Saturday, June 06, 2015

Tarkovsky, Kline, Cassian, and the Spiritual Value of Translation - Review of the 4th Annual Compass Award Ceremony

(Published in the Russian American Cultural Center newsletter)



Now in its fourth year, The Compass Award for best translation of a Russian poet has quickly become one of the most prestigious awards in translation. Under the auspices of the noted journal Stosvet/Cardinal Points (co-published by MadHat) and with a distinguished panel of judges and supporting institutions, the Compass competition invites and receives sparkling English-language translations of Russian poetry from around the world. Competitions have focused on well-known poets such as Marina Tsvetaeva, and others less known in the United States, such as Nikolai Gumilyov, husband of the renowned Anna Akhmatova, who met his untimely death at the end of a Cheka firing squad in 1921; Maria Petrovykh, beloved of the great Osip Mandelstam; and Arseny Tarkovsky, friend and fellow student of Petrovych’s and father of the famous filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky.


This year’s Compass Award and launch of Issue 4 of Cardinal Points, celebrated at Poets House (New York), was dedicated to the translation of poems by Tarkovsky, whose earthy and spiritual verse is popular in Russia but little known among English readers. Although he began writing in the 1920s, Tarkovsky’s first collection, Before the Snow, did not appear until 1962, when it was praised by Akhmatova as “an unexpected and precious present to the reader.” Critics consider Tarkovsky an essential bridge between the Russian Silver Age (from the late 19th to early 20th century) and the post-Stalin Thaw under Nikita Khrushchev. (Unlike Gumilyov, Tarkovsky managed to escape execution for penning an acrostic poem about Lenin in 1921).


Mastering Tarkovsky’s rhythmic and mesmerizing verse were this year’s winners, Laurence Bogoslaw (United States), who took first prize, nonagenarian Nora Krouk (Australia), who took second place and was an honorable mention winner in the Petrovych competition, and Igor Mazin (United States), who took third place, as well as Misha Semenov and Eugene Serebryany (both United States) who became  honorable mention recipients. The award ceremony also included a reading by celebrated Russian, American, and international poets and translators. Introduced by National Endowment Translation Award winner Alex Cigale, the poets and translators included Cigale, Polina Barskova, Sibelan Forrester, myself, and Alexander Veytsman, Compass Director.


The reading also honored the departed literary giants, poet, translator, journalist, and film critic Nina Cassian, and scholar, translator and Compass judge George Kline, who is considered responsible for bringing Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky to the attention of the English-speaking world. Cassian’s life and contributions to international letters were honored by a talk and reading of her work by her husband Maurice Edward. It was my honor to speak about George Kline, with whom I had the privilege of corresponding at the end of his life. Despite his continued dedication at the age of 93 to the translation of Brodsky’s work, Kline took the time to review my translation of Alexander Pushkin’s “Ia vas liubil” (“I loved you once”) and to school me on Russian prosody. In his final e-mail to me, he wrote of the spiritual value (dukhovnaia tsennost’) of a poem’s meter for the translator, a value honored by the Compass Award ceremony on this unforgettable afternoon.
The evening was hosted by poet Irina Mashinski, the StoSvet/Cardinal Points editor-in-chief, Alexander Veytsman, the Compass Award Director, and Regina Khidekel, the director of the Russian American Cultural Center. It was co-sponsored by the Russian-American Cultural Center, the Cardinal Points Journal, and Cardinal Points’  co-publisher MadHat Press.

Stanford Universuty | Book Haven Slavic - memorial for George Kline


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