October 20, 2012

«Коли гортаєш поеми Сен-Жон Перса, то приходиш до переконання, що кожна з них – частина якогось великого поетичного полотна. Він один із тих щасливих поетів, які рано відкрили для себе свою музу і свою поетичну мову»
Вістан Г’ю Оден

New Literary Series Commences at NTSh

By Ostap Kin

On October 20th, an event for the French poet Saint John Perse (1887-1875) took place at NTSh-A. It was the first event of the Society’s Saturday series, World Poetry in Ukrainian Translation. The Ukrainian translations were written by the late esteemed translator, Mykhailo Moskalenko (1948-2006).

The reading of Saint John Perse’s poetry was conducted in two languages, French and Ukrainian. Leonid Hrabovsky, a Ukrainian composer, read the French original. This was followed by Ukrainian poet Vasyl Makhno reading the Ukrainian translations.

Saint John Perse was chosen for good reason. He was a well-known French poet who obtained the Nobel Prize in literature in 1960. He began his career as a writer in 1904 and continued writing for another 70 years, until 1974. Not only was he an extraordinary man of letters, he also occupied various diplomacy positions. After the outbreak of the Second World War, he heavily criticized the policies of the French government. Vichy government revoked Perse’s French citizenship and he moved to the U.S. and even happened to be employed by the Library of Congress.

According to Vasyl Makhno, various literary scholars differently viewed Perse’s poetry. The estimation of his poetry differs drastically because it was called an “epical,” “realistic,” “enigmatic,” “epochal,” “sacral,” “the poetry of presence,” as well as “the poetry of movement.”

Василь Махно Vasyl Makhno
Василь Махно Vasyl Makhno

Perse’s poetry has been translated into many languages, including Ukrainian. In 2000, a volume of his selected poems was published by Kyiv-based publishing house, Iunivers (Universe, in English), in a series called Nobel Prize Laureates. His poetry was masterfully rendered from the French into Ukrainian by Mykhailo Moskalenko.

Though Moskalenko had a biology degree, for most of his life he worked in literature. He was the critics and literary studies editor at “Vsesvit” (the Universe), a literary magazine founded in the 1920’s. In 1996 Moskalenko was awarded the Ars Translation prize for his rendering of Saint John Perse.

Леонід Грабовський Leonid Hrabovsky
Леонід Грабовський Leonid Hrabovsky

Moskalenko was born in Kyiv and lived there until his death in 2006 of a heart attack. His has translated a range of literature from languages such as French, Spanish, English, and Old Ukrainian. His first work was published in 1975.

Outside of his work as a translator, Moskalenko wrote much about the theory and history of translation craft. “Vsevsit” magazine published his lengthy “Narysy z istorii ukrains’koho perekladu” (Outline of the history of Ukrainian translation), a detailed work, which shed light onto the history of Ukrainian translation.

Moskalenko chose to continue along the translating path already charted by two outstanding Ukrainian translators, Mykola Lukash and Hryhorii Kochur. Both men are widely known for the eloquence of their translations and Moskalenko thought of them as teachers and exemplars of best practice.

Leonid Hrabovsky and Vasyl Makhno

Moskalenko also was twice awarded the Hryhorii Skovora Award, a prize established by French Embassy in Kyiv for the best translation from French into Ukrainian. In 2002 and 2006, Moskalenko was awarded this prize for two books he translated, Paul Valery “Poems” and Stephanne Mallarme, “Poems and prose.”

After an introduction of the Saint-John Perse and Mykhailo Moskalenko, and Vasyl Makhno’s recitation of his 2001 poem “Saint-John Perse’s Ocean,” the reading began with a recitation of five sections of “Anabase,” 1925 poem by Saint John Perse. Hrabovsky said that Saint John Perse is considered a third French poet symbolist, right after Paul Fort and Paul Valery. He also added that Perse’s body of work echoes with one of Walt Witman’s. Hrabovsky too recalled how he got acquainted with Perse’s poetry for the first time in Kyiv in the 1970s. It happened after reading Perse’s Polish translations by Wiktor Woroszylski in a Polish literary magazine “Poezja” (The poetry).

Each of a section of “Anabase,” was read in the French original, followed by Makhno’s reading of the Ukrainian translation.

Coincidentally enough, Ukrainian émigré writer, Ostap Tarnavs’kyi, also translated the excerpts of Saint-John Perse’s poem “Anabase,” and Zhenia Vasylkivs’ka, a member of infamous New York Group, received her PhD after defending dissertation about Saint John Perse.

All in all, it was an interesting and well-received kickoff. At the Society are excited to listen to and learn more about international poetry as part of World Poetry in Ukrainian Translation series, and hope that one might find itself at the next event.