My Russian teenage poetry

by Ksenia Anske

So this is something that my Twitter followers asked me to do, and I'm obviously scared shitless, because not only is this poetry written by a teenager (I was 15), my translation is probably not the best (haven't done much translating lately), I hope it does it justice. Anyway, you asked for it, I warned you. Here you go.

Everyone thinks - words, beauty
But for me it's - noises, empty
I would really want to write
But it's hard to reach right
I'm left with gazing out the window
Maybe it will tell me what to do
Why do I need words?
In the spring's green-glow leaves sing
Wind twirls
Dances on the rooftops
To the glee of cats, 
Chimney sweepers and mice
On the wires,
Like on a feverish violin
Plays the spring
With a stretched linden tree
Trembles and shivers
The melody of life
Now it shakes a branch
Now it hangs in the sky

Sky opened its blue mouth
Golden teeth sparkled inside
Now the heat blew from the top
Started spitting, my blue friend
He just finished smoking his cigar
Smeared grey smoke across his face
How naive - he decided to eat Earth
Only his mouth is way too small
Opened his mouth, trying. "You fool,
You won't have time to devour Earth
Night is over!" A loud screeching noise
He closed his mouth. How about sun?
Then he opened his only eye
Brightly glanced at Earth, silly cyclope
In grey fog, his face turned light
And acquired a turquoise tone
"Do your thing, stop doing nonsense
Warm greenery and water, come on,
Spill some tears on the Earth...
Cry some, you sorry blue guy!"
He doesn't want to, but what else? Oh,
There are tears falling fiercely down
Into black mounds, ending first flight
And their last, like a woman's caprice

Poems are pushing themselves out
Marching in rhymes, ready for war
But whom will they fight?
Ah, anyone they can find
Why do they need extra suffering?
Ah, just do they won't die of boredom
Who reads them? 2-3 people
They won't see light till end of time
Let them die then, fall into abyss
Rather then vanish slowly under dust

Flat face of incomprehension
Doesn't pay me any attention
It's such facial mania
Spits in your face and stomps goodbye
What crazy thought
But it's thought through thoroughly
Well then, it's time for sleep
Take my goodbye sweep
Au revoir. Excusez-moi.

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by Ksenia Anske

PLEASE WELCOME Ken Liuan American science-fiction writer, poet, lawyer and computer programmer. His short stories have appeared in F&SFAsimov'sAnalogLightspeedClarkesworld, and other magazines, as well as several anthologies, including the Year's Best SF. He is also a translator of science fiction and literary stories from Chinese into English. "The Paper Menagerie" is the first work of fiction, of any length, ever to have swept the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards.

Ken Liu.jpg


Besides writing fiction, I also translate fiction from Chinese into English. Since one of the things our species is very good at is retroactively discovering patterns in life, I will try to tell the story of how I became a translator.

When I was a small child in China, I enjoyed looking over my grandfather’s English books and dictionaries, even though I couldn't understand any of the strange marks inside.

One day, I decided that I would learn English by translating the Chinese fairytale I was reading into English. I copied out the first sentence of the story neatly, and then proceeded to look up each character in my grandfather's Chinese-English dictionary, writing the first word in the definition under each character. The result was something like this:

from front located very long very long to front...

(That’s a character-by-character rendering of one of the best openings in literature: “A very long time ago…”)

My next attempt at translation came about by accident, some thirty years later, long after I became an American. One day, my friend Chen Qiufan, one of China's best science fiction writers, asked me to take a look at the English translation someone had done of one of his stories. The original Chinese version was lyrical, moving, and sparkling with wit. I was very curious how it came across in English.

"I have bad news," I told him. "This reads like the effort of Google Translate. You can sort of tell what's going on, but ... no." (Actually, bits of it reminded me of my first effort.)

"Any way you can fix it?"

"Fixing" a few sentences here and there turned into rewriting entire paragraphs, and then it was just easier to throw the existing translation away and start from scratch.

My translation of Chen's story, "The Fish of Lijiang," was published in Clarkesworld and went on to win the Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award for 2011.

The experience made me realize a few things: 1) There was a lot of wonderful science fiction being published in China; 2) Almost none of it was accessible to Western readers due to lack of quality translations; 3) Since I was fortunate enough to be a member of the American genre literary community who’s fluent in Chinese, perhaps there was an opportunity here...

Even my reading history confirmed that I was fated to get into doing translations. My first exposure to science fiction was through Chinese translations of American works: Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Lester del Rey's "Helen O'Loy," novelizations of the Star Wars films, etc. Since translators had once provided me so much joy by giving me access to the literature of another culture, by opening vistas that otherwise would be closed off to me, it only made sense that I should join their ranks one day.

Right now I'm working on translating The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, which is China's most popular science fiction novel and the first major genre novel ever to be translated from Chinese into English. A first contact story, the novel is set against the tumultuous history of China in the second half of the twentieth century and contains interesting speculation on physics, astrophysics, math, and the form intelligent life can take. 

Translating a novel is far more challenging than translating a short story, but also more rewarding. I'm excited by the opportunity, and I hope English readers enjoy it as much as Chinese readers have.

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