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Fortune is a Circle

I was recently very honoured to learn that one of my translations had been shortlisted for an award. The Compass Award is an annual competition for the translation of Russian poetry into English. Last year the selected poet was Boris Slutsky and translators from around the world were invited to produce English versions of any of his poems. Many congratulations to Peter Oram, Robin Kallsen and Lawrence Bogoslaw on their success, with the winning entries being published in the Cardinal Points Literary Journal and the Storony Sveta Annual. Details can be found here:

The poem I chose was ‘Счастье – это круг’ [Fortune is a Circle], a beautiful reflection comparing life to a clock face, while we are the hands turning around it:

Fortune is a circle. And a person,

slowly, like a clock hand,

turns to the end, or rather to the start…

Poetry translation is, in my opinion, the most difficult form of translation, but also the most fun. While it might be possible to translate commercial texts at a rate of several hundred words per hour, a mere couple of verses of poetry can take all day. It is an excellent workout for the brain, perhaps comparable to cryptic crosswords in terms of mental exertion and wordplay. As well as conveying the meaning, it is also important to preserve as much of the style and the music of the original as possible, but producing a translation which reads as a poem in its own right is no easy feat. Poetry translation competitions are an excellent excuse to experiment with word painting and play with language, as well as discovering and reading poetry which is new to me, and I thank the competition organisers for offering me that opportunity.

This year’s poet will be Bella Akhmadulina, and I am looking forward to exploring her work and attempting to render it into English.


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