Mikhail Aizenberg has lived and breathed and had his being at the heart of the last generation of poets that came to maturity under the regime of the Soviet Union. He has been not only one of its most eloquent practitioners, but also its chronicler and interpreter.
In his own poetry he articulates the wildly erratic internal, personal climate of the political global warming that Russia has undergone. When the cultural history of Russia's turn from the twentieth to the twenty-first century is written, the epigraphs to the chapters will be drawn from Aizenberg's verses.
He has published four books of poems and two of criticism. In English translation his poems have appeared in Russia (Glas and Hungry Russian Winter) England (Novostroika), New Zealand (Takahe) the United States (Delos, Dirty Goat, Green Mountains Review, Harvard Review, International Quarterly, Kenyon Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, Onthebus, Plum Review, River Styx, Mr. Cogito, Salamander) and Australia (Salt) as well as in the anthologies Third Wave: The New Russian Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 1992), Crossing Centuries (Talisman, 2002), and In the Grip of Strange Thoughts (Zephyr Press, 1999) to which he also contributed an introduction.
Light rain falls as quietly
as the footfall of an Indian guide.
Nettles here, buckwheat there.
Who tends these? Not I, the mushroom-gatherer.
A cloud of spruce needles,
scales from a dragon,
but I see nothing, not I.
I hear nothing, not I.
I only hear, softer than a breath,
the wind blowing over me,
an alder-elder rustles
distantly beyond the stillness.
From the level pale blue sky
from a corner not so far away
an arrow has been fashioned
destined for anything alive.
Who will escape its barely
See how the invisible bird
sings like a bowstring.
A cicada saws the air thus
(Shakespeare reproaches it for that).
What is saying djiga-djiga—
the wind? The turn of a key?
Suddenly there is no sound.
Silk emerges from the ground.
The firmament has turned gray
pricked all over with pins.
The abyss of heaven, a passageway
Into weightless quicksilver cold.
J. Kates, poet and literary translator, lives in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, and in Brookline, Massachusetts. Alone and in collaboration, he has translated six books of poetry from French, Spanish and Russian, including poems by Tatiana Shcherbina, The Score of the Game (Zephyr, 2002) He also edited In the Grip of Strange Thoughts (Zephyr Press, 1999). His translations of Aizenberg's poetry are underwritten by an NEA translation grant for 2006.
Say Thank You, by Mikhail Aizenberg
Say Thank You
from Russian by J. Kates
ISBN 0-939010-88-7 (paper)
5¼ x 8
136 pages [Bilingual Russian/English]
With this book, American readers are introduced to the work of an important contemporary Russian poet, whose world-view and aesthetic will seem at once welcome in its otherness and pertinently familiar. Aizenberg's poetry brings the surreal into the quotidian, is of the present moment while partaking of an urban world-view that would have been recognizable to Benjamin or Baudelaire. In J. Kates' translations, these poems have a new and discrete life in English.
The young Mandelstam did not know what to do with his body. M. Aizenberg does not know what to do with his soul.
Fresh & marvelous…a philosophical innovator always pressing new thoughts out of language, each poem a repeated surprise…. These poems and their skilled translations are our antennae through the darkness.
—F. D. Reeve