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Compass Translation Award: Boris Slutsky

January 26, 2015

[Update 3/21/15: the official announcement of the contest is now up at]

This year the poet for the Compass Translation Award is Boris Slutsky (1919-1986). You can find an easy-to-navigate selection of his poems in Russian here or a more extensive collection here. His poetry, judging by the little bit I’ve read, is the linguistically stripped-down kind and “the words are packed tight, the ideas have plenty of room”; a forceful, coherent thought is expressed in 10 or 20 lines so simply that you don’t appreciate the poem’s elegance or efficiency until you start trying to write (or translate) like that. In “Thomas Says” (Говорит Фома) the disillusionment of German POWs in 1945 ramps up to what the Holodomor taught the poet about skepticism in 1933. “A Thirty-Year-Old Woman” (Тридцатилетняя женщина) is halfway between Evtushenko’s “Whether you’re for better or worse” (К добру ты или к худу, 1953) and The Smiths’ “Never Had No One Ever” (1986). Those are my favorites so far, but maybe those of you who know Slutsky better can suggest the ones you like best in the comments.

The deadline to submit a translation of any Slutsky poem you choose is August 1, 2015, and each entry costs $20. See the organizers’ Facebook post for details. Congratulations to the translators who won last year’s competition: Laurence Bogoslaw, Nora Krouk, Igor Mazin, Eugene Serebryany, and Misha Semenov!

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