Friday, October 28, 2011

Melamed: The More Libre, the Less Vers

Cover of Russian edition of Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads (trans. Igor Melamed) / Image courtesy of РГГУ

One of the key concerns of The Flaxen Wave, which is also a key concern for anyone translating poems from Russian to English for an American audience, is bridging the gap between Russian poetry, where strict rhyme and meter are the norm, and American poetry, where free verse dominates. This problem often occupies my mind, but I rarely know how to take it on directly. American translators of Russian verse have batted around the question of form for decades, and even though I don’t intend to enter into that debate at the moment, I do sometimes find it helpful to consider Russian perspectives on the matter.

Not long ago, I read an interview in Ex Libris with Russian poet and translator Igor Melamed, whose thoughts on form seem to me more or less representative of the status quo in Russia. (Incidentally, this year Melamed published a Russian translation of Wordsworth and Coleridges Lyrical Ballads.) When asked why he doesn’t use free verse in his own poetry, Melamed spoke of the “reckless creative freedom that dominates Western poetry and has practically killed it.” Like Frost, he would never consider playing tennis with the net down:
It turns out that the more libre you have, the less vers you end up with. Meter and rhyme are a welcome burden that keeps verse from falling apart and that, strange though it may seem, makes an impact on poetic thought as a whole. … Russian poetry has a viable enough rhythmic potential that we don’t need to hitch up our pants and go running after Eliot or Éluard.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dream or Nightmare?

Moscow metro logo / Image courtesy of Wikipedia
[From yesterday’s edition of the newspaper Rossiyskaya gazeta]

Until the end of October, the loudspeakers of the Moscow metro will broadcast poems about autumn.
The underground chambers will resound with the lines of Turgenev, Tyutchev, Lisyansky, Dementyev, and others. The poems will be performed not by actors, but by subway announcers.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Translation Comes to Seattle

Next month, Wave Books will hold its second annual “3 Days of Poetry” festival at the Henry Art Gallery on the campus of the University of Washington. The first one actually took place in April 2010, during National Poetry Month, so their year seems to have stretched out to about nineteen months. Will the third annual festival be in June 2013?

Since the festival is just up the road from Olympia, I might have gone anyway, but this year’s theme, “Poetry in Translation,” virtually assures that I’ll be there. And the list of participants is impressive. It includes presentations and readings by the likes of Matthew Zapruder, Sarah Valentine, Alissa Valles, and Michael Wiegers, the executive editor of Copper Canyon Press—an institution, like Wave Books itself, that seems to loom genially behind the scenes of the festival.

Perhaps most exciting, the program wraps up on the evening of Sunday, November 6, with “Translators on Translation,” a panel organized in collaboration with Seattle Arts & Lectures. Zapruder will moderate the panel, and the three participants will be Bill Porter (who translates under the pseudonym “Red Pine”), Nikolai Popov, and Peter Cole. Popov, who now teaches at the University of Washington, translated Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man into Bulgarian back in 1981, and Cole, among other things, has translated the selected poems of Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali, who passed away earlier this week.

This promises to be an excellent weekend to spend in Seattle!