Two Ekphrases with Translations

V. Van Gogh, Le viaduct

The road is sad, saturated with poison,
And pricking with flat notes on my bare feet.
Impasto on canvas. The strokes are ugly,
Acidic and toxic. The rigorous sunshine
Resists to decline. While attacking the road,
I breathe in the summer’s corroding air,
The surface is molten, it leads to the tunnel
Which easily pierces the space on the easel.
Pinocchio’s hearth, an oasis, hosanna,
The tunnel is tamed, safely packed in the canvas,
But just as its entrance appears unreal,
The more so its exit is painted helpless.

Translated from Russian by V. Emelin and author

(В. Ван-Гог. “Виадук”)

Дорога печальна, пропитана ядом.
Бемолями колет босые ступни
Проселок-импасто. Мазки безобразны,
Кислотны, токсичны. Не сходит на убыль

Жестокое солнце. Шагаю  дорогой,
Дыша разъедающим воздухом лета,
По маслу поверхности, по направленью
К туннелю, пронзившему плоскость мольберта.

Очаг Буратино, оазиc, осанна,
Туннель укрощен, в полотно упакован
Но если покажется вход нереален,
То выход тем более чуть прорисован.

In Front of the Van Gogh’s “Wheat-field at Auvers Under Clouded Sky”

At the museum,
Right outside the field of wheat,
Wary of all the strokes and seams.
It’s so simple you can wear it.

Made in 1890 exclusively for 2012,
Totally wearable art
Can be worn as a trendy bag,
On your neck or your torso,
As a pareo or a scarf.
You can also
Wear it as a scar.
With straps or strapless,
Or as a chip on one’s shoulder.
Better yet, used as the kitschy colored
Kitchen curtain
With its seething,
Streaming down
Patchwork of satin,
Wheat and emerald
Colored, sporting
Unfadeable duo-
Lazuli and lavender,
Topped off by the white smudges.
Spread it on your skin,
Feel the grassy angry daggers
Pierce your abdomen-
C-section in reverse.
Of course
There’s no way
These fetuses, babies
Can break in to be re-carried,
Re-nurtured, be reborn.
The painter was mad.
All the seams are torn.
I wouldn’t wear it like that.

I wish this field could be
Sewn into a kimono
Where brush strokes stream down
The stalks
Under Vincent’s clouded sky.
That’s what I want to wear and write.
Philadelphia, Spring 2012

Ван Гог. “Пшеничные поля в Овере под облачным небом”

В зале музейном,
Пшеничного поля напротив,
Без швов и стежков, такое простое,
Что можно на плечи набросить,
Дизайна 1890-го для 2012-го
Носибельное искусство
К фирменной сумочке с надписью,
Внакидку или на бедрах,
Как парео или шарф,
Можно носить как шрам,
Можно носить как шарм,
С бретельками или без,
Можно – сердцем на рукаве,
А лучше – занавеской кухОнной,
В стиле “кич бездуховный”,
Стремящейся вниз, отпАдной,
Цветной гардиной оконной,
Ляпис-лазурной лавандой
С белыми кляксами пышными.
Почувствуй ткань своей кожей,
Как травяные кинжалы
Взрезают тебе живот –
Кесарево наоборот.
Зародышам невозможно
Внедриться, впитаться,
Обратно родиться.
Мастер безумного кроя –
Так – не годится,
Я не надену такое.

Я бы хотела
Сшить из него кимоно,
Где по стеблям стекают строчки
Под печальные
облачные небеса.
Суримоно –
Вот что я буду носить и писать.
Translated from English by V. Emelin

Galina Itskovich and Valentin Emelin

What is the significance of this work to you?

Galina: It captured the day in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the moment in front of Van Gogh's painting, when its colors and textures walked off the canvas, permeated the museum room and mingled with onlookers, and another moment, one in Guggenheim, when I realized that I could hear the musical rhythm behind the visual image.

Valentin: I translate, in particular, the American poetry and like what Galina Itskovich is writing. So it was quite natural to translate one work in Russian and, much later, accept Galina's proposal to translate a few of her poetic works in English.

What is the significance of the form you chose for this work?

Galina: Paintings themselves choose the form. For example, the airy, vast "Wheat Field" couldn't be squeezed into stanzas and called for free verse. In the case of a bilingual author, visual works crossing the boundary into a language based art form also choose the language—could it be based on previous memories and associations?

Valentin: That was easy—I did not choose a form, it was the author who did, my task was to follow and not spoil the original.

What was your process for creating this work?

Galina: Going from the poetic freedom to the solemn, disciplined art of translation—but texts bounced off each other, and, while reading Valentin's translation, I realized a thing or two and revised a few ideas in my original text. Working on translations together is like parenting: we go through our own strong emotional responses to each others' suggestions, disagree or compromise, but eventually come up with a complete, more or less well-rounded "kiddo" of a poem!

Valentin: Galina's work sounds excellent in Russian, my challenge was to find an adequate translation, as close to the original meaning, as possible, but also giving some idea how it sounds. We often translate together, comparing our variants and even published a book of double translations, Women's Poetry of America, revealing to a reader how we work together by adding comments and excerpts from our correspondence to each poem.

Galina Itskovich graduated from the Hunter College School of Social Work. She practices psychotherapy, and teaches and writes poetry and prose in two languages. Her work appeared in Poetica, Asian Signature, Unlikely Stories, Cardinal Points, Former People, in almanacs Global Insides (in print) and Contemporary Jewish Writing, and elsewhere. She is the author of one book of poems (in Russian). Galina Itskovich lives in New York City.

Valentin Emelin graduated from Harvard with a Master’s in Public Administration. He is the head of the environmental crime program at GRID-ARENDAL. His translations from English, German, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian were published in The Write Launch  (USA), InterPoezia (USA), The Emigrant Lire (Belgium), Vyshgorod (Estonia) and elsewhere; original poetry published in Fowl Feathered Review (Canada), Druzhba Narodov (Russia) and White Raven (Russia). He co-authored the collection of translations, "American Women's Poetry" (with G. Itskovich). He lives in Arendal, Norway. 

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