E DUBNOV: CRITICAL OPINIONS - POETRY




LATEST POETRY VOLUMES: Beyond the Boundaries
The Thousand-Year Minutes













Rich in texture, poignant, subtle, and beautifully made, the poems of Eugene Dubnov are long overdue for a collection in in America. At home in several cultures, Dubnov is a true original.

X.J. Kennedy

A real gift.
               Prof. John Bayley, Oxford

Resonance of great Russian poetry of the past in a uniquely original voice.
               Prof. Sir Dmitry Obolensky, Oxford

A significant... interesting and resourceful poet.
               Prof. Gerald Smith, Chair of Russian, Oxford, in Scottish Slavonic Review

Impressions arising when reading these poems are of a burning passion, concentrated in one gust, for freedom, characteristic of thinking individuals of the author's generation. Thousands of times sold, betrayed and compromised, the word "freedom" comes to life in these poems and is filled with its true, irresistible content. These poems were written in Soviet Russia where, in their author's words, "There's a heavy price that must be paid / For the ability to take wing. "

The New Russian Word  (New York), 1972

An original talent... a combination of hypnotic melody with polished mastery of form. [....] It is...clear that he is an heir to Mandelstam (and to Joseph Brodsky, as well), but his is an original voice, moulding the Russian language with finesse and sensitivity.

Prof. Donald Rayfield, University of London, in Books in Russian

A real journey of the spirit... Body of work that advances steadily in accomplishment... The author shows intimacy and assured way with language which responds happily to his touch... he has learned from poets such as Pasternak and Mandelstam, yet develops his own voice.

Prof. Henry Gifford, University of Bristol

A sensitive look into the nature of things and events, close attention to earth’s great and small marks... unceasing thinking process and meaningfulness... unquestionable sincerity and trust in the reader... mastery of language... Similes and metaphors in Eugene Dubnov’s poetry please the eye with their freshness and precision.

The New Review  (New York)

Eugene Dubnov’s poetry is remarkable for its tight structure and dense, complex texture.

W.D. Snodgrass

Eugene Dubnov's poems, side by side in the original Russian, "chorus in polyphony," like his springtime birds. His work is a magnificent epistle to lives "stretched between fire and hard frost." Rich details, precise diction, and surprising metaphors elevate The Thousand-Year Minutes to its rightful place: a bookshelf near you.

J. Patrick Lewis, USA


Admirable volume [Beyond the Boundaries] .

Stephen Pimenoff in Stand Magazine


Delicate, fierce, and subtly layered, Eugene Dubnov's poems capture nature's music and examine the wounds and yearnings of the heart. Beautifully crafted and translated, Beyond the Boundaries is a treasure.

Beth Hoffman, USA


Multifarious and fruitful experience at cross-sections of cultures... the richness and breadth of experience fully paid for by the spiritual exertion.

Prof. Helena Konstantinovsky in The Renaissance

Philosophical density and intellectualism side by side with erudition; close attention to historical realities.

Dr. Ida Lifshitz, University of Moscow, in The Companion

Eugene Dubnov's new book, The Thousand-Year Minutes , shows a sharp lyrical objectivism that reminds me a bit of the late work of George Oppen, yet is all a strength of its own and of a life lived, sometimes suffered, in and of both the natural and built worlds, showing both how complex and how ephemeral our places, spaces, and selves really are. Here's a sample:

UNTITLED

Water's purpose here is plain: grinding away
the lip of the cliff, to take its place; in front of us
a mighty stream erupts from the earth's depths
of luminously vibrant grey clay.

All is in complex motion, and into the space
where you've just been, air from behind you,
with its silky foot has already entered
and instantly occupied your lost place.

Charles Alexander, Chax Press, USA


Poetry of the earth...[The Thousand-Year Minutes ] brought to mind something of the pure and uninflected voice of John Clare: "targets in the river / grief in the grass / rain / the spangled asphalt" ["Cityscape", p.9].

Poetry New Zealand Yearbook


I like Eugene Dubnov’s poems; they are intelligent, meaningful and unconcerned with impressing the reader.

Alexander Kushner, National Poet of Russia



Masterful translations.
                                     
                                       NewPages review of poems published in New Letters 77-1

 


STEPHEN PIMENOFF
Review
Eugene Dubnov, Beyond the Boundaries , translated from the Russian by Anne Stevenson, with the author (Shoestring Press, 2017)

'Poetry,' said Walter Raleigh, is 'an inspired soliloquy... giving pleasure to an audience only as the mountain spring may chance to assuage the thirst of a passing traveller... its affinity is with the wind among the trees and the stream among the rocks; it is the cry of the heart, as simple as the breath we draw.' Raleigh's words seem appropriate to this translation of Beyond the Boundaries.

Mikhail Lermontov once said that he felt it to be a stroke of good fortune that their language was Russian, as he believed no other to be its equal. But the very features of Russian that make it such a wonderful medium for poetry are those which make it difficult to translate. It is a rich language, beautiful when spoken, yet at the same time capable of great succinctness. Much is left unsaid, or just faintly adumbrated, leaving the imagination free to roam. The declensions give flexibility to syntax, there are no articles, verbs are often omitted if implied, and participles let you say in two words what might need six in English. The limited number of noun and verb endings also make it easy to rhyme.

A faithful translation of rhyming verse may be made if no attempt is made to reproduce the rhyme, but to maintain the

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rhyming pattern a free translation is necessary. It is not possible to match rhyme without destroying the essential sound-sense of the original and misrepresenting the poet's true meaning. As Robert Frost is popularly believed to have said, 'poetry is what gets lost in translation.' A different relationship between sound and meaning must be forged, but the translator who is not a poet runs the danger of producing doggerel. So Eugene Dubnov, though himself fluent in English, was perhaps wise to collaborate with Anne Stevenson in the translation of these poems. Certainly, there is no hint of doggerel in this collection.

It is a dual-language publication, excellent for students and others who may be interested in how Russian poetry can be translated. Some of the simpler poems are spare to the point of starkness - straight, word-for-word translations - while others have required adapting to the differences of English syntax. The rhyming pattern, where it existed, has been abandoned. The result is a more faithful rendering of the original than would otherwise have been possible, though more often than not there has been a loss of succinctness.

A sense of sadness and yearning pervades the collection like a fragrance.

I was swaddled at birth in double Estonian vowels,
lullabied by the sea. In my dreams there were
islands and straits, and the winds, each in its season,
gave me directions for thought...

Although Dubnov is Russian, he was born in Estonia and seems to have more of the Estonian than the Russian in his make-up. Melancholy tends to be a feature of the Estonian national character, doubtless a result of centuries of oppression and misery: from 1227 till 1920 Estonia was under continuous foreign domination. (This melancholy runs like a thread through the folk-songs of the people.) Dubnov's Estonian heritage is reflected in the recurring images of nature: rain, snow, wind, mist... And the sea, always the sea:

Dawn begins to spread over the sea,
Over the wild grasses,
Over the hills.
A sail quivers,
There must be a breeze.
Dawn reaches further. And further
Over wave and crag,
Over white surf breaking on smooth rock
Where the sea is deep.

Dubnov's world, to borrow the words of Lytton Strachey, is one 'of mysterious melancholy and quiet intimate delights, of long reflections amid the solitudes of Nature, of infinite introspections amid the solitudes of the heart.' There is nostalgia for childhood especially, and for what has been lost; for the sounds and sights and smells of a time long past and never to be experienced again:
Soon, we'll be walking over grass
To our childhoods behind the sea.
And there we'll find astonishing

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Answers to our questions
As we pass our hands gently
Over pine bark that's still warm.

Exile and wandering are themes for so much in this volume. It has been said that, for a poet, exile is death, so it is perhaps to be expected that the poems about Estonia and the pain of departure are among the most moving. In places the pain amounts almost to anguish:

Only, I fear once again this colour
will divide us. That's why
it's right that I leave
before daylight defines us.
The sharp snow is raging in the heavens
as I go. Deathly white.

Unsurprisingly, Dubnov is haunted by the Polish composer Oginski's flight into exile:

The late light is going out and going out.
The horses gallop, the air is full of dust.
Everyone knows you can never return
To where your father's house once stood.

Why then is sadness luminous as snow
When it's life's own track the horses speed along?
The distant house has already burnt down.
Those ever-haunting lips are silent now...

How suddenly, on a rough-weather night,
Sitting at a window, you'll hear
The clamouring wind and dry crackle of rain
When the voice of a dream
Will have broken into your mind.

This is a fine rendering of the original. That it is half-again as long and has lost the abab rhyming pattern seems a small price to pay for the sensitivity of the translation.
Dreams and memories haunt the collection, and there is a yearning for bygone days:

Outside yet another window in my life story, a fir rises.
On this snowless, rainy night, I've opened the glass
and reached out to touch a branch. At this very hour,
in a faraway country, fallen into a long winter sleep,
heavy branches are bending under plumes of snow...

Just a few quibbles. 'Totally', a word painfully overworked nowadays, should perhaps, like 'absolutely' and 'incredibly', be retired from literary work. And it's the Bering Strait, not `Straights'. Why use shapka, which is not in English dictionaries, when 'cap' is available? шапку нахлобучив does not mean 'slapping on your hat', but 'having pulled your cap down tightly', a wonderful illustration, incidentally, of the conciseness of Russian, where two words need six in translation. But these are minor blemishes in an otherwise admirable volume.

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Stand Magazine 15.4

Book Review: Eugene Dubnov's Beyond the Boundaries

In this high tech, modern age we live in, it is often lamented that poetry is a forgotten and underappreciated art. Those who make such lamentations, however, should merely read Eugene Dubnov's collection of poems contained in Beyond the Boundaries, and one's faith in the power and beauty of poetry will be restored.

Dubnov's collection is broken into three separate sections, largely listed in chronological order of their inception. The sectional breaks between poems then seems to mirror both physical and linguistic aporias in the poet's own life, which is poetically reflected back in sparkling metaphors. The first section begins with astoundingly powerful poetic speakers who chart territories in nature that surrounds them, and that exists across parallel memories spanning various languages, locations and terrain. The very first poem, "Estonian Song", captures the intertwining of language and land "being swaddled at birth in double Estonian vowels" but the aporia ruptures in a painfully beautiful way when the speaker says "The words I uttered were Russian / but I wrenched their sound far away from the Russian language."

Exile and diasporic identities float in and out of various poems, and this poet, born in Estonia, both loving and rebelling against mother Russia, but also being pulled to England and Israel, tells the tale of languages and memories tied paradoxically to both everywhere and nowhere. As M Turner makes clear in The Literary Mind (1996), narratives and stories always do more than tell a story; indeed they convey how we think, how we speak and reflect the very generation of memory itself. Indeed we find that the speakers of Dubnov's poems carry the heart and warmth of "home" (as we find with "On This Warm Summer Day"), and chart a direction to find "...sadness luminous as snow" in "Farewell to Homeland. A Polonaise." Warm hands and whispers roam the terrain of memory that also cradles a snowy, cold gust of memory that is never far behind.

Desire, feminine elements and passion all mark the start of the second section of poems. The romantic lyricism of "Fantasy Impromptu" runs counter to the next "Untitled" poem, haunted by dreams, clenched fists, blood and an incandescent sun blazing in the background. In "Metropolis," the speaker tells of a New York that offers shelter and solitude, which feeds into the next poem "Quick Run! I Shout At Your Back," where Moscow boulevards wash the speaker's footprints away. Disjuncture serves as a constant and both displacement and temporal and special ruptures are as dependable as any notion of home could be.

The third and final section of Dubnov's collection begins with a powerful yet grim reminder of death with the calendar serving to oppress and sicken the speaker of "Translating Into Life and Death." And while language and its limits appear to be a central theme throughout the entire collection of Dubnov’s poems, this third and final section truly showcases the immense impact of such a metaphor, especially with the namesake poem in the book, "Beyond the Boundaries." "Young days beneath a sky" interweave time, places and memories and morph into a speaker telling us that "a mouth full of too many words/.../will be filled with rain, snow, wind." Days and time itself carry the shifting memories that are so filled with languages and the memories each language conveys, that they too become part of the cosmic universe. The speaker ends with both a directive and a testimony of multiple presences in multiple languages and places: "I too, - look - have already set off." Indeed, that the speaker points out his own departure is the perfect ending for this treasured collection of gems. The power of poetry and the mind and experiences of Eugene Dubnov have coalesced to create a truly wonderful addition to the annals of poetry.

Shellie McCullough
USA