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The Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize 2012


Read the judges’ reports

Boris Dralyuk

All that happened to me…

            All that happened to me,
happens not to be me.
Wait awhile, a dawn is in sight.
All around, like black ice –
gleaming – moonlit, amazed –
the bluest of blue anthracite.

            Like an eyelash, the wind
gently curves in the night –
the felt of a bottomless sky.
Here's the very last mile –
now be brave, heading down
the last parsec's unraveling skew.

            Here is the cobalt
of a hat's crumpled crown,
along with its wide, nappy brim.
A fine print lines its edge –
if the dipper should tilt,
it'll rain polar graupel and rime.

Translated from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk

То что было со мной...

            То, что было со мной,
стало нынче не мной.
Скоро будет какой-то рассвет.
Вон, как снег, изумленно
блестит под луной
голубой, голубой антрацит.

            Как ресницы, ночной
загибается ветр —
это неба глубокого фетр.
Вот последняя миля —
смелее, смелей,
вот последний сквозной километр.

            Это кобальт тульи,
мятый купол ее,
и широкие, с ворсом, поля.
А по краю петит —
только чуть наклони —
и полярная крупка летит

Irina Mashinski
Reproduced by kind permission of Irina Mashinski

Translator's commentary

I was lucky enough to work on my translation of "All that happened to me…" with the help of its author, Irina Mashinski, a poet who writes freely in both Russian and English. I knew from the poet's own explications that the poem's tight, lively prosody and rhythm were essential to its semantics – hastening the reader to tackle that "last mile" bravely. Preserving the meter and rhythm without lapsing into doggerel was a challenge; luckily, the original's vivid imagery and syntactic complexity gave me more than enough to work with, allowing me to balance the rhythm's jauntiness with a depth of content and syntactic structure. The poem's opening is a paronomastic paradox, hinging on the exact rhyme of "me"; the word-for-word translation would read something like "All that was with [happened to] me / has now become not me." I chose to compensate for the lost play on tenses of "to be" ("was"/"become") with a play on the verb "to happen". As in so much of Mashinski's work, the poem is a blend of the mundane and the cosmic. The two stanzas that follow the first begin with humble, domestic, but visually intense images (an eyelash, a hat) that quickly take on cosmic implications. In consultation with the poet, I decided to highlight these cosmic implications – expanding the kilometer into a parsec, and underscoring the strangeness of the "poliarnaia krupka" by using the uncommon and precise word "graupel". These choices also allowed me to reproduce at least some of Mashinski's characteristically dense sound patterning – specifically, to preserve many of the final stanza's rich [k] and [l] sounds.

Boris Dralyuk