Vladimir Gandelsman / Image courtesy of Стороны света
This week, poet and translator Vladimir Gandelsman won the Moscow Count award, an annual prize of fifty thousand rubles (about $1800) given for the best book of poetry published that year by a Moscow press. The book in question is Ode to a Dandelion (Ода одуванчика), which was put out by Russkii Gulliver and includes poems that the poet wrote between 1975 and 2007. Gandelsman cut his teeth among the Leningrad poets in the 1970s, who were under the sway of Joseph Brodsky, and since he immigrated to the U.S. in 1990, he has divided his time between New York and St. Petersburg. Besides writing his own poetry, Gandelsman has translated many English and American poets into Russian (though none of those translations appear in the new book), including Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, W.H. Auden, Anthony Hecht, and even Dr. Seuss (Кот в шляпе). Radio Svoboda listeners may also know him from his frequent contributions – often about contemporary poetry, especially Brodsky – to Alexander Genis’s American hour on the program “Over the Barriers” (“Поверх барьеров”).
English translations of Gandelsman’s poetry have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation, Metamorphoses, and John High’s Crossing Centuries, but none of those texts are available online. Therefore, to give you a taste of Gandelsman, I’ve translated (very hastily) the final two stanzas of “Ode to a Dandelion,” the title poem of his prize-winning book:
If you move at all, fluff will fly from
the dandelion, that unlucky flower.
I remember my mother’s whisper:
“Giving birth…” (about my aunt) “…she died.”
And then she’d do some sewing.
Or, let’s say, she’d sweep the floor.
An act of dispersion.
There, she’s done it.
Like a lamp, flickering as it hangs,
I’ll carry it off into a vacant lot,
and just then the light of
the dandelion will meekly fade.
Gone, beyond our ken.
Blow! It will tremble just a bit,
you’ll hear a distant clatter,
and out it will go.
(Шевельнись - и слетит с одуванчика / пух, с цветка-неудачника. / Помню шепот / мамы: "...роды..." - (о тетушке) - "...умерла". / Села штопать. / Или, скажем, пол подмела. / Распыления опыт. / Вот он, добыт. // Точно лампу, моргнувшую на весу, / на пустырь его вынесу, / и вот-вот свет / Одуванчика сгинет безропотно. / Там, где нас нет. / Дуй! - он дернется крохотно, - / в мире что-нибудь лязгнет, - / и погаснет.)