How I Ended up in Afghanistan: Thoughts on Fatalistic Translation BY Roger Sedarat

Welcome to the National Translation Month! It’s nice to be back to this project and see it develop into an annual celebration of poetry in translation. I hope you’ll enjoy the journeys on which we’ll take you this time around.

To get started, here is a short and moving essay by poet and translator Roger Sedarat who found unexpected significance in a recent translation gig.

And remember, in February and beyond: read, write, and share your favorite translated poems. The world lies open; take time to enjoy it.

—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman

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Once while bemoaning how I’ve yet to find “the” right thing to translate, acclaimed Hebrew translator Peter Cole explained to me that what I was meant to undertake would appear at the right time.

Having written a doctoral dissertation on psychoanalytic theory in graduate school, this made intuitive sense to me, akin to Jacques Lacan’s famous statement: “A letter always arrives at its destination.” Thus far in my translation career, my work on the verse of Hafez had felt like it had always been a part of me, though truth be told, I think almost any Iranian feels that way. My renderings of the 14th century master’s ghazals did end up teaching me how to write original English poems in the form, a mentorship of sorts that ultimately led to the writing of my collection, Ghazal Games (Ohio UP, 2011).

What has since transpired, however, has made me a firm believer in fatalistic forces. I would never have chosen the region of Afghanistan, nor for that matter to have crossed genres from poetry into nonfiction. Of the former, one day I got a call from an editor at Arthur A. Levine. She told me how Trent Reedy, a recently discharged U.S. Marine, had written a YA novel—Words in the Dust— based on the real life account of how his unit rescued a young girl whose mother, a teacher, had been killed by the Taliban. In the novel, he had included some of the masterful Persian poetry her mother had taught her, cutting and pasting rather florid 19th century translations of Ferdowsi and Jami found on the Internet into the narrative.

I was asked to retranslate the same excerpts from Persian. This unexpected gig, my translation dream job, proved especially significant for me. As an Iranian-American father of two young children, I feel especially terrible about US intervention in the Middle East. At my college, I’ve voluntarily designed undergraduate and graduate courses on Middle Eastern Literature in part to clear up stereotypical misconceptions of the region. Playing a small part in this well-written book allowed me a chance to see my translation have real social relevance, especially as I got to send a copy of the novel to my teenaged Iranian-American second cousin.

Recently, seemingly out of nowhere, an Iranian human rights lawyer contacted me, asking if I could translate a diary written by an Afghani child bride in an Iranian prison for murdering her husband. Mind you, I don’t profess to work in nonfiction. Even further, like a lot of writers aligned with academia and perhaps too corrupted by literary theory and criticism, I pride myself on exclusively undertaking “high art” devoid of sentimentality. Yet as I finish this project, I am regularly brought to tears over what she calls the prison of a cultural practice she could not bear to endure. Unable to attend high school, she is nevertheless an incredible writer. I’m told she will benefit from any money made from publication of her work, which gives me great incentive to complete the job.

Often we are told that the ideal translator forgets him or herself, becoming mere agency as much as possible. More and more I’m coming to believe this applies not just to the process of translation, but the process of allowing the fated translation project to arrive, like a letter, at its unexpected destination.

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Roger Sedarat is the author of two poetry collections: Dear Regime: Letters to the Islamic Republic, which won Ohio UP’s 2007 Hollis Summers’ Prize, andGhazal Games (Ohio UP, 2011). His translations of classical and modern Persian verse have appeared in World Literature TodayDrunken Boat, and Asymptote. Current translation projects include a collection of ghazals by Hafez and a prison diary by an Afghani child bride. He teaches poetry and translation in the MFA Program at Queens College, City University of New York. You can contact him by clicking HERE.

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The Season of Delicate Hunger: Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

In this installment, we’d like to give you a taste of The Season of Delicate Hunger, an anthology of contemporary Bulgarian poetry published in 2013 by Accents Publishing. The guest of this post is Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, editor and translator of the anthology.

And remember, in February and beyond: read, write, and share your favorite translated poems.

—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman

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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 three authors: Zoya Marincheva translated Kerana Angelova’s work, Angela Rodell translated Ivan Hristov’s work and Dimiter Kenarov translated his own work.

More details and ordering info can be found on Accents Publishing.

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer
Editor and Translator

Givens

By Ekaterina Yosifova
Translated from Bulgarian by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

You have an ax and an island.
The island has a tree.
Just enough to carve out a canoe.
You enter the canoe.
You push away from the shore with the strongest branch
of the former tree.
A suitable current picks up the canoe and stops it
on the shore of the continent. You start living there,
no, not on the shore—in the city.
The boat has rotted long ago.
You don’t know the name—you don’t ask—of that island.
Nor of that tree.

Ekaterina Yosifova was born on June 4th, 1941 in Kyustendil. Ekaterina is the author of 12 books of poetry, most recently This Snake, published in 2012, for which she received the national Ivan Nikolov Award in Bulgaria. Additionally, books of her poetry have been published in translation in Macedonia, Hungary and Slovenia. She has received numerous national and international literary awards, and her poetry has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She lives and works in Sofia.

Nothing Personal

By Mirela Ivanova
Translated from Bulgarian by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

One man, as alluring as an apple
One man, as exquisite as an asparagus
One man, as bubbly as a grape
One man, as brimming as a watermelon
One man, as boring as a banana
One man, as friendly as a cabbage
One man, as spicy as a radish
One man, as green-eyed as a kiwi
One man, as vulnerable as a peach
One man, as passionate as a tomato
One man, as sly as an eggplant
One man, as green as a cucumber
One man, as locked-up as an apricot
One man, as provocative as a zucchini
One man, as irritable as an onion
One man, as guileless as a pepper
One man, as enticing as a strawberry
Nothing personal, I’m simply hanging out
at the market on the fifth day
of the protein diet.

Mirela Ivanova was born on May 11th, 1962 in Sofia. She is the author of seven books of poetry, among which are Stone Wings and Memory for Details. Her poetry has been translated and published in many languages, and a collection of selected poems, Lonely Game, was published in Germany in 2002. Mirela has received a number of Bulgarian literary awards, as well as the 2002 Hermann Lenz Prize for modern poetry from Eastern and Southeastern Europe. She currently lives and works in Sofia.

Gabriela’s Dog

By Georgi Gospodinov
Translated by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

His father is a Serbian shepherd
his mother—an Albanian hound
One of his grandfathers—a Bulgarian karakachan
The other on the mother’s side comes from Salonika
The mongrel of the Balkans—laughs Gabriela
(she is Austrian with a Hungarian mother)
He doesn’t fear gun shots
he’s good for hunting
licks everyone’s hands
doesn’t mind if you chide him
only sometimes only sometimes
(very rarely however)
he lunges at you and bites bites …

Georgi Gospodinov was born on January 7th, 1968 in Yambol. He is a poet, writer and playwright, and one of the most translated Bulgarian authors since 1989. Georgi has published four poetry books that have received national literary awards. His poetry has appeared in many international anthologies, and his book Natural Novel has been translated into over 20 languages. He has authored screenplays, as well, including the short feature Omelette, which received honorable mention at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009. Georgi is an editor of the respected literary gazette Literaturen Vestnik. He lives and works in Sofia.

Several Reproaches to First Love

By Ivo Rafailov
Translated from the Bulgarian by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

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:
excessive evolutionism,
brief postmodernism,
petty sentimentality.
And then
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.

Ivo Rafailov was born on February 25th, 1977 in Bourgas. 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. 

About the translator:

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Katerina Stoykova-Klemer is the author of three poetry books, most recentlyThe Porcupine of Mind (Broadstone Books, 2012).  Katerina is the founder of poetry and prose groups in Lexington, Kentucky. She hosts Accents – a radio show for literature, art, and culture on WRFL, 88.1 FM, Lexington. In January 2010, Katerina launched Accents Publishing.

More details and ordering info can be found on Accents Publishing.

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Lidia Vianu, translated from the Romanian by Mircea Filimon

Today, we’d like to share with you the poems of Lidia Vianu in a beautiful rendition by Mircea Filimon. Lidia Vianu is an accomplished translator, poet, critic, and novelist. Her poetry is made of layers upon layers of images and takes the reader on a journey into a new world. From her translations, I most admire her collaboration with Adam J. Sorkin to translate the magnificent No Way Out of Hadesburg by Ioan Es. Pop (University of Plymouth Press, 2010.) Enjoy.

—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman

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MERGEAM PE STRADA TOAMNEI ŞI M-AM GÂNDIT LA TINE

S-a aşternut un ocean între apropierile noastre gesturi retezate în glastre
cu ochii verzi care nu văd verde mă urmăreşti până Pacificul se pierde
ce cugetă liniştea înşelătoare unde suntem oare dor de acasă
blândă întomnare anul apasă fă-ţi valiza te aduce briza din zare
înainte să ne mutăm împreună cu chirie trimite resemnarea pe pustie
e gol greu de absenţă în jurul meu împleteşte-mă în raze clocotite curcubeu
cu ochii pe carte gândul în Berkeley dă-i Cezarului ce-i al Cezarului
sui scara de lemn până în podul cu semn de amintire pe frunte stai
să nu dai înapoi suntem două cufere de zestre ferecate bate ziua în ferestre peste ceasornicele vechi adunate roată cu roată bunul Dumnezeu e doar unul
dacă tot pregeţi să vii să nu vii sosesc eu car după mine universul mereu
mă ghemui într-un colţ te urmăresc mângâind contururile bătrâne ruginesc cad frunzele uscate castane ghinde te gândesc la o azvârlitură de palmă lucirea calmă din ochi nu mă opreşte alunec înainte înapoi în vreme orbeşte mă atârn ca de atâtea ori de sufletul tău neînceput plecat la scaldă în Prut intrăm în adolescenţă la internat deodată sunt umbra ta întârziată
gimnastică de începuturi nesincronizată scoate vârsta limba la noi ghiduş întâmplările nemărturisibile căluş am gura astupată cu tăcere de pluş
a venit toamna cu covor foşnitor înşelător acasă întinde o mână curioasă
sunt aşa de aproape când mături curtea mă sclipeşti sub pleoape pupila mă bea
hai să şedem pe buturuga dintre Bucureşti şi San Francisco bem fiinţa
îţi pui gluga să fie credinţa nu te grăbi aşteaptă îngăduie dorinţa
citeşte până mă întorc toate ceasornicele din lume torc secundele noastre gânduri încrucişate însemnate în cadastre harta pământului udat cu sânge plânge în noi anul de beznă cărând căldările cu iubire pline
vino mergeam pe strada Toamnei şi m-am gândit la tine

I WAS WALKING ON AUTUMN STREET AND THOUGHT OF YOU

An ocean lies between our closeness chopped gestures in pots
with green eyes that don’t see green you watch me until the Pacific is lost that ponder the deceitful quiet where are we missing home
gentle autumn falling presses the year pack your bag the breeze brings you from afar
before we move in and rent together cast away your resignation
there’s a heavy void of absence around me weave me in boiling rainbow rays
with the eyes on the book the mind in Berkeley give Cesar what is Cesar’s
I go up the wooden ladder to the attic with a sign of memory on the forehead wait
don’t back up we are two bolted dowry chests the day knocks on the window
over the old clock gathered wheel by wheel good God is only one
if you’re still hesitating to come not to come I arrive I carry the universe with me always
I crouch in a corner I watch you caressing the old contours rusting
dried leaves fall chestnuts acorns I imagine you one palm throw away
the calm glister in the eyes doesn’t stop me I slip back and forth in time blindly
I hang on like so many times to your untainted soul gone bathing in the Prut
we enter adolescence at the boarding house suddenly I’m your belated shadow
unsynchronized gymnastics for beginnings age sticks out its tongue at us puckishly
the inconfessable adventures a gag my mouth is covered with velvety silence
autumn has arrived with a deceitful rustling rug home reach out a curious hand
I’m so close to you when you sweep the yard you sparkle me under eyelids the pupil drinks me
let’s sit on the tree stub between Bucharest and San Francisco we drink the being
you put your hood on let it be faith don’t rush wait allow desire
read until I return all the clocks in the world spin our seconds
crisscrossed thoughts marked in cadasters the map of the earth wet with blood
the year of darkness cries in us carrying the love-filled buckets
come I was walking on Autumn street and I thought of you

ŞTII CǍ TE IUBESC

Au albit frunzele de trecerea noastră marea înzăpezire caută o fereastră
n-a căzut nici un fulg dar e imaculat cartierul are aripi cerul
tare m-aş atârna de braţul tău înţepeneşti stânjenit hău de ochi nestăpânit alunec pe străduţe pietruite sărbătorim Crăciunul pe ghicite
fiecare copac brad cu beteală orbitoare e încă amiază cu soare
miracolul firii dezmorţeşte trandafirii îndrăgirii cine să fim
midwinter daydream ştim dinainte toate vorbele din dicţionar
bucuria are miez amar de migdală iz de bucătărie ieftină prăjeală
coadă la aprozar la cartofi degeraţi ziar de un leu cincizeci
trei fraţi la rând la gheare de pui de cu noapte doar noi haihui
plutim pe chiciură covorul vrăjit până la întâlnirea din schit
înaintăm prin ziduri fiinţe înăbuşite sărbători înfofoliţi în nori
departe casele uliţele lume obidită întindem pe azi lui mâine mită străluminare tăinuită ne liberăm din închisoare în minunăţie
se naşte David moare şi învie suntem singura filă scrisă de hârtie
te opreşti priveşti lung recunoşti locul la Uranus te ajung
mai dezveleşte un an din trecut ca să-l înfăş în noul început
nu crezi că înţeleg mă strădui să te învelesc în zbor întreg
încredinţat că eşti singur prăvăleşti propoziţii în abur de suflare
e de mirare că nu te pierd în uitare ţin minte suntem tu eu fiecare covârşitoare nevoie de îmbrăţişare cine oare pe lista de ostatici ne are
destul cu doctorii cu Cotrocenii să pribegim în vremea cu vedenii
cum ar fi fost dacă eram o singură fiinţă cu bună ştiinţă
un drum casă cu curte aceeaşi pătimire nedreapta împărţire
mai hibernăm un timp în Crăciunul început nefiresc
Cristosul nostru suntem noi ştii că te iubesc

YOU KNOW I LOVE YOU

The leaves turned white from our passing the great snowing searches for a window
not a single flake has fallen but it’s immaculate the neighborhood the sky has wings
I would so cling to your arm you stiffen awkwardly abyss of untamed eye
I slide on cobbled streets we celebrate Christmas by guess
each pine tree with blinding tinsel it’s still sunny noon
the miracle of being thaws out the roses of endearment who should we be
midwinter dream we know beforehand all the talk in the dictionary
happiness has bitter almond core kitchen niff cheap frying
line at the store for frozen potatoes one leu (1) fifty newspaper
three brothers in line for chicken feet since dawn only we wander
floating on rime the enchanted rug to the meeting in the abbey
we go forth through walls smothered beings holidays bundled up in clouds
far away the houses the streets chagrined people we offer today as bribe for tomorrow
the hidden lucidity we free ourselves from prison in wonder
David is born dies and resurrects we are the only written sheet of paper
you stop you gaze you recognize the place at Uranus I catch up to you
uncover another year from the past so I can wrap it up in the new beginning
you don’t think I understand I strive to cover you in whole flight
convinced you are alone you tumble sentences in steam of breath
it’s a miracle I don’t lose you in forgetting I remember we’re me you each one overwhelming need of embracing who then has us on the hostage list
enough with the doctors with the Cotroceni (2) let’s wander in the time of visions
what it would have been if we were one being knowingly
one road house and yard the same misery unfair parting
we hibernate a while longer in the unnaturally begun Christmas
our Christ is us you know I love you

(1) Romanian currency

(2) Romanian presidential palace

CE NUMǍR CǍUTAŢI

Îţi fac ceai de tei vocea ta radiofonică de 1 2 3 a răcit ieşire din mit
ţine pătura pe genunchi respiră-mă până-n rărunchi am îmbătrânit
răsfoieşti o carte îţi iau mâna între ale mele ochii încercănaţi de foarte
s-a încins soba de la cabană trece trenul pe şine îngheţate în goană
jos la câmpie e primăvară am vrut să sărbătorim astă seară câţi ani
elani Suedia Akka de Kebnekajse crezusem că copilăria mă uitase
câteva zile de călătorie îl învie pe Nils Holgersson născut din hârtie
dacă vrei îţi citesc cum îmi citea mie tata în pat la culcare trei ani oare cartea albastră Uppsala castele înnămeţite cu uriaşe grădini vrăjite
martie doi de şapte tu cu mine ard butucii în jar să se îmbine cenuşă
pe pârtie la schi e pustiu doar geamul nostru pâlpâie încă viu fără uşă
ninge a nesfârşire ne troieneşte odaia care nu mai are ieşire
ai aflat cel mai bun mijloc să nu vizităm muzee te ştiu idee cu idee
te gândesc din creştet cu ochii închişi dincoace către anii de carceră nescrişi
îţi cobori palma pe umărul meu stâng vuieşte vântul vârstei în jur în crâng
în străinătate suntem o singură minte două trupuri uitate adu-ţi aminte
bea ceaiul cât e fierbinte nu vorbi nu gândi fii tu s-a spulberat nu
se poate orice până mâine în zori când din tăcere s-ar putea să cobori
îţi trece laringita pornim mai departe cum s-o fi zicând în suedeză foarte limbă neînţeleasă ne înconjoară suntem mai împreună aici decât în ţară
mă bucur de geamul întunecat bradul încărcat cu zăpadă vreme caldă încetinesc secundele până când ceasul o ia în urmă timpul se curmă
ne-om întoarce într-o bună dimineaţă la Bucureşti tu sunt eu eşti
surâzi unui gând pe care nu mi-l spui ca liniştea noastră nimic nu-i
bat în fereastră ani îngheţaţi minunaţi
minunată eşti tu ce număr căutaţi

WHAT NUMBER ARE YOU LOOKING FOR

I make you linden tea your radio 1 2 3 voice has a cold outside the myth
keep the blanket on your knees breathe me in to your guts I’ve grown old
you flick through a book I take your hand between mine puffy eyes from very
the stove in the lodge got hot the train rushes by on frozen tracks
it’s spring down on the plains I wanted to celebrate tonight how many years
elks Sweden Akka de Kebnekajse I thought childhood had forgotten me
few days of traveling bring Nils Holgersson back to life born out of paper
if you want I’ll read to you like dad used to read me at bedtime three years maybe
the blue book Uppsala snowy castles with giant enchanted gardens
March two sevens you with me the logs burn in the embers to come together ashes
it’s deserted on the ski slope only our window still flickers lively without door
it snows endlessly blocking our room that no longer has an exit
you found the best way not to visit museums I know you thought by thought
I think you head to toe with eyes closed over here toward the unwritten prison years you lower your palm on my left shoulder the wind of age rumbles around in the grove abroad we’re one mind two forgotten bodies remember
drink the tea while it’s warm don’t speak don’t think be yourself it’s blown away not everything is possible until tomorrow at dawn when from silence you might come down your laryngitis is healed we go on I wonder how you say in Swedish very
unknown language surrounds us we’re more together here than back home
I enjoy the dark window the snow-covered pine warm weather
the seconds slow down until the clock goes backwards time ceases
we might return one fine morning to Bucharest I am you are
you smile at a thought you don’t share with me there’s nothing like our silence
at the window frozen wonderful years knock
you are wonderful what number are you looking for

 

LIDIA VIANU teaches Modern and Contemporary English Literature at the University of Bucharest – the English Department. She has founded the MA Translation Program of the Contemporary Literary Text. She is the Director ofContemporary Literature Press, whose Executive Advisor is Professor C. George Sandulescu. She has published books of criticism in both English and Romanian. Her translations have appeared at Northwestern University Press, Bloodaxe, and Plymouth University Press. In 2005, she received, with Adam J. Sorkin, the London Poetry Society biennial Prize for Poetry in Translation ‘Corneliu M. Popescu’. She has also published handbooks for teaching English to Romanians via translation.

MIRCEA FILIMON was born and raised in Romania. Upon completing his academic studies, he moved to New York City where he currently resides with his husband. He holds two Master’s Degrees from the University of Bucharest, in British Cultural Studies and Literary Translations. Mircea works as a translator and columnist in Manhattan. In late 2013, he collaborated with acclaimed American director and producer Peter Schneider and The National Theatre in Craiova, Romania, for the national premiere of Lanford Wilson’s HOT L BALTIMORE, a play Mircea translated into Romanian and for which he designed the costumes.

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David Burlyuk, translated from the Russian by Alex Cigale

Today, we’d like to share with you 5 Poems from “The Father of Russian Futurism” DAVID BURLYUK (1882-1967), translated from the Russian by Alex Cigale. We hope you like them as much as we did. And remember, in February and beyond: read, write, and share your favorite translated poems. Enjoy!

—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman

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Homage to Khlebnikov

I was aging, on my face formed furrow-like wrinkles—
Lines, the rails of trepidations and worries,
Where the woes of plosive ideas raced past —
Trains rattling into abandoned junctions.
You were aging and your face came to resemble a map
Scratched all over by a network of trestles
Where an unsaddled mare can no longer gallop,
And there’s nowhere for an unrestrained feeling to flee!
And these transparent eyes and eye sockets
Penetrated all the time deeper, and less often than fire
Impulses fluttered by, like startled birds,
Suddenly remembering the tenderness of an autumn day….
And consciousness flickered under the glutinous network
Of wrinkles, like a sky-blue moth in a sack,
And time flogged me with its vicious whip
But my steed was wooden.

1912

URBANODAME

There’s no conductor nor a trolley
The motor roaring like a swamp thing
Beneath the foliage of boulevard alleys
To thunderflight of streets we cling

SEDAME delivering a load of hams
To the suburbaubles of restaurants
Ferry me not for an hour but centuries
Empress of ethereal hallucinations

Electromirrorestaurant
Smirktoad sycophantoservants
Broadauctions of foreign nations
Hypopotomi shiraffes and crabs

And everynight in herds at tables
The cream of society we insistently
Surge as a crowd of husbandames
To the sound of lusty French horns

The waiter with erected platter
Belafricon of his starched dickey
A refinedappetiteatlas
Murky nausea and loud burps

Glance upon entering clammy exclamation
The unfathomableguest of commonhall
Corsethumpingchampagnoviolins
I ordered the Muse’s heart

Not for me some vulgar Tenibac
Nor a herring skull bullet
Oh unpleasant storyline
Suicidalcohol.

Moscow, 1910

Opus 8

A six-story building being erected
The windows blaring in bleak rows
Not one of them flared up a flower
Echoing the familiar footsteps.
How many glances were pierced by night
And dove headlong from the upper floors
Having cried and mourned over a daughter
Driven mad to pacing of wakeful watchmen.
Inhaling deep from the refreshing tower
Staring out the window on a nameless roof
How presently purified you are
and raised up, sacrificially sacred.

1910

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Flung myself — rocks, in the cracks live scorpions….
Dive in the depths, and the jaws of agile-skilled sharks….
Hide in the heights? – mountain-town marauding predators.
Everywhere the eternally wakeful Spirit of Death lurks!

[1916]

From Arthur Rimbaud (Opus 75)

Each of you is younger younger
In your stomachs devilish hunger
Walking so you follow after….
Glancing backwards
I cast a proud call
This curtailed caterwaul!
We will swallow stones and grasses
Poisons bitterness molasses
Stuff our mouths with emptiness
Depth and height we will consume
Birds beasts monsters fish and glue
Wind clay salt and ripples too!
Each of you is younger younger
In your stomachs devilish hunger
All things on our path we meet
May comprise our daily meat.

1913

*“Homage to Khlebnikov” and “From Arthur Rimbaud” first appeared in Eleven Eleven, the journal of the California College of the Arts. The other three translations are being published here for the first time.

David Burlyuk (1882-1967) has been called “the father of Russian Futurism” and was its impresario, organizing the group’s barn-storming and immensely popular tours throughout Russia. Burlyuk is perhaps most famous for having served as mentor to Vladimir Mayakovsky, both having been expelled from the Moscow Art School in 1914 for their political activities. His artwork brings in substantial sums at auction, and among his many accomplishments as an artist was a leading role in bringing Modernist art to Japan, where he lived from 1920-1922, before immigrating to New York. A New Yorker (and Long Islander) for the last 45 years of his long life, he was not allowed to return to Russia until after Stalin’s death. An excellent collection of his art is at the Ukrainian Museum in NYC. Another selection of his poems in Alex Cigale’s translation is part of a 15-poet feature in EM-Review (pp. 109-112) celebrating the centennial of the founding manifesto of Russian Futurism, A Slap in the Face of Public Taste.

Alex Cigale’s translations from Russian, and his own English-language poems, have appeared in Cimarron, ColoradoCortlandGreen Mountains, New England, and The Literary ReviewsDrunken BoatInterlit QuarterlyLiterary ImaginationModern Poetry in Translation, and PEN America. He’s on the editorial boards of AsymptoteCOEUR journalThe Madhatters’ ReviewThe St. Petersburg ReviewThird Wednesday, and Verse Junkies. From 2011 until 2013, he was Assistant Professor at the American University of Central Asia.

He is a 2015 NEA Literary Translation Fellow, for his work on the poet of the St. Petersburg “philological school” Mikhail Eremin, and is the editor of the Spring 2015 Russia Issue of the Atlanta Review and of the Indigenous Writing from the former USSR feature in Fulcrum 8.

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Martial, translated from Latin by George Held

In this installment, we’d like to bring you the spicy taste of the poems and epigrams of the ancient poet Martial. The guest of this post is George Held, a poet and translator of great versatility who moves with ease from sonnets to epigrams to witty insights in his own poems—and always surprises his readers with pieces like the provocative essay on Martial submitted along with these poems. Suffice to say, February at NTM is hot, dear friends!

And remember, all this month and beyond: read, write, and share your favorite translated poems.

—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman

****

IV.43

I never called you, Coracinus, a queer.
I am not so rash or audacious
or one who easily tells lies.
If I called you a queer,
let me feel the wrath of Pontia’s flask,
the wrath of Metilius’* wine cup.
I swear to you by Syrian tumors,
I swear by Berecyntian tremors.
What did I call you? Something light and paltry,
which is well known, which you yourself don’t deny:
I called you, Coracinus, a cunnilinguist.

* Both Pontia and Metilius were poisoners.

Previously published in Skidrow Penthouse

V.73

Why don’t I give you my small-press books,
though you so often beg and demand them,
Ted, do you wonder?  There’s good reason –
you might give me your small-press books.

Previously published in 5 AM and Martial Artist

X.104

Go, little book, go with our friend Flavus
over the boundless sea, but with kind waters
and on an easy trip with helpful winds
head for the arches of Spanish Tarraco:
there some wheels will rapidly take you
and maybe you’ll see noble Bilbilis and your river Salo.
Why do you question my commission?—to greet,
right from the road, my few old friends,
not seen by me for thirty-four winters,
and repeatedly remind our friend Flavus
to procure me a pleasant and healthful retreat,
but not too demanding or expensive,
which might make your father indolent.
That is all. Now the self-important captain calls
and castigates delays, and a stronger breeze
has opened up the port. So long, my little book:
you know, I think, no ship waits for one passenger.

Previously published in Notre Dame Review and Martial Artist

VIII.35

Since you’re alike and on a par in life –
a lousy husband and a lousy wife –
I marvel that you both don’t hit it off.

VIII.79

All your friends are either old bags
or wrecks uglier than old bags.
These pals you lead and draw with you
through banquets, theaters, colonnades.
Thus you, Fabi, are a girl, a babe.

X.8

Paula wants to wed me;
I don’t want to wed her.
She is old. But if she
were older, I’d agree.

X.43

Seven wives, Phileros, you have now buried in your field.
None but you, Phileros, gets from his land a better yield.

X.97

While the light pyre was being built
with papyrus soon to be lit,
while his tearful wife bought some myrrh
and laurel, and the grave, the bier,
the mortician were all prepared,
Numa wrote making me his heir:
he recovered.

Imperfectly Modern Martial

Martial is not a man for all seasons. He would have been obscure in Augustan England and out of place when Romanticism or Victorianism ruled the realm. But in those eras known for wit and malice, he’d have thrived, say, Restoration England or the fin-de-siècle 1890s. But for his obscene, contrarian satire there’s no time like the present for his epigrams.

Martial published them in twelve volumes, about one a year starting in A.D. 85, with about a hundred per book. In these mostly short, terse poems he observed the mores of first-century Rome with the sharp eye of a satirist, the detachment of an outsider, and the scrupulousness of a master prosodist.

Born in eastern Spain in A.D. 40, Martial looked across the Mediterranean to Rome, the political and cultural capital of the empire that ruled his own land and longed to make his name there. In his early twenties he followed his countrymen the writers Seneca (the elder and the younger), Lucan, and Quintilian from the provinces to the great metropolis, as how many others have left the hinterlands for London, Paris, and New York.

In an age like ours, when artists must spend at least as much time marketing as creating their work, Martial was a sycophant successful in acquiring patronage, and a bold self-promoter. In the epigram he wrote to introduce his first book he declares that he’s “the famous one you read and ask for— / Martial, noted throughout the world” (I.1), and in the 90s, contemplating a return to his native Bilbilis, he tells its citizens, “I am your glory, your renown, your fame” (X.103). Vanity, surely, but just as surely the truth.

While first-century Rome was hardly the decadent city it would become some centuries later, it must have had a sizable population of prurient readers who made Martial the rough equivalent of a best seller. His subjects were sex, money, dining, the baths, the emperor, the Circus Maximus, weekend retreats—all the venues Romans frequented and all their foibles, including envy, gluttony, laziness and its counterpart, excessive ambition, and that old staple of the satirist, vanity.

Like most Roman men of his time, Martial had an omnivorous sexual palate; thus he writes about same-sex relations between men and between men and boys, and sexual relations between men and women, young and old, as well as sexual dysfunction. In his poems men suffer impotence caused by drunkenness, old age, and inanition, while women lose out sexually because of age, ugliness, or a man’s preference for other men.

He even writes of incest: “Do you ask, Fabullus, why Themison / doesn’t have a wife?

He has a sister” (XII.19). This couplet shows Martial’s skill at bitchy innuendo. Fabullus might in fact have asked no such question, but the gossip in Martial wants to reveal the possible cause for Themison’s unmarried state; but rather than saying he’s fucking his sister, Martial says simply that “he has a sister.” Fabullus and we are left to draw our own conclusions.

Anyone reading or translating Martial must be unblinking toward his frequent use of vulgar sexual language. Throughout his work, when it comes to sex, there is no room for euphemism, and this is particularly so for his naming the penis. He eschews such foolish porn circumlocutions as “the rod of reckoning” and calls a penis—a Latin word, after all—either that or mentula, the Latin equivalent of “cock,” “prick,” “dick,” or “dong.” Latin futuo is the verb “to fuck.” Thus when he compliments a friend for his scheme to lure men to service a wife no longer desirable to her husband, he calls her new partners “fuckers.” And when Lesbia boasts that “she’s never been fucked for free,” Martial agrees: “It’s true. When she wants to be fucked, she puts down money.” This unexpected ending applies what Martial called the stinger, the satirist’s sharp equivalent of an O’Henry ending. Such puncturing of human vanity occurs so frequently in Martial’s epigrams that they sustain a high level of entertainment.

Toward that end, Martial invents a character to bear his most frequent barbs. Zoilus aspires to rise in society but turns out to be a nebbish who seems to deserve one put-down after another. We all recognize the type as Martial calls him out for his vulgar excesses, finally dismissing him with“Who says you are vicious, Zoilus, lies. /

You’re not vicious, Zoilus, but vice” (XI.92).

Like the best writers of any era, Martial gives his readers the sights, sounds, and smells of his own time and place. When it comes to odors, he recoils less than George Orwell but savors them less than Norman Mailer. Because he treats the pungency of bodily odors so vividly, after getting a whiff of Lydia’s armpit or Zoilus’ breath, we can better appreciate the widespread use of deodorant and mouthwash today.

One reason that Martial’s work achieved success in the late first century and that it might be less appreciated in our age of free verse is his mastery of form. He usually wrote in lines of eleven syllables, and with the freedom of Latin syntax he arranged his words to create a wide range of poetic sound effects and meaningful juxtapositions. Though Latin verse was unrhymed, sometimes Martial placed words with similar sounds at the ends of consecutive or proximate lines. Because of his scrupulous use of form, modern translators have often used the rhymed pentameter couplet for Martial’s couplets, as I have, though I have also omitted rhyme, especially in longer poems, rather than force it.

Finally, however, Martial’s candor about sexual predilections and lack of hygiene, about toadying and other despicable behavior makes him an imperfect fit for our own politically-correct times. Consequently, readers will find him either anathema or antidote. But he never exempts himself from his own complicity in the sordid life of first-century Rome, so we trust the veracity of the unparalleled picture he paints of it. Whether a reader be censorious or prurient, he or she will not find Martial dull.

Marcus Valerius Martialis (A.D. 40-104), or Martial, was born in Spain and flourished in Rome. His greatest achievement remains his 1,500 epigrams, in which he depicts, often satirically, the behavior of his fellow Romans and perfects the form in Latin. His influence appears in the work of virtually every epigrammatist since.

George Held’s translations of Martial’s epigrams have appeared inCircumference, Connecticut Review5AM, and Natural Bridge,among other periodicals, and in Martial Artist (Toad Press International Chapbook Series, 2005). His seventeenth collection of poems is Neighbors: The Yard Critters Too(www.filsingerco.com, 2013).

 

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New translations from the Russian by Larissa Shmailo

For this installment, here is a sampling of Russian poetry in lovely new renditions by Larissa Shmailo. We hope you like them as much as we did. Larissa is also the editor and translator of the new anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetsfrom which we included below an excerpt of its preface. You can check out the anthology here. Enjoy!

And remember: in February and beyond, read, write, and share your favorite translated poems.

—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman

****

Guest editor and translator Larissa Shmailo:

Here is my entry for the 2011 Nikolai Gumilyov Compass translation contest, which won an honorable mention: an acrostic poem based, as many of his acrostics are, on the name of the poet’s wife, Anna Akhmatova.  I have used khto transliterate the in Akhmatova’s name.

Акростих

Аддис-Абеба, город роз.
На берегу ручьёв прозрачных,
Небесный див тебя принес,
Алмазной, средь ущелий мрачных.

Армидин сад… Там пилигрим
Хранит обет любви неясной
(Мы все склоняемся пред ним),
А розы душны, розы красны.

Там смотрит в душу чей-то взор,
Отравы полный и обманов,
В садах высоких сикомор,
Аллеяхсумрачныхплатанов.

Acrostic

Addis Ababa, city of roses.
Near the bank of transparent streams,
No earthly devas brought you here,
A diamond, amidst gloomy gorges.

Armidin garden … There a pilgrim
Keeps his oath of obscure love
(Mind,we all bow before him),
And the roses cloy, the roses red.

There, full of deceit and venom,
Ogles some gaze into the soul,
Via forests of tall sycamores,
And alleyways of dusky planes.

Here is my Blok, “Night, avenue,” which is different from other translations.

Night, avenue,

by Aleksandr Blok

Night, avenue, street lamp, the drug store,
Irrational and dusky light.
Live another decade, two more—
It stays the same; there’s no way out.

You’ll die, then start again, beginning
And everything repeats as planned:
Night, the cold canal’s icy ripple,
The drug store, avenue, and lamp.

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,

Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
Живи еще хоть четверть века –
Все будет так. Исхода нет.

Умрешь – начнешь опять сначала
И повторится все, как встарь:
Ночь, ледяная рябь канала,
Аптека, улица, фонарь.

Here is the Pushkin that everyone does.

I loved you once, and this love still, it may be,
Is not extinguished fully in my soul;
But let’s no longer have this love dismay you:
To trouble you is not my wish at all.
I loved you once so wordlessly, without hope,
Tortured shyness, jealous rage I bore.
I loved you once so gently and sincerely:
God grant you to be loved this way once more.

Яваслюбиллюбовьещебытьможет,

Вдушемоейугасланесовсем;
Нопустьонавасбольшенетревожит;
Янехочупечалитьвасничем.
Яваслюбилбезмолвно, безнадежно,
Торобостью, торевностьютомим;
Яваслюбилтакискренно, такнежно,
Какдайвамбоглюбимойбытьдругим.

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, 1829

After One
by Vladimir Mayakovsky

It’s after one. You’ve likely gone to sleep.
The Milky Way streams silver, an Oka through the night.
I don’t hurry, I don’t need to wake you
Or bother you with lightning telegrams.
Like they say, the incident is closed.
Love’s little boat has crashed on daily life.
We’re even, you and me. No need to account
For mutual sorrows, mutual pains and wrongs.
Look: How peaceful the world is.
Night cloaks the sky with the tribute of the stars.
At times like these, you can rise, stand, and speak
To history, eternity, and all creation.

Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1930

Untitled
by Anya Logvinova

This is the punning neologism poem from this contemporary poet. This appeared in Contemporary Russian Poetry, Dalkey Archive Press, translation editor James Tate.

So, hiena. I have returned to our town.
I am comical in this leather topgoat.                             
From beneath my legs jump buckyards
and cardinalleys flutter.

We live in Moscow—we’re mosquitos,
and we drink at the Red Mare.
Me, I leave my doormice wide open
and all my windoes also.

I don’t write my credo on crossfox
or on hairy leaves of cabbage.
We cockle every Wednesday
so on Thursdays, sure, we’re mouserable

Once the alligator wanted anarchy
but now boredom makes him squint.

Tell me about my minxoft cheeks
in the language of kangorussian.

Ну, жирафствуй. Явнашгородвернулась.
Ясмешнаявэтойкожанойкуртке.
Из-подногвыскакиваюткулицы
ивспархиваютпереутки.
МыживёмвМоскве, мы – москиты,
впившиесявКраснуюлошадь.
Оставляювсемедвериоткрытыми
иволкнатоже.
Яназебрахнепишусвоёкредо.
Лишьназаячьихлисточкахкапустных.
Мызмеёмсякаждуюсреду,
нозатопочетвергамнаммангрустно.
Раньшебуйвольскихотелосьанархий,
атеперьглазаоткротостиузкие.
Расскажимнепромоищёкихомягкие
наязыкекенгурусском.

Poets
by Marina Tsvetaeva

The poet launches speech from afar.
The poet’s speech launches him far.

To planets, omens, proverbs and
Their roundabout ruts … Between a yes and no
He even can make a detour swinging
From a campanile …For the comet’s path

Is the poet’s path. Broken links of
causality — these are his connection!
Upside the brow – despair! His eclipses
are not predicted by calendars.

He is the one who sharps the cards
And cheats the weights and accounts,
He is the one who questions in school,
Who beats Kant at his game,

Who, in the stone grave of a Bastille,
Is a tree in all its grace. He, whose
Tracks are always easy to trace,
That train for which everyone is late …
—for the comet’s path

Is the poet’s path: burning, but!
Not warming; tearing, not cultivating;
An explosion and a break.
Your path, maned arc, is not foretold,
Or predicted by calendars.

April 8, 1923

Dante
by Anna Akhmatova

Il mio bel San Giovanni – Dante

Even after death, he did not return
To his old Florence.
Leaving, he did not look back;
I sing this song to him.
The torch and the night and the last embrace
Beyond the threshold of fate’s wild lament,
He, from Hell, sent her a curse,
And could not forget her even in heaven.
But he did not pass, candle in hand,
In his penitent’s shirt through the Florence he wanted:
Faithless, low, and long-awaited.

Aporia
by Yuri Arabov

This appeared in Contemporary Russian Poetry, Dalkey Archive Press, translation editor James Tate.

You made a bit of money;
You made a lot of money,
Anyway, it’s not enough.
You knew a few women;
You knew a lot of women,
Anyway, they’re not enough.
You knew few prayers,
By heart—crumbs indeed.
Anyway, they’re more than enough

Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry

PREFACE

by Larissa Shmailo, editor
(excerpt)

Isaiah Berlin was wont to divide Russian writers into foxes and hedgehogs, those that could do many things and those who did but one, but did it very well. I present to you an anthology of contemporary Russian poets, a diverse assemblage of versatile wordsmiths displaying vulpine verbal pyrotechnics worthy of the 21st century, and who are, indeed, quite foxy.

However, our writers are Russian. And what Russians do exceptionally well, when they are not weaving glittering webs of words, is what Russians from Rurik to post-post perestroika have always done, and that is wrestle with the prokliatye voprosy, the “accursed questions” about the meaning of life, love, suffering, God and the devil. So, these poets are hedgehogs, too.

We are Russian and we have extra genes for compassion and asking unanswerable questions. There is experimental, lyric, and language poetry in this anthology, both flash and formalist, but Stalin is not forgotten, and the lager is still close, even as the poets text and rap and Facebook their poetry to us.

This anthology celebrates the Russian translator along with the Russian poet. All the work herein is translated from the Russian originals, with a few exceptions for “English-as-a-Second-Language” poems from noted bilinguals Philip Nikolayev (who provided many of the translations in this volume), Katia Kapovich, Irina Mashinski, and Andrey Gritsman (who also provided translations); there is also one English-language poem from Alexandr Skidan. Except where noted, all of this work is seen in English for the first time.

Larissa Shmailo is the editor of the new anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. Larissa translated the zaum opera Victory over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s landmark restaging of the work and has been a translator and writer on the Bible in Russia for the American Bible Society. Her poetry and criticism have appeared in The Common, Barrow Street, The Brooklyn Rail, Drunken Boat, Fulcrum, Madhat, Lungfull!, Jacket, and the anthologies Words for the Wedding (Penguin), Contemporary Russian Poetry (Dalkey Archive), and the Unbearables Big Book of Sex (Autonomedia). Her books of poetry are In Paran (BlazeVOX [books]), the chapbook A Cure for Suicide (Cervena Barva Press), and the e-book Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks); her poetry CDs are The No-Net World and Exorcism (SongCrew). Her newest poetry collection,#specialcharacters, is forthcoming from Unlikely Books.

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Marius Surleac and Diana Iepure: Contemporary Romanian Poetry

Today we offer a sampling of new contemporary Romanian poetry. For this post, Marius Surleac translated his own poems in English, and also poems by Diana Iepure. Enjoy!

—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman

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Marius Surleac, Romanian poet and translator

OCD

I will not touch the envelope from the mail box
on it the maggots sleep like in an oven
coated by a chitinous peel

I use soap & gloves with French chalk
sometimes tweezers & safety masks when it’s windy

even so I will try to discern the stamps
carved in dry bricky ink

& I will imagine what it’s like to travel
faster than light in the vacuum dreamed
between us

Jack, I will always know
that you are guilty

lost

it’s been raining ceaseless for some days without sun
and sheer sounds born in the black sidewalks
I tardily smell the fallen dead animals
in a finite race on the road
when in the eyes
cans of rust, non-resident thoughts
& two quadrants, one faster than the other,
were warmly ignited

mountains & hot springs
biramous paths & fir tops
are growing through the pores
& then I feel how my back burns harsher
recently wings grow on my back & shinny claws
pierce through the brogan

*

today is the day when Jack is away
like a net the nothingness grips him dreamily
took him through the drops that forgot again
to turn the other side already
hard in the abyss

*

in the last night two fists knocked in the pane
clenched for a second
that lasted until today

fishing

today I went fishing with Jack on sky’s lake
we were fishing stars, comets  and other meteoric wonders
that were wolfishly swallowing, with a fantastic speed
the vacuum bait contained by a black hole

we were laying down, lolling our back on the exosphere
felt a bit cold, so we stole some
of the fiery blankets to muffle our dorsum

we lighted up a pipe, sighed in an echo
& caught on the hop how the sun was peeing
on the milky way’s eye like after a proton boozing

we were benighted, or at least the hour
that took its place reached us, we got stoned
and finally decided to take part
at the Bradbury’s million-year picnic

when we reached the groove
you could hardly see two faces
beneath the reddish sand

we sat down &
waited

Diana Iepure translated by Marius Surleac

opera & ballet

we were a hostel of soloists
the danseuses were hanging their lacy knickers
on a thick cotton rope for wind blowing
at the same balconies with
the sopranos
they were pouring borsch in stock from a white plastic bucket
they were feeding their lovers & after that
one could hear everything
through the stucco walls
the deaf-and-dumb kostea & liuda
weren’t the only ones marvelling at
she was reading
he was making tin cans and pickles

metamorphoses

I can’t be as enthusiastic as I was before
I can’t cry in public anymore nor laugh with both lungs
nor forget the fight and come next to you
to clamp you with the legs
as if nothing had happened
I have inside me hundreds of lewd words
that would sound nice
but there they bide
afraid that someone else would hear them especially the children
this winter I turned grey
& dyed my hair four times a month
trying to find the perfect tint
& the clothes
that would hide it

the brass band

the brass band was enwidening behind the defunct
harder it was for the guy with the drum
when hitting its leather membrane
the echo was striking the walls of our house
the musicians
were singing walking
a bit skewed on the back
“take me as well”
some relative was bemoaning
but was getting scared
when her foot slipped off
on the grave’s edge
the sextons were nailing the wooden lid
& this was the sign
they were slowly dropping the coffin
throwing upon it the clay with the paddle
building a hummock
& rising the cross
the brass band wasn’t stopping
after drinking a pail of wine from arion
from the hill of the cemetery
horahs & sarbas were flooding

Marius Surleac was born in Vaslui, Romania. He is a physicist working on a PhD in Bioinformatics. He publishes poetry in journals like Pif Magazine, MadHat Lit(forthcoming), Poetry Bus (forthcoming), The Ofi Press (forthcoming), Pure Coincidence (forthcoming), Bare Fiction, 94 Creations (forthcoming), Dear Sir, Mad Swirl, Poetry Super Highway and others. He published his first poetry book called Zeppelin Jack at Herg Benet publishing house, in 2011. His Romanian translation of The Propaganda Factory, or Speaking of Trees – by Marc Vincenz, will be published in bilingual form at Adenium publishing house, in 2014.

Diana Iepure was born in Chisinau on November 20th, 1970, in a family of students from V. I. Lenin State University. She spent her childhood at Cosauti, a place close to the Nistru river, at the border with Ukraine. She finished the Faculty of History at the same university where her parents met. After the studies, she remained in Chisinau as a scientific researcher at the Moldavian National Museum of History. She published articles on political and social issues in the Chisinau press. Since 2003 she settled in Bucharest, the city that gave her a home, a complete family and literary recognition. She translates contemporary Russian writers as well as classic Russian literature. In 2004, she published her first poetry book at Vinea publishing house, receiving very good reviews.

The translated poems in this group were selected from “O suta cincizeci de mii la peluze”. This book was published by CDPL publishing house in 2011 and received the “Republica” prize at the International Book Fair, Chisinau, 2012 and the TIUK underground magazine prize.

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Akram Al-Katreb: Syrian Poet & Friend

Today, we’d like to share with you the poems of a Syrian poet and friend, Akram Alkatreb, translated by Samantha Kostmayer  and Mick Stern. Alkatreb’s poems are heartbreaking, full of love and longing for his native war-torn country, which he addresses as if it were a beautiful woman. Enjoy!

—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman

 ****

The Moon in Damascus

I cast my last look at villages and cities,
that throw their sons in rivers.

***

At the entrance of the alley,
the wounded dream of cypress trees.

***

Even soil, birds and friends will change
During the war, dangerous suspicions dominates,
and a strong  will is useless,
even the soil, birds and friends change.

One stands alone in the wilderness,
while  there are crowds of people,
the streets and balconies full of there groans.

 

***

Every Day

Every day the guards deprive you of your body’s olives,
that was the food of the Mediterranean sailors.

***

Life in The Drawers

I left my life in the drawers with no locks,
dusty, neglected, with the catalogs of painters on the
kitchen table.

I wasn’t killed by happiness,
when, for a moment, I thought my soul  was tall like the plants,
growing in the African jungles,
plants which burn in the blink of an eye,
while the smells of places remain in my head
like the whistling of the train.

***

For unknown reasons,
some status weep.

***

The blood that flows in the television and the diesel engines
are not enough to utter a cry
that makes the utopian poet
write a sentence on the naked people while dying
and there souls lie down at the end of the night
like the trees on distant.

***

The moon in Damascus’s sky,
or in the lung of the boy,
whose family allowed him to go to the wilderness
and returned to them sleeping.

***

In the strange continents of fear,
we leave our shadows to grow with trees.

***

The door is wide open:
the house is not there.

 

Akram Al-katreb was born and raised in Salamiah, Syria, a city renowned for its poets. He attended the University of Damascus, graduating with a degree in law. Alkatreb has worked as an art critic and journalist since 1996, contributing to many major Arabic-speaking newspapers in Lebanon, London, and Syria. He is a part of the movement known as the “new wave” of Syrian poets and he has published five poetry collections.

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Lucetta Frisa, translated from the Italian by Anamaría Crowe Serrano

For a change of pace, we’d like to share with you, in premiere at the National Translation Month, a few poems translated from the Italian, inspired by musical pieces by famous composers. Enjoy.

 —Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman

Da L’emozione dell’aria
From L’emozione dell’aria

La musica è un desiderio di cose inesistenti
Gabriel Fauré

Music is a desire for non-existant things
Gabriel Fauré

pavane pour une enfante défunte
(Maurice Ravel)

distesa
se si alzasse ora sarebbe morta
è vecchia anche se sembra giovane.
Ha solo tenuto duro: immobile
per non perdere i capelli
scriversi le rughe col coltello
non avvizzire di lacrime
Ha compassione
di chi non è partito spaccando il muro
ha compassione
di chi partendo patisce altri dolori:
soltanto questo lascia dietro a sé
Di stagione in stagione lei volò
senza un respiro grande
non si definì non si sfogliò
subito raggiunse la radice
Ora con gli occhi in questo buio secco
lo prega di non chiederle più nulla
farla dormire in pace
Le cose sono abituate ad andar via
lasciano la loro gravità
come aloni sulla cera
L’asse terrestre
ruota
intorno a un divano torpido.

pavane pour une enfante défunte
(Maurice Ravel)

lying prone
were she to get up now she’d be dead
old despite looking young.
All she did was hold out bravely: motionless
so as not to lose her hair
write the wrinkles with a knife
not to wilt under the tears
She has compassion
for those who haven’t smashed the wall as they leave
she has compassion
for those burdened with other grief on their way out:
this is all she leaves behind
From season to season she flew
without taking a deep breath
neither defining herself nor plucking her petals
soon reaching the root
Now with her eyes in this dry darkness
she prays it asks no more of her
lets her sleep in peace
Things have a way of moving on
leaving their gravity behind
like halos on wax
The earth’s axis
rotates
round a listless couch.

Abîme des oiseaux*
(per Olivier Messiaen)

Dalle prigioni
si guardano volare gli uccelli:
la stanza
sigillata
non si apre.
In una parte della mente
altre leggi o nessuna,
altre terre senza acqua e ossigeno
fra nebulose.
È l’abisso degli uccelli?
Stanotte
nel cielo caldo
i punti delle stelle
sembrano mosche intorpidite
o uccelli in posa a luccicare
in un’altra gabbia.
Si suona nel lager ma nessuno vola
e un velo di note
ci allontana dall’orrore e noi
noi si aprirà le dita
per segnare l’ombra delle ali
sulle tombe
perché gli uccelli la vedano.

*Olivier Messiaen, nel 1940, fu fatto prigioniero di guerra e internato in un campo di lavoro presso Görlitz. Lì compose la sua opera più celebre: Quatuor pour la fin du tempsAbîme des oiseaux è il terzo movimento del quartetto.

Abîme des oiseaux*
(for Olivier Messiaen)

From the prisons
you can see birds fly:
the sealed room
stays
shut.
In one part of the mind
other laws or none,
other lands with no water or oxygen
among nebulae.
And what about the birds’ abyss?
Tonight
in the warm sky
the tip of each star
looks like a stunned fly
or birds poised as they sparkle
in another cage.
There’s music in the camp but no-one flies
and a veil of notes
removes us from the horror and we
we our fingers will spread
to mark the shadow of wings
on the tombs
for the birds to see.

*In 1940, Olivier Messiaen became a prisoner of war and was sent to a concentration camp near Görlitz. There, he composed his most famous opera: Quatuor pour la fin du temps. Abîme des oiseaux is the third movement of the quartet.

danza degli spiriti beati
(Cristopher Gluck)

la sera si chiude con Gluck facciamo che
ce ne andiamo a dormire sulle punte
verso i veli del letto veleggiante
nei provvisori Campi Elisi.
Un minuetto monsieur e un inchino
ti sventaglio guance e ascelle
niente sudore solo fresco fiato
di flauto luminoso che ci guida
ai nostri paradisi.
Che faremo senza Orfeo e Euridice?
nel corridoio buio madre e padre
– Calliope e Apollo – ci precedono
nel breve viaggio e soavemente
volteggiano nel cielo del soffitto
per salutarci col riso screpolato
poi scrollano la testa e la notte
sopraggiunge per telecomando
così si spengono di scatto
la palpebra e la squallida giornata
resta nell’aria la polvere dorata
del sorriso del gatto del Cheshire.
Danzando con gli spiriti madame
non c’è dramma o tragedia
nessuna traccia di sangue nessun fumo
di guerra, solo un inchino un ventaglio e Gluck
e si torna beati da Euridice
che non volta le spalle ma ci attende
nei Campi Elisi del Lorazepam.

dance of the blissful spirits
(Cristopher Gluck)

the evening ends with Gluck let’s pretend
we’re leaving to sleep on the tips
towards the veils of the bed sailing
on the provisional Champs Elysées.
A minuet monsieur and a bow
I’ll fan your cheeks and armpits
no sweat just fresh air blowing
from the luminous flute guiding us
to our paradise.
What will we do without Orpheus and Eurydice?
in the dark corridor mother and father
– Calliope and Apollo – they precede us
on the short journey and gently
swirl in the ceiling’s sky
greeting us with raucous laughter
then shake their heads and the night
unfolds by remote control
with a click switching off
an eyelid and the squalid day
what’s left in the air is the golden dust
of the Chesire cat’s smile.
Dancing with the spirits madame
there’s no drama or tragedy
no trace of blood no war
smoke, just a bow a fan and Gluck
and we go back blissfully to Eurydice’s
who doesn’t turn her back on us but expects us
at the Champs Elysées of Lorazepam.

Toccata settima
(Girolamo Frescobaldi)

una scala sale e poi si ferma
resta lì a creare
altre scale
senza condurci
da nessuna parte
l’aria chiama slanci
verso un aperto sempre più aperto
un alto sempre più alto
una stanza d’aria ferma
ha il peso specifico
dell’arabesco vaporoso
che non snida nulla
la mia carezza resta a metà –
si crea a cerchio la sua aria
foglia che non va
né su né giù.
Dove siete anime dei cieli promessi?
qui non ci sono voci
né parole, nulla progredisce
o torna, si danza o si fa finta
su passi sottili
distanti dal pensiero

e io ti chiedo: dove sei?
e tu rispondi: dove sei?
non c’è nessuno qui, neppure noi.

Seventh toccata
(Girolamo Frescobaldi)

a scale climbs the air then stops
lingers there creating
other stairs
without taking us
anywhere
the air calls leaps
towards an ever-open openness
an ever-high height
a room of motionless air
has the specific weight
of a vaporous arabesque
that dislodges nothing
my caress remains unfinished–
circling to create its own air
as a leaf going
neither up nor down.
Souls of the promised skies, where are you?
there are no voices here
or words, nothing advances
or returns, we dance or pretend
on light steps
far from thought

and i ask you: where are you?
and you answer: where are you?
there’s no one here, not even us.

 

Lucetta Frisa (poet) was born in Genoa. She is a poet and translator. Her most recent publications include: Se fossimo immortali (Joker, 2006), Ritorno alla spiaggia (La Vita Felice, 2009), L’emozione dell’aria (CFR, 2012) and Sonetti dolenti e balordi (CFR, 2013).

Frisa also writes children’s stories for the newspaper Avvenire, and is the author of the children’s collection La Torre della luna nera (Puntoacapo, 2012). With her husband, Marco Ercolani, she has published an epistolary novel, Nodi del cuore(Greco & Greco, 2000), Anime strane (Greco & Greco, 2006) Sento le voci (La Vita Felice, 2009), translated into French by S. Durbec (Etats Civils, 2011), and Il muro dove volano gli ucelli (Arca Felice, 2013). In 2005 she was awarded the Lerici-Pea prize, and in 2011 the Astrolabio critics’ prize for Ritorno alla spiaggiaand her collected works.Authors she has translated from French includeHenri Michaux, Bernard NoÎl and Alain Borne.

Anamaría Crowe Serrano (translator) is a poet, translator (working with Spanish and Italian), and language teacher. She is Translations editor of Colony Journal.

Anamaría’s books include: one columbus leap (corrupt press, 2011);Femispheres (Shearsman, 2008), and Paso Doble (Empiria, 2006), co-written with Annamaria Ferramosca as an experimental poetic dialogue. Her translations include Killing Pythagoras, by Marcos Chicot (amazon, 2013), Daniela Raimondi’sSelected Poems (Gradiva, 2013); Biblioteca Literaria 2013 (Instituto Cervantes Dublín, 2013); Antonella Zagaroli’s Mindskin (Chelsea Editions, 2012), and Annamaria Ferramosca’s Other Signs, Other Circles (Chelsea Editions, 2009). In 2002, she won third prize in the John Dryden Translation Competition (formerly BCLA/BCLT) for translations of Valerio Magrelli’s Instructions on How to Read a Newspaper. She is the recipient of two awards from the Arts Council of Ireland.

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Russian songs translated by Aleks Yakubson

Here are a  few translations of Russian songs, courtesy of Aleks Yakubson. This is a surprise, since they are actual song lyrics, but they are so much fun. Aleks included the youtube (click on the titles to be directed to the videos) links as well, so take a listen if you’d like. From folk to rock, I can almost hear the masculine voices in my head. As Zhan Sagadeev says in his Good night, Brighton Beach: “It’s gonna take a while, but rest assured we will be back.”

And remember: until next year, read, write, and share your favorite translated poems.

Warm regards,

—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman

Black gold
by Vladimir Vysotsky

it ain’t space— we’re layers underground,
and in the mine there’s no time for celebrations
but ours is the most celestial,
yet most terrestrial among professions
here everyone is nothing short of wiz
from Hell onto the Earth we’re casting coals
we’ll grab the Devil’s horns and take away all his
most precious fuel, so none is left to heat his cauldrons

Blown up, chopped up, laid in mold
Precious and reliable, Black Gold

Yes, we ourselves are just like devils, all in dust
But ain’t no chance our train is leaving empty
We’re torturing the womb of our Mother Earth,
but bringing warmth up there on Earth is way too tempting
the sound of trollies running keeps us up
they’re scudding just like in the films about chases
and real meaning of the phrase ‘Some like it hot!’
we feel right on the skin of our rusty palms

Blown up, chopped up, laid in mold
Precious and reliable, Black Gold

And yes, we’re often in the solid gain
but we dig even deeper, for the hunger drives us
we love this job: it lets forget our souls’ pain
while we are busy digging anthracites!
Look at the crater-pitted fields, for what they’re worth
don’t you forget them, look again in ire—
but still forgive us, blessed Mother Earth
for rummaging through your soft womb’s quagmire!

Blown up, chopped up, laid in mold
Precious and reliable, Black Gold

hey brother, don’t you worry ‘bout getting lost
and choking on the dust: you’re not alone!
Ahead and down: we’ll be men or ghosts!
We are the ones who carved this maze in stones!

Blown up, chopped up, laid in mold
Precious and reliable, Black Gold.

Not for my sake
folk song

Not for my sake will spring come back
not for my sake will river flow
and some young lass’s heart will glow
and beat with love not for my sake
and some young girl’s heart will glow
and burn with love—not for my sake

not for my sake will gardens bloom
in Pleasant Plains, a grove will rave
and nightingale’s song will pave
spring’s glorious path—not for my sake
and nightingale’s song will pave
spring’s glorious path—not for my sake

not for my sake will streams awake
their water sweet and clear as diamonds
and merry lass with black eyebrows—
she’s growing not for my sake
and one with brown beady eyes—
no, none of them is for my sake

not for my sake will Easter come
with brothers sitting at the tables
lips full of wine and ancient fables—
this pleasant life’s not for my sake
lips full of wine and ancient fables—
this pleasant life’s not for my sake

what’s for my sake, you ask?—a piece of lead,
This flesh so gentle it will pierce
and then it’ll rain with bitter tears—
if not for mine, than Heaven’s sake
perchance someone will shed a tear—
this, brother, is the fate I’ll take

Approximate warrior
by Boris Grebenshchikov

The boss of the porcelain tower
for hours is drunk on the blow
The priests are dying of hunger
and beating their drums on the plough

and he, blessed midnight dreamer
witch watches on the long thong
keeps trying his rod on somebody’s nerves
while sending to me an escort

but what’s to me all this caboodle?
I’m high on the fragrance of fish
and down by the bank, in river’s coolness
I’m building my Temple with rinds

Of such an honor i am unworthy
I’m happy that near horizon’s end,
there roams an Approximate Warrior
with bottle of port in his hand

Horses of Mayhem
by Boris Grebenshchikov

we were driving and driving, hill over hill
but an axle came off of a wheel
so we came squatting, uniforms frilled
Soldiers of Love, eyes blue and still

And they led us on some strange roads
And they led us astray, as I can see:
Behold a pale bird, eyes like curses
Well, won’t you sing me a song, bird, and maybe I’ll dance for thee

Sing bird, of the soul, the body and what stands between them
Sing of the bird that don’t sing a song
Saddle me, oh Lord, the Horses of Mayhem:
I walked Stairway to Heaven, but the path is too long

but what do I feed’em, when those horses are hungry?
What do I pour’em: for the water they not hoist?
silky manes are scented, waving and curly
Sharp are the hooves, that shoot crimson spurs

and here are all my comrades: wine with no bread,
one brother Sirin, another Savaot
and the third one wanted to walk right up to Heaven—
but shot up and down, and that’s all she wrote

oh, the birdie flew out, but didn’t get far:
got pecked by a kite, and the doves too
they harnessed and bridled for me
Horses of Mayhem—
and those horse carried me further from You

and we shot for the gold, but the colors wore thin
all the aces are ashes, no matter what you say
father mine Sergius, light of Seraphim
stars in the Sky, and snow on the way

Farewell, Strange Land
by Ilya Kormil’tsev

When i wake up, I’ll still be alone
under the grey sky of province
the lights will shine,
the eyes like the puddles,
like shingles in water,
all faded stars lie,
lie on the slimy bottom

this night, this night
is thicker than curtains of plush
scarier than wrought-iron fences
i see only myself,
everywhere meet my gaze

Farwell, oh Strange Land!
we wanted to stay, but we can’t:
we’ve gotten lighter than mist,
we’ve gotten cleaner than rain!
We will come back again,
But who will tell us then:
Farewell, oh Strange Land! Farewell.

Perhaps we came down from Heaven before,
or were born again and again
what a bitter memory, memory of that
that which will be in the end
but tires whisper at night
a comforting rave
i hear a cry in the dark:
and maybe, this is The Call

Farwell, oh Strange Land!
we wanted to stay, but we can’t:
we’ve gotten lighter than mist,
we’ve gotten cleaner than rain!
We will come back again,
But who will tell us then:
Farewell, oh Strange Land! Farewell

Good night, Brighton Beach!
by Zhan Sagadeev

Nineteen twenty, Russia’s burning
KGB’s Red Wheel is turning
Teeth to walls, pouring blood
Europe’s under a human flood
New York, darkest night
Concrete jungle, silver dreams
A band of brothers in survival fight
Odessa and The Hudson meet!

Roulette, poker and blackjack
Night hunt, hear the tires screech!
It’s gonna be so long, before we’re coming back:
Good night, my darling— BRIGHTON BEACH!

Years flew, business was good
The were pros of the highest class
Reaped the greens as fast as they could
Oil-less gas, diamonds of glass
Jemmy, the printing press
Missouri, eternal catch
Life is nothing but a piece of cake
A deck with sixteen Aces of Spades

Roulette, poker and blackjack
Night hunt, hear the tires screech!
It’s gonna take a while, but rest assured we will be back:
Good night, my darling BRIGHTON BEACH!

Aleks Yakubson, also known as ‘SpikeyApples’, was born in 1975 in Harkiv, Ukraine, and immigrated to USA in 1993, at the age of 18. Aleks feels attached to both Russian, Ukrainian, and now American and generally English speaking, as well as Jewish and Spanish cultures (as he learned the latter language in Soviet school). His main trade for years has been language translation, but he also has dabbled in acting, poetry, rock-music, freelance journalism and political punditry. He runs a blog on the web site Echo of Moscow, the leading [still] independent Russian media outlet, and makes guest appearances on the Russian Television Network of America’s programs.

Aleks considers his translation work on poetry, especially rock lyrics by Russian and some American bands, as a potentially important cultural bridge. As in the words of a song by Nastya Poleva, untranslated yet by Aleks or anyone else, “Some’ll understand, someone’ll hear, for everywhere on Earth in every head, the same wind blows” 🙂

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