Known for his famous definition of Acmeism as “nostalgia (or thirst) for world culture,” in the later poem of 1933 Osip Mandelstam wrote: “Do not tempt foreign tongues–attempt forgetting them, alas,/Because your teeth will never bite the glass,” which seems to deny everything he believed.
Having gone through all the circles of earthly hell and purgatory and anticipating his own arrest and perhaps death, Mandelstam, nevertheless, claims that heaven is a “lifetime home” creating thus his own pattern of “Paradiso terrestre.”
The “Slate Ode” is one of the most esoteric poems in Mandelstam’s creativity. The poet is known for his exceptional manner of hiding allusions and destroying bridges-associations.
Omry Ronen in his profound book An Approach to Mandelstam made diachronic and synchronic analyses of “The Slate Ode” and “January 1, 1924.”(1) While restoring the bridges in these of Mandelstam’s poems written in 1923, Ronen hit the right target and even created a kind of a history of the Russian verse from Lomonosov and Derzhavin to the twentieth century on the one hand, and connected Mandelstam’s prose, essays, and poetry on the other, by thus achieving a striking and sometimes a superfluous effect as, for example, in his citations of the use of blazhen and blagosloven (blessed) in Russian poetry: since Derzhavin and especially Pushkin there was hardly a Russian poet who did not use these words.
Although there is an evident affinity between Roald Mandelstam and Silver Age poets such as Blok, Gumilev, and Osip Mandelstam (to whom he bore no relation), his poetry differs from theirs in its distinctive syncretic imagery, vision, and intonation. Moreover, he is an existential poet and, as such, continues the highest traditions of the Russian poetry from Derzhavin and Tiutchev to Gumilev and Osip Mandelstam.
Kirill Medvedev, in a review of the third posthumously published book of Mandelstam’s work, compared his poetry to the French les poètes maudits. But Mandelstam’s lack of agonism, decadence, and narcissism resist that designation. It is notable that his closest friends were underground Petersburg artists of the so-called Arefiev circle, rather than literati.
Mandelstam’s work was rediscovered by Mikhail Shemiakin, who published his poetry in the almanac Apollon-77, and K. Kuz’minskii, who published selected works in the anthology U Goluboi Laguny (At the Blue Lagoon). Kuz’minskii came to a contradictory conclusion: on the one hand, he regarded Mandelstam as peerless, but on the other hand, he claimed that the poet was a “typical representative of constructive eclecticism.”
Grigori Dashevsky was born in Russia in 1964. He has published four books of poetry and a number of critical articles and translations from English and French. He was short-listed for the Andrei Bely prize. He is considered by many to be the youngest “classic” in Russian poetry. Appropriately, his poetry often utilizes rhythms found in Ancient Greek and Roman poetry. As the poet Elena Fanaylova writes, “Dashevsky’s poetry approaches something biologically real, something that is mainly located outside of literature’s administration. It approaches an impact. An experience. It recreates its power, evoking gratitude from those who still haven’t lost the skill of poetic reading.”
Leonid Schwab, a Russian-language poet, was born in Bobruysk, Belarus in 1961. Since 1990, he has lived in Israel. Schwab’s poems have been published in a number of prominent Russian-language literary journals, both in print and online. In 2004, Leonid Schwab was included in the shortlist of the prestigious Andrei Bely Prize. In 2005, he published a book of poems called Poverit’ v botaniku (To Believe In Botany). In 2008, together with Fedor Svarovskiy and Arseniy Rovinskiy, Leonid Schwab published a compilation of poems under the title Vse Srazu (All At Once). The book was very well received by literary critics and regarded as a manifestation of a new poetic trend, the “New Epic,” which the authors define as “narrative texts with metaphysical content.” As one critic wrote of Schwab’s poetry, “his poems move in the rhythm of Pushkin’s fragments. However, the plot doesn’t form, instead thickening as a small cloud, changing as the air changes after the military curfew has been announced.” Schwab’s poetry does not yield to the habitual tricks of experienced readers. His distinct, deliberately impersonal style introduces the reader to fascinating and unfamiliar contexts, where all conventions of language and art appear fractured and yet not altogether abandoned.
Semyon Khanin, a Russian-language poet, was born in Riga, Latvia in 1970. His original works have been published in Latvia, Russia, Czech Republic, Germany, and Ukraine. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Just Now (2003) and Missed Details (2008). His poetry has been translated into Latvian, English, Czech, German, Italian, Swedish, Estonian, and Ukranian. He is a participant in the literary project “Orbita” (www.orbita.lv), and editor of the almanac with the same name. As the poet Yuliya Idlis writes, in Khanin’s poetry “we see the process of an endless stratification of the lyric subject, the divison and the fragmentation of the “I” into tiny and often not quite anthropomorphic particles. At the same time, there’s a constant search for wholeness, unending pursuit of the proofs of the subject’s existence, a torturous struggle for self-identification.”
Oleg Yuriev, a writer of poetry, prose, and drama, was born in Leningrad in 1959 and has been living in Frankfurt, Germany since 1991. During the Soviet era, he participated in Leningrad’s unofficial cultural life (the “Kamera Khranenia” group). Since the late 1980s, his original works have been published and staged in Russia. Yuriev’s plays and prose have been translated into English, German, Polish, Czech, Ukrainian, and French, and performed in Russia, Germany, France, Switzerland, Poland, Czech Republic, Belarus, and Ukraine. Yuriev has had multiple publications in Russian, Russian diaspora, and German magazines. His poems have been translated into English, German, Italian, and French.
Publications include Two Short Plays (1990); the poetry collections Stikhi v Nebesnom Nabore (Verses in Heavenly Font, 1989), Izbrannye stikhi i khory (Collected Poems and Quires, 2004), and Frankfurtskii vystrel vechernii (The Frankfurt Evening Shot, 2007); the prose collections Progulki pri poloj lune (Walks Under the Hollow Moon, 1993), Frankfurtskii byk (The Frankfurt Bull, 1996); and the novels Poluostrov Zhydiatin (Zhydiatin Peninsula, 2000) and Novyi Golem, ili Vojna starikov i detej (New Golem, or the War Between Old Men and Children, 2004). He has seven books of prose in German translation, the last four published by Suhrkamp.
The signature tension in his poems is often derived from putting parts of the natural world–flora, fauna, changes of season, meteorological conditions–into positions of conflict, causing the texts to resemble a battlefield. This tension is mirrored by the intricate phonetic combat within the texts. The density and the dizzying succession of alliterations and consonances ultimately confer to Yuriev’s poems a lightness that the translations featured here attempt to preserve.
Aleksey Khomyakov (1804–1860) was a Russian religious philosopher, historian, economist, poet, painter, engineer, and inventor. He was the leader of the Slavophiles and promoted the idea of Pan-Slavism based on the principles of Orthodoxy. His early poems, created within the framework of romanticism, are concerned with the inner unity between the spirit and nature. Later he drew the most important source of his poetry from Orthodox Christianity. His theological writings influenced Fyodor Dostoevsky and Vladimir Solovyov. Khomyakov’s poetry remains largely untranslated.
Minimalism? Stevens, “the nothing that is”; Williams, “a machine made of words.” Economy of means, focus on surfaces, concreteness, eschewing figuration, making silence and absence present, self-effacement, and the spareness of Suprematism. In the American context, Robert Morris, “Maximum resistance to…perceptual separation” inviting the viewer’s participation and co-production in the creation of meaning. Donald Judd’s “Specific Objects” and their “indeterminancy of arrangement” making for unclassifiable art “between” painting and sculpture, challenging the poetry/not poetry distinction, non-Art references and the use of industrial materials akin to citation, cliché, common speech, public announcement, advertising slogan, proverb, etc. But also Zen, a nearly spiritual pursuit, and human voice as sound sculpture. Not a movement: “Minimalism is not really an idea; it ended before it started” (Sol LeWitt). In the Russian context of the ‘60s and ‘70s, a resumption of the ‘30s generation’s Absurdism, the naïve populist lyric of the war generation with its creation of a sphere for private utterance, a truly subversive act, parody of ‘50s Socialist Realism through coding, implication by omission, and ironic critique of the Soviet status quo. The emergence of Russian Conceptualism and so called SotsArt (Russian Pop Art). Yes Irony, but also pathos and a kind of aesthetics of exhaustion, both of the personal and of the historical kind. Minimalism: that legal definition of pornography: I know it when I see it. Enough said.
Yuli Gugolev was born in Moscow in 1964. He is a translator and the author of two books of poetry: Polnoe: Sobranie sochineniy (Complete: Collected Works; Moscow: OGI, 2000), and Komandirovochnye predpisaniya (Official Instructions; Moscow: Novoe izdatelstvo, 2006), which won the Moscow Count prize for 2007. In 2008, Gugolev was one of three poets invited to give a series of bilingual readings around the United States sponsored by the NEA and the Poetry Foundation in conjunction with the release of Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology from Dalkey Archives. He works in the regional division of the International Commission of the Red Cross in the Russian Federation.
Marina Temkina was born in Leningrad in 1948 and emigrated to New York City in 1978. She has published four books of poetry in Russian: Chasti chast’ (A Part of A Part), V obratnom napravlenii (In Reverse), Kalancha (Watchtower), and Canto Immigranto. Temkina’s first book in English, WHAT DO YOU WANT? (just out from Ugly Duckling Presse) consists of several texts made for installations or as part of handmade artist’s books, and two poems translated from Russian (by Vladislav Davidzon and Alexander Stessin) accompanied by installation images and original drawings by the author. Many of her other poems have been translated by Alfred Corn. She is a past recipient of an NEA grant and a Charles H. Revson Fellowship on the Future of New York at Columbia University.
Alexei Khvostenko (1940-2004) deserves a larger, “literary” audience, but his “outsider” status is unlikely to be reversed posthumously and outside the Russian context, requiring an appreciation of him as a multi-artist (poet, singer/bard, collagist/sculptor) and an awareness of his immense popularity as a persona non grata during the exhilarating cultural moment of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the Soviet status quo was still in place but the liberating/decadent influences of the West had flooded in. Suspector (literally: “he who suspects”) is the title poem of Khvostenko’s first samizdat book (1965) at the height of the Khruschev “thaw” which was to be shortly followed by the suppression and stagnation of the Brezhnev years. These words were revolutionary, eliciting the disproportionate response from the authorities that made the Russian outsider bards Pop Icons. Khvost (his nickname means “Tail”) lived in Paris after his 1977 expulsion from the USSR.
Vyacheslav Vasilievich Semikin was born on May 23, 1937 in Leningrad, USSR. He attended Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) State University, majoring in Philosophy, but left in the third year without completing his degree. He worked as a stage assistant at the Lenin Komsomol Theater, now Baltic House, and toured with the company throughout what was then the Soviet Union. In 1978, Semikin was forcibly physically removed from his home, an ancient wooden wing of an old structure on the Canal Griboedov, near Bankovsky Most. The wing was demolished. This forcible eviction, coupled with his disillusionment with the University and general feeling that he could not express himself freely, solidified his disdain of the Soviet state and propelled him further into what was to become a solitary and isolated existence. All of these experiences heavily influenced his poetry. Semikin died in February of 1990, immediately upon his return to Leningrad from a trip to New York. Neither a member of the Writer’s Union, nor a part of the Leningrad Underground which would have afforded him the opportunity to publish in Samizdat form, Semikin was never published during his lifetime.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Launched in April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced)
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format)