The Arts Resistance: Russian and Ukrainian Poetry in Translation

On Saturday I attended the inaugural event of The Arts Resistance, a group of artists who have created a space “for resistance by means of arts”. A night of Russian and Ukrainian Poetry in Translation held at Alley Cat Books in the Mission in San Francisco.

It was amazing. It’s been nearly two years since I left Ukraine, and I’ve really fallen behind on my Russian. Reading poetry and creative work in the original was really difficult for me, even when I was conversationally fluent, and had spoken Russian every day for twenty seven months. I nervously tried to laugh along with native speakers on Saturday, even though I only partially got the jokes.

Listening to the writing of well respected authors in the original was very moving, and brought me back to Ukraine, listening to my students recite poetry in melodious Ukrainian, the seriousness and import every word was given. I’m really excited to attend future events from this group, the work they’re doing is timely and important. You can read about how the Arts Resistance started in this excellent article by Zarina Zabrinsky. 

I was particularly attracted to the short short stories by Danil Kharms, a writer throughout the 30s and 40s. He was well known for his children’s literature, his more adult stories weren’t published until well after his death–likely of starvation in a prison during the siege of Leningrad. He mixed absurd, surrealist elements with an almost folksy quality, which I think speak to the censorial air of Soviet society.

I hadn’t heard of Kharms at all until very recently–he was referenced a lot during a panel I attended at AWP at the beginning of April in Minneapolis: From Pushkin to Pussy Riot: Poetics and Politics of Translating Russian Poetry. Luckily, the reading on Saturday was riveting (I’m waiting for the video to be released) and it looks like the majority of his work is available in English online. I’m eager to read more from this author; his writing is doing a lot of the sly humor and brevity that I’m interested in.

It was a fantastic reading. You can watch a video here. Plus, Nick and I were standing in the back of the room, and got caught in a few pictures. We are so cool. You can take a look at pictures of the event here, taken by Fima Photography.

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