Friday, May 18, 2012

The riddle of ‘Australian’ poetry

In the realms of great poetry I rate Georgy Ivanov (1894-1958) as the unchallenged contender to the throne. Defining what constitutes great poetry is too problematic to address in a short blog post like this, but suffice to know, I have my opinion. Take this line:

Ку-ку-реку или бре-ке-ке-ке?

The question mark at the end denotes a riddle because it is not exactly asking a question. A literal translation is something like:

Cock-a-doodle-doo or croak-ak-ak-ak?

In other words it is the noise a cockerel makes followed by the noise a toad makes. To be a question the reader would simply be invited to choose between the two noises. But that is not what the riddle is about. In this line alone I have discovered eight animals, discounting the rather obvious cockerel and toad. If anyone discovers more please get in touch. To find these animals you need to have some knowledge of how the Australian language works. To understand how the Australian language works you need to have studied Распад атома (1938). In this prose-poem are all the clues to Ivanov’s poetry. Travelling alongside Georgy Ivanov it is not an easy journey to make, but it is a fascinating journey, full of surprises. The next line in the above poem is:

Крыса в груди или жаба в руке?

This would literally translate as:

A rat in the chest or a toad in the hand?

Again it is not asking the reader to choose. Once you know Australian you can work out that in this line there are at least three animals (discounting the obvious rat and toad) and at least two animate objects (discounting the obvious chest and hand). Having created a new poetic language − all credit to him − he deserves to rank above all of his contemporaries of the ‘silver age’ who by his standards simply wrote acceptable verse, unless by accident, in which case Ivanov quotes from their works. What distinguishes his work is what is found ‘reading between the lines’ and this is what elevates Ivanov above all others. The earlier works I have not studied in great detail but every verse Ivanov wrote after Распад атома follows the same ‘Australian’ formula.

On 17 April a translation of Ivanov’s poetry called ‘On the border of snow and melt: selected poems of Georgy Ivanov’ translated by Jerome Katsell and Stanislav Shvabrin was despatched to me from Strand Bookstore in New York. It has yet to arrive even though I paid half as much again for shipping as the book itself cost. This was done through Amazon who, after an enquiry, now expect it to arrive some time between 17 May and 20 June. I shall not be using Amazon again and informed them that in the 1890s transit times across the Atlantic could take only 5 to 6 days.

I am interested to see if this poem has been addressed and if so in what way. Translating Ivanov is a bold mission especially without knowledge of the ‘Australian’ language. I am assuming that when (if) ‘On the border of snow and melt’ arrives it will be a literal translation. I am working on an Australian version which I suspect will be considerably different. The full poem from which the two lines referred to have been lifted is:

Ку-ку-реку или бре-ке-ке-ке?
Крыса в груди или жаба в руке?

Можно о розах, можно о пне.
Можно о том, что неможется мне.

Ну, и так далее. И потому,
Ангел мой, зла не желай никому.

Бедный мой ангел, прощай и прости!..
Дальше с тобою мне не по пути.
Гео́ргий Ива́нов (1958)

1 comment:

  1. Yesterday, 22nd May, 'On the border of snow and melt' arrived. What I have read appears to be a very sensitive, appreciative and correct (but as I suspected 'literal') translation. The first two lines:

    Ку-ку-реку или бре-ке-ке-ке?
    Крыса в груди или жаба в руке?

    are translated:

    Cock-a-doodle-do or ribb-be-et?
    A rat in the chest or a toad in the hand?

    This is accurate on a primary level. And being the first translation I know of, other than that of individual poems, is well worthy of the purchase. I am pleased with the 532 pages of superb poetry.