At Paris Review, Anthony Madrid Considers Children's Lit
A new collection of Russian Children's Literature published by New York Review Books, translated by one Eugene Ostashevsky, has been in the news this week. At Paris Review, Anthony Madrid reads through several of the compendium's choice segments. Madrid explains, "A book just came out this year that’s well worth a look—The Fire Horse: Children’s Poems by Mayakovsky + Mandelstam + Kharms, translated by a man I know slightly, Eugene Ostashevsky." From there:
This poet has given us a great deal of material relevant to any inquiry into children’s poetry of the Soviet period. He has translated the Oberiu poets and I don’t know whatall. This latest book is a special treat because it includes the original illustrations, in full color, of three works: Mayakovsky’s “The Fire Horse,” Mandelstam’s “Two Trams,” and Daniil Kharms’s “Play.” (The only thing the book is missing is the Russian. I should’ve liked to see the originals of these poems in an appendix, ideally with literal translations, just like in Sokol. A little poetry kit, why not.)
In translating this kind of thing, one does have to take liberties, there’s no way around that. In every culture, the belief is that children’s poetry has no right to exist unless it sounds fresh and spontaneous. That aspect of the work cannot be sacrificed. It’s the king on the chessboard.
So the big question should not be how close does Ostashevsky stick to his originals’ diction. Instead one should ask: Does he protect his king? I’ll try and give you just enough so you can judge.
Read on at Paris Review.