Posts Tagged ‘Bella Akhmadulina’

A Stanford story (and winner!) behind this year’s Compass Translation Awards in NYC

Thursday, May 4th, 2017
Bella Akhmadulina

Akhmadulina: Singing in another language.

Last Saturday, Stanford’s Glen Worthey spent an unusual evening in Manhattan: he was at the Poets House accepting a Compass Translation Awared Second Prize for his translation of a Bella Akhmadulina poem from the original Russian.

Stepanova @Stanford

She’ll help next time. Maria Stepanova at Stanford Libraries, photographed by C. Haven.

The poet for next year’s translation competition is another friend: one of Russia’s leading poets (and a recent Stanford visitor) Maria Stepanova, and the first-ever living poet to be featured for a Compass competitions.  Maria has offered to consult on her poetry with any translators who may desire it, “which sounds both fun and daunting,” said Glen.

In addition to loads of new impressions and new friends, Glen returned with a small stack of sample journal issues for himself and the Stanford Libraries, as well as signed copies of Irina’s latest book, and some catalogs of the archive of Mark Khedekel’s fascinating father, Lazar Khedekel, a Suprematist architect-philosopher who was a contemporary and collaborator with Malevich and El Lissitzky in the Vitebsk Art Institute.

Oh, and the poem. Read Glen’s translation below, or listen to Akhmadulina read the poem in the youtube video he made at the bottom of this post:


Oh, Runner, Run!

Behold the man, whose race was first begun
So long ago, when light first lit creation;
One cannot count the centuries he’s run:
Run high, run far, toward some consecration,
Some blessed goal.  What triumph might it be
That beckons him to run, to conquer distance?
Behold the man — oh, look at him! and see
Through fogs of time his face’s fine persistence.
Egyptian deserts held him as a slave,
A swarthy outcast, breathless in his fleeing,
Whom death awaited should he cease to crave
To win this race: the essence of his being.
Around him all is motionless and dead.
But he: alive with passion, flexed emotion,
His golden muscles’ movements all embed
Humanity’s own most perfected motion.
Oh, runner, run!  Run, brother; run, my friend!
By force of will your final lap completed,
You run one more, your victory to extend,
To nobly face a future undefeated.
Oh, runner, run!

Remembering Bella Akhmadulina: “purity, conscience, and independence”

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

I ran across Robin Varghese‘s recent post on 3 Quarks Daily noting that, he, too, had somehow missed the obituaries for the 73-year-old Russian poet Bella Akhmadulina, who died on November 29 of a heart attack.  I spent a little time this afternoon catching up: William Grimes‘s New York Times obituary for the “bold voice in Russian poetry” is here.

Akhmadulina came to fame in the post-Stalin years, the years of the Thaw.  She never emigrated, and never was exiled.  The Telegraph reported:

“Yet in her own quiet way Bella Akhmadulina was as much of a dissident as better known Soviet writers. Her work as a translator – she translated into Russian poetry from France, Italy, Chechnya, Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia and many other countries – led to her expulsion from the Soviet Writers’ Union in the Brezhnev era, and she openly supported persecuted writers like Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn and political dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov.”

In 1979, she fell out of favour by contributing a surreal short story, ‘Many dogs and one dog,’ to the Samizdat publication Metropol, and was subsequently condemned for the “eroticism” of her verse and banned from publication.”

Said the poet:  “How did I manage?  Well, I think a person has some sort of guiding light.  Without doubt, something or someone looks after us from on high.” sThat quotation is from Valentina Polukhina‘s exhaustive and enlightening series of interviews, Brodsky Through the Eyes of His Contemporaries, volume 1.

I didn’t know her poetry — or at least I didn’t know it much.  I remember her instead as the the bright, original, and unambiguous voice in Polukhina’s 1987 interview:  “The presence of any great poet in the world creates a marked effect on human existence.”

An excerpt:

“But in exceptional cases, as with Bunin, with Nabokov, we are talking about people who have taken with them something that became … as if they created the Russian language inside themselves.  He doesn’t need to hear Russian spoken around him; he himself becomes a force that is ripe.  He himself is both garden and gardener. …

I said this at some time to Nabokov.  He asked me, ‘Do you like my language?’ and I answered, ‘Your Russian, it’s the best,’ and he said, ‘But it seems to me that it is like frozen strawberries.’  And whatever fate does … Well, with such people what is fate?”

In a literary world notorious for backbiting and artistic rivalries, she said this of Joseph Brodsky:

“My particular relationship to Brodsky can be described quite simply: uncritical, one of adoration.  I myself have stated somewhere in connection with Akhmatova:  ‘Of all calamities, adoration is the worse.’  An admirer can never expect his adoration to be returned.  And I am sure, that Joseph … I never think about myself when I think about him.  And even when they said to me, ‘you know, what Brodsky thinks of you!’ (Thumb downward.)  As he pleases.  But it is my business to talk about him with thumbs up.”

Polukhina, however, contradicted her:  “He said that Bella is one of the few Russian poets living in Russia who by some miracle has succeeded in preserving her purity, conscience and independence.”

Akhmadulina’s finest online send-off may be the memoir from Gregory Freidin on Arcadehere.  He gives us the context for Akhmadulina’s rise to prominence:

“Because of the richness of inflection and infinite melodic variability of the language, Russian poetry is blessed with extraordinary expressive force and a mighty mnemonic potential. This comes in handy if you happen to live under a repressive ideocracy like the Soviet Union, since verses can be easily memorized and leave little material evidence. Indeed, there was no better time to realize Russian poetry’s mnemonic and ethereal  potential than in the post-Stalin Soviet Union where the absence of independent publishing coexisted with burgeoning youth culture and a minimal – and for that reason infinitely titillating – lifting of the skirt of Soviet censorship. For us, who belonged the post-WWII generation, shaped by the de-Stalinization campaign and cold war, known euphemistically as ‘peaceful coexistence,’ this toying with the ideological hemline excited our imagination and set our minds on fire! Grim and sclerotic as the Soviet empire was in its decline, it became a Garden of Eden for poetry – and a purgatory, not to say a minor inferno, for the poets themselves. Some, like Brodsky, were exiled or jailed, others went through torments of hell in trying to combine the imperative of remaining true to their calling with the relentless and crushing pressure to conform. That was the cup that Akhmadulina, twenty and otherworldly beautiful in 1956, drank to the dregs.”

I won’t spoil Freidin’s post for you; it deserves a full reading here.  And for a taste of Akhmadulina’s distinctive voice, girlish and throaty, click below: