Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kiktenko in Ozone Park

 Abstract post-graffiti calligraphy by Nuno de Matos / Image courtesy of Ozone Park Journal

Two of my translations of poems by Vyacheslav Kiktenko appear in the Fall 2010 issue of Ozone Park Journal, which is put out by the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at CUNY's Queens College. Susan Bernofsky, a brilliant translator, spent the fall semester as a visiting professor in the program, which she describes in an article she wrote for Words Without Borders.

With any luck, Kiktenko's Cyrillic texts will be posted on the Ozone site soon. For now, you can read the originals here ("Заброшенный парк" and "Мальчик стоит и дивится").

Thanks to ALTA, Roger Sedarat, and Jolie Hale for making this happen!

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Nativity Poem by Joseph Brodsky

Photograph of Joseph Brodsky speaking / Image courtesy of Yale's Beinecke Library

NOTE: My English translation follows the Russian text of this poem, which is one of the first "Nativity poems" that Brodsky wrote. This poem does not appear in the collection that Farrar, Straus and Giroux put out in 2001 under the editorship of Pyotr Vail.

*     *     *

Рождество 1963 года

Спаситель родился
в лютую стужу.
В пустыне пылали пастушьи костры.
Буран бушевал и выматывал душу
из бедных царей, доставлявших дары.
Верблюды вздымали лохматые ноги.
Выл ветер.
Звезда, пламенея в ночи,
смотрела, как трех караванов дороги
сходились в пещеру Христа, как лучи.

1963 - 1964

*     *     *

Christmas, 1963

The savior was born
into fierce, brutish cold.
Shepherds’ small campfires blazed in the wasteland.
A blizzard seethed and battered the souls
of the humble kings who bore gifts for the infant.
The camels lifted their shaggy legs in sequence.
The wind howled.
The star, aflame in the night,
looked on as the paths of the three processions
converged on Christ’s cave like beams of light.


Translated from the Russian by Jamie Olson

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sketchy Poet

Untitled drawing by Joseph Brodsky / Image courtesy of the the National Library of Russia

Today in St. Petersburg, the National Library of Russia opened a new exhibit called "Hourglass: Drawings by Joseph Brodsky," featuring unpublished sketches by the Russian poet from a number of sources: the library's archives, the Anna Akhmatova Museum, and private collections. The exhibit also includes copies of drawings that Brodsky made during his years in the United States, as well as some of his photographs. According to the library's press release, "The drawings reflect yet another aspect of Joseph Brodsky's talent and are an important resource for the study of his life and work." Besides the images, the library has on display manuscripts of poems, excerpts from letters, and notebook entries.

As it so happens, the walls of my office at Saint Martin's University are adorned with printed copies of two drawings by Brodsky: a self-portrait and a sketch of Derek Walcott. Both come from Yale's Beinecke Library, whose website allows anyone to view a number of Brodsky's drawings and photographs from his manuscript collection. (Just search using the keyword "Brodsky.")

If any readers of this blog happen to be in St. Petersburg and find the time to drop by the exhibit at the National Library, I'd love to hear what you think! Unfortunately, the exhibit will be short-lived: it closes on December 31.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bella: Woman of the 'Sixties

Bella Akhmadulina / Image courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

This past Monday, Russia suffered the loss of Bella Akhmadulina, another voice from that hugely influential generation of poets who emerged in the 1960s and quickly achieved celebrity status in the Soviet Union. Alongside Yevgeny Evtushenko, Robert Rozhdestvensky, and Andrei Voznesensky (who also died this year), Akhmadulina became, according to poet and Radio Svoboda correspondent Elena Fanailova, a “feminine symbol of Khrushchev’s ‘thaw’,” appearing on stage, in popular films, and in print.

One should not forget that many poets in the Soviet Union, even major ones like Joseph Brodsky, did not have the luxury of seeing their work appear on the printed page. In fact, Akhmadulina was not always in the good graces of the authorities either: her second collection, Chills (Озноб), could only be released in tamizdat—“over there”—by a Frankfurt publisher run by Russian émigrés. And after she contributed a poem to Vasily Aksyonov’s unsanctioned almanac Metropol in 1979, Soviet officials evidently “branded her a prostitute and drug addict” in retaliation. That’s quite a fall for someone who just a decade before had helped to fill stadiums with crowds hungry for poetry.