Friday, March 8, 2013

Now That They’ve Hatched

Cover of Vsevolod Emelin’s “Bolotnaya Songs” / Image courtesy of Falanster

Last September, on the eve of the literary award season, ran a piece by Stanislav Lvovsky called “Chicken Count” («Подсчёт цыплят») identifying some of the major Russian poetry works of 2012. Since then, countless other critics, websites, and journals have put out their own lists (like these), but Colta’s was the first one to get me thinking about what the year’s landmark books might turn out to be. I found it humbling that some of the names on their list – even the older poets – were new to me, and I think it’s regrettable, but not really suprising, that many of them are not much available in English translation.

A new book of poems by the late Jan Satunovsky, for instance, has made quite a splash among Russian poetry critics, but I had only been dimly aware of his work before this winter. That’s a shame. I wish I had encountered him earlier; even a cursory glance at his stuff on Vavilon reveals a major poet with fine eye for the absurd. The new book is big – about eight hundred pages – and it is called Poems and Prose on Poems (Стихи и проза к стихам). In the Colta piece, Lvovsky writes, “This volume, when you consider the scale and personality of the author, as well as his influence (though often indirect) on contemporary Russian poetry, should have come out long ago. It’s nice that it finally happened.” But even though Satunovsky was an important modern Russian poet, he is little known here in America. Among the only translations I have been able to turn up are five by Alex Cigale from his “Anthology of Minimalist and Miniature Poems,” including this superb one:

In perfect pitch the outdoor brass orchestra,
the horns in pace with the concert master,
the sound quality ascending to the stars,
violins on key – like on his web the spider;
and swooning couples stride along the street
(as it was written, two of every monster.)

                                                Yalta, Apr. 30, 1974

[Всё в порядке в духовом оркестре, / дудки, капельмейстер — все на месте, / звук отличный, стереофоничный, / паучок на нитке — ключ скрипичный; / и, кружась, шагают пары на бульваре / (всякой твари, сказано, по паре).]