The launch of Ten Poems from Russia was, by all accounts, a lovely event! After opening remarks from Di Slaney of Candlestick Press and Adam Freudenheim of Pushkin Press, I said a few words about the Russian poetic tradition and read Pushkin’s immortal “Prologue to Ruslan and Lyudmila” in Peter France’s magical translation. I then invited the poet Nancy Mattson, whose work I love, to read my translation of a poem by Tsvetaeva as well as one of her own original poems inspired by the Russian master. After that, poet Peter Daniels, one of the finest reciters of verse I have ever heard, read Robert Chandler’s exquisite rendition of Anna Akhmatova’s chilling elegy for Sergey Yesenin, as well as “The Dactyls” by Vladislav Khodasevich, whose work doesn’t appear in Ten Poems but can (and should!) be found in the superb Selected Poems translated and edited by Peter. The accomplished translator Stephen Capus followed up with an engaging introduction to the work of Khodasevich’s fellow émigré Georgy Ivanov and read his pitch-perfect translation of one of the laconic poet’s longer works (about 20 lines!). I ended the evening by reading my translation of another Ivanov poem, in which the speaker finds pleasure in the transient beauty of a rose, which he tosses into a garbage can, and of Julia Nemirovskaya’s dazzling “Bouquet,” in which the speaker refuses to throw out a gorgeous white tulip. Nemirovskaya is the only living poet featured in the pamphlet, which should give you a sense of how highly I value her utterly original voice.
It was incredibly heartening to see so many familiar faces in the crowd — old friends, former students, and colleagues I had only known in the virtual realm. Front and center was my girlfriend, Jennifer Croft. Which reminds me: I’ve buried the lede! Two days earlier, Jennifer received the Man Booker International Prize for her spectacularly inventive translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s brilliant novel Flights. The fact that she made time for the Ten Poems reading means the world to me. She was in the midst of a hurricane of activity… How she survived it I’ll never know!