12 April 2014

Instructions to a Heraldic Illustrator / Инструкция рисовальщику гербов

Instructions to a Heraldic Illustrator

First Version

Against the background
of  a  shield,  or  a  basin,  or
a shallow saucer, the rendering of
a moderately sized camel, stuck tight in
the eye of a needle, yet looking at a cat in a black
bag tied up with a flower-ribbon the color of a nymph, bathing
in a pond, upon whose ribbon, in a beautiful script, the legend reads:
(Lat. “it’s not easy, but I’ll make it”)

Second Version

On a pedestal in the shape of two overturned cups
two great parentheses
adjoining which, as if leaning against them:
on the right: a moose with branching antlers
on the left: a mangy lion;
In the parentheses, Lifshits up on his hind legs,
an Aesopean tongue curls out of his mouth,
a loud cry breaks out of his throat,
his tail is pinched, on his head sits a crown shaped like a cap,
the background: lumberjacks are clearing the forest, chips
are flying at Lifshits, in his paws and hooves a tangled
heraldic ribbon, with the legend:

Third Version (a bit more modest)

The earthly globe
within a wreath of ears of grain
bound  with a ribbon;
across the tropics
in a beautiful script the legend:
in 15 languages.

moose, lion: puns on the poet’s name: Russian lev (“lion”) and los’ (“moose”).

(Translation © 2014 Henry Pickford)


1–ый вариант

На фоне щита
иль таза, иль мелкого блюда,
изображение небольшого верблюда,
застрявшего крепко в игольном ушке,
при этом глядящего на кота, сидящего в черном мешке,
завязанном лентой цвета нимфы, купающейся в пруду,
по коей ленте красивым курсивом надпись:
(лат. “Не легко, но пройду”)

2–ой вариант

На постаменте в виде опрокинутой стопки
две большие скобки,
к коим стоят как бы привалившись:
справа – лось сохатый,
слева – лев пархатый;
в скобках вставший на дыбы Лифшиц;
изо рта извивается эзопов язык,
из горла вырывается зык,
хвост прищемлен, на голове лежит корона в виде кепки,
фон: лесорубы рубят лес – в Лифшица летят щепки,
в лапах и копытах путается гвардейская лента
с надписью:

3–ий вариант (поскромнее)

Земной шар
в венце из хлебных колосьев,
перевитых лентой;
на поясках
красивым курсивом надпись:
на 15–ти языках.

16 March 2014

The Song that Never Ends / Вечная песенка

The Song that Never Ends

Pointless the crosses, orchestras, and toasts,
the rhetoric of victory a farce,
for the dawn of victory must always be the last
before another war.

This dawn indeed must always be the last
before another war begins.
Making young boys into a pack of beasts—
that’s no problem, piece of piss.

That kid tenderly swaddled by his ma,
who went on to give a ring to his fiancée,
next day can break a baby’s arm,
or grind someone’s face under his heel.

‘You’re a hero!’ he hears from a crusty old sweat.
In his ear grate songs from a cassette:
            Pour me a shot of vodka,
            I’m taking a coffin to Wogland,
            there to receive its charge.
            Bring on the snacks, the guitar,
            “Vodka, vodka filling the gla-a-ss!”

The delicate stream of evening trickles out of the sky.
Death goes about, garbed as reaper with scythe,
his grinning mouth a black hole.
Beyond death’s bourne, though, is damn all.

(Translation © G.S. Smith)

Lev Loseff, Crimea, 1948 / Лев Лосев, Крым, 1948

Вечная песенка

И кресты, и оркестры, и тосты – зря,
и победные речи смешны,
ведь заря победы – всегда заря
новой войны.

Да, заря победы – всегда заря
новой войны.
Превратить этих мальчиков в свору зверья –
как два пальца и хоть бы хны.

Тот, кто в шаль заботливо кутал мать
и невесте дарил кольцо,
может завтра руку ребенку сломать,
сапогом наступить на лицо.

«Ты – герой!» – прохрипит ему солдафон,
загнусит ему в ухо магнитофон:
            Налейте водки мне стакан,
            Гроб я везу в Чучмекистан,
            Чтоб там наполнить эту тару.
            Тащите закусь и гитару:
            «С водкой в стака–а–ане...»

Тонкой струйкой стекает с неба заря.
Ходит Смерть в обличии косаря,
улыбается черной дырой рта.
А за смертной чертой – ни черта.

08 March 2014

Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library Acquires Archive of Poet Lev Loseff

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services’ (CUL/IS) Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) is pleased to announce the acquisition of the papers of Lev Loseff (1937-2009), noted Russian émigré poet, literary critic, professor of Russian Literature at Dartmouth College, and a lifelong friend and authoritative biographer of Nobel Prize Laureate Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996).


Brodsky & Loseff. (Photo: Loseff Family Collection)

Born Aleksei Lifshits, Loseff was the son of Vladimir Lifshits, a well-known Russian poet. He graduated from the Leningrad State University and soon after started writing poetry for Russian children’s magazines. In order not to be confused with his father, he changed his name to Lev Loseff.

The collection, which contains approximately 40 feet of linear material, is comprised of manuscripts, poems, correspondence, photographs, and autographed first editions of Loseff’s work, as well as a significant number of subject files on Joseph Brodsky. Brodsky’s correspondence, drawings, typed and holograph manuscripts, and books with inscriptions cover the period 1969 to 2001. Some of the photographs cover an even earlier period in Brodsky’s life in Soviet Russia. The collection also includes legal papers relating to Joseph Brodsky’s will.
“These papers represent an important addition to the already rich collection of Russian materials to the Bakhmeteff Archive of Russian and East European History and Culture at RBML,” said Tanya Chebotarev, Curator of the Bakhmeteff Archive “His correspondence with well-known Russian émigré intellectuals including Sergei Dovlatov, Ivan Elagin, Konstantin Kuzminsky, Leonid Rzhevsky is complimented by his research materials on these significant representatives of Russian Diaspora.”
Loseff immigrated to the U.S. in 1976, and spent several years in Ann Arbor working for the Ardis Publishers while obtaining his American doctoral degree. In 1979, he accepted a position at Dartmouth College where he worked until his death. He published 14 well-received collections of verse, as well as numerous works of literary criticism.
The collection offers valuable research opportunities on Russian émigré literary circles and Twentieth-century Soviet literary culture. The collection will also enhance the research and outreach activities of both the Harriman Institute and the East European Studies Center, both recipients of recent NEH Summer Institute grants for the study of America’s Russophone and East Central European diasporic communities. The Loseff collection constitutes an important complement to Brodsky materials already held at the Beinecke Library, Yale University, The Russian National Library, St. Petersburg, and the Green Library, Stanford University. 
Columbia University Libraries/Information Services (CUL/IS) is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 12 million volumes, over 160,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, and graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 22 libraries and various academic technology centers, including affiliates. CUL/IS employs more than 450 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries is the gateway to its services and resources: library.columbia.edu.  (Link to original press release: https://blogs.cul.columbia.edu/rbml/?p=1915 )

02 March 2014

A Russian Night / Русская ночь

A Russian Night

Having to have it—harrowing. Then the thrashing
which is the threshing. Downtime. Pillow, smoke.
Physiology—it’s something like entrapment.
‘Geography is fate, though, as you know’.
Now we’re unstuck. And time begins to labour,
shaping an imposition from the seed,
which may in turn be crowned as a new people,
flame on its banner, stirrups for its steed!

My country too: smoky ejaculations,
and nights that wear you out, passion you fail
to comprehend, blast furnace with no purpose,
an empty place that lies ‘beyond the vale’.*

So too these days am I, a verbal vandal,
an empty vessel sounding still the same,
dragging her with me like my guilt, to what I
cannot avoid but neither can I name.

O Son of God, have mercy upon me.

*Author’s Note (on the rare noun solomia): Solomia means ‘a ravine’ (cf. my essay ‘Between the Solomia and Solomon; the Relationship between the Zadonshchina and The Lay of the Host of Igor’, Russian Language Journal, No.115(1979), pp. 51-53).

Translator’s Note: In the second stanza here, Loseff plays with the subset of neuter nouns in –mia, of which there are ten; he mentions seven of them and uses a verb based on another. The translator can only proceed literally, if at all.

(Translation © G.S. Smith)

Русская ночь

Пахота похоти. Молотьба
страсти. Шабаш. Перекур на подушке.
Физиология — это вроде ловушки.
“Да, а география — это судьба”.

Разлиплись. Теперь заработало время,
чтобы из семени вывелось бремя,
чтобы втемяшилось в новое племя:
пламя на знамени и — в стремена!

Так извергается ночью истомной,
темной страстью, никчемной домной,
дымным дыханьем моя страна,
место пустое за соломянем*.

То-то я нынче, словоломаньем
словно пустою посудой гремя,
ее волочу за собой, как вину мою,
в свое неминуемое неименуемое.

Сын Божий, помилуй мя.

*Соломя — овраг (см. мою работу “Между шеломянем и Соломоном: к вопросу о связи между Задонщиной и Словом о полку Игореве”, Russian Language Journal, No.115(1979), pp. 51-53)

17 February 2014

An Interpretation of Tselkov / Tselkov: an interpretation / Истолкование Целкова

Oleg Tselkov (Russian B. 1934), 'Collection (Green Version)' 1988, oil on canvas.

An Interpretation of Tselkov

The nap of some string and some candle wax.
The rearing up of a rump above a face.

As for the rest, just try to make it out

amid the flame, gloom, and oily smoke.

Only forebodingly can we make out
in the black memory-flame of paints
Tselkov’s period of guises,
“larvae” in Latin, “masks” to us.

Replacing landscape and flowers,
these masks, torn and pocked,
hung in Soviet apartments

like shields of vacuity and vanity.

There, as if some kind of anti-icons,
they eyelessly observed
the passing of repellent days,

the flowing of alcohol and the flouting of laws.

But the brush and the pencil

have a movement from cycle to cycle.

A soul appeared in the form
of a yellow butterfly on Tselkov’s canvasses.

Out of such larvae, which, God forbid
won’t ever return to haunt our sleep,
look, the soul crawls through

the socket of an eyeless eye.

Here it sat awhile on the nail,

there it leaves its trace like lightning.
On the candle, on the string, everywhere.
Even there, where it’s invisible.

(Translation © Henry Pickford)

(The Wondrous Raid, Tenafly, NJ, USA: Hermitage Publishers, 1985; Selected Early Poems, New York, NY, USA: Spuyten Duyvil, 2014)

Tselkov: an interpretation

Rope fiber and candle gout,
A rear end rampant on human shoulder,
For the rest, you try to make it out
Among fire and murk and smolder.

Ominously, though, we still mark off
In the black mind-flicker of hues
The figure phase of Oleg Tselkov,
Of larvae in Latin, “masks” for us.

Replacing paysages and painted flora,
These masks, all in fissures and gaps,
Like emblems of poverty and vainglory,
Were hung up in Soviet flats;

Where they hang and witness, eyeless,
Like anti-icons of sorts,
The days unreeling, joyless,
With boozing and trampling of laws.

But paint-brush and drawing-coal
Show movement from era to era.
In butterfly yellow, the soul
Has emerged in Tselkov’s oeuvre.

From incubuses and larvae
God save us from seeing in dreams.
The soul, behold it wafting
Through the eyeless caves her beams.

Here you find it perched on a nail-head,
There it flares like a meteorite,
On the candle, the rope, you name it,
Even where it is hidden from sight

(Translation © Estate of Walter Arndt)

Истолкование Целкова

Ворс веревки и воск свечи.
Над лицом воздвижение зада.
Остальное – поди различи
среди пламени, мрака и чада.

Лишь зловеще еще отличим
в черной памяти – пламени красок
у Целкова период личин,
«лярв» латинских, по-нашему «масок».

Замещая ландшафт и цветы,
эти маски в прорехах и дырах
как щиты суеты и тщеты
повисали в советских квартирах.

Там безглазо глядели они,
словно некие антииконы,
как летели постылые дни,
пился спирт, попирались законы.

Но у кисти и карандаша
есть движение к циклу от цикла.
В виде бабочки желтой душа
на холстах у Целкова возникла.

Из личинок таких, что – хана,
из таких, что не дай Бог приснится,
посмотри, пролезает она
сквозь безглазого глаза глазницу.

Здесь присела она на гвозде,
здесь трассирует молниевидно.
На свече, на веревке, везде.
Даже там, где ее и не видно.

(Чудесный десант, Tenafly, NJ, USA: Эрмитаж, 1985; Selected Early Poems, New York, NY, USA: Spuyten Duyvil, 2014)