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The Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize 2012

Second prize

Read the judges’ reports

Iryna Shuvalova

The Prayer of the Touch

god almighty
god inconsolable
bird-legged god long-eared god short-tailed god
take me into the kennel askew into the freight train into the torn pocket
take me into the sea on your palm blow on my hair blow out my spare star
god standing apart
god inaccessible no way to approach to regain senses to dissolve
god with seven wings the real one
tell me something I don't know something anything your voice is warm
tell me what it's like on the other side how is the lighthouse how is it going
god night-blind buttercup wild vetch dead bird the starling
god the outskirts
god four steps to the porch dull mirror royal desolation
I brought you a candle a candy a pebble a crescent a broken latch
god of mine light and wise
god of mine sad
god of mine

Translated from the Russian by Iryna Shuvalova


боже всемилостивый
боже безутешный
боже костяная нога длинные уши короткий хвост
возьми меня в покосившуюся конуру товарный вагон дырявый карман
возьми меня на море к себе на ладонь подуй на волосы погаси мою лишнюю звезду
боже стоящий поодаль
боже недостижимый ни подойти ни опомниться ни раствориться
боже семикрылый и настоящий
расскажи что-нибудь не знаю о чем расскажи у тебя теплый голос
расскажи как там на том берегу как там маяк как там вообще
боже окраина
боже четыре ступеньки крыльца мутное зеркало царское запустение
я тебе тут свечку конфеты камешек полумесяц сломанную щеколду
боже мой светлый и мудрый
боже мой грустный
боже мой

Sergei Chegra
Reproduced by kind permission of Sergei Chegra

Translator's commentary

Sergei Chegra (Belov) is one of the most talented and enigmatic representatives of the young generation of Russian poets. He is a visionary poet, a seer, a storyteller, somewhat resembling Jim Morrison in his blatant and exuberant richness of imagery and purity of expression. However, Chegra is no rock star and no Lizard King, and so his voice is a more reserved and quiet one.

He is a singer of deserted places, of broken things and aimless efforts. He is, no doubt, a tragic poet. According to Ekaterina Boyarskih, another wonderful Russian poet who wrote a preface to Chegra's book, in his poems the world and the characters inhabiting it are constantly in the process of dying. However, this dying is at the same time an endless re-birth into the light.

What attracted me as a translator to Chegra's poems was their dreamlike quality, combining precision of language use with strangeness of imagery interwoven into the text. A dream has to flow, and indeed Chegra's poems do flow, strings of the words kept together in them by irregular yet unmistakably present rhythm. To preserve that steady flow and to catch the peculiar rhythm of Chegra's poems was the greatest challenge I faced when translating them. A chant had to remain a chant, a prayer was to be a prayer, a letter had to preserve a recognisable form in translation as well as in the original.

Sergei Chegra feels the living blood of things pulsating through the language and I saw my translator's mission in becoming a co-keeper of that great mystery. Fortunately, the lovely flexibility and richness of English provided me with a wealth of instruments to make such a thing possible.

Iryna Shuvalova