16 March 2014

The Song that Never Ends / Вечная песенка

The Song that Never Ends

Pointless the crosses, orchestras, and toasts,
the rhetoric of victory a farce,
for the dawn of victory must always be the last
before another war.

This dawn indeed must always be the last
before another war begins.
Making young boys into a pack of beasts—
that’s no problem, piece of piss.

That kid tenderly swaddled by his ma,
who went on to give a ring to his fiancée,
next day can break a baby’s arm,
or grind someone’s face under his heel.

‘You’re a hero!’ he hears from a crusty old sweat.
In his ear grate songs from a cassette:
            Pour me a shot of vodka,
            I’m taking a coffin to Wogland,
            there to receive its charge.
            Bring on the snacks, the guitar,
            “Vodka, vodka filling the gla-a-ss!”

The delicate stream of evening trickles out of the sky.
Death goes about, garbed as reaper with scythe,
his grinning mouth a black hole.
Beyond death’s bourne, though, is damn all.

(Translation © G.S. Smith)

Lev Loseff, Crimea, 1948 / Лев Лосев, Крым, 1948

Вечная песенка

И кресты, и оркестры, и тосты – зря,
и победные речи смешны,
ведь заря победы – всегда заря
новой войны.

Да, заря победы – всегда заря
новой войны.
Превратить этих мальчиков в свору зверья –
как два пальца и хоть бы хны.

Тот, кто в шаль заботливо кутал мать
и невесте дарил кольцо,
может завтра руку ребенку сломать,
сапогом наступить на лицо.

«Ты – герой!» – прохрипит ему солдафон,
загнусит ему в ухо магнитофон:
            Налейте водки мне стакан,
            Гроб я везу в Чучмекистан,
            Чтоб там наполнить эту тару.
            Тащите закусь и гитару:
            «С водкой в стака–а–ане...»

Тонкой струйкой стекает с неба заря.
Ходит Смерть в обличии косаря,
улыбается черной дырой рта.
А за смертной чертой – ни черта.

08 March 2014

Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library Acquires Archive of Poet Lev Loseff

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services’ (CUL/IS) Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) is pleased to announce the acquisition of the papers of Lev Loseff (1937-2009), noted Russian émigré poet, literary critic, professor of Russian Literature at Dartmouth College, and a lifelong friend and authoritative biographer of Nobel Prize Laureate Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996).


Brodsky & Loseff. (Photo: Loseff Family Collection)

Born Aleksei Lifshits, Loseff was the son of Vladimir Lifshits, a well-known Russian poet. He graduated from the Leningrad State University and soon after started writing poetry for Russian children’s magazines. In order not to be confused with his father, he changed his name to Lev Loseff.

The collection, which contains approximately 40 feet of linear material, is comprised of manuscripts, poems, correspondence, photographs, and autographed first editions of Loseff’s work, as well as a significant number of subject files on Joseph Brodsky. Brodsky’s correspondence, drawings, typed and holograph manuscripts, and books with inscriptions cover the period 1969 to 2001. Some of the photographs cover an even earlier period in Brodsky’s life in Soviet Russia. The collection also includes legal papers relating to Joseph Brodsky’s will.
“These papers represent an important addition to the already rich collection of Russian materials to the Bakhmeteff Archive of Russian and East European History and Culture at RBML,” said Tanya Chebotarev, Curator of the Bakhmeteff Archive “His correspondence with well-known Russian émigré intellectuals including Sergei Dovlatov, Ivan Elagin, Konstantin Kuzminsky, Leonid Rzhevsky is complimented by his research materials on these significant representatives of Russian Diaspora.”
Loseff immigrated to the U.S. in 1976, and spent several years in Ann Arbor working for the Ardis Publishers while obtaining his American doctoral degree. In 1979, he accepted a position at Dartmouth College where he worked until his death. He published 14 well-received collections of verse, as well as numerous works of literary criticism.
The collection offers valuable research opportunities on Russian émigré literary circles and Twentieth-century Soviet literary culture. The collection will also enhance the research and outreach activities of both the Harriman Institute and the East European Studies Center, both recipients of recent NEH Summer Institute grants for the study of America’s Russophone and East Central European diasporic communities. The Loseff collection constitutes an important complement to Brodsky materials already held at the Beinecke Library, Yale University, The Russian National Library, St. Petersburg, and the Green Library, Stanford University. 
Columbia University Libraries/Information Services (CUL/IS) is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 12 million volumes, over 160,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, and graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 22 libraries and various academic technology centers, including affiliates. CUL/IS employs more than 450 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries is the gateway to its services and resources: library.columbia.edu.  (Link to original press release: https://blogs.cul.columbia.edu/rbml/?p=1915 )

02 March 2014

A Russian Night / Русская ночь

A Russian Night

Having to have it—harrowing. Then the thrashing
which is the threshing. Downtime. Pillow, smoke.
Physiology—it’s something like entrapment.
‘Geography is fate, though, as you know’.
Now we’re unstuck. And time begins to labour,
shaping an imposition from the seed,
which may in turn be crowned as a new people,
flame on its banner, stirrups for its steed!

My country too: smoky ejaculations,
and nights that wear you out, passion you fail
to comprehend, blast furnace with no purpose,
an empty place that lies ‘beyond the vale’.*

So too these days am I, a verbal vandal,
an empty vessel sounding still the same,
dragging her with me like my guilt, to what I
cannot avoid but neither can I name.

O Son of God, have mercy upon me.

*Author’s Note (on the rare noun solomia): Solomia means ‘a ravine’ (cf. my essay ‘Between the Solomia and Solomon; the Relationship between the Zadonshchina and The Lay of the Host of Igor’, Russian Language Journal, No.115(1979), pp. 51-53).

Translator’s Note: In the second stanza here, Loseff plays with the subset of neuter nouns in –mia, of which there are ten; he mentions seven of them and uses a verb based on another. The translator can only proceed literally, if at all.

(Translation © G.S. Smith)

Русская ночь

Пахота похоти. Молотьба
страсти. Шабаш. Перекур на подушке.
Физиология — это вроде ловушки.
“Да, а география — это судьба”.

Разлиплись. Теперь заработало время,
чтобы из семени вывелось бремя,
чтобы втемяшилось в новое племя:
пламя на знамени и — в стремена!

Так извергается ночью истомной,
темной страстью, никчемной домной,
дымным дыханьем моя страна,
место пустое за соломянем*.

То-то я нынче, словоломаньем
словно пустою посудой гремя,
ее волочу за собой, как вину мою,
в свое неминуемое неименуемое.

Сын Божий, помилуй мя.

*Соломя — овраг (см. мою работу “Между шеломянем и Соломоном: к вопросу о связи между Задонщиной и Словом о полку Игореве”, Russian Language Journal, No.115(1979), pp. 51-53)