By Denis Beznosov

31 January 2019 - 11:02

Stacks of books
'Contemporary literature for children is growing in popularity in Russia.' Photo ©

EliFrancis used under licence and adapted from the original

Denis Beznosov is a poet, translator and critic, and Head of the Cultural Project Department at Russian State Children’s Library. He spoke to us about translating poetry from Spanish and English into Russian, and what children and young people are reading in Russia.

What are children and young people reading in Russia?

Children and young people in Russia are reading lots of different authors. The most popular ones are the Russian classics, like Samuil Marshak. Popular books in translation for children in Russia are Alice in Wonderland, the Little Prince and Winnie the Pooh.

Contemporary literature for children is growing in popularity in Russia. We have several publishing houses, like Egmont, who produce a popular series of collaborations between young contemporary writers and illustrators. We always take those to global book fairs.

We have about 500 publishing houses for children's books in Russia, mainly in Moscow and St Petersburg, and the children's book market is growing. To my mind, it has a big future.

Tell us about your work

I translate poetry from English and Spanish to Russian, and I write poetry in Russian. I've translated a poetry collection by the Cuban poet Virgilio Piñera.

I'm also interested in Irish and Northern Irish poetry, especially contemporaries of Seamus Heaney. I've translated poems by Sinéad Morrissey, Paul Muldoon and Frank Ormsby. I've also translated Mark Ford and Christopher Middleton, and I'd like to translate John Burnside.

I have published one book, a collection of poetry. If I translated the title into English, it would be something between 'creature' and 'stranger'.

The book includes seven years of my work. I try to combine ancient metrics with contemporary themes. I want to show the whole variety of forms that we can use, while speaking about the modern world.

Is it difficult to make a living as a translator?

Translation is a business as well as an art. The Russian translator who translated five volumes of Nabokov, and the Harry Potter series, passed away recently. I went to an event where he was speaking, and he said that the money he earned from his Nabokov translations lasted less than two months, while the profits from translating Harry Potter lasted two years.

What is challenging to translate into Russian, from English and Spanish?

The Spanish language has short words, compared with Russian, and there are a lot of words we use in Russian that are not used in Spanish.

I once translated a Spanish-language poem about an olive tree, a minimalist poem, which was very challenging to translate into Russian. I had to think carefully about the form, and how it would look on the page. I'm always looking for a form in Russian that is close to the form in the original language.

Translators think structurally. Sometimes poets are not as attentive to the form as they could be. Translators are always attentive to form. If you can't build the form, the rest of the work will not stand.

Grigory Kruzhkov translated the whole collection of books by Edward Lear into Russian. He wrote Edward Lear's ABC: Alphabet Rhymes for Children, with limericks for each letter, so when he translated the book into Russian he had to create more limericks for the letters in the Russian alphabet that were not represented.

Denis Beznosov is visiting the UK with delegates from the Russian literature sector to meet counterparts in Edinburgh, Manchester, London and Norwich, as part of the Future Culture programme, which connects Russian and UK culture professionals.

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