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 x in Akhmatova’s name.
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,
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.
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.
Яваслюбил: любовьеще, бытьможет,
Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, 1829
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
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.
МыживёмвМоскве, мы – москиты,
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
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.
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
by Larissa Shmailo, editor
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.