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Translator's Note: "Lips" by Eugene Dubnov

I began co-translating Eugene Dubnov’s poems in the mid-eighties after John Heath-Stubbs introduced us in London. I had recently returned from a British Council sponsored visit to the ussr (as it was then) where I had met and sympathized with a number of Russian poets whose work I would have liked to translate. Alas, I was stumped by my ignorance of Russian. That Dubnov was in the habit of translating his own poetry into English “cribs” struck me as an opportunity I would be foolish to ignore. We worked together happily in London before he took a teaching position in Oxfordshire and I moved north to Durham and Edinburgh. In the early years of this century Dubnov contacted me again. John Heath-Stubbs and Peter Porter, among his principle translators, had died, but he still wished to publish a collection of his poems in English. Would I be willing to work with him by e-mail? I was happy to do so, and after two or three years we had produced so many translations and revisions of former translations that we decided to put together a collection. 

Lips” began its English life as a translation by Peter Porter, which Dubnov asked me to revise. It seemed more sensible to start again and allow the wit of the original to govern the tone of the English poem in which love, taken lightly, becomes a “hardworking” punishment when it comes to writing a poem about it. Although “Lips” seems a simple achievement, it went through many e-mailed drafts. The secret of translation, Eugene and I agree, is to be faithful in English to the original’s tone and meaning. Poetry in Russian tends to be strict as to rhyme and meter; attempting to produce the same form in English can produce strained, unnatural verses. The translation we finally came up with combines, we think, just the right quantities of seriousness and wit. —Anne Stevenson

Originally Published: March 1st, 2012

Born in Cambridge, England, Anne Stevenson moved between the United States and the United Kingdom numerous times during the first half of her life. While she considers herself an American, Stevenson qualifies her status: “I belong to an America which no longer really exists.” Since 1962 she has lived mainly...

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