Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Translation Back in "Poetry"

Cover of Poetry (June 2011) / Image courtesy of the Poetry Foundation

Today is one of those days when I’m happy to be proven wrong: I wrote last month about the apparent demise of Poetry’s annual translation issue, but when I picked up my mail today, I found a fresh copy of the magazine with the welcome words “The Translation Issue” emblazoned on its cover.

The issue contains some familiar names and some not-so-familiar ones—both among the poets and the translators—and Flaxen readers will likely want to start with Philip Metres and Dimitri Purstsev’s translations of poems by Arseny Tarkovsky (the director’s father) and Stephanie Sandler’s translations of Elena Shvarts—the ones I’ve been waiting for. (On the Poetry website, both poems are conflated as one, and "Shvarts" is spelled "Shvartz." The second poem begins with the phrase "I was thinking.") The issue also includes translations by H.L. Hix and Jüri Talvet of Estonian poet Juhan Liiv. And to give a local plug, Olympia poet Lucia Perillo is represented here with a translation of a Rilke poem (“Song of the Dwarf”).

The editors of the magazine have moved their translation issue from April to June, but that too seems like an improvement. What better month than June to lie around reading poems in translation? For an academic like me, it’s the freest, rosiest month of the year. I look forward to spending more time not only with the poems, but with the translators’ notes, which always harbor gems of practical wisdom. Let’s hope the editors give us the same opportunity in 2012.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Where Poems Come Alive

Тимур Кибиров
One of the best features of OpenSpace.ru, an altogether fantastic site, is "Стихи вживую" ("Live Poems"), where well-known authors read a poem of their own and a poem by someone else on camera. You could watch and listen to these clips for hours, but one place you might begin is the page with the two videos of Timur Kibirov, whose poems I've been translating lately. (That's where I like to begin, anyhow.) Enjoy!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

MPT: Poetry and the State

The new issue of Modern Poetry in Translation is out, and the theme this time around is "Poetry and the State." In their introduction to the issue, editors David and Helen Constantine argue that the "relationship between poetry and the State must always be – because of the autonomy of the former and the unfreedom of the latter – at the very least uneasy." They say that poetry claims as its right "the freedom to be plural, various, to entertain and essay all possibilities of being human." As an editorial criterion, this turns out to be a smart one, since it allows poets of various political stripes to be represented.

Of particular interest for Flaxen Wave readers are poems by Osip Mandelstam and Vladimir Mayakovsky, who had vastly different relationships with Soviet power. The Mandelstam poems, including the infamous "Stalin epigram" and excerpts from the Voronezh notebooks, were done by three different translators: Andrew Mayne, Peter France, and Alexander Cigale. As for Mayakovsky, the poem published in the issue is the canonical "Verses about a Soviet Passport," translated by Steven Capus. The issue also includes Sasha Dugdale's interview with Larisa Miller and a batch of Ukrainian poets in translations by Steve Komarnyckyj from the aptly named "Executed Renaissance" (as the editors put it, "poets so important, they shot them").

Not much of the issue is available for reading online, but you can have a look at Komarnyckyj's translation of Mykhailo Draj-Khmara's "Swans" (Лебеді), a poem that at first blush seems apolitical but which supposedly led to the poet's arrest and subsequent death. Swans as symbols may seem harmless, but I suppose these were the risky lines: "They destroy cynicism and despair / With their unconquered song." It didn't take much, back then and back there, to get one into deep trouble.