A brave writer begins her novel with the deathbed. Instead of hooking a reader the way the proverbial gun on the wall might, opening with a death scene threatens her with the inevitable backstory.
Luckily, Narine Abgaryan is both a brave and an experienced writer. ThreeApples Fell from the Sky is her fifth full-length novel, which won Russia’s prestigious Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award in 2016. Maine-based Lisa C. Hayden translated this novel for Oneworld, and after a COVID19-based delay, the book was released in the UK in August 2020. The novel opens with Anatolia Sevoyants, the protagonist, as she lies down “to breathe her last.” Soon, though, we learn that while Anatolia fully intends to die, life is far from finished with her.
Philip Nikolayev is editor ofFulcrum. His poetry collections include Monkey Time (Verse/ Wave Books) and Dusk Raga (Salt).
Alexander Pushkin (1799-83) is widely regarded as the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.
It’s for you that my soft and affectionate voice Disturbs at this late hour a silent night’s repose. Where by my bed a melancholy candle glows, My verse rushes along, burbles and overflows In brooks of love, filled with you, and at last I see Your eyes, out of the dark shining, smiling at me, And finally my ear makes out the cherished words: My gentle, tender friend… I love you… I am yours!
August 2020 Poetry Feature #2: Philip Nikolayev translates Alexander Pushkin
Recreating the poetry of Anzhelina Polonskaya in English is tricky because her favorite poetic trope is ellipsis, which is easier to achieve in Russian. Russian, as an inflected language (like Latin), can place words in pretty much any order within a sentence, and the poet can use case endings to indicate the relationship of nouns to each other and adjectives to nouns. When something is left out of a sentence, the empty space can be filled in by the reader. Thus, a Russian poem, at least grammatically speaking, looks like a Lego construction, from which many blocks can be removed without destroying the structure. By contrast, English translations in our (almost) non-inflected language are more like houses of cards – and when you try to remove pieces of the grammatical structure the whole thing tends to fall down.
Anzhelina Polonskaya: Russian Poetry in Translation
For the most part, the Russian poets I have translated—however different in style and school—have been of my own generation and share many of my persuasions. How much more distant from me is Central Asia? Russian serves as a shaky bridge I cross with trepidation. But for the Kazakhstani poet Aigerim Tazhi, born in 1981 in Aktobe—formerly Aktyubinsk—Russian is solid ground underfoot. “I live in Kazakhstan,” she has said, “but I was born in the Soviet Union… I did not choose the Russian language, did not evaluate it… It’s just the language that I’ve spoken since childhood.”1
Born in 1948, Vladimir Gandelsman is very much the literary child of the poets of the Russian Silver Age. He draws on their dramatic, spiritually intense version of modernism, the acme, or the highest point of expression, whether meditating on fleeting moments or on major historical events. His literary parents include Pasternak and Mandelstam. Proust and Wilde are his relatives: he draws on and develops their respective fascinations with the sensuous quality of everyday life. Gandelsman’s exquisite diction and surprising collages of words help us remember our own moments of heightened feeling.
with hunger and fear. I’d rip the crust
of my lips—and lick my lips; I recall
the fresh and salty taste.
And I’m walking, I’m walking, walking,
I sit on the steps by the door, I bask,
I walk delirious, as if a rat catcher led me
by my nose into the river, I sit and bask
on the steps; I shiver this way and that.