Martin Noutch reviews Peter Daniels’ translation of Vladislav Khodasevich’s ‘Selected Poems’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lover of poetry unfamiliar with the work of Vladislav Khodasevich could have no better introduction than this.  A detailed introduction by Michael Wachtel, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at Princeton, gives a clear cultural and historical context to one of the twentieth century’s more overlooked Russian poets.  The bilingual texts are presented with clarity, and the translator’s notes and preface mean that even the most English-bound reader can begin to appreciate Khodasevich’s wordplay and euphony in his own language.

Daniels’ purpose in translation is ‘always to provide a satisfactory poem in English that conveys as much as possible of Khodasevich’s intended meaning’ and to judge his translation as far as I am qualified, I can say that I find his renditions of Khodasevich’s words intensely satisfying.  His real love of rhyme is more than respect for the Russian voice he finds himself using.  In the couplets of ‘The Way of the Sower’, Daniel’s balance between full rhyme and half rhyme points the sense with the lightness of a real craftsman’s touch.

Khodasevich’s pride in his nationality and his desire to address his people as a national poet are anything but pompous or bombastic.  The meditative, pastoral tone of ‘The Way of the Sower’ lends a wistfulness to his words, considering the date of its original composition: December 1917.

The path my soul will take is like the way of the grain:
it goes down to the dark – to die, and live again.

And you my native country, and her people, you
will perish and survive, after this year is through -

Because this single wisdom is given us to obey:
everything that lives shall go the seedcorn’s way.

There’s plenty of evidence of the path of Khodasevich’s soul in this book.  He writes satirically, elegiacally, nostaglically, and then with a joyous self-satisfaction in the world around him.  He writes about writing, but only intently as his concern with the smell of fish and the feel of a monkey’s palm.  He is concerned with himself, but not to the point of narcissism.  Despite his dry tone, he retains an innocence about his own self, puzzled, vulnerable and open.  He is intensely proud of his nationality and prouder still of his poetic vocation.  To read along is to travel a little of his path through a dark time for a creative spirit.

The Monkey is a display of Khodasevich’s delight in the absurd realities around him and his ability to lead his reader on a provoking train of thought from antiquity to the contemporary.  The poem’s terse beginnings (‘It was hot.  Forests were burning.  Time | Tediously dragging.’) give way to a stream of bright description and story-telling, before the poet’s comparisons and reflections on the animal’s friendly greeting become a rapture of hopefulness.

This animal, destitute, called up in my heart
the sweetness of a deep and ancient legend.

Yet when the monkey and her keeper travel on in the summer evening, Khodasevich returns to his matter-of-fact tone: ‘That was the day of the declaration of war.’  He invites his reader to join him in wondering about the memorability of his story.  Without the ability to pinpoint the time and say, ‘That was the day…’, would even an emotion as intense as he relives be remembered?

I find the poet’s invitation throughout this book.  His choice of subjects are not bound in historical context or foreign imagery and his concerns with his own identity, vocation and love of the world are all expressed on a personal scale.  Without a doubt, Peter Daniel’s deft translations do a great of this work for the English reader.  The pitch of the lexicon he chooses lets every egregious word play a part in giving an image of the writer, and the translator’s notes do a fine job of letting us share in his personal pleasure.  Daniel’s desire for more of us to appreciate Khodasevich, combined with the poet’s own gentle, but intense invitation to see through his eyes, bring a real generosity to this relatively small collection.

 

 

Martin Noutch is a teacher and writer based in London.  He particularly enjoys writing interactive fiction.
Vladislav Khodasevich Selected Poems is translated from the Russian by Peter Daniels and published by Angel Classics (2013) Order your copy here: www.angelclassics.com

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Edd Ferrari

 

 

True Grit
for Barbara Hodgson

This morning ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’
jangles out the radio and you remember holidays at Tintagel—
on edge, on the edge in caravan with mam and dad and nan,
come down from up North to grin and bear grim hols.
You remember the endless games of monopoly you play to lose,
as the endless waves come clopping into the rocks below
as the cloud of your mam’s perfume starts to diffuse
and the 1960s swells up through th’transistor radio—
Afraid to come out in the open; out at sea,
comes ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,’
At broadcast the lights of Ireland stop and start—
and I imagine you staring up into th’fragile dark,
mouthing along before bed, praying for the years to pass
as, elsewhere, th’third pint washes its tidemark up the glass.

 

 

After a visit from Wes Magee at primary school Edd Ferrari decided to write poetry. Having done this in Krakow and Lodz, Poland he’s now moving on to Redlands in Southern California. Close-readings of Northern poems @therepublicofyorkshire.blogspot.co.uk and tweets @ermferrari.

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Dot Cobley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fernery

 

Scales of glass,

a crest of frilled iron,

his baby

tucked deep in shrubbery

 

could stagger up

on stiff metal limbs

as pier

crystal palace

railway station,

steam  oil  sweat

on its green breath,

mouth a cave.

 

Pure folly,

this sunken factory

of spores

and fronds.

She has to keep the statues

scrubbed,

her and her bad legs.

 

 

 

 

Dot Cobley has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Smiths Knoll. Rialto and The SHOp.  Having collaborated with artists on various projects, she has decided to try combining her own artwork and poetry…

 

Note: The poem The Fernery was first published in Seam.

 

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Tony Vowles

 

 

 

The Day I Fired Alan Sugar

I said look big guy, enough’s enough.  When it comes to the intricacies of macroeconomics and the bell curve, let’s face it, you’re not lord of the manor are you? Despite his rough, tough demeanor he was a pussy cat and sank like a pound coin down the sofa: his life was in tatters, please just one more chance, blah blah.  When he calmed down he said his real love was playing Big Bill Broonzy on an old acoustic guitar.  Would I like to hear something?  Ever the entrepreneur he whipped the instrument from the small of his pocket and launched into ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out’.  I was stunned.  In all my years in business I’d never heard such talent, pure as a silk kimono.  Of course, that was a long time ago, but I know he’s still doing well. Last night for instance, he graced the QVC channel, demonstrating the latest range in George Foreman’s ‘Lean Mean Grilling Machine.’

 

 

Tony Vowles‘ poetry has previously appeared in Magma, Smiths Knoll, Agenda, The Interpreters House, Tears in the Fence, Dawntreader, Nutshell, Prole, Fourteen, Under The Radar and Ink, Sweat & Tears.  He is completing MA Writing at Sheffield Hallam University.

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Grant Tarbard

 

 

Bereave

a life bereft, this
is a shut-in’s effigy
burning on the wood

pile of everything
I used to be, my dancing
shoes are gathering

dust in a moth’s light
I’m laughing in my filthy
drunk alley insides

 

 

 

Grant Tarbard has worked as a computer games journalist, a contributor to football fanzines, an editor, a reviewer and an interviewer. He is editor of The Screech Owl. His work can be seen in such magazines as The Rialto, The Journal, Southlight, Sarasvati, Earth Love, Mood Swing, Puff Puff Prose Poetry & Prose, Postcards Poetry and Prose, Playerist 2, Lake City Lights, The Open Mouse, Miracle, Poetry Cornwall, I-70, South Florida Review, Zymbol and Decanto.

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Alana Tomlin

 

 

 

The head of the table

I

During a dinner-time discussion about inter-faith ministers, I consider spilling the bottle of red wine over your shirt.

‘Imagine a mountain, with many different paths leading to the top. Some of the paths are so far apart, on opposite faces of the mountain, they forget that the other exists.’

In an attempt to respond to this statement, I choke on a piece of spaghetti. I pull it from my throat –

you look at me and frown. ‘Yet all of the paths lead to the same place, the same goal.’

 

II

I test the blocks with my little finger. The tower sways each time we exhale from the tension of the game. I decide to go for the middle block, on the second layer to the top. You try to put me off by poking my armpit and you laugh, showing your too-small teeth. I have never liked your teeth.

After three more turns, the tower falls.

We sit in separate armchairs, me by the window and you by the bookcase. Above you is a photograph of your father, speaking. He was a healer, and in his office at the bottom of the garden he kept a monkey who cleaned his shoes and told him when it had been too long since he had spent time with his children.

 

 

 

Alana Tomlin recently graduated from the English with Creative Writing BA at the University of Birmingham and now works in theatre. Her writing has appeared in Nine Arches Press, Under the Radar, Sabotage Reviews and in several University publications. Twitter: @alanatomlin.

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David Callin

 

 

 

A Mobile for Katie

When you were little, before you had a room
of your own, in which to grow
cynical, and smart, and sometimes biting,
despite the heavy doses we applied
of Beatrix Potter, and a whole
menagerie of anthropomorphic
animals who behaved rather well,
however trying they found their circumstances,
your cot was in our room, and we suspended
a musical mobile above it: rabbits
that we would set a-running if you woke.
Sometimes I’d stir, and see your mother
at your side, in the chiaroscuro
of the nightlight, like a Leonardo
in muted crayon, smoky pinks and greens:
Madonna, child and quattrocento bunnies.

 

 

 

David Callin lives, if not quite at the back of beyond, certainly within hailing distance of it, in the Celtic archipelago. He has had poems in several magazines, including Other Poetry, Orbis and Envoi, and online in Snakeskin and Antiphon.

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