Archive for December, 2014

Best Poems of 2010

December 31, 2014


What’s it all about?

This is an anthology of poems for the year 2010; it contains from one to three poems by each of 129 authors.  I have translated the poems here.  Those rewarded with three entries are Natalya Gorbanyevskaya, Evgeny Karasev, Kirill Koval’dzhi, Aleksandr Kushner, Vadim Muratkhanov, Vera Pavlova, Vladimir Salimon, Sergei Stratanovsky, and Oleg Chukhontsev.  As far as I can see, however, Timur Kibirov wins first prize for the amount of space occupied with four pages when nobody else has more than three.  I think I agree with this assessment of Kibirov’s stature as a poet.

That immediately leads me to ask whether these can really be the best poems of 2010, with a maximum of three per author.  Surely the fourth best poem of the best author is likely to be better than the best poem of the 129th best one, assuming that ‘best’ means something unequivocal here?  On general principles, one would expect something like Zapf’s law to apply, so that the best poet had N poems of the required standard, the second best had N/2, the third best had N/3 and so on.  Maybe it’s something more like ‘A selection of poems produced by the best poets of 2010’.  In his preface, editor Maksim Amelin says that he wants to present not so much the poets themselves, more their works

Why did I decide to do it?

It certainly seemed at the time that I was giving something back to the community, since trying to find a translation for poems in foreign languages is something that I use the Internet for.  It also made sure that I read every item in a book of poems with some care and attention, probably for the first time since George MacBeth’s Poetry 1900 to 1965 some 40-odd years ago.

What have I learned from doing it?

The overall impression was like one of those holidays where your coach drives into the next town, you get off, look round the points of interest (as we have seen, between one and three in number and of varying magnitudes), and then drive on to the next stopping-place.

I was struck by the wide range of forms, from the strictly traditional to free verse and poésie concrète.  Indeed, there were some poems that both in form and content could I thought have been dated to 1910, if not 1810.

As against that, it was good to see that a wide range of subjects were tackled:  mathematics, for instance, appeared three times, in connection with Grigory Perel’man, St Ursula, and Lili Brik.  There was also an engagement with public affairs if for instance Geopolitics of clothing, which seems to have been taken as a call to action in the Kremlin and elsewhere:

A torn-off sleeve got to call itself Ukraine
Forgetting about discipline, Russia once again

Didn’t mend that vexing tear–it was left undone
And continued her enjoyment, about the field to run.

You need a thread, a needle, and also dark of night
Close the gate and window, and sew that hole up tight.

As for translating the poems, those that are most fun are the ones that seem to be impossible at first sight, such as MRÓTS!  SKAÉR BNOÓS MRÓTS!. Otherwise, the main question is what to do about various kinds of closed forms. If you more-or-less reproduce them…well, to start off with, there are fewer rhymes in English than in Russian and feminine rhymes can easily sound very silly. A more principled argument is that if you conserve traditional forms, you are mapping the original onto a point that does not exist in contemporary English poetry, and perhaps thus making it an object of purely antiquarian interest.

As Vladimir Nabokov famously observed:

What is translation? On a platter
A poet’s pale and glaring head,
A parrot’s screech, a monkey’s chatter,
And profanation of the dead.

He was perhaps being overly charitable, something that did not happen very often.
Which are the best poems (and translations)?

The word ‘best’ is fraught with difficulties here, as we have seen above.  As regarding the original poems, I would go for Death of an old woman, which contains more than one kingdom of Russianness in a very small space, as a favourite.  I also liked From five to seven a lot, and ‘Do not be ill…’ is lovely as well.  ‘That which comes apart…’  and Sky are bloody good, and I was also impressed  by  ‘No canteen, and no shop…’ and ‘….to learn to react to the world’ .   I have to say that ‘Blessed is he…’ really is very very good, and thanks to some help from  Erik McDonald the translation’s not bad either.

Among the translations, I think that ‘Love does not pass…’ has the ring of a genuine poem.  At night  is pretty good as a translation, and I think that the English version of ‘Behind the curtain there hides a local god…’ is quite pleasingly Audenesque.

Public opinion

Judging by the number of ‘likes’ left on the various postings by users of wordpress, the most popular poems would be Pan Ch_sky, followed by ‘Without us, the critics will decide….’ and then After the storm.  The statistics for visits to individual postings would give first place to ‘The blind man’s getting bills for light’, followed in second place by ‘Along the fence…’ and in third ‘this city is flooded by glowing beams of light…’.  This last would also be in joint fourth place for ‘likes’, so may be the overall popular favourite.

And finally

Do feel free to leave a comment or to email me about any of this.  I would also like to thank Erik McDonald of xixvek for his encouragement and helpful suggestions, especially in being so diplomatic in cases where where I’d just misunderstood the original.

‘The pain has not worn off…’ (Yuri Kazarin)

December 31, 2014

The pain has not worn off, it has not passed–
and the soul has not grown tired, even so,
of dragging winglessly the body that was cast
so heavily into some heaps of snow,
where the toes pinched together are found so nesh
and ice beneath the heel is like a widow’s mite.

We are shadows of angels. We are flesh
not yet of darkness, no longer of light.

Не отболело, не прошло —
и как душе не надоело
влачить без крыльев, тяжело
в сугробах брошенное тело,
где пальцы ног свело в щепоть
и лед под пяткой, как монета.

Мы тени ангелов. Мы плоть
ещё не тьмы, уже не света.

‘I have understood how to set a word off…’ (Aleksei Vernitsky)

December 31, 2014

I have understood how to set a word off
My soul has been freed from the mist
Not in vain have I read Kheraskov
Not in vain have I read Kapnist.

But there are other faces with them
Alas, that trouble my gaze
The complex syllabic rhythm
The choir that is silent always.

Я понял назначенье слова,
Моя душа стала чиста.
Не зря я читал Хераскова,
Не зря я читал Капниста.

Но за ними — иные лики,
Увы, тревожащие взор:
Сложные ритмы силлабики,
Загадочный умолкший хор.

‘at times one wants to write…’ (Maksim Borodin)

December 31, 2014

one wants at times  to write

something serious



poetical and rhymed

so that people fall to thinking

dumbfounded at the grandeur of the text

perhaps shed a few tears


at least


for a moment


what comes out

for some reason

is always



which of itself

is already not

in rhyme


хочется иногда написать

что-то серьезное



поэтическое и рифмованное

чтобы люди задумались

огорошенные величием текста

может быть всплакнули


по крайней мере


на мгновение



почему то




что само по себе

уже не

в рифму



‘A feast like a mountain for celestial scavengers…’ (Vera Pavlova)

December 30, 2014

A feast like a mountain for celestial scavengers–
three wives are going to mourn your loss perforce.
Wedded to death for my third marriage
I know mortality will not accept divorce.
Misha is dead, Misha is dead, Misha
is dead. Firebird-catcher, St John Chrysostom,
I was one of your former wives. But
widow is something I won’t be parted from.

Пир горой небесным лакрофагам —
три жены оплачут твой уход.
Замужем за смертью третьим браком,
знаю: смерть развод не признаёт.
Миша умер, Миша умер, Миша
умер. Златоуст, жарптицелов,
я была тебе одной из бывших
жён. Но не бывает бывших вдов.

Protected: Letter to Irina

December 27, 2014

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‘Rapture, rapture…’ (Timur Kibirov)

December 26, 2014

Rapture, rapture, such a rapture
On the earth as in my soul!
And I have no way to capture
Such delight, there’s no control!
Lada–see her dance a measure
And she praises God all wrong!
What is it, then, my treasure?
Come on, mistress, sing along!


Rapture, first-born of creation,
Daughter of the greatest sire
They sing in your adoration,
With their hearts, a simple choir!

Mortals’ murmuring is reckless,
Pointless to fire the wrath divine!
Rejoice my soul, for as long as
That the light persists to shine.
Uncreated light, undying
Such a warm and vernal light
That returns us without trying
Those we had lost from our sight.


Rapture, first-born of creation
Makes you drink and then some more
Zhorik joins inebriation,
Suffering from the night before!

Rapture, I’ll be naughty, rapture
Dripping first to cross the line
What else is it we should capture?
Everything’s good, everything is fine!
Beer and vodka–lie with me!
All that was is hid in metre
And what’s to come–that we will see!


Rapture, first-born of creation,
Puts the proud one from himself
And our catching celebration
Even got Saprykina herself!

Here they stand, all so well-matched
Those whose morals do not inspire.
Well then, why have you started shouting?
Just what I need, a cathedral choir.
But on the whole then, why not rapture?
It’s coming out in the back yard.
Seedlings reaching sunward with ardour
Foreign bastard, is singing so hard?


Rapture, first-born of creation
Whose father is hidden from our sight,
Give us with no discrimination
Immaculate laughter and purest light!

An die Freude! Baba Shura!
Nytsukh vukha! Muk tsekhai!
Khulyu kondzho yikhedal’!
Zhora turu sou nou,
Lada yvodallekhu,
Rita, khulyum turu nou!

Rapture, first-born of creation
Trampling over death and lies
I’ve used all my inspiration
What thing more should I surmise?

The women are glad, so too is Lada,
And there is nothing to anger God
Not to be a louse I will try harder
And I will never more be odd!
Seedlings reach sunwards in their ardour
And my hand is reaching for a pen
–Forget dying, living is so much harder,
–Oh all right, so I won’t die then!

Радость, радость, вот так радость
На земле и на душе!
Никакого нету сладу
С этой радостью уже!
Посмотри, как пляшет Лада,
Славит Бога глупый лай!
Что же ты, моя отрада?
Ну, хозяйка, подпевай!


Радость, первенец творенья,
Дщерь великого Отца,
Шлют тебе благодаренье
Немудрящие сердца!

Смертных ропот безрассуден,
Бога нечего гневить.
Радуйся, душа, покуда
Продолжает свет светить.
Свет фаворский, незакатный,
Теплый-теплый вешний свет
Возвращает нам обратно
Тех, кого в помине нет.


Радость, первенец творенья,
Напояет допьяна!
Подключился к песнопенью
Даже Жорик с бодуна!

Радость, гадом буду, радость
Каплет чистым первачом!
Хрена ли еще вам надо?
Все по кайфу, все путем!
Все, что было, — шито-крыто,
Все, что будет, — поглядим!


Радость, первенец творенья,
Сводит с гордого ума.
Заразилась нашей ленью
И Сапрыкина сама!

Неустойчивы морально
Все вы тут как на подбор!
Ну с чего вы разорались?
Тоже мне церковный хор!..
А вообще-то — чем не радость?
В огороде так и прет!
К солнцу тянется рассада…
Чо молчишь, нерусский черт?


Радость, первенец творенья,
Дщерь Отца на небесех,
Даждь нам всем без исключенья
Чистый свет, пречистый смех!

An die Freude! Баба Шура!
Ныцух вуха! Мук цэхай!
Хулюм конджо йихедаль!
Жора туру соу ноу,
Лада ыводдаллеху,
Рита, хулюм туру ноу!


Радость, первенец творенья,
Попирает смерть и ложь!..
Вот и все стихотворенье.
Что еще с меня возьмешь?

Рады бабы, рада Лада.
Бога нечего гневить.
Никогда не буду гадом,
Постараюсь не дурить!
К солнцу тянется рассада,
Тянется рука к перу.
— Слушай, умирать не надо!
— Ладно-ладно, не умру!

‘the lord summons…’ (Dmitri Bak)

December 24, 2014

For Mariya B.

the lord summons and this clearness
not fabricated in haste and not by me
placed along the road that is warmed
the same by you not to pass by on the other side
so a cold bullet skirts the path
does my unforgotten surf sigh
a reed no longer thinking flies away
like quiet air during evening darkness
godharrowed white hands
thus unarguably greet the dawn
that once more to go in under onion domes
where the bright winged trail from a fourteen years old
young mother is not lost in shadows
not knowing that creation is not possible
there mamma left and after her they flew
to forgotten lands where everything was green
and on holiday eternally skilful years
the chief cook did not wash dishes because
apart from his caprices and the weather
I lived with joy in a lofty tower
the wards of celestial clinics are bottomless
I did not beat petitions loved like some fire
asked let me go as a cup full
with homeless sorrow bid me farewell

Дмитрий Бак

Дмитрий Бак

Марии Б.

господь призывает и ясности этой
не выдуманной впопыхах и не мной
расставленной вдоль по дороге согретой
той самой тобой не пройти стороной
так пуля холодная путь огибает
вздыхает ли мой незабытый прибой
не мыслящий больше тростник улетает
как воздух негромкий вечернею тьмой
богоборонимые белые руки
так неоспоримо встречают рассвет
что снова идти под великие луки
где матери юной в четырнадцать лет
след светлый крылатый в тенях не потерян
не ведая что сотворить не дано
там мама ушла и за нею летели
в забытые страны где всё зелено
и празднично вечно умелые годы
жнец швец на дуде не играл потому
помимо капризов своих и погоды
в высоком с отрадой я жил терему
небесных лечебниц палаты бездонны
не бил челобитных любил как огня
просил отпусти бездомовною полной
печальною чашей напутствуй меня

How Italians find living in London

December 24, 2014

This video is quite enlightening (I thought), and it’s interesting to find out the one thing that they really can’t get used to.

I wonder who it is they visit that makes them take their shoes off–not English people, for sure.  What are they doing complaining about our windows when they don’t even heat their own homes? A good thing about Italy is that you have the 4- or 5-storey apartment houses on streets laid out in a grid pattern, which appeals to my sense of order.  It also means you get families living in the centre even of large cities so you see children there as a matter of course, which you don’t here.  But of course most city dwellers there live in some ghastly slab of concrete 25km from anywhere you would want to be…which may be why this topic doesn’t get a mention here…

Some of the items (especially the hurried dentists) make it look as though they’re living in some posh part of North London, and who wouldn’t complain under those circumstances?

The taps remain a mystery–I think mixer taps were popular here for a period in the 1960s but have hardly been seen since.

‘the grape of streetlight tender sphere…’ (Inga Kuznetsova)

December 23, 2014

the grape of streetlight tender sphere
is ripening in december dark
and in fluorescence visible until morning to the core
dread of life making some remark

essence of life that evening people carry
tenderness squandered in dialogues
what keeps you afloat and hanging in the air
and will come to the minds of dogs

you are going so cut the leaking pastry open
with april and december as filling inside
you read it between the houses between the lines
and you draw your parallel by the side

you are going and you are flying you tremble in flight
and you are drawing a twofold line
all that you see a moment in tender light
you keep in your mouth as fruit of a vine

нежный шар виноградина фонаря
вызревает во тьме декабря
и в свеченьи видна до утра до нутра
жизни жуть кое-как говоря

жизни суть что вечерние люди несут
и растраченной нежности шум
то что держит тебя на плаву на весу
и приходит собакам на ум

ты идешь как взрезаешь неплотный пирог
а в начинке декабрь и апрель
ты читаешь его меж домов между строк
и проводишь свою параллель

ты идешь и летишь ты дрожишь на лету
и проводишь двойную черту
все что видишь мгновенье на нежном свету
виноградиной держишь во рту