The Stray Dog Cabaret translated by Paul Schmidt
To fill you in on what I learned from this book’s forward, the Stray Dog Cabaret was an underground poetry club in Moscow that ran from 1912 until it was closed by authorities in 1915. The cabaret was a frequent haunt of Russia’s “futurists” and “acmeists.” Also, in a mirror pointed towards our own society, there club was held partially as a reaction to who these poets called “The Pharmacists,” meaning rich, uncreative people who identify themselves as artists without devoting themselves to any craft. Translation: Early 20th Century Moscow was overrun with hipsters. Has history taught us nothing?
This collection was translated by the late Paul Schmidt, who, according to the afterword, died of AIDS in 1996, a decade before it came out, was friends with founding SNL writer Michael O’Donoghue, and, strangely, was married to Stockard Channing until her career started to take off in the mid-70s. I’m not a tremendous fan of his methods—he took a lot of time making sure things rhymed, and I get the sense that he sacrificed a great deal of meaning and language to do so. It should be noted that Russian is a particularly fluid language to translate into English— the order of words in a Russian sentence do not affect the meaning of the sentence, only the emphasis and tone. How weird is that?
This book features a handful of poems each from about ten poets. I’m sorry to say that there’s a lot of garbage in here, which might be why I found it abandoned at the Book Thing. Three poets stand out to me. It’s no surprise that the first is Vladimir Mayakovsky. He’s a poet’s poet, a Georgian, and a pivotal member of the Russian Futurism movement (which only means that he had a lot of essays published). The next is Velimir Khlebnikov, another, less remembered futurist who was, apparently, the son of an ornithologist in (what is now) Khazakstan. The third, and perhaps best, is Marina Tsvetaeva, who was astoundingly talented and (thankfully) never swept into some intellectual clusterfuck movement like the other two. The rest rhymed too much.