05 April 2011

Tuesday Poem: Notes From The Futurist Project

You float like a cloud in trousers
I stand with my cow in the rain

Your poems electrified Russia
Your dams were a hymn to the rain

Your empire crumbled around us
As here and as gone as the rain

The birch tree lies by the roadside
Its branches are wept by the rain

The smoke of my village drifts upwards
Its ashes retreat from the rain

Your red square has entered the market
Its cobbles are slick with the rain

The future lies inside the present
As close as a cloud and its rain.

Credit note:First published in Lynx XXI:1, Feb 2006.

Tim says: This is my one and only published attempt at a ghazal. I don't think it's as fleet-footed as the ghazal by Mary Cresswell I posted last week, and in fact, I'd almost forgotten I'd written it - but then poet and photographer Madeleine Slavick kindly sent me an article by John Berger about the Russian futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, which touched on Mayakovsky's 'frenemy' relationship with his contemporary, the Russian peasant poet Sergei Esenin (sometimes rendered as Yesenin).

To simplify greatly, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Mayakovsky tried to build the urban future in his poetry, while Esenin tried to preserve the rural past. Neither succeeded in life, though both did in art. Both died young and by their own hand.

In this poem, Esenin is the narrator, and Mayakovsky is the "cloud in trousers", as he once referred to himself.

You can read all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog - the featured poem is on the centre of the page, and the week's other poems are linked from the right-hand column.


Jennifer Compton said...

oh very nice

Helen Lowe said...

I love the story of the two poets, Tim, and it's raining here so it feels 'right' to me.

Madeleine Marie Slavick said...

Love it, Tim. The poem and your notes on the background.

Cloud + trousers, cow + rain, wow.

And when your translations are published, I will smile.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Jennifer, Helen, and Madeleine!

Madeleine, I'll smile too :-)

Isabel Doyle said...

When I read this the first time I was confused by the voices yet swept along by the lovely ideas. Then I reread it after your commentary and saw (clearly I think) what you were doing.

I read an interesting essay on Penal Colony's blog a week or two ago about the need for a poem to stand alone without notes - I agree with him generally, but sometimes I think the background adds to the scope of poetry, and let's face it, we can't always know what the poet knows, and poems could be quite lumbered up if all the supporting information had to be included in the body of the work.

I particularly liked the closing couplet which stands without the need for explanations.

I am also interested in the reference to translations - are you working on some? I find the concept of translating poetry (eg my pseudo-Senecan Poems of Exile) intruiging and complex.

Tim Jones said...

Lots of crunchy things to comment on here, Isabel - thanks!

Firstly, I agree with you that the poem doesn't stand on its own, which is one reason why, although previously published, it has languished on a provincial siding of my bibliography until now, slowly rusting, watching the streamlined new engines as they rush by on the main line near the limits of its vision...

(OK, the foregoing paragraph is a strange mixture of "Thomas the Tank Engine" and "The Last Station". I admit it.)

All the same, I don't object to poems that come with notes. Much of the pleasure of reading "The Waste Land" for the first time was reading the notes that accompanied it.

To say that I am working on translations is to say that the sea is working on washing away the land. In 1995, as a final-year project for my BA in Russian, I translated 15 poems by Sergei Esenin. I think I did a good job of rendering the Russian into English, but a poor job of turning it into poetry. Every now and then, I go back to it, my Russian fading by the year, to try to make the poetry better. I enlisted some friends along the way...

I have published one of these translations as a Tuesday Poem so far, and you can read much more about the whole deal here if you wish.

Entropy grows, but I hope to find sufficient energy to bring some local increase in order to the remaining Esenin translations...

Isabel Doyle said...

Thanks for that Tim. I've read the first part of the translation thread (up to the abandoning of the idea of putting them into google translator - I have also seen some extraordinary goofs). I will look at your poem soon.

I have to confess to be totally ignorant of Sergei Esenin but now my curiosity is pricked and I must look him up.

The idea in translating which particularly interests me is not simply the choice of an accurate word, but how those choices pile up so the translation fits the idea of the translator, and culture and philosophy, and how one can slant the original away from potentially 'dangerous' ground. Let alone produce something akin to poetry.

lillyanne said...

I like this a lot, Tim - it's got such a compelling rhythm and engaging beat-of-the-drum about it. Real food for thought.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Isabel and lillyanne.

I'm perplexed that Esenin/Yesenin is not better known in the West. He's a wonderful poet at his best - his work is also very uneven, but then again, so is Mayakovsky's. Getting his work better known is a good reason for pushing on with the translations.

There are some translations, included the Collected poems, available already in book form in English - see http://www.amazon.com/Serge-Aleksandrovich-Esenin/e/B001JOLOGU/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0.

I agree about your interest in the larger questions of translations, but I am at the more modest stage of trying to produce something that looks half-decent on the page.

Isabel Doyle said...

It could be that I am just ignorant ...

Tim Jones said...

Based on what I've read of your work, Isabel, I doubt that very much!