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The Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize 2011

First prize

Read the judges’ report

Constantine Rusanov


The hedgehog extracts the root of the sky – a dark prophet
shouldering the full weight of Sebastian’s body.

The hedgehog has trickled out of a sieve – its back is
at odds with itself, so meticulously plural.

If you shoo it – it’ll curdle like a punctured balloon
and roll from under your feet – to nest under your neckline.

A locksmith’s tool – the hedgehog is – an oaf dancing the twist,
a dustbin at a bus stop – the nucleus of a snowdrift. *

Its spines are dulcet to women, like pins in a box,
but it treads heavily on sleeping men’s chins.

When the hedgehog disappears, it pops like a dry firecracker.
Now as you rise from the ashes – brush off the bristles!

* This line sprang up by association with an episode from my work history. It happened in March, I worked as a street cleaner, and the foreman, my supervisor, told me to clear out, in one go, a huge pile of snow near a bus stop. I couldn’t have possibly done it in a week, so I hired a bulldozer for three rubles and happily went home. The next morning, all hell broke loose, and I was fined in the amount of my two monthly salaries for vandalizing government property. Neither I nor the bulldozer operator suspected that a dozen gypsum dustbins had been buried in the snow since autumn – naturally, the bulldozer blade turned these phoenixes into tooth powder.

Translated from the Russian by Constantine Rusanov


Ёж извлекает из неба корень — тёмный пророк.
Тело Себастиана на себя взволок.

Ёж прошёл через сито — так разобщена
его множественная спина.

Шикни на него — погаснет, будто проколот.
Из под ног укатится — ожидай: за ворот.

Ёж — слесарная штука, твистующий недотёп.
Урны на остановке, которые скрыл сугроб.*

К женщинам иглы его тихи, как в коробке,
а мужчинам сонным вытаптывает подбородки.

Исчезновение ежа — сухой выхлоп.
Кто воскрес — отряхнись! — ты весь в иглах!

* Эта строчка возникла по ассоциации с событием из моей рабочей биографии. Я служил дворником, и надзирающий за мной техник-смотритель приказал в одночасье убрать огромный мартовский сугроб на автобусной остановке. Выполнить пожелание было не под силу и за неделю, тогда я нанял за трояк бульдозер и счастливо ушел домой. Наутро вышел скандал, и меня оштрафовали на два оклада за уничтожение государственного имущества. Ни я ни бульдозерист не подозревали, что в сугробе с осени осталась дюжина гипсовых урн, - естественно, эти фениксы были превращены в зубной порошок тракторным загребалом.

Alexei Parshchikov
© The Estate of Alexei Parshchikov

Translation commentary

Aleksei Parshchikov was arguably the most eccentric of the so-called metarealists, a rather loose association of Soviet ‘unofficial’ poets who advocated a radical renewal of modes and means of expression. Metarealism can be understood as a conjunction of two literary tendencies, ‘metaphysical realism’ and ‘metaphorical realism’, both of which found direct expression in Parshchikov’s ‘Hedgehog’.

The poem, in spite of its brevity, is one of the finest examples of Parshchikov’s poetics at work, and this is the main reason I chose to translate it. It proceeds, like a riddle, by lumping together a series of seemingly unrelated images in an attempt to solve the mystery of the thing in itself, as it were, in this particular case – the hedgehog.

I found it most difficult to do justice to the original’s complexity of indirect expression. Parshchikov can turn any part of speech into a metaphor by picking up on its slightest connotations, as in the case of the adjective ‘тихи’ (literally, ‘quiet’), used to describe the effect of the hedgehog’s spines on women (line 9). I chose to translate it as ‘dulcet to’, which preserves the ungrammatical usage of the original, but is more palatable in English than ‘quiet to’ thanks to the stronger association of ‘dulcet’ with ‘soothing’, a connotation that I hear in the Russian as well.

The poem’s lines vary in syllable count and are organized into six rhymed couplets. Other than that, they do not follow any metrical scheme. I decided not to use rhyme in my translation to avoid distorting the syntax. My main objective was to convey in English the strangeness of Parshchikov’s figurative language as precisely and fully as possible.

Constantine Rusanov