Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Feast of the Spirit

Yana Djin's new bilingual book of poems, Inevitable, or Neizbezhnoye, is her first collection to be published in Russia and represents a very refreshing event both in terms of poetic diction and the very format of the publication. In true post-modern fashion, the Georgian-born poet is represented by her original English verse and two ingenious translators into Russian, one of them her father. In its inquisitive awareness of forces and processes outside the self, its pattern-searching informed by a Tolstoyan philosophy of time and amplified by the enormity of Georgia's natural sights and vast openness, Djin's verse is knit of genuinely poetic material.

Djin considers language circumstantial and an imperfect tool which translates the multiple mutations of the spirit. Her own poetry she regards as "a mutation of English words and the Russian spirit," which can be, as we have seen in Brodsky and Nabokov, an extremely enriching combination. The growing culture of bilingualism has created new communicative codes and experiences, so that we never completely translate into any one language but remain on the threshold, keeping both in sight. This interlinguistic existence may yet become the source of new aesthetics, when the opportunities for expressing or emphasizing different meanings in one language blend into the worldview of the other, unleashing a precious spontaneity of thought and turn of phrase.

What's amazing about Djin's volume is the pattern of reading required to appreciate its richness. When reading for pleasure, we are used to subordinating either the original to the translation or vice versa. In this instance, don't. Brought together under the same cover, here are three distinctive voices worth hearing. Joining the poet's leading voice are the gentle, precise Vladimir Gandelsman, and the poetess' father Nodar Djin, speaking in his own voice on behalf of the original but remaining scrupulously faithful to it.

In Gandelsman's translation, Yana Djin's somewhat jerky verse sounds elegiac, even serene, mellowed by the harmony of prescribed meters and run-on lines as against her own disjunctive experiments with form. The rebel poet seems tamed here by Gandelsman's well-seasoned phrases.

Nodar Djin takes a much more temperamental approach with his daughter's writing. They are clearly soul mates, and the father writes very forcefully and originally, propagating Yana Djin's ideas as an inspired intermediary. In his translation her thoughts seem to have gelled. Yana Djin makes a point of isolating words in order to stress them, taking them out of context and out of sequence in order to state an idea. Even the run-on lines are designed so as to cut a sequence short and bring a word forward. Nodar Djin's translation, on the other hand, rolls along with words developing all kinds of bonds, acoustic, rhythmical and metaphoric, never breaking off to underline something or set it apart. In its freshness, aptitude and recklessness of expression this is fully original poetry.

This edition affords a unique opportunity to contemplate how decisively form influences impact. And it is utterly to the credit of Yana Djin that in her poems, which explore time, self and destiny in a crumbling world, there is so much content to be played with. Her insight and her allegories are keen, even disturbing, though in her treatment of vital questions an abstracted intellectual perspective holds sway. Her imagery is crisp, fresh and very visual, very dynamic.

A good volume of contemporary poetry is a rare event these days, so this one is not to be missed. It is pleasurable reading, now food for thought, now a stylistic feast, infallibly in good taste. It has been a long time since we read good new poetry. Maybe this is where we will begin.

"Inevitable. Poems (Neizbezhnoye. Stikhotvoreniya)," by Yana Djin with translations into Russian by Vladimir Gandelsman and Nodar Djin. Published in limited-edition hardcover by Podkova, Moscow. 176 pp. To be sought out in Moscow's more discerning bookshops.