Saturday, December 22, 2012

Porvin's Debut

Among the Russian literary prizes that I like to keep my eye on is the million-ruble “Debut” («Дебют»), which is awarded each December to younger writers in six different genres: novel/novella, short fiction, poetry, drama, essay, and fantasy. The winner in the poetry category this year was Alexey Porvin, whose name was new to me but probably shouldn’t have been. Why should I know who he is? Well, Jim Kates, one of my colleagues from the American Literary Translators Association, happens to have already published a small collection of Porvin’s poems in English with New Zealand’s Cold Hub Press. Chances are I’ve even thumbed through it at the ALTA book display.

Jim, who also writes his own original poetry and helps run Zephyr Press, has done a few books of translations for Cold Hub. One of them, Genrikh Sapgir’s Psalms, 1965-1966, is sitting on my desk waiting to be read, and Porvin’s Live by Fire is another. The publisher’s page for Porvin’s book features Jim’s translation of this surprisingly unrhymed poem (still a relative rarity in Russian verse):

On the smooth surface of the night
gleaming like a turnstile,
the sudden slot of a sunrise
requires some payment from you.

You want to pass, and you drop
an uneasy token into the interior
of the mechanism that holds up
any movement through here.

The machinery lets passers by through
to open space, which can take
loving possession of those minds
who have paid their own way

nor will you even recall the restless
little circle from your pocket, soul,
because there is far less profit
in constricted passageways.

Translated from the Russian by J. Kates

Image courtesy of Cold Hub Press

Here is the original Russian text of the poem:

На гладкой поверхности ночи,
сияющей, как турникет,
восхода внезапная прорезь
потребует платы с тебя.

Захочешь пройти — и опустишь
тревожный жетончик в нутро
устройства, что может замедлить
любое движение здесь.

Устройство пропустит идущих
к простору, который владеть
любовно умеет умами
людей, заплативших своё:

и даже не вспомнишь кружочек,
в кармане метавшийся, — ведь,
душа, переулкам зажатым
начётистей принадлежать.

Source: «Внезапная прорезь», Воздух (2010, № 2)

In Jim’s translation, I especially like the phrase “sudden slot of a sunrise” in the first stanza, perhaps because of its alliteration in English, but I notice that the line is striking in Russian too – striking enough that an editor chose it as the title of a group of poems for the journal cited above. Clearly, Jim got the line right.

By the way, it turns out that Porvin is a translator too. Among others, he has translated Oleg Gritsenko into English and Jaswinder Bolina into Russian. He’s even translated a guy named Jim Kates!

Congratulations to Alexey Porvin on the award, and congratulations to Jim on already having translated a book that others will surely want to read. I hope to see more collaboration between the two of them soon.

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