Sunday, June 21, 2015

O Pen : June 15--Leah Zazulyer, translator of Israel Emiot

We were honored with Guest Leah Zazulyer, Poet/Translator, who spoke about her work with Israel Emiot, giving a biography and samples of his work, as well as general information about translation. For example, one word which can mean both to dwell/ to cry (Veynen) invites new directions; a sense of liberation from dictionary meaning to embellishment of a larger context.

Emiot, wrote parts of his poems on cigarette papers while he was a political prisoner in eastern Siberia from 1948-56. Others he simply committed to memory. Between 1932 and 1938, Emiot had published four books of poems, in Yiddish, not Hebrew. He fled to Bialystok in the nearby Soviet Union and from there arrived in Kazakhstan where he served 7 years in labor camp. In 1957 soon after his return to his native Poland, two of the 22 poems in a cycle he called "Siberia" had been published in Yiddish. 1958, he made his way to New York, was invited to a historical tour of Israel, and planned on permanent immigration there but was thwarted from refuge there when the night before his departure he suffered a heart attack.
Arriving in Rochester, New York, he became Writer-in-Residence for the Jewish Community Center and edited a tri-lingual literary journal called "Roots".

In the book Siberia, the cycle begins with twelve sonnets, which Zazulyer explains in her introduction, "is a form which lends itself well to meditation, problem-solving or questioning in poetry. Each Dreamsongs begins with an octet memory of some intense and pleasant aspect of his securely traditional childhood surrounded by significant elders. The poem then pivots on his use of this memory as a platform from which to dive into the six lines which confront reality."
Music sustains Emiot, just as music in the labor camp united diverse Jews.

In the poems for June 15, I had sent this out:
“Translating will teach you your own language” – W.S. Merwin
-- As Long as We are Not Alone (Emiot)
-- Recognized by Leah Zazulyer which uses the Emiot title and ending as epigraph
“As long as we are not alone... / We shall rejoice; we shall rejoice...” I. Emiot"
This is from her book "Songs the Zazulyer Sang"

Emiot, who resided here in Rochester from 1958 until his death in 1978 is part of Poets Walk with his poem, "As long as We Are Not Alone" which provides the title for yet another book in Yiddish and Leah Zazulyer’s translations in English. It was slated to appear in December, but hopefully will appear this year, published by Tiger Bark Press. The review by Ilya Kaminsky: “If a great poet, as Randall Jarrell once suggested, is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms to be struck by lightening a couple of times, then Israel Emiot is certainly one of the great poets of the 20th Century. “ He then refers to “A Prayer of a Man in Snow” — which we had the fortune to hear Leah read for us. Indeed, it is spellbinding, and a poem “saved for us from a barbarous century”.
William Heyen mentions “The vacancy and lostness in “As long as We Are Not Alone” are stunning and almost unrelieved.”

Leah read two versions of "Hour of Sadness" to contrast a highly literal vs. poetically literal translation. There is indeed an influence of Rilke's "Book of hours", although Rilke's stance is more reverential than Emiot's wonder at God and what he is doing to him.
She also read:
The Sickly Little Boy (from Strays)
Dreamed up Still Life (p. 55-61 from Siberia)
Prayer of a man in snow (p. 45, Siberia, but also will be in the new book)
(a Hasidic "dudele" -- elliptical sentence structure that is musical, snow simultaneously symbolizing purity, peace, emptiness, godliness, safety and psychic numbness."
She also discussed the Spanish-Hebrew Ladino poetry and many of the uses of "stones hearing" in the Yiddish Lullaby "a stone doesn’t hear but cries" or the tradition of putting stones on graves to say you’ve been there.

We discussed his poem, "As Long as We are Not Alone" starting with the emotional logic behind the epigram referring to the 1961 discovery of George Smith about the influence of music on plants and this poem addressing what kind of contact we have with God. Even if we are alone, we are surrounded by the presence of each thing.
The translation involved German, "Wellen mehr Gl├╝cklich sein" and Leah helped us understand "rejoice" as multi-layered with the idea of fortune, luck, a sense that we should be joyful; good;
I believe the poem was written in 1961 and Leah's comment is this: "he’s survived a heck of a lot. read the new book to find out what he’s about."

Indeed we will!

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