Since its inception three years ago, annually, I have been a regular contributor to the National Translation Month initiative. I’ve used this as a platform to bring to readers’ attention the recent centennials of the Silver Age Russian Futurist (Burlyuk, Khlebnikov, Kruchenykh, Maykovsky, in order of age) and Acmeist (Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Narbut, Zenkevich) “schools” of poetry.
By the way, Acmeism, having emerged out of Nikolay Gumilev’s Guild of Poets, (along with a few “workshops,” “circles” and “groups” since,) is as close as Russia has got to an MFA program. The so-called Futurians, or the budyatlyane, as they called themselves, were famous for their barnstorming performance tours, a foretaste of the rock arena, slam and glam stardom of the "60s generation" (Yevtushenko, Voznesensky, and Akhmadulina) to come 50 years later on.
When Claudia Serea asked me for a response, here is the testimonial I wrote on NTM: "In just two short years, NationalTranslationMonth.org is quickly becoming an essential resource, for literary translators and lovers of World Literature alike, of new translations of international writing, poetry and prose, contemporary and old. Along with such by now online stalwarts as Words Without Borders and newer luminaries such as Asymptote, NTM promises to be a leader in bringing to Anglophone readers everywhere the incredible wealth available to us from other cultures.
NTM’s initiative could not have come at a more decisive time. A veritable tide of international writing in English is now a decade in building. I am personally indebted to founders Loren Kleinman and Claudia Serea for the honor of sharing the community they have created, with such esteemed colleagues as Sean Cotter, Roger Sedarat, Adam J. Sorkin, and the many yet to come.”
My message to you today, dear reader, is a simple one: please, have in mind to seek out and read online poetry in translation; better still, go out and buy (or order in) poetry in translation.
I want to mention here by name a few of the similar on-going projects. The editor of EM-review, Daniele Panatano, himself a translator from the German, invited me to edit for the premier issue [pdf] of the journal, a 50-page, 15-poet feature, with an extensive introduction, for what is essentially a mini-anthology of Russian Futurism. In the not too distant future, I hope to have a chance to make this the core of a print anthology.
The St. Petersburg Review (Elizabeth L. Hodges editor) grew out of the editors' participation in the Summer Literary Seminars, before it migrated from Petersburg to Lithuania.(Apropos here is poet-translator Rimas Uzgiris's anthology of the work of 26 younger Lithuanian poets, How the Earth Carries Us [pdf].) The just released SPR 7 contains a Ukranian feature, which includes my translation (from the Russian) of Igor Lapinsky's poem "I am a Separatist" that had been censored from Stikhi.ru. I also help edit SPR's sister online journal, Spinghouse, whose editorial mission is to be, like SPR, global, but also more current. Its premier issue had my translation of feature co-curator's Dmitry Kuzmin's poem "After Catullus", protesting Russia's "anti-gay" law.
Over on the West Coast, at Eleven Eleven, the journal of the California College of the Arts, I have had the good fortune to collaborate with the editor (Hugh Behm-Steinberg) in presenting, over several years now, a series of translations of the poet-artists of the Russian Silver Age: Elena Guro, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Maximillian Voloshin, David Burlyuk (print issue 15,) and Vassily Kandinsky.
I have been on the editorial board of the online annual Mad Hatters' Review since editing this feature of Contemporary Writing from Russia and Ukraine (24 writers) in issue 12. The publisher, poet-translator Marc Vincenz, edited a feature of Austrian, German, and Swiss poets for issue 14. On tap next is Part 2 of Back to the USSR: Baltics, Caucuses, Central Asia, and Siberia. Lastly, for the forthcoming issue 8 of the newly revived Fulcrum, I have translated and edited a 40 page feature on Indigenous Writing from the former USSR. (The issue will also contain an extensive feature, edited by Allison Hedge Coke, of writing by younger Native American poets.)
For closers, and relevant to Russian poetry: Four Centuries (Ilya Perelmuter editor, published in Germany, online-PDF format,) just celebrated its 10th issue of Russian poetry in multilingual translation! As its name suggests, so far it's published my translations from 18th C. epigrammatists (Lomonosov, Kapnist, Karamzin, Barkov), Alexander Shenin's 1843 gay pornographic poem 'A Cadet's Escapades", Turgenev's late prose poems (1870s), 3 Poets of Russian Exile (Khodasevich, Adamovich, G. Ivanov of the 1920s and 30s Berlin and Paris), and the recently departed leader of the Nizhni Tagil school Evgeny Turenko,
For beginners, intermediate, and advanced, readers and writers alike, ALTA (the American Association of Literary Translators) is a good place to start. At the Minneapolis AWP this winter, I played their "Bingo" game, using checking off their card-full of translation presses as a pretext to meet the editors of nearly every press that publishes translations. Another essential resource is, of course, PEN (see particularly its PEN/HEIM Fund grants and the PEN Translation Prize).
Some journals: World Literature Today (poetry editor, Daniel Simon) is an institution, founded in 1927. Two Lines press of the California Center for the Art of Translation and its world class journal (C.J. Evans, Scott Esposito editors). There is Smith College’s venerable Metamorphoses (Tapindri Smith editor). Circumference at Columbia comes out irregularly, now in blog format. The graduate Department of Comparative Literature at Princeton publishes annually the journal Inventory, dedicated to re-translation. Happily, far too many to even just mention by name....
The presses: First and foremost, there is University of Rochester’s Open Letter, and their umbrella organization Three Percent, a lobby of sorts whose mission is to increase the number of works of translation published in English (hence the name), as well as the older Dalkey Archives in Illinois, which ranks at number one in books of translation published annually. A partial list of relative newbies, all of them pretty great: Action Books, Anomalous Press, Argos Books, Deep Vellum, Dialogos Book (Lavender Ink), New Vessel, Restless Books, Wave Books. And the veterans: Alice James Press, Archipelago Books, Copper Canyon, Dalkey Archives, Green Integer, Litmus Press, New Directions, New York Review Books, Oberlin Field Translation Series, Persea,Tupelo, White Pine Press and Zephyr Press.
At the AWP book fair I'd mentioned, in my conversations with all the editors, the usual reserve immediately melted, replaced by passionate interest, as soon as it became apparent that my subject was translation, as though that word alone was a shibboleth, a secret handshake, an "open sesame", an ice breaker. Other translators will know exactly what I speak of here, the difference between the reception of "one's own" and one's translation work. It is as though we as the human race have an instinctual algorithm that spots altruism and immediately reacts by dropping our defenses.
It has been distinctly uncomfortable speaking in these columns of my own activities as editor and translator; as long as we live, Ego is never absent. I know that my ulterior motives here, and the prospects of self-aggrandizement, are barely below the surface. Yet it is so much easier to speak at least in large part on behalf of others. As a translator, I know, that once the actual work of translation is finished, I am a combination editor, agent, and publicist, and this work is just as, if not more, time-consuming. Still, the reward is a feeling that one's work is truly needed, a sense that is practically impossible to obtain with one's own writing.
Particularly as a translator, in finding a home for the work, one becomes intimately familiar with the needs and communities of hundreds of journals, presses and their editors. Best serving the interest of the author, happily, coincides with serving their best interests. The added distance of having reproduced in English the voice of another better allows for such objectivity.
While literally hundreds of journals have, in very recent years, added translation to their offerings, the competition in the book lottery is far more severe, and it is practically insurmountable for translations of poetry. Very few of the presses I list above are able to, for various reasons of capacity, to offer even one or two books of poetry in translation each year, and most of the newer presses have focused on fiction, where the expansion of reader interest has occurred and which is, of course, a more marketable commodity.
My appeal to readers of poetry is threefold: for your hearts and minds, for taking a greater interest, to your wallets (please buy) and, perhaps even more importantly: Please add your voice, and request more poetry in translation, from the journals, presses, and their editors.