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VOLUME 11 number 3


 Ezra was regaled, as always, by the festivities and fine panels at ALTA. This is your Mecca. Go, if you haven’t—and remember that there are travel grants for younger translators.

Among great revelations was the Barcelona novelist Esther Tusquets. Also that Mohammed Khaïr-eddine may finally be translated (we heard his poetry, as profoundly inventive as his prose). Also that the sparkling mountain, Goytisolo’s Antagonía, may finally appear in English (first volume). Ez was particularly happy with the North Africa bilingual reading.

A business meeting revealed financial strength, though it would greatly help programs (and the annual conference) if endowment could grow. You can always give! You could even tithe your ALTA gift and throw something Ezra’s way: the Ezra Fund directly helps translators (usually with copyright costs) and supports the Residency (summer).

Ezra has brooded darkly, since an article in Translation Review, over Bakhtin’s “heteroglossia” and his sense of dialogic language in novels. It might be doing him an injustice to think this, but at times he seems to subvert his interesting take on different languages and socio-linguistic contexts in the dialogues within narration. It seems he states the obvious—that these “other speeches” serve various purposes, including representing the author’s voice in a refracted way. He seems to rob of interest this spooky bit: that the dialogues present, as he says, “another’s speech in another’s language.” (Dennis Washburn has picked up the potential of this proposition, in his TR article “Another’s Speech in Another’s Language: Translation as Possession.” 2016, no. 94.)

Aren’t translators always working, in an even more profound sense, with “another’s speech in another’s language?” While this, too, may be stating the obvious, Ezra vents supreme indignation over Bakhtin’s overlooking poetry (he means mainly epics, but he suggests that the dialogic operations don’t apply to poetry). Even aside from the various registers available within one language (Arabic is a good example) any translator of poetry knows how refracted one language can become in a poem—how many voices (one aspect of choices) can enter in. Any reader or writer of poetry knows that. And that’s without even getting into the really spooky stuff:  Where Jack Spicer thinks his poetry “comes from,” what the Language Poets or the Oulipo folks have allowed to operate in their poetry. Or Gérard de Nerval’s “I am the other.” Rimbaud’s seminal “I am another.” The sense of suspension in a poem (or the translation of one), of waiting for a voice to enter to solve the relation of other “speeches” in the matrix. Even Pound’s Vortex, or the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (Boulder, CO) are loci of “another voice” (of receptivity to it) in the richest sense. This is the sense in which writers and translators have always been alert to—entertained by—“another voice,” “another language.”

We are charmed to have Don Mager as our Fall Feature. He was one of the star translators who showed up unbidden to be in the first issue of Ezra, eleven years ago. His Us Four Plus Four remains a great contribution to Russian studies. The current contribution, Mandel’shtam, is heart-rending.




Don Mager’s most recent chapbook is Russian Riffs.  He is retired and was the Mott University Professor of English at Johnson C. Smith University where he also served as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters.  As well as scholarly articles, he has published over 200 poems and translations from German, Czech and Russian.  Translations have appeared In Life And Legends, UCity Review, Interim, River Styx, Third Coast, Natural Bridge, The Los Angeles Review, Ezra, Roger and Hayden’s Ferry Review. He lives in Charlotte, NC with his partner of 37 years, Bill.


Us Four Plus Four (New Orleans University Press, 2008) is an anthology of translations from eight major Soviet-era Russian poets. It is unique because it tracks almost a half century of their careers by simply placing the poems each wrote to the others in chronological order. The 85 poems represent one of the most fascinating conversations in poems produced by any group of poets in any language or time period. From poems and infatuation and admiration to anger and grief and finally to deep tribute, this anthology invites readers into the unfolding lives of such inimitable creative forces as Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetaeva and Osip Mandel’shtam.


The first three poems (below) are from the manuscript known as the Voronezh Notebooks.  These are Mandel’shtam’s final poems, written during this exile in Vornozeh before he was banished and died in transit to a gulag in the far east of Siberia.  The woman in the first poem is his wife Nadezhda who accompanied him through his exiles except for his final banishment.  Hope Against Hope is her powerful memoir of their persecution under Stalin.

“Rome” refers to the Italian fascist destruction of civilization.  The Soviet propaganda attacks on Fascism allowed Mandel’shtam a safe strategy for criticism Stalinism by way of analogy.

“When to faraway Korea” is from an earlier manuscript notebook known as The Moscow Notebooks which collects poems written during his house arrest in Moscow after his release from the first Siberian exile.  The sea Battle of Tsusima off the Korean coast during the Russo-Japanese war in 1905 was a crushing destruction of the Russian fleet. Many Russians saw it as a foreboding forecast of dire upheavals to come for Russian.  Akhmatova often referred to the Battle of Tsusima as “the real beginning or the twentieth century.”

The last poem was written in the years following the 1918 revolution.  Although Mandel’shtam was still able to publish during the early Soviet era, this poem was never printed and survives to two manuscript versions.  Since the poet’s final intentions are unknown, the Russian complete edition gives both versions.  Reading them side by side is fascinating.



You’re still not dead yet, still not alone,
While the girlfriend-beggar-woman’s with you
And you can relish the grandeur of the plains
In their mists, cold and driving blizzards.

In grand poverty, in mighty poverty,
Live in the consolation of calm.
Let your days and nights be blessed
With the sweet-voiced work of innocence.

Unhappy is the man scared by his shadow
As if it were dog bark or scything wind,
And poor is the half-dead man
Who begs for alms from the shadows.

15-16 January 1937







Where is the chained and nailed-down groan?

Where Prometheus — the rock’s help and support?

And where is the yellow-eyed scowling kite

Whose peerless talons fly in pursuit?


It will not come to pass: tragedies will not

Return.  But let these forward-speaking lips —

Lips that go directly to the heart tell of

Aeschylus-Dockhand, Sophocles-Woodsman.


He is but echo and greeting, — milestone — no — plowshare.

The open-air stone theatre of these progressive times

Has risen on its feet and everyone wants to watch someone —

Those born, those doomed, and those who are quite well off.


10 January — 4 February 1937





Where frogs in the fountain, having croaked

And splashed about, no longer sleep

And, once awake, burst into tears

Out of their gaping throats and shells,

The city that loves to submit to power

Is sprayed by the water of amphibians.


In antiquity summer was insolent and easy,

With a greedy look and flat feet,

As if it were the cracked Ponte Sant’Angelo

Above its flat steps in the yellow water, —


Like blue ashy statues

In the drumbeat of tiered houses,

A city once sculpted out by draftsmen

And alleyways with its dome like a swallow, —

Is transformed by you into a nursery of murder,

You, the brown-blooded hired thugs,

You, the Italian Blackshirts,

You, the dead whelps of vicious Caesars . . .


All your orphans, Michelangelo,

Are draped in stone and shame, —

Night is wet with tears; innocent

Young David is light-footed;

And like a waterfall Moses

Lies motionless on a bed, —

The power of freedom and strength of the lion,

And lulled to sleep, enslaved — and silent.


And the wrinkled staircases of compromise —

Flowing like rivers down onto plazas, —

Made to sound with the footfalls of action,

Now carry lethargic Romans

Assuaged and crippled by comfort

Like lethargic sea sponges.


New holes are dug up in the Forum

And the gates again are opened for Herod

And above Rome the great jowls

Of a degenerate dictator hang.


16 March 1937






When to faraway Korea

Russian gold ran beserk,

I fled into the orangerie,

Pressing an iris to my cheek.


It was the season of bold laughter

And thyroid gland infections,

The season of advancing thunder

And Taras Bulba’s campaigns.



With sheer caprice and willful hubris

It was like the Trojan horse,

Like an embassy above bonfires

Made of ether, sun and blaze.


The oily smoke from the logs curled like

Caterpillars above the burning stacks

Where shouts arose of heartache

Over Tsusima and Petropavlovsk.


To the youthful tsarevich Khlor

And his hill — in God’s name! —

With high-topped boots we strode forth

To look for chloroform.


That youngster has outlived it all,

And now my path is broad —

I’ve other dreams, other nests, to fill

But the old scamp I grant’s not dead.


11-13 May 1932, 1935



Two versions of an untitled poem





The ghostly stage scarcely shimmers,

The choirs consists of ethereal shades,

Silky Melpomene sweeps across

To the window of her own temple.

Carriages stand in a black clump

In the courtyard where frost crackles,

All shaggy—while people and subjects

Crunch down the scalding snow.


Gradually servants disperse

In heaps of bearskin coats

Then dart away like butterflies,

Roses muffled up in fur.

Stylish hued cliques and gnats

Lightly glow in the theater,

But steam gusts up heavily

And blinks feebly in the streets.


Coachmen exhausted from shouting

Snore and breathe in the darkness.

There is nothing of darling Eurydice

In the frozenness of our winter.

Sweeter than the fine Italian tongue

For me is my beloved speech,

Even as her mysterious prattle

Springs from an alien lyre.



The wretched smell of lambskin smoke

Rises from snowdrifts in the black streets.

And somehow it is the cause that makes us fly

In ecstasy to immortal spring.

Once again the aria resounded:

“You the blessed of the green meadow”,—

And a living swallow plunged

Into the scalding snow.


November 1920






Again Gluck summons the sweet shades

From out of their lamenting captivity.

Melpomene in red silks sweeps

Across to the window of her own temple.

Carriages stand in a black clump

In the courtyard where frost crackles,

All shaggy—while people and subjects

Crunch down the scalding snow.


Again servants in fur coats disperse,

Roses muffled up in fur.

And looking to the sky—a simmering

Golden smoky fish soup.

As if the stars—paltry small bits,

Are afloat in a thick broth.

But steam gusts up heavily

And blinks feebly in the streets.


Later an uproar, as whispers and shouts

Rise from the pitch dark inferno.

There is nothing of dear Eurydice

In the frozenness of our winter.

Sweeter than the fine Italian tongue

For me is my beloved speech,

And in the red, waterlogged braziers,

The glow is like roses in a Roman basilica.


The wretched smell of lambskin smoke

Rises from snowdrifts in black streets.

And somehow causes us to fly

In ecstasy to immortal spring.

Once again the aria resounded:

“You the blessed of the green meadow”,—

And a living swallow plunged

Into the scalding snow.


      OSIP MANDEL’SHTAM    November 1920






~~translated by Julian Cola


half man

half tambour

searched for by his peers

amid literary paths

following centaurs, elves

pegasus, unicorns


he found himself lonesome

the tambour man

maybe, stacked on the wrong bookshelf

he sensed,

so he extended his leather

toward the sun


that’s when the core of his naval,

the oldest of living beings,

was touched

by the fervent curiosity of a little boy


the man,

half man

half tambour,


in audible propulsion



SERGIO BALLOUK    (contemporary, Brazil)





Friday’s Sunset


~~translated by Maria Bennett


As much as these walls stretch out over the earth

the shadow stays behind,

beneath the awning, on the corner of evening.

The sunset

seems motionless upon a horizon of level brick

time goes by

but the darkness does not move,

moments have stopped on the seventh step.

The moo

with the kohl of night smudged on its eyelashes

observes the day

carefully, without moving

conquered by the twilight of Friday.








Upon the strong shoulders of the fathers of earth and water,

only a small sack of money and iron remains.

A hallway emptied of stories

a labyrinth of silence

ash on the face of ghazals.

From the drought of love

no more than two cold words remain.

In the castles of memory, not even dust remains,

nor in the story’s mirror

is there any man left.










The Candle-blossoming Night

   ~~translated by Sekyo Nam Haines


In the candle-blossom night,

two meet in the deep hidden chamber.

Too young to know their passions’ depth,

only their hearts are as bright as sun and moon—

that love comes not only once or twice,

they do not know yet.


In the candle-blossom night,

two meet under the darkening window.

Not knowing what lies ahead of them,

only their minds are as sturdy as pine and bamboo—

that life brings many tears,

they do not know yet.



The Smell of Woman


The smell of the moon clothed in a blue cloud.

The smell of the sun clothed in red.

No, the smell of sweat, the smell of dirt,

the smell of the rain-soaked body and clothes.


Blue ocean… swaying boats…

A tender and wanting life of someone

whose tiny green soul is diminishing,

the screams of flesh come and go aslant.


The smell of the deep forest after a burial,

the smell of a dark cabin in the reeling phantom-ship,

the smell of raw fish in the ocean,

the smell of the late-spring air floating in the sky.


The wind on a sand dune lifts the lingering fog,

far away, the streetlights stare up to the evening moon.

I love woman’s body that has many smells!

I love woman’s body that has many smells!








   ~~translated by Mary Jane White



Like Hamlet—so tightly—laced,

With your halo of dissuasion and knowledge,

Pale—to the last atom . . .

(Being edition—one thousand and what?)


Don’t trouble me—with your insolence and shallowness!

(Your adolescent’s attic layers of stuff!)

Like some ponderous chronicle

You’ve already come to lie—on my breast!


Virgin!  Misogynist!  One who prefers

Quarrelsome spirits! . . . Did it never occur to you

Even once, that—whatever might be plucked

From the little flowerbed of madness . . .


Roses? . . . Don’t you know this is—sssh!—The future!

If we pluck them—new ones grow!  Have they,

Roses, ever once betrayed us?  Like lovers—

Roses, have they ever once betrayed us? –Gone?


Perfused (you with your sweet smell!) you will drown . . .

–Nothing happened!—But we surface in memory

At the hour, when in the rivulet’s chronicle

Like Hamlet—tightly—laced—you surface . . .









Excerpts from Le nageur d’un seul amour             

          ~~translated by Chris Monier





  • Those who stay up late at night

In the deep ablutions of darkness

Far from lamps warm to the eyes

In the open air

They are the travelers of the future

And the stars know well who’s been at their windows

Leaving bright ladders

By dawn when the hunters make their holes

In the silence of the hills





  • You’re reading a book that’s heavier than your hands

In this sad garden where a turtle dove takes off,

The darkness flying with her





  • If ever you return to your native land

Go like a horse tired in the evening

Into this garden

Look for the hardly nameable rose

The chrysanthemum in the lion’s mane

– Large spiders may zoom with butterfly

As in the fevers of childhood

Smile or cry but do not be afraid

That’s darkness shifting before becoming clear night










  • The great sadness of a horse wanders in the clouds

And you, in this room

You dream without language

Of the most tender infancy of the voyage

Among the kingdom of walls




  • In the sleep of a young girl

Are the grace and mystery of a needle

And the young hunter who spies her

When he comes out of a violin

– Ah watch over this sleeping child

For she is outside

In the mustaches of the night






  • In the birdcage there is a garden of sadness

And all the melancholy of a household


The wings are green leaves

In the day, frugal and broken

Little bits


I remember the poor school boy

At the window






  • Neither hope, nor fortune

But the small dried flower in a book

Of which there remain only the ashes of love


– How to die

When one still can dream






  • The sound of the nautilus is not that of the sea

Nor the movement of the wind

But the song and the tomb of sleep


Like thorns are tears of the rose in the morning

And lily the memory of great rulers

Ah what melancholy there is in things



  • Far far away

In Asia there was

The swimmer of a single love




  • Under the violet sun of time past

During the voyage of the dead leaves

There was once this flowerless garden

No one came ever

No echo, no souls

Except for some hunters, fatigued by the years

Who went crossing there