Monday, September 9, 2013

Ragweed Season Miscellany

With ragweed season in full swing here in my part of the world, I was glad to find a few bits of news to post this week rather than trying to write anything coherent about Vadim Levental’s Masha Regina. The book deserves a lot better than what I could write up between my alternating urges to sneeze (from the pollen) and snooze (from the allergy pills). So, a few bits of news and comment…

First off, what could be a better birthday present for Lev Tolstoy than his very own (online!) portal, at (where else but?) The site plans to offer “Весь Толстой в один клик” (“All of Tolstoy in one click”)… ninety volumes of Tolstoy online. Only a little bit is available so far—the project just got started in mid-June—though a few PDFs are up and ready for downloading. Future formats will include .fb2 and ePub. There are already sections with photos and biographical information, though the English-language version of the portal is under construction. Also: The project is apparently still looking for volunteers. Information here.

Book of the Year awards were handed out last Wednesday—coinciding with the opening of the Moscow International Book Fair—to writers including Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Alexander Arkhangelsky. Yevtushenko won Book of the Year for Поэт в России — больше, чем поэт. Десять веков русской поэзии (A Poet in Russia Is More Than a Poet. Ten Centuries of Russian Poetry), a five-volume anthology; it appears that only the first volume is out. Arkhangelsky won Prose of the Year for his novel Музей Революции (Museum of the Revolution) and the “Poet” series of books from Leninzdat won the Poetry award. A full list of winners is available on the site of the Russian Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communication, which organizes the awards and the book fair. The FAPMC piece noted that this year’s entertainment included ballet… it’s always sounded to me as if Book of the Year is the book award with the most lavish floor show. (And yes, it feels odd to even write that…)

Khlebnikov's grave, Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow.
I saved the best for last! It was a pleasant surprise to find a copy of Modern Poetry in Translation in my mailbox last week… and especially pleasant to have “Khlebnikov & Birdsong” catch my eye as soon as I unwrapped the journal. “Khlebnikov & Birdsong” is a lovely clutch of pieces that begins with MPT editor Sasha Dugdale’s “Transcribing Birdsong,” an introduction that includes a chunk of an essay by Alexander Ilichevsky about Velimir Khlebnikov, bird sounds, zaum, and language. Sasha’s introduction is followed by two translations of Khlebnikov’s “Там, где жили свиристели”: Peter Daniels’s “Timelings” and Edwin Kelly’s “Waxwings.” (“From the Ends to the Beginning” includes the original and another take on the poem here.) I particularly enjoyed the momentum, rhyme, and rhythm of Peter Daniels’s version, which feels very much like the original to me in both form and content, beginning with “Where the waxwings once were living.” Perhaps best of all, it read wonderfully to me on its own even before I looked up the original.

The two waxwing poems are followed by two more translations of Khlebnikov, also with introductions: Robert Chandler’s “Night in Persia” (“Ночь в Персии”) and Edwin Kelly’s “Garden of Animals” (“Зверинец”). I’ve always had a special fascination for Khlebnikov because I’ve always had a soft spot for zaum. Khlebnikov’s famous “Заклятие смехом”/“Incantation by Laughter” is probably as a good place as any to start reading him if he’s new for you. Back to MPT: this issue (no. 2, 2013) includes loads of other poems, featuring a “Romanian Focus” section, plus reviews, including James Womack’s piece about G.S. Smith’s As I Said, a translation of Lev Loseff’s Как я сказал.

Finally, an administrative note. Those of you who subscribe to my blog feed (by e-mail or blog/feed reader) might have noticed that you received three posts last week: there was a feed problem, which I fixed, so things should now be back to normal. I’m very grateful to the reader who sent a note last week asking why the feed hadn’t been updated since July. I usually monitor the feed more closely but, well, it’s been summer... I sometimes consider setting up a Facebook page to post links to new entries—is this something that (m)any of you would find useful, as an alternative to e-mail or blog/feed reader subscriptions?

Disclaimers. I’m translating a brief excerpt of Vadim Levental’s Masha Regina. I work on projects for Read Russia, which is funded by FAPMC. And I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Peter Daniels, Robert Chandler, and Sasha Dugdale in Oxford and London this past June. A very special thanks to Sasha for the copy of Modern Poetry in Translation!

Up Next: Levental’s Masha Regina and then Oleg Zaionchkovskii’s Petrovich, a low-key novel-in-stories about a boy.


  1. Great resource on Tolstoy, thanks!

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