This poem, untitled when written, has since been labeled “Stalin Epigram.” Osip Mandelstam wrote it at the height of the Stalin purges, in 1933, and recited it to a literary gathering at Pasternak’s house. Someone at that gathering reported him, and he was exiled to a remote village and later arrested. He died on the way to Siberia. So in a way, this poem cost him his life.
I will read this and other poems from my new book of translations, Poems from the Stray Dog Cafe: Akhmatova, Mandelstam, and Gumilev, at University Press Books in Berkeley on Thursday, September 26 at 6 pm.
Polina Barskova will read some of the Russian.
Мы живем, под собою не чуя страны,
Наши речи за десять шагов не слышны,
А где хватит на полразговорца,
Там припомнят кремлёвского горца.
Его толстые пальцы, как черви, жирны,
А слова, как пудовые гири, верны,
Тараканьи смеются усища,
И сияют его голенища.
А вокруг него сброд тонкошеих вождей,
Он играет услугами полулюдей.
Кто свистит, кто мяучит, кто хнычет,
Он один лишь бабачит и тычет,
Как подкову, кует за указом указ:
Кому в пах, кому в лоб, кому в бровь, кому в глаз.
Что ни казнь у него – то малина
И широкая грудь осетина.
We live, but cannot feel the earth,
And if we speak, we can’t be heard.
But wherever you hear a half-conversation,
They talk of that backwoods lout in the Kremlin.
Ten fat fingers like greasy worms,
Each of his words weighs fifty pounds.
His moustache bristles in cockroach laughter,
And his polished jackboots glitter.
His gang surrounds him, a spineless crew,
Half-men who do what he tells them to.
Some growl, some whimper, some yowl and hiss,
But he alone rages and bangs his fists.
Decree on decree like horseshoes fly
At groin, forehead, eyebrow, eye.
Each execution—sweet as a berry,
To this broad-chested thug from Gori.
The full press release follows….
Poems from the Stray Dog Café: Akhmatova, Mandelstam, and Gumilev, translated by Meryl Natchez, published by hit & run press
BERKELEY, CA, September, 2013 – Anna Akhmatova. Osip Mandelstam. Nikolai Gumilev: A group of passionate, talented, bohemian poets meet at their favorite literary cafe. They are intoxicated with their vision of poetry as the word itself—not some symbolist embroidery on reality. They establish a poetic movement and a literary magazine to publish their manifestos and poetry. They have affairs, marry, divorce, write, write, write! It could be Greenwich Village in the 50s, or San Francisco in the 60s, but it’s St. Petersburg in the early part of the 20th century, and fate slams them with World War I, the Russian Revolution, Stalin, and World War II. In the span of 30 years, one is shot for treason, one exiled and starved to death on the way to the gulag, and one forced to write poems in praise of Stalin to save her son’s life.
hit & run press is pleased to announce the publication of Poems from the Stray Dog Café: Akhmatova, Mandelstam, and Gumilev, a volume of new translations of their work by Meryl Natchez. Natchez’ fresh translations cast new light on an era marked by personal and political discontent that resonates for today’s literary community. The book includes a brief history of their uniquely doomed existence by the contemporary Russian poet and scholar, Polina Barskova, an updated translation of Mandelstam’s manifesto “The Morning of Acmeism,” by Boris Wolfson, and a timeline of the poets’ lives.
This unique volume provides a sample of their bright, lively early work and also of poems from the darker years. They move from:
Those icy glasses on little tables,
The wintry smell of black coffee steaming…
Why is this age worse than what came before?
Is it because, in a stupor of grief and dread,
We have touched the blackest wounds with our own hands,
Unable to heal them?
University Press Books, will host the publication party on September 26, 2013 at 6 pm, http://universitypressbooks.com, 2430 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704 (510) 548-0585
The bilingual edition, available in both paper and limited, signed hardback, will be available from Amazon after September 26, 2013 or by preorder directly from the publisher: http://www.mrbebop.com/store/hit-run-press
About Meryl Natchez Natchez is co-translator of Tadeusz Borowski: Selected Poems, author of the poetry collection, Jade Suit, and contributor to Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness. Her poems and translations have appeared in literary journals including Canary, Language and Culture, The Atlanta Review, lyric, and The Pinch Literary Journal. She was recently awarded a two-week residency in poetry at the Mesa Refuge in Point Reyes, California, to complete a second book of poetry. She blogs at www.dactlys-and-drakes.com.
About hit & run press hit & run press, a fine arts press based in Berkeley, California, has been publishing limited editions of poetry, translations, and broadsides since 1974.