Wednesday, February 12, 2014

National Translation Month - NTM: Katia Kapovich: In Nabokov's Memory

Translated by the author

Dead roses, plastic tulips, dry immortelles-
he hated them in the German hotels,
drinking coffee from cups whose shiny backs
had been designed with swastikas of cracks.

He never settled down to sink his roots
in any fathermotherland. Old bear,
he wore the same old-fashioned English suits
that had traveled so far during the war.

His wife, his alter echo, read him books
as he lay ill in bed, prepared to die.
He knew by name all foreign lakes and brooks
as they passed by.

A man forgets men rather than forgives.
Laugh, Mnemosyne, healing muse of those
whose heads are crowned, but not with laurel leaves-
with the whispering reeds of other shores.

From an interview between Adam Weiner, chair of Slavic at Wellesley, and myself about contemporary Russian poetry:

AW: In your anthology I immediately noticed a very fine poem by Katia Kapovich, "In Nabokov's Memory." This poem flows so easily that you miss the first time through how rich it is with meaning and humor. The way the poet remembers Nabokov's famous penchant for "hating" things and applies it—in the second line!—to the flowers of the first, the discovered secondary sense of hating "dry immortelles," the way she turns his autobiography, Speak, Memory, into Laugh, Mnemosyne, and many more happy turnings.

LS: I love Katia's poem, which gives understated voice to the life of a literary expatriate, who learns the names of foreign brooks and lakes, perhaps for her new American readership, and perhaps simply for the words. Brodsky was such a "crowned head," our poet laureate. Our émigré bilinguals in Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry write of these "other shores" in bittersweet memory of home.
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