THE BOOKSHELF: I LIVE I SEE.

With I Live I See: Selected Poems, English-speakers finally have access to the work of one of the more remarkable Russian poets of recent decades, Vsevolod Nekrasov (1934–2009). Nekrasov is, in a way, an unfortunate name for a Russian writer, almost as bad as Tolstoy; as the “Word from the Translators” that begins this collection starts off (in a section called “Not That Nekrasov”), “When a Russian hears the name ‘Nekrasov,’ the first person that comes to mind is Nikolai Nekrasov, the great nineteenth-century realist-humanist poet”; there’s also the Soviet/émigré prose writer Viktor Nekrasov, among many others. But this Nekrasov is not like any other; to quote the translators again: “A vehement individualist, Nekrasov spent a lifetime fighting political and aesthetic conformism.[...] At a time when the vast majority of his fellow poets—official and unofficial alike—were writing with rhyme and in traditional syllabo-tonic meters, Nekrasov was writing, quite literally, anti-poems.” He used brevity, repetition, page layout; his mature work consists primarily of “scraps” and “fragments” (to quote the “Notes toward a Poetic Biography” by Mikhail Sukhotin). You can see a sample of the translations here, and I’ll quote a couple more below the cut; I’m sure a lot of people will take one look and decide it’s not for them, which is fine (and he wouldn’t have been a bit surprised). But if it piques your curiosity, if the lingering over phrases and the insistent juxtapositions make you want to read more, he may be for you. The translators have done fine work (and provided very helpful notes at the back), and Ugly Duckling Presse has produced a lovely little brick of a book with a gorgeous black-and-white cover. Let me just quote the end of Sukhotin’s introduction, and then I’ll get to the poems:

In 2007 Nekrasov was awarded the Andrei Bely prize “for the uncompromising revelation of the poetic nature of speech as such, for absolute individuality and absolute naturalness of utterance, for an outstanding contribution to the creation of a new poetics, for half a century of creative self-sufficiency.”

Here’s “Again again / Snow snow” [Опять опять / Метель метель]:

Again again
Snow snow
And now again
And now again
Snow—
And now thaw
And now snow again

And here’s “Night / Tonight is night” [Ночь / Нынче ночью ночь]:

Night
Tonight is night
Night
At night
Yet
Day
Today it’s
Day
Today’s the
Day
Day today!

Comments

  1. I like them. Bet you thought I wouldn’t.

  2. Thanks Language, something I missed back then

  3. marie-lucie says:

    Minimalist!

  4. For the first time in my life, I’ve realised maybe I can be a poet, too.

  5. They are wonderful.
    By the way, Nekrasov is on YouTube reading his poems, for example here.
    Snow is built around the twirling soft consonants – l and t, метель-оттепель-опять. I miss it in English, not sure if it matters.

  6. I’m pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction!
    Snow is built around the twirling soft consonants – l and t, метель-оттепель-опять. I miss it in English, not sure if it matters.
    Yeah, I noticed that too; it’s too bad, but there’s only so much you can carry across in translation. (I keep telling people to learn Russian…)

  7. Alexei K. says:

    Always good to read about Vsevolod Nekrasov. I agree with Sashura – Nekrasov makes us relive, re-taste, reconsider those four commonplace Russian words. Теперь-метель-оттепель and the somewhat out-of-place опять – but not so out of place because мятель was once a variant spelling of метель.
    Also see Miroslav Nemirov on “poetic mumbling” (бормотание художественное): part 1 and part 2.

  8. As a writer who doesn’t speak Russian (sigh), I always have a sense when I’m reading that particular language translated, that I’m missing something more than with any other tongue….

  9. Alexei K. says:

    By the way, the painter Erik Bulatov was a close friend of the late Nekrasov and one of Bulatov’s famous works is Живу-вижу (it was also the title of his 2003 Moscow exhibition).

  10. marie-lucie says:

    I live I see certainly loses a lot in translation from Живу-вижу.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    I live I see
    … but it would not be so bad in French: Je vis je vois.

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