Hejinian and Kutik Give Bilingual Poetry Reading -cd – KH

Christopher McGeorge

On April 14 and 15, Lawrence was host to poets Lyn Hejinian and Ilya Kutik.
The poets held a question and answer session and read selections of their poetry.
Professor Faith Barrett — who studied under Hejinian while at the University of California, Berkeley — introduced Hejinian, who began the poetry reading on Tuesday night. Hejinian is a professor at UC Berkeley, recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship, author of over eleven poetry collections and translator of Russian poetry, to name a few of her accolades and roles in poetry and literature. She concluded her readings with some fourteen-line poems from her collection titled “The Unfollowed” in which she alludes to and challenges the conventional form of the sonnet. According to Hejinian, the sonnet is traditionally a form of resolution. Hejinian’s versions, however, are intended not to resolve.
Hejinian has also translated some of Kutik’s work. Kutik only writes his poetry in Russian. Hejinian began the second half of the reading by reciting the English translation of Kutik’s poems. Kutik followed up each translation with a reading of the poems in Russian. The audience was able to get the general idea of the poems from Hejinian and then pay attention to the rhythm and stylistic features of the Russian verse during Kutik’s readings.
Kutik was born in the Ukraine and moved to Moscow at the age of 16. He has had poetry readings shut down by the KGB — the Russian Committee for State Security — because his poems were not political and thus, as Kutik sarcastically suggested, they “were obviously dangerous.” Kutik now teaches Russian literature at Northwestern University, where Assistant Professor Peter Thomas studied under him and developed his appreciation of Russian poetry. Kutik was also influential in creating metarealism — a Russian movement in poetry.
During the question and answer session on Monday afternoon, there was much discussion of the difficulties of translating Russian poetry and translating in general. For both Kutik and Hejinian, the way that language is used is important.
According to Hejinian, “The way a sentence is structured is representative of how an idea is shaped, which is representative of how the world is shaped.”
It can be difficult to translate Russian poetry into English and represent the same structure and ideas that were in the original text. Kutik suggested that this is because, unlike English, Russian is a vertical language, meaning that one can see through all the strata of language and trace words back to other words from one’s own language. A person can then use those words and still understand what they mean. Hejinian described it as a “rootedness” that the U.S. has never been interested in. Kutik claimed that English cannot be used vertically and that media substitutes the richness of language.
“Each word that you put in translation must be cleaned because words are used in different contexts,” he said.
During the question and answer session, an audience member asked what poets Hejinian and Kutik read. Hejinian responded by listing Leslie Scalapino, John Ashbury, Ron Padget and Clark Coolidge who, she commented, “is always fascinating to me.”
Kutik wrote his favorite poets on the board, listing Parshchikov, Dragomoshchenko and himself.
The poets’ visit brought a bit of culture to the Lawrence campus and encouraged those in attendance to broaden their perspectives on poetry and the Russian language. It offered a truly unique and remarkable experience that could be appreciated by poets and non-poets alike.