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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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06/25/2008 Archived Entry: "Book review: Red Shifting"

Red Shifting
Author: Aleksandr Skidan
Translator: Genya Turovskaya
Published by Ugly Duckling Presse
ISBN-13 978-0-939010-95-0

Review by Jane Seaton

I don't read much Russian, and less contemporary poetry, so treat this review with some caution, but I enjoyed spending time with this parallel text from the Ugly Duckling Presse's Eastern European Poets Series.

The poems themselves have the sense of being a preliminary sketch, an outpouring of observation with no order yet imposed, no choices made, no thought on how to form a vessel or a narrative to contain them. It's all a bit like having your lunch, however appetising, banged down on the table in front of you still in the saucepan with a metal spoon sticking out of it. You worry about burning your tongue, then discover that the poet hasn't even checked it's hot through.

So I wasn't surprised to read

написанной на три четверти сходу, в один присест.

(three quarter written at one go, at one sitting)

But I was captivated by the poet's justification for this flood of words:

A few months of separation from the Russian language... English was taking bites out of it.

...captivated sufficiently to dip back into a particularly dense page and discover that this was a translation of:

Английский его объедал

(The) English (language) had eaten it.

Or possibly (with the help of my dictionary) 'gnawed round it'

We have tenses that other languages can't dream of, and Russian can turn 'eaten' into 'gnawed round' by adding three letters to the front end of a verb. What is a translator to do? Overall, the Russian seemed plainer, the English more self-consciously 'poetic'. But as I've said, I'm only a beginner. I returned to gnawing around the poet's offering.

In contrast to the rather relaxed presentational standards of the original writing, the translator and publisher have worked hard.

The translation is very parallel, almost line for line, which suited my skill level. The book itself is smart and inviting, as a poetry book should be if it's going to have a permanent home on your bookshelf. Russian text can be hard work for the inexperienced even after you've learned the alphabet and this was one of the most readable Russian texts (the font is minion) I've come across to date, as well as looking good on the page.

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