April 22, 2013

NPM 2013 - V is for Vallejo and Voznesensky

So, V is another tricky one. When I started the theme for NPM 2013, I knew Q and X would be problematic but had not considered V would be so. I can think of two choices for today but I've not read poems by either one of them. One's wikipedia entry says:
"... a poet, writer, playwright, and journalist. Although he published only three books of poetry during his lifetime, he is considered one of the great poetic innovators of the 20th century in any language. .... . Thomas Merton called him "the greatest universal poet since Dante". The late British poet, critic and biographer Martin Seymour-Smith, a leading authority on world literature, called Vallejo "...the greatest twentieth-century poet in any language."

And the other's wikipedia entry says:  
"...poet and writer who had been referred to by Robert Lowell as "one of the greatest living poets in any language." He was one of the "Children of the '60s," a new wave of iconic intellectuals .... considered "one of the most daring writers of the Soviet era"

Both of them are very famous poets though and both wrote in languages other than English. Tough to make a choice really and so I've decided to post 2 poems each by both of them.


First up, Peru's César Vallejo (March 16, 1892 – April 15, 1938), who in exile became a major voice of social change in Spanish American literature. Read his bio here or here - what a tumultuous life he led! The latter link has this lovely excerpt about his poetry:

“Vallejo confounds the reader’s expectations by his daring exploitation of the line pause, which often leaves articles, conjunctions and even particles of words dangling at the end of a line, by his frequent resort to harsh sounds to break the rhythm, by employing alliterations so awkward as to be tongue-twisters. He distorts syntactic structures, changes the grammatical function of words, plays with spelling. His poetic vocabulary is frequently unfamiliar and ‘unliterary,’ he creates new words of his own, he often conflates two words into one, he tampers with cliches to give them new meaning, he plays on the multiple meaning of words and on the similarity of sound between words. He repeatedly makes use of oxymoron and paradox and, above all, catachresis, defamiliarising objects by attributing to them qualities not normally associated with them.”


2 poems then by Vallejo:

Weary Rings
by César Vallejo
Translated from the Spanish by Rebecca Seiferle
    There's the desire to return, to love, to not be absent,
and the desire to die, fought by two
opposing waters that are never to be an isthmus.

    There's the desire for a great kiss that shrouds Life,
that ends in the Africa of burning, suicidal
death throes!

    There's the desire... to have no desire, Lord;
I point the finger of deicide at you:
there's the desire to have never had a heart.

    Spring returns, and will go away. And God,
curved in time, repeats himself, and walks by, walks by
carrying on his back the backbone of the Universe.

    When my temples play their lugubrious drum,
when the dream engraved on a dagger hurts me,
there's the desire to remain rooted in this verse!
by César Vallejo

Translated from the Spanish by Rebecca Seiferle

    Each ribbon of fire,
that in search of Love,
I cast and vibrate in lamentable roses,
births me to the burial of my eve.
I don't know if the throbbing where I search
will be the painting of rock,
or the perennial birthing of heart.

    There is stretched out in the very depth of being,
an ultranervous axis, a profound plumb line.
The thread of destiny!
Love will deflect such a law of life
toward the voice of Man;
and will give us supreme liberty
in blue transubstantiation, virtuous,
against what is blind and fatal.

    May there throb in each cipher,
hidden away in fragile dawns,
a even better Jesus of another great Yolk!

    And afterwards... The other line...
A Baptist who watches, watches, watches...
And, riding the intangible curve,
a foot bathed in purple.


A handful  of his poems can be read via the Poets.org website or the Poetry Foundation website.  I particularly liked "Black Stone Lying On A White Stone". There's also a few more poems translated by Robert Bly in Bly's recent book "The Winged Energy of Delight - Selected Translations." I got this book from the public library last month but did not get time to read it.

Onto the second poet for today now - Andrei Voznesensky (May 12, 1933 – June 1, 2010), the poet who rocked Russia's stadiums and is celebrated even in the West as "one of the Soviet Union's boldest and most celebrated young poets of the 1950s and '60"

Her Story
by Andrei Voznesensky
Translated by Alec Vagapov

I started up the engine and I lingered.
Where should I go? The night was fine, I figured.
The bonnet trembled like a nervous hound.
I shivered. Night lit up the houses around.
The Balzac age, I felt its burning pain,
Chilled to the bone, I couldn't hold my own.
The age of balsam wine mixed with champaign!..

So I looked up, and wound the window down.

They were young, two pretty-pretty fellows,
wearing fur coats, looking slightly careless.
"You're free, Miss, aren't you ? Care for delight?
Five hundred now. One thousand for the night".

I flared up. They took me for a prostitute.
My heart was jumping. What an attitude!
They want you, you're young, you're a whore!
Indignant, I said "Yes", instead of "No".

The other one, so "sweet and pure",
swaying his hips, looking aside,
said: "Have you got a friend, as rich as you are?
I, too, will take it. A thousand for the night".

The brutes! I thought I'd better vanish!
I stepped upon the gas and left the site.
My heart, however, jumped for joy and anguish!
"Five hundred now. One thousand for the night".


Parabolic Balad
by Andrei Voznesensky
translated by W. H. Auden

Among a parabola life like a rocket flies,
Mainly in darkness, now and then on a rainbow,
Red-headed bohemian Gauguin the painter
Started out life as a prosperous stockbroker.
In order to get to the Louvre from Montmartre
He made a detour all through Java, Sumatra,
Tahiti, the Isles of Marquesas.

                               With levity
He took off in flight from the madness of money,
The cackle of women, the frowst of academies,
Overpowered the force of terrestrial gravity.
The high priests drank their porter and kept up their jabbering:
'Straight lines are shorter, less steep than parabolas.
It's more proper to copy the heavenly mansions.'

He rose like a howling rocket, insulting them,
With a gale that tore off the tails of their frock-coats.
So he didn't steal into the Louvre by the front door
But on a parabola smashed through the ceiling.
In finding their truths lives vary in daring:
Worms come through holes and bold men on parabolas.

There was once a girl who lived in my neighbourhood.
We went to school, took exams simultaneously.
But I took off with a bang,
                                I went whizzing
Through the prosperous double-faced stars of Tiflis.
Forgive me for this idiotic parabola
Cold shoulders in a pitch dark vestibule...
Rigid, erect as a radio antenna-rod
Sending its call-sign out through the freezing
Dark of the universe, how you rang out to me,
An undoubtable signal, an earthly stand-by
From whom I might get my flight-bearings to land by
The parabola does not come to us easily.
 Laughing at law with its warnings and paragraphs
Art, love and history race along recklessly
Over a parabolic trajectory.
 He is leaving tonight for Siberia.
A straight line after all is the shorter one actually.

You can read 5 of his poems via the New York Review of Books, with translations by Auden and James Merrill and there's no doubt other resources online for some of his poetry like this collection of his poems translated by Alec Vagapov (never heard of him before today!) but I'll leave you with this Paris Review interview with Voznesensky. I knew about the immense popularity of Yevtushenko during Krushchev's reign in the Soviet Union but it seems Voznesensky was also an equally popular poet of the times. 
"Public readings by writers including Voznesensky and Yevtushenko had already grown to the point that huge stadiums could hardly contain the audiences clamoring to hear the new poetry..... He is a small man—about the size of a Beatle—with firm Slav features. When he reads, his voice is equal to every music his language offers, and he whips his poems toward the audience with a right arm like a tweed cobra; he delivers his lines with a passionate, almost frightening intensity. During performances, crowds have been known to rush the podium to touch the cuffs of his trousers; after them, poetry groupies seek the kind of backstage benediction Dylan Thomas used to like to give. His name shows up in literary journals while his face appears in fashion magazines. He is a legend in Russia; he is recognized in small airports in the American South."

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