I’m on the road and having trouble with my internet connection. So this will be brief.
I’ve mentioned I’ve been helping to judge a translation award. Now that a set of finalists has been announced (although the Chronicle, true to form, omitted the translation category from their story; I’ll list the finalists later) I can say that the book I especially liked among the eligible titles was The Old Man’s Verses byIvan Divis, translated from the Czeck by Deborah Garfinkle.
Divis (1924–99) fled Soviet-occupied Prague for West Germany in 1968. He returned a quarter century later, looking at his homeland (and himself) with the jaundiced eye of sober experience. Garfinkle does a great job of capturing the distinctive voice of these poems, and making it look easy.
Here’s a sample, borrowed from Carol Peters’s site:
In memory of Pavel Plavec
Pavel and I entered the cathedral in Passau,
ill-timed, late, that is, as the services were ending.
The fortissimo tutti of the world’s largest organ
nailed me to the floor.
The institution driving lambs to the fold
with these ear-splitting contraptions, not Christ?
And where did He remain? I asked myself in disbelief,
with the character trait engrained in me,
backed up by everything I’ve known
and scrutinized through and through? And where is He?
And right there He stirred in my breast.
I was flooded with warmth. Come, he said —
and we left. It was September, the month
in which I celebrate my birth.
The pristine trees were clinging to their stiff leaves.
With a clap, a flock of doves took off
like a gunshot.