Poetry Monday

StrayDog-679x1024_optThis 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.
May, 1933

Stalin Epigram

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…. Continue reading “Poetry Monday”

On the radio

images-1Here is a podcast from  J.P. Dancing Bear’s  radio show, FM91.5 KKUP’s “Out of Our Minds.”

Bear does a one-hour poetry radio show every Wednesday night at 8 pm. I was lucky to be his guest.



He’s a pro, and makes it flow so easily. He also has a great-looking cat.


Translation and a poetry reading

Forty-five years ago, I began translating Russian poetry. Okay, I was a strange young adult. But this year, a book of my poetry translations was finally published, Poems from the Stray Dog Cafe: Akhmatova, Mandelstam, and Gumilev. Here’s one of the poems:

StrayDog-679x1024_optНо я предупреждаю вас,
Что я живу в последний раз.
Ни ласточкой, ни кленом,
Ни тростником и ни звездой,
Ни родниковою водой,
Ни колокольным звоном –
Не буду я людей смущать
И сны чужие навещать
Неутоленным стоном

Ah, but I am warning you
This life’s the last I’m living through.
Not as a swallow, or a poplar
Not as a reed or a star,
Not as water from a well
Nor a bell’s hollow song—
I won’t return to trouble men
Or visit stranger’s dreams again
With my unquenchable lament.

Anna Akhmatova,  1940

If you like this, you can hear more at the Center for the Book in San Francisco (an interesting place to visit) this Friday, August 9, as part of a reading of Littoral Press authors:

Susan Gangel l William A. Henkin l Karen Lee Hones l Rick Kempa l Kit Kennedy Stephen Kessler l Joe Lamb l Bill Mayer l Meryl Natchez l Steven Rood

Friday, Auqgust 9, 2013 at 7 p.m.

San Francisco Center for the Book, 375 Rhode Island St. at 16th, San Francisco, 415-565-0545

Or you can buy a copy of the book (listed on page 4).

Mandelstam, Olympic trials, memories of Oregon

The other day I mentioned the poem about Stalin that led to Mandelstam’s exile and eventual death. Mandelstam recited it to a gathering of intellectuals at Boris Pasternak’s home one evening. Someone at that gathering informed on him. (Someone will always inform, and have their reasons. We each think it would not be us.) In any case he was first exiled to a remote village, and later, after a short reprieve, sent to a camp in Siberia, which led to his death. This is the poem. In Russian it has the rhythm and sweetness of a nursery rhyme, which contrast with its content: Continue reading “Mandelstam, Olympic trials, memories of Oregon”