Original poems | Translations of Osip Mandelstam and Vladimir Mayakovsky
In Relative Genitive, Val Vinokur translates two of the great Russian poets of the early twentieth century: the Acmeist neo-classicist Osip Mandelstam and the Futurist revolutionary Vladimir Mayakovsky. This unlikely combination is elegantly woven together by the thread of Vinokur’s own poems, echoing the sound and spirit of the poets he has translated, and collapsing the distance between high culture and low, beauty and wreckage, origin and destination.
Publication date: 7/15/2018
VAL VINOKUR was born in Moscow and immigrated to Miami Beach as a child. He is the author of The Trace of Judaism: Dostoevsky, Babel, Mandelstam, Levinas (Northwestern 2009), and has published poetry, translations, and prose in The Boston Review, New American Writing, The Literary Review, McSweeney’s, and The Massachusetts Review. His co-translations with Rose Réjouis were recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship. He teaches literature at The New School, where he is chair of Liberal Arts in the BA Program for Adults and directs the minor in Literary Translation. His annotated translation of seventy-two stories by Isaac Babel, The Essential Fictions, was published in 2017. Vinokur is the founding editor of Poets & Traitors Press.
OSIP MANDELSTAM (1891-1938) was one of the great Acmeist poets of Petersburg. His first two books, Stone (1913) and Tristia (1922), drew on the classical tradition of European civilization and, more specifically, on its architecture as a metaphor and guide for poetic practice itself——an idea Mandelstam would articulate in his essays. After settling in Moscow in 1922, Mandelstam shifted away from poetry toward memoir (The Noise of Time) and experimental fiction (The Egyptian Stamp), before returning to poetry in 1930 with The Moscow Notebooks. In 1934, he was arrested and sentenced to exile in the Russian provinces for reciting a blistering epigram attacking Stalin to a group of friends. While in exile he wrote The Voronezh Notebooks. Mandelstam was arrested again in 1938 for “anti-Soviet activities” and sentenced to hard labor. He died months later in a transit camp in Vladivostok.
VLADIMIR MAYAKOVSKY (1893-1930) was a brash poet, playwright, artist, and actor, who became a leading Russian Futurist. Having made his mark with such long poems as “The Backbone Flute” and “Cloud in Pants,” he lent his talents to the Bolshevik Revolution, even as he began to chafe against the constraints of Soviet orthodoxy after completing two satirical plays (The Bedbug and The Bathhouse) lampooning government bureaucracy. He traveled to America in 1925 and to Western Europe in 1928. In 1935, five years after Mayakovsky took his own life in Moscow, Stalin praised his work, leading to his rehabilitation and canonization as the “Poet of the Revolution.”