The National Endowment for the Arts announced that Douglas
Basford has been recommended for an NEA Literature Translation
Fellowship of $12,500. Basford is one of 20 recommended fellows for
2015. In total, the NEA plans to distribute $300,000 in this round
to support the new translation of fiction, creative nonfiction, and
poetry from 12 different languages into English.
Domenico di Giovanni (1404-1449), known by his nickname Il Burchiello, trained as a barber-surgeon and opened his own shop in Florence, where the city’s literati and others gathered for impromptu sonnet matches in which barbed, versified insults were levelled by competitors. Burchiello was commissioned to write sonnets against the Medici by a competing family, the Albizzi, and when the Medici returned to power, he was forced into exile, first to Siena, where he became ill (and even more ill with ill-considered medical intervention) and spent time in prison for debts and insolent, violent behavior, writing sonnets to various authorities and patrons that move between pleading, rage, and gallows humor. His travels took him then to Venice and Rome, and he took to mimicking the accents from the various cities he visited.
His work is best known for its bizarre images piled up “alla burchia,” like the merchandise on river barges and boats. His sonnets offer a cross-section of contemporary life not found in his earlier forebears Dante and Petrarch, showing a great range of tonalities (bitingly satirical, despondent, earnest, bawdy, defiant, baffled, playful) and subjects (medical quackery, fortune-telling, pest-infested accommodations, the violence of jousting, bathing, clerical misbehavior, the bookish excesses of scholastics and grammarians). Although his sonnets, of which approximately 200 survive and which will form the basis for the anticipated book-length publication Oarless: The Sonnets of Burchiello, were to become widely imitated over the next two centuries, even by Lorenzo de’ Medici himself, Burchiello died, possibly from syphillis, in Rome in penury.
Douglas Basford, has been Assistant Director of Composition in the Department of English since 2008, having previously taught at Johns Hopkins University, Loyola University Maryland, and Goucher College. A poet, critic, and scholar of the history and rhetoric of science, he has published translations of poetry and prose in various journals—Poetry, Subtropics, Western Humanities Review, Two Lines, The Atlanta Review, Words without Borders, Formes Poétiques Contemporaines, and SubStance—and in edited collections—The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) and The Display of Art in Roman Palaces, 1550-1750 (Getty Research Institute). He co-edits the online journal Unsplendid, which specializes in poetry in received forms, and is the Italian language editor of Coeur Publishing, a new venture for book-length translations of world literature.
"The NEA's long history of supporting literary translation is one of the most important ways we can broaden our nation's perspectives while also making the work of these talented writers and translators more available," said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. "This recommended award will go a long way in fostering a sense of empathy and understanding for how people from different countries and cultures connect with each other and live their lives."