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Maximum Access: A New Series of Poetry Translations

For immediate release: Sensitive Skin is publishing a series of bilingual translations of great poets. The aim of the series, which is called “Maximum Access,” is to bring English-speaking readers as close as possible to the original poems, with precise translations and comments explaining context (historical, literary or cultural), tone, word play and meaning.

The translators for the Maximum Access project are scholars, poets and writers. The main criteria for the translator is that they deeply love their chosen poet. The series will be edited by Jenny Wade.

The first three books in the Maximum Access series, scheduled for release in April, 2017, feature the Russian poets V. Mayakovsky (translated by Jenny Wade), S. Esenin (translated by Anton Yakovlev) and M. Tsvetaeva (translated by Karina McCorkle).

Jenny Wade on Vladimir Mayakovsky: From My Gullet to the Stars

There are 3 ways to translate a poem. You can honor the structure by following the meter and rhyme scheme, but sacrifice meaning; you can honor the meaning, and sacrifice structure; or you can honor the tone by trying to recreate the poem in your own voice, and sacrifice the context. No matter what, youíve failed. Translating Mayakovsky is an especially hopeless task. It’s hard to convey how radical he was—“ the way he cut words short, his concise stlye, the innovative structure of his sentences, the creation of totally new words. . . “ Elsa Troilet, a writer who knew M well, sums it up: “ My generation needed an earthquake and that earthquake was Mayakovsky.” How do you translate an earthquake? My own strategy is to bring the reader as close as possible to the original poem by providing 1. the Russian with the stress marks, 2. a side-by-side, unembellished version in English, as close in meaning as I can get without sounding unnatural, and 3. an extensive explanation of context, with commentary on difficult phrases and syntax, wordplay and neologisms, and clarification of cultural, historical and literary references. Thus the bilingual series “ Maximum Access.”

Anton Yakovlev on Sergei Esenin: The Last Poet of the Village

I try to translate from the point of view of someone who has just read a powerful, possibly life-changing poem in another language and is compelled to convey that experience to a person who does not speak the language. What do I need to do to make them see why the poem is so effective? First and foremost, I want the words to be accurate, to communicate what the author was trying to convey, as opposed to my paraphrases. Second, I want to capture the energy of the poem, which includes metrical and musical resemblance. I have found, especially in translating Sergei Esenin’s precise and often slightly unusual imagery, that trying to rework the poems to retain exact meter and rhyme results in strained language and too much departure from the original meaning; it becomes more my poem than Esenin’s. So my translations are not strictly metrical or rhymed. That said, I try to maintain some metrical resemblance, albeit with deviations; a translation of a poem written in iambic tetrameter will not have the same rhythm as a translation of a poem in amphibrachic trimeter. A lot of my revision process has to do with reworking the rhythm and the line lengths to get closer to the originals, while taking as few liberties as possible with the content itself.

Karina McCorkle on Sophia Parnok: The Sweetest Contagion

In his review of a translation of the poems of Eugenio Montales, Joseph Brodsky points out “ poetry after all is in itself a translation…one of the aspects of the psyche rendered in language.” Reading a poem in translation then is an even more complex set of acrobatics than just reading a poem—one person’s psyche is filtered through the lens of language and then filtered again through the lens of another language to reach someone else’s psyche. It is the translator’s job to make sure these lenses are as in focus as possible, to let the two psyches see eye to eye as it were, without too much blurring in between. Sophia Parnok is far from the most difficult of Russian poets—her rhymes, meters, and language are usually simple, even conversational. What is most important in Parnok is her sense of play, her ability to state how she feels without having to say much at all, and it is this aspect of her poetry that I most strive to replicate in translation. If a great deal of a poem’s humor derives from it rhyming, I bend over backwards to preserve that rhyme. If a particular poetic form is central to how Parnok is expressing herself, I work to preserve that form. I want translations that are accurate, that do not add or subtract from what Parnok put down on the page, but at the same time feel like her, a woman who was gay in a world that did not acknowledge gayness, who lived her entire adult life with an untreatable chronic illness, and nevertheless loved and lived and wrote as much as anyone, if not more so.