To accompany our issue Trafika Europe 13 – Russian Ballet, we’re pleased to present a series of Trafika Europe Corner columns featuring poetry from several Russians that didn’t make it into our journal.
Moscow-born Nina Kossman (in Russian Косман – Kosman), the featured artist in our Russian issue, is also a writer, poet, translator and playwright. Her books include a collection of stories about her Moscow childhood, Behind the Border (HarperCollins,1994); Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths (Oxford University Press, 2001); Pereboi, a collection of her Russian poems published in Moscow; a bilingual edition of her poems published in the US, and a novel. Her translations of Russian poetry have been anthologized in Twentieth Century Russian Poetry (Doubleday, 1993), The Gospels in Our Image (Harcourt Brace, 1995), The World Treasury of Poetry (Norton, 1998), Divine Inspiration (Oxford University Press, 1998), and elsewhere. Her translations of Marina Tsvetaeva’s poems have been collected in two volumes, In the Inmost Hour of the Soul and Poem of the End. Her Russian short stories and poems have been published widely, and two of her plays have been produced off-off Broadway. Her poems and stories have been published in many literary magazines, such as Tin House, The Threepenny Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Columbia Journal, and Confrontation. She lives in New York City.
Here are three poems by Nina Kossman, translated by the poet.
A name shaped like a firebrand
a flower shaped like an eye
the childhood of my memory
in the absolutely closed sky
a word shaped like a mouth-lid
a thought twisted from light
ruses of final solitude
fading in the final white
a mouth shaped into music
Ave Maria, reply!
help us shape our ecstasy
as we shape your drawn-out sigh
In the language unconscious of games,
unconscious of being a language,
a thing apart from yourself,
a sea light,
a desire for form,
you speak as the humming darkness,
the sounds of images
envelop your voice.
Let the memory go down
the un-danced road of no-words.
In mid-air, where your childhood home stands,
see the lawn filled with flowers:
the face of a plant or of your mother
no longer living,
yet, all the same, interrupting your life
with her phantom goodness
still visible in your imagination’s sleep.
the child of your own intelligence,
of the forms your intelligence takes in your words,
of the forms that grow golden in the sun
and are grey in moonlight,
of phrases that are spoken once
by shadowy, distant lips,
of meditation too hollow for sleep,
and sleep too light for perfection,
shape your own shadows
from these motionless deaths
in this landscape, motionless
but for the fecund shapes surrounding you,
making indifferent noises
in their unconscious way.
Scatter clusters of syllables,
an apprentice of intelligent void,
solid space acquiring language,
the words that become the void
or settle on your palm like pigeons
cooing their way through your sleep:
memory giving form to memory,
and mastery giving form to pain–
no longer a sound from a misty past,
but a full-blooded flood of sorrow.
Depth of feeling,
she said (stroking his recoiling cheek),
is not, nowadays,
by the spirits attendant
on casual liberty,
by the circumstance-without-exception,
by the uninhibited-past-the-bounds-of-habit,
by all that is well and alive
though lacking in absolutes,
lacking in sympathy to the flesh of chance,
and to that brilliant embarrassment,
the cause of our never-do-well —
paradoxes of a fruitful mind.
Depth of feeling,
she said (stroking the air
whence he had removed his cheek),
is an illusion fostered
by epochs rich in
in rituals to tame the innocence
of onlookers, guests of а dreamy king.
Change of scene
and of time
is a promise of newer patterns,
new unattainable joys,
other frights breeding
in other silences. But o for the irreplaceable
tales of the un-self-possessed!
(her hand in the air).
Be sure also to check out Nina Kossman’s artwork in our Russian issue!
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Read ELNet’s Trafika Corner II.1, Trafika Corner II.2, Trafika Corner II.3, Trafika Corner II.4, Trafika Corner II.5, Trafika Corner II.6 and Trafika Corner II.7.