Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Ridiculously Long & Terribly Inelegant Potpourri: Awards, Events & Conference with Book Fair in Boston

Awards first: Irina Povolotskaya won the Belkin Prize earlier this month for her Пациент и Гомеопат (The Patient and the Homeopath). And Academia Rossica announced this week at the SLOVO festival that Pola Lem won the Rossica Young Translators Award.

On to conference with book fair: I went to slushy Boston earlier this month for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference. The AWP conference is a gigundo event that’s as impersonal as the organization’s name… though I did enjoy a few of the panels and, of course, the book fair, which included lots of small presses and journals. Some conference highlightsfor writing technique: Peter Elbow’s talk “The Wisdom of the Tongue: Harnessing the Music of Speech for Good Writing,” looked at intonation units in speech and gave me some great theory to back up my practices for translating dialogue. I can see why one writing teacher told me Elbow’s considered a rock star in the field; I was only too happy to order up his Vernacular Eloquencefor translation: panels on Polish poetry, where it was fun to recognize commonalities with Russian, and hearing James Ragan read from and speak about his translations of poetry by Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Ragan said he never stops worrying that he missed something or somehow failed… for disappointment: the lowestlight of the conference was that the room for the panel “Opening Her Veins: Variations on Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva in Two Voices” was so far beyond SRO that I couldn’t even stand in the hallway to hear the speakers. On the bright side: of course I’m very happy Tsvetaeva is such a draw!

The book fair gave me a bunch more entries for past, present, and future translation lists, so I’ve already made some updates to the 2012 and 2013 lists and started thinking about 2014. A few to mention… New York Review Books will publish a new Krzhizhanovsky collection (translator, Joanne Turnbull) in October and a new Pushkin collection (translators, Robert and Elizabeth Chandler) next year… A Canadian publisher, Biblioasis, has a lovely illustrated edition of three Chekhov stories, About Love, translated by David Helwig… Northwestern University Press publishes quite a few translations of Russian-language books and had many on display, including copies of Anne O. Fisher’s translation of Ilf and Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs, Diane Nemec Ignashev’s translation of Victor Martinovich’s Paranoia, as well as a bilingual book of Marina Tsvetaeva’s work that includes translations by Robin Kemball. And I bought Erik Butler’s translation (from the Yiddish) of Der Nister’s Regrowth… It was also nice to see Zephyr Press’s books: Zephyr has a huge selection of translations by Central and East European authors, mostly poets published in bilingual editions… One of my favorite books I brought home came from the people of Merriam-Webster, who gave me the Dictionary of English Usage for my reference shelf… On a non-Russian note, I’m also excited about Lionheart, James Anderson’s translation of Thorvald Steen’s Norwegian-language novel, which University of Chicabo Press/Seagull Books gave me… I brought back two huge stacks of books so will stop there.

File:Alexander vvedenskij.jpg
Alexander Vvedensky
Off-site events were the real highpoint of AWP, perhaps because they were planned by organizations not called AWP. An evening-with-poetry in a restaurant, for example, included readings of Danuta Borchardt’s translations of Cyprian Norwid and Barbara Siegel Carlson’s translations of Srečko Kosovel… as well as my introduction to a Russian theater in the Boston area, Theater on the Roof. An event with St. Petersburg Review that began with readings by Kadija George, Brian Sousa, and Irina Mashinski was a great opportunity to finally meet Mikhail Iossel and Jeff Parker, the editors of Rasskazy, in real life. Parker and Maria Gusev, who was also in Boston, are translating Zakhar Prilepin’s San’kya. My favorite event, though, was a reading at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop, where translators read from new collections from New York Review Books. Don Share read from Miguel Hernández and Matvei Yankelevich read from An Invitation for Me to Think, a book of translations of Alexander Vvedensky’s poetry for which Eugene Ostashevsky is listed as selector and primary translator, with Yankelevich providing additional translations. Edwin Frank, NYRB’s editorial director, likened the books to “poetry baseball cards,” fittingly so since the books are small and brightly colored, with a “collect them all” feel. Titles like “Stomach Rumbling During Confession of Love” are certainly memorable.

As for coming events: anyone in the New York area interested in hearing Ostashevsky and Yankelevich read their translations of Vvedensky—and/or Share reading his translations of Hernández, which I also enjoyed—is in lots of luck. Read Russia is hosting a book launch party on March 27 for An Invitation for Me To Think. Then NYRB will host four related events in April; three will focus on the Russian Avant-Garde and OBERIU. (NYRB April event calendar) Speakers will include Ostashevsky and Yankelevich, plus Richard Sieburth, Michael Kunichika, Bela Shayevich, Ainsley Morse, and Kirill Medvedev. A special note on Kirill Medvedev: I bought It’s No Good, an English-language collection of Medvedev’s writings, from Ugly Duckling Presse at the AWP book fair and couldn’t put it down during my Amtrak ride home. The book is described as including poems, essays, and actions; it’s translated by Keith Gessen (who also wrote an introduction) with Mark Krotov, Cory Merrill, and Bela Shayevich. Gessen writes in his introduction, “I don’t know if our translations can capture the honesty, transparency, and passion of Medvedev’s writing, both in his essays and in his poems, but we’ve tried.” I’ve only read teeny snippets of Medvedev’s poetry in Russian and haven’t compared translations with originals but as I read I could certainly feel all the things Gessen was hoping to capture. And a lot more. Here are three reviews of It’s No Good that help explain: New York Times (Dwight Garner), Los Angeles Review of Books (Jeff Parker), and Three Percent (Will Evans).

Though I’m sorry none of these events are close enough for my calendar, I have a great consolation prize: Dina Khapaeva will speak about “When Dostoevsky’s Nightmares are Coming True: Gothic Aesthetics in Contemporary Russian Society” at Bowdoin College on March 27. I’ve read and enjoyed chunks of Khapaeva’s very engaging Кошмар: литература и жизнь (Nightmare: Literature and Life)—she covers writers including Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Pelevin—so am looking forward to her talk. Maybe I’ll even write about it.

Up Next: Igor Savelyev’s Tereshkova Flies to Mars, a noughties novel known as Mission to Mars in English: Amanda Love Darragh’s translation will be out this summer from Glas. And then Evgenii Vodolazkin’s Laurus, which brings me back to the Middle Ages in just the right way.

Disclaimers: The usual. In addition to the books I mentioned receiving from publishers at no charge, NYRB sent me a review copy of the Vvedensky book; I am collaborating on a story that will appear in a book that NYRB will publish.

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