Posts Tagged ‘SLOVO’

Mikhail Shishkin, MacDougall Arts 18 March

March 27, 2013


Mikhail Shishkin started his session in the SLOVO festival by reading Пальто с хлястиом, which contained many episodes from his own life that then found their way into his novels.  And I thought it was very affecting.  The combination of cramped setting and illimitable emotion very nearly had me in tears.

After that, he said writing was something that happened to you.  You could not sensibly sit down and start writing hoping that in five years’ time you would have a novel and someone would publish it.  He could check translations into German and English, but had never felt moved to write stories–as opposed to articles and so on–in German.  He could help translators with the background of what a Soviet primary school was like for instance, but each one had to struggle with his enemy–language–alone.  When as a schoolboy he had first tried to express his love to a girl he found that the Russian language was not great, mighty, free and truthful as promised by Turgenev, but rather that a writer had to make it so.

Once he had been alarmed that a translation into Bulgarian had been finished without him receiving any queries.  Then he had met the translator at the grand ceremonial launch of the translation, and asked him about this.

–And if I had been translating Homer? came the reply.

About his refusal to appear at Book Expo America as a mark of protest against the regime, Shishkin said that you could of course have an argument with people, but saying that your opponent had to be a bad person recalled the Soviet way of doing things.  Olga Slavnikova had said that while he was free to say and do what he liked, Russian writers living in Russia were hostages. He had not gone to Switzerland in the first place as an émigré, political or otherwise–he had merely married a Swiss woman and it seemed better for her to have her children in a Swiss hospital.  As for being a writer and living abroad, the language was like a train–you got off at a particular station and then there was no point in running after it.

Asked about writers he would recommend, he commended Aleksandr Gol’dshtein to the audience, comparing him with Robert Walser–in times to come, other Russian language writers would merely be regarded as contemporaries of Gol’dshtein.


Dmitri Bykov on Mayakovsky, MacDougall Arts 15 March

March 20, 2013
Dmitri Bykov

Dmitri Bykov

After a suitable delay, Dmitri Bykov appeared and said he was surprised to see so many people come to see him talk about Mayakovsky.  His book on the poet would be coming out towards the end of the year.  Mayakovsky’s life had been poisoned by a feeling of being out of place, guilt, and a need for vindication.  He had been great as a formulator of slogans, phrases that would immediately serve as newspaper headlines.

Vladimir Mayakovsky

Vladimir Mayakovsky

Mayakovsky should have become a visual artist rather than a literary one, but literature had been the fashionable career choice in his time rather like physics in the 1960s.  [Could Mayakovsky have become a physicist?–well he was drawn to scientists in any case.]  He had suffered and even rusted internally from not having contact with anything–not with nature nor with people nor eve with the texts of other authors.  He had along with Slutsky produced a method by which anything could be turned into poetry, and he was very keen on the Cheka.  Perhaps his best work was Conversation with a tax inspector about poetry, which showed the full extent of his Bazarov tendencies–he was simply not at home with other people.

All of which sounds very like Milan Kundera’s general denunciation of poets in Life is elsewhere



Vladimir Sharov, Waterstone’s Piccadilly 08 March

March 9, 2013

Vladimir Sharov and Oliver Ready

This session from Academia Rossica’s SLOVO Festival attracted me with the promise of a new interpretation of history through literature.

In fact, it was more philosophy than literature that was pressed into service, and the main points as I understood them were something like the following:

i)  Russian history is dominated by the idea of Russia as the last kingdom (third Rome), after which the world will come to an end;

ii)  the idea, attributed to Nikolai Krylov, that if Jesus is not going to come again men will have to remake themselves;

iii)  the need to recreate people who had already been, instead of breeding new ones;

iv)  the Russian Revolution was entirely Russian, even though other nationalities provided wood to heat the Russian stove;

v)  the Russian Revolution was a commentary on the Flood;

vi)  the history of the Biblical nations is a commentary on the Bible, refracted through their national consciousness;

vii)  in the case of Russia, this consciousness was formed in a period when peasants lived in small settlements of two or three households in the trackless pagan forest and when the priest visited at most every few years; this led to the extremism–in particular, extreme loneliness–of the Russian character;

viii)  the schism in the Russian church in the 17th century had a fatal effect, as follows:

a)  the bogolyubtsy felt that in a time when people were attending continued church services lasting days and nights and consuming only communion bread and wine, there was a possibility of complete purification and hence the Second Coming;

b)  in fact, the teachings of the Old Believers about the state of removal from grace of church and Tsardom penetrated popular consciousness so that in the Civil War the military professionals of the White Army had been unable to prevail over the Bolsheviks.

All of which sounds like Hegelianism in one country to me.

Inna Kabysh, Timur Kibirov, Alina Vitukhnovskaya, Aleksei Kuznetsov

April 15, 2010

The thing on the SLOVO Facebook page said:

Join our exciting new translation project! Academia Rossica is going to
present 15 new poems written by young Russian authors, and we want you
to translate them into English.

So I sent off an email, and indeed got 15 poems.  I ended up sending in translations of four of them:

Инна Кабыш

Юрий Гагарин был великий русский поэт:
Россия выпихнула его из себя в небо,
как в ссылку,
как на Кавказ,
и он сел в карету, то есть в ракету, –
ибо путь ракет – поэтов путь, –
сказал: “Поехали!..” –
и улыбнулся своей гагаринской улыбкой.
И в этой улыбке была вся Земля,
все лучшее, что на ней есть,
“Земля в сиянье голубом”,
весть –
небу от человечества, –
потому что поэт – тот, кто говорит с небом,
словно языковой барьер, преодолевая земное

Inna Kabysh (b. 1963)

Yuri Gagarin was a great Russian poet:
Russia shoved him out of herself into the sky,
as into exile,
as to the Caucasus,
he got in the carriage, that is, in the rocket,-
for the path of rockets is the poet’s path,
he said, “Let’s go!…”–
and he smiled his Gagarin smile.
And in that smile was all the Earth,
all the best that is on it,
“The Earth in a pale blue glow”
a message
to the sky from mankind
because a poet, he who speaks to the sky,
overcomes, like a language barrier, the gravity of the Earth.

Тимур Кибиров

Хорошо бы сложить стихи
исключительно из чепухи,
из совсем уж смешной ерунды,
из пустейшей словесной руды,

из пустот, из сплошных прорех,
из обмолвок счастливых тех,
что срываются с языка
у валяющих дурака, –

чтоб угрюмому Хармсу назло
не разбили б стихи стекло,
а, как свет или как сквозняк,
просочились бы просто так,

проскользнули, как поздний луч,
меж нависших кислотных туч,
просквозили бы и ушли,
как озон в городской пыли.

Timur Kibirov (b. 1955)

It would be good to write a poem
made of senselessness alone
made of complete and utter trash
made of emptiest verbal ash

made of solid lacunae, made of waste
made of blunders said in haste
the funny ones that just come out
when you want to put yourself about

so, o gloomy Kharms, alas,
this poem would never break the glass
but, like a draught or like the light
it would filter through all right

like evening sunlight, once allowed
to pierce the lowering acid cloud,
would blow right through and pass away
as, in the dust of cities, ozone may.

Алина Витухновская

Промолчу как безъязыкий зверь.
Чтоб узнать, что у меня внутри.
Разложи меня как тряпочку в траве,
И скажи: «умри, лиса, умри».

Покатились по лесу глаза,
Чтоб на себя не посмотреть.
Ты сказал: «умри, лиса, умри».
Это значит нужно умереть.

Промолчу как рыба и мертвец,
Чтоб тебе спокойно говорить.
Разложив меня как тряпочку в траве:

Ржавым будущим по мне прошлась коса.
Полумесяц вынул острый нож.
Все сказали мне: «УМРИ, ЛИСА, УМРИ, ЛИСА».
Все убьют меня, и ты меня убьешь.

Я уже не слышу голоса.
Если хочешь, все же повтори:

Не узнаешь своего лица,
Попадая вновь все в тот же ритм.

Посмотри в мои красивые глаза,
Я хочу тебе их подарить.

Я затем даю себя убить,
Чтоб в шубийство кутаясь в мороз,
Ты бы мог рукой пошевелить,
Как когда-то шевелился хвост.

Перед зеркалом ты рыжий шерстяной,
Словно зверь с чудовищем внутри.
Ты однажды отразишься мной.
Я скажу тебе: «УМРИ, ЛИСА, УМРИ».

Alina Vitukhnovskaya (b. 1973)

I’ll be silent like a tongueless beast.
To find out what I’ve got inside
Spread me out in the grass like a rag
And say ‘Die you fox, die you fox, die’.

My eyes rolled around the wood
So as not to see myself instead
You said ‘Die you fox, die you fox, die’
That means that I ought to be dead.

I’ll keep silent, like a mouse or the grave
So you can speak in the quiet
Spreading me out like a rag in the grass:

Like a rusted future the scythe went by
The half moon pulled out a sharpened knife
And everyone told me ‘DIE YOU FOX DIE’
They all want to kill me, and you’ll take my life.

What the voices say, I no longer know
If you want, you can repeat all the time

It’s your own face you won’t recognise
Following the same rhythm, ever and anew

Look into my beautiful eyes
I want to make them a present for you

It’s for your sake alone I’ve planned
My death–wrapped warmly in murdered fur
You’ll be able to gesture with a hand
The way sometimes my tail used to stir.

In front of the mirror you’re red-brown and furry
Like a beast with a monster inside
And one day you’ll find yourself mirrored as me

Алексей Кузнецов

Сколько было отчаяния после паденья…
Стремительно, с первой анестезией,
Еще там, на крыше, оно растворялось
В широких ладонях врачей неотложки.
Потом, в состязанье с нелепой болезнью,
Стиралось победами, небольшими и сложными.
Последовательно предавалось забвению
Осознанием осторожным.
А что если умер?
Неделю назад, не дождавшись укола
Когда мое тело со стоном лежало
На плитах холодных бетонного пола?
Мне снится больница, палата и солнце.
Друзья, посещают, такие живые,
Прогоняя мой страх и сомнения лишние.
Я просто немного сломал позвоночник.
Без осложнений, хвала Всевышнему.
Но если откроются двери палаты
И ты войдешь, как ни в чем ни бывало,
Стройная и, как всегда, непонятная
Я решу однозначно – меня не стало.

Aleksei Kuznetsov (b. 1977)

How much despair there was after the fall…
In a rush, from the first anaesthesia,
Even there, on the roof, it dissolved
In the broad hands of the emergency doctors.
Then, in a contest with ungainly illness,
It was washed off by victories, small and complicated ones,
Afterwards it was consigned to forgetting
By careful realisation.
And if I died?
A week ago, not waiting for the injection,
When my body lay lay groaning
On the cold concrete paving stones?
In a dream I see the hospital, the ward, the sun.
Friends visit, so lively,
Driving away my fear and superfluous doubts.
I have only fractured my spine a little.
No complications, praise be to the Highest.
But if the doors of the ward open
And you come in, as if nothing happened,
Shapely and, as ever, incomprehensible
I can decide definitely–I will not have survived.