For the 2015 edition of National Translation Month, I’d love to introduce to the readers two Bulgarian poets with four poems each. Both these authors were included in THE SEASON OF DELICATE HUNGER: ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY BULGARIAN POETRY (Accents Publishing, 2014)
The Season of Delicate Hunger is a 334-page collection of contemporary Bulgarian poetry, containing 197 translations of works by 32 Bulgarian authors. All of these authors are alive, writing and actively participating in the Bulgarian poetry scene. They represent a diversity of talent, ranging in age from 72 to 21, with each at a unique stage of his or her career.
My goal in creating this anthology has been to capture a cross-section of the contemporary life of poetry in Bulgaria and to present it to American readers in a way I hope they’ll find fresh, inspiring and engaging.
I used four distinct criteria to select the participating authors: 1) the work should appeal to the American reader; 2) the poetry should carry well into English; 3) each poem should be interesting, fresh, unique and representative of the Bulgarian poetic voice; and 4) the words should convey a message about us, the Bulgarians, as poets and as people.
I’ve translated all poems in this volume, with the exception of those of three of the authors: Zoya Marincheva translated Kerana Angelova’s work, Angela Rodell translated Ivan Hristov’s work and Dimiter Kenarov translated his own work.
—Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, Editor & Translator
Four poems by Aksinia Mihaylova
Translated by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer
The first time I descended,
it was before the slow march of the fireflies
above the unreaped barley fields,
before the silent fingertips along the spine
before I taught myself to bind
sleep’s broken wing.
I sought another body
to feed life together,
but no one called my name.
The second time I descended,
I could already sound out the alphabet of small joys,
although the pomegranates on the tree of knowledge
were still unripe and so, to feed eternity,
we entered the slow river as lovers,
and exited as brother and sister:
between you and me—the light.
Half an hour I’ve been standing in the shower
and can’t wash off this haunting dream
pursuing me for years,
in which you abandon me
at the farmer’s market
in a southern city.
The tides of blood discard
sand and dead jellyfish in my eyes
and I can’t see how you walk away
carrying someone else’s joy
leaning on your shoulder.
April opens its balconies,
yet the cat in me does not wake up
for the fifth straight month:
hot tin roofs,
sunny tiled roofs
are scenes from another season.
I dig a furrow under the fig,
squeeze in my palm
and I talk to them in a strange dialect,
but the rain doesn’t come
and you won’t understand anyway
how you need to love me.
Over my head a cloud hangs
like a promise.
THIS IS A DIFFERENT POEM
Is it because we live in different latitudes
and autumn arrives early in my land
while you travel from city to city,
reading poems and analyzing Cendrars,
trying to explain why
“if you love, you must leave,”
that I stir the plum jam on the stove
with Grandma’s big wooden spoon,
watch the garden, always the same in September,
watch life, always bigger than us,
and I understand that there are no synonyms.
The hens in the yard bicker
over one freshly-dug worm,
the neighbor in the middle of his apiary
tries to initiate the new queen bee
in the beehive, which he placed last night,
because it’s impossible for two queens
to live under the same roof,
and I take out one deluded bee
about to drown
in the third jar of jam.
What’s this spider in your hair?
The answer puzzles me and I don’t know
how you can’t grasp that this isn’t love,
but an attempt to survive each in his own way
in a few words on the back of a postcard
or in that afternoon landscape
the day before Transfiguration,
when we took the wrong way to the monastery,
and while you were studying the map,
I observed in bewilderment
behind your shoulder the field of sunflowers
with their backs facing the sun.
Probably love likewise
refutes its name,
when one day, tired of compassion,
it stops habitually turning its head
to follow the motion of the sun:
then the sparrows of indifference come flying
and greedily spring at the head,
under whose wilted flowers passion
And we stand among the sunflowers
like two useless scarecrows.
Four poems by Ivo Rafailov
Translated by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer
I hang out,
smoke and drink coffee
before I shower.
On the white curtain
in the window
a giant fly makes me
look at it again.
You know how the nearsighted
use just one eye
when they want to see something.
I draw near the left profile
carefully, very carefully.
And then I see—these are
two coupled flies—
one has penetrated the other,
no shudder of a wing,
tentacles grasping the tissue.
Three hours later
they haven’t moved.
I smoke and watch—
with just this?
They annoy me,
I blow smoke on them,
knock on the glass.
I will kill them,
I will kill them.
I can’t do that.
WE FINISHED THE USUAL WAY
looked me in the eyes
and insisted it’s easy
to rejoice at offered love,
insisted also she would gladly
lay next to a good writer,
explained how she sees
writers locking eyes with death.
Finally she reached into my glass
and said: I’ll eat this olive.
She did it
so I could see
what it’s like
a scarlet wound.
EPITAPH FOR TWO, REPLACED BY A THIRD
For years he lived
by his deceased wife
(and it was as it was).
One afternoon the cat
brought a bird between the sheets.
SEVERAL REPROACHS TO FIRST LOVE
It’s like the story of Polish poetry.
In the anthology starting with
Milosz, Szymborska, Różewicz and Herbert
nobody else has a chance to say anything memorable:
how to explain to your children
that they are not children of your great love,
that they do not carry the genes of gratitude.
How to admit
that you’ve missed your life in an attempt to forget
because love had been so close and coincident with you,
that you’ve needed a different tongue to keep from talking about it.
About the translator:
Katerina Stoykova-Klemer is the author of several poetry books in English and Bulgarian, most recently The Porcupine of Mind (Broadstone Books, 2012, in English) and How God Punishes (ICU, 2014, in Bulgarian), which won the Ivan Nikolov National Poetry Prize. She is the editor of The Season of Delicate Hunger: Anthology of Contemporary Bulgarian Poetry (Accents Publishing, 2014), for which she also translated the works of 29 of the 32 included authors. She hosts Accents – a radio show for literature, art and culture on WRFL in Lexington, Kentucky. In January 2010, Katerina launched the independent literary press Accents Publishing. Katerina co-wrote the independent feature film Proud Citizen, directed by Thom Southerland, and acted in the lead role.
Aksinia Mihaylova was born on April 13th, 1963 in the northwest region of Bulgaria. She holds a degree in Bulgarian philology from St. Kliment Ohridski University in Sofia. She is a founding editor of the literary journal Ah, Maria. Aksinia is the author of three poetry books. Her most recent book, Unbuttoning of the Body (2011), won both the Hristo Fotev Annual Poetry Award and the Milosh Zyapkov National Award for Literature. She has translated over 30 books of poetry and prose, and has edited anthologies of contemporary Lithuanian and Latvian poetry. She lives and works in Sofia.
Ivo Rafailov was born on February 25th, 1977 in Bourgas. He holds a degree in cultural studies from St. Kliment Ohridski University in Sofia. He works as a graphic designer. Ivo is the author of two books of poetry, most recently Countable Temptations (2013), and he has received awards for both photography and poetry. Ivo is the co-founder of Frost Press, which has published collections of contemporary American poets in Bulgarian, including Billy Collins, Ted Kooser and Carl Dennis. He lives and works in Sofia.