of the finest contemporary international literature’. Currently featuring a diverse selection of writing from Morocco, past issues of the online magazine, which stretch back to 2003, have showcased graphic novels, writing from North Korea, non-Scandinavian crime writing and literature in indigenous languages by African women. So there’s absolutely no excuse for not being familiar with writing beyond your own borders.

English PEN

English PEN is the founding centre of a global literary network that works to defend freedom of expression and promote literature. Follow PEN Atlas, their international blog, for varied weekly dispatches about issues relating to international writing and translation, and find inspiration for your next read on the World Bookshelf, which showcases their selection of the best contemporary books in English translation. The current public’s favourite is Ukrainian poet Ihor Pavlyuk’s A Flight Over the Black Sea, translated by Steve Komarnyckyj.

Poetry International Rotterdam 

With the help of editors around the world, the organisers of the wonderful annual Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam (now in its 47th year) curate an extensive website of the best international poetry in English (and sometimes Dutch) translation. The original poems sit alongside the translations, many with audio and video recordings of the poets reading. Articles include monthly round-ups of world poetry news, tours of the archive from guest curators, discussions about translation and introductions to themed issues (there’s one showcasing Romanian poets at the moment). And every June, the website features the guest poets and events at the annual festival; last year saw the launch of a festival app for iPhone and Android.

Three Percent

Only about 3% of all books published in the United States are works in translation. Three Percent, the website of Open Letter, a literary translation press at the University of Rochester, is trying to change this by promoting literature in translation to a wider audience. It produces the Three Percent podcast, hosts a Reading the World Book Club and posts heaps of reviews of all sorts of books in English translation. It also has a great list of magazines, publishers, blogs and organisations that focus on writing in translation. Definitely a site to bookmark.

Poetry Translation Centre

This website features poetry in English translation from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Though its archive is a lot smaller than Poetry International’s or Lyrikline’s, the PTC is special in that it casts light on the process of translation for every single poem featured. Poet-translators team up with a literal translator to create the final translation of a poem, and readers can compare the literal and end translations – a fantastic way to learn about another language and the writing of poetry itself.

Exchanges Literary Journal

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There are lots of excellent online literary journals out there, and we can’t cover them all here, but Exchanges, the journal of the Iowa Translation Workshop, deserves a mention for its appealing, reader-friendly layout that features original texts and translations in parallel. Its issues are quite compact too, which is a good thing: you won’t feel too overwhelmed by all the writing of the world you haven’t read in languages you’ll never learn.

Electronic Literature Directory

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Electronic (or digital) literature is created exclusively on and for digital devices. In other words, it is writing that can’t be printed. If you’re not quite sure what that encompasses, dip a toe into the minimalist interface of the Electronic Literature Directory to discover a vast repository of electronic literature from around the world, including multilingual works such as NIPPON, by the marvellous Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries. It’s a single 16-minute Flash file of text in Japanese and English synchronised to jazz. But don’t let that put you off.

What are your favourite spots on the Internet to read (about) and discover writing in translation? Let us know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Pigeon Picks: The best of translation on the Internet”

  1. I find this reference really quite remarkable. I can’t imagine, however, where I will find the time to cover so many exciting new sites. I expect, like others, I am so swamped with excellent reading opportunities that I struggle with where to start! Thanks for this. I do love the stave reading idea as it forces me to at least keep up, or catch up! before I put out the lights.

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