Laura Moriarty

Ode by Ilya Kutik, translated by Kit Robinson, Alef Books, 1995

Ode On Visiting the Belosaraitsk Spit on the Sea of Azov is, in fact, an ode but it has the feel of an adventure story. It has a sense of breadth and breathlessness, an energy of expedition that one might associate with Melville or Conrad or better, Poe. The vast journeys, revolutions and dislocations which are the context of this poem, a samizdat "bestseller," published in the present edition for the first time in Russian, as well as in English, seem to be present in the work. But the events in Ode are entirely in the language. The dense, highly figural diction asserted by Kutik, using a form which had been, according to Robinson's useful introduction, abandoned by Russian poets in the nineteenth century, is translated by Robinson into an incredibly dense, packed American poem. With the aid of a literal translation by Kutik and Russian help from Lyn Hejinian, Robinson has been equal to the baroque complexities of Kutik's text.

The sixty ten-line stanzas of Ode are presented with one translated stanza per page, under which is the Russian, occasionally followed by Kutik's explanatory footnotes. This layered arrangement, reminiscent of Williams' Kora in Hell or Spicer's Heads of the Town up to the Aether, is very engaging. The book itself is beautifully published by Alef Books with a reproduction of August Strindberg's Broom Buoy lusciously on the cover.

Ode is a good example of a translation project which has taken place among the multiple international connections being made by many writers in the contemporary writing community. These projects allow the reader to have access to poetry and poetics which are different from, but interestingly compatible with American poetries. In this case, Kutik's grand metaphorical style, with its elaborate, mythic metaphors of human consciousness, has allowed Robinson to get wild with the language in a way that is quite distinct from his own writing. The resulting "gelatinous sea of words" is a delight.


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