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Deborah Garfinkle

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(2013 - Translation)

excerpts by Pavel Šrut

[translated from Czech]

On the crates, the residue
of the apple parings cut
by my fingers still dripping with the blood
of childhood's blueberries. A stream

of grain springs from an old sack
in the attic. The crates
are covered with tufts of animal hair and light
from the dormer. I feel like a man.

I let the wine run down my tongue. I get
festively drunk because downstairs
in the blue sitting room, in early evening,
beneath the down quilt

My son comes out from between
my wife's floury thighs, smelling sweet
and bitter like dried apples
and damp earth.

(from Worm-Eaten Light)

""Sisyphus's Wife""

He was close to tears as if he had known the penalty
the day before the day he angered the gods,
and he was also gentle: from my sandal he dislodged
a pebble and with his sling he shot it heavenwards
and he remembered how as a child he went
out to play skittles, shooting from the ring glass marbles
and he was gentle: ignoring the foot bridge and current
from boulder to boulder he carried me across
and piled up stones elsewhere to make a bridge for me
and he spoke of time and what if we'd lose our human gift
and me the fool asked what gift
and he answered: mortality.

(from Paperbound Poems)

Excerpt in Czech

About Pavel Šrut

Pavel Šrut (1940) is a renowned award-winning poet, essayist, writer and translator who belongs to the generation of post-war Czech writers whose voices gained prominence in the flowering of Prague Spring, voices silenced in by censorship in the aftermath of the 1968 Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia. Once his collection Worm-Eaten Time (červotočivé svĕtlo), his elegy for his fallen homeland written in the months following the Soviet Invasion, was banned, Šrut stopped writing poetry for ten years. But, ultimately, he began writing again, publishing unofficially. In 2000, Šrut earned the Jaroslav Seifert Award in 2000, for the compilation of his samizdat works, Paperback Poems (Brožované básnĕ) and his screenplay in verse, Evil Beloved (Zla milá). In 2012, Šrut received the Czech PEN club's Karel Čapek Prize for lifetime achievement in literature. Aside from being a poet, rock lyricist and translator, Šrut is also a celebrated writer of children's literature.

Deborah Helen Garfinkle is a writer, critic, independent scholar and translator living in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in literary reviews and journals in the U.S. and abroad. Worm-Eaten Time: Poems from a Life under Normalization by Pavel Šrut 1968-1989 is Ms. Garfinkle’s second full-length translation from the Czech. Her first, The Old Man’s Verses: Poems by Ivan Diviš was nominated for the 2008 Northern California Book Award. This year, in addition to earning the NEA Translation Fellowship for Worm-Eaten Time, she was awarded a Translation Grant from the PEN Center USA for her work on the collection. Selected translations from Worm-Eaten Time have been published in Two Lines and Tri-Quarterly Online and upcoming in The Massachusetts Review. She is currently revising her intellectual history of the Czech Surrealist movement, The Surrealist Bridge: Czech Surrealism’s Interwar Experiment 1934-1938.

Translator's Statement

I first met Pavel Šrut in Prague sometime in 1992, while I was living in a small town in eastern Bohemia. I've always been drawn to Pavel's work -- its darkness and humor that seem to negate the concept of lyric beauty -- yet, to me, this ironic voice captures the contradictions of human existence in its complexity; its pathos and humor, our own inability to transcend the dung heap and poetry's failure to offer any consolation for the grim lot we are heir to. But still the poems keep coming and the poet keeps laughing despite it.

My translation, Worm-Eaten Time, comprises poems from two of Pavel's collections -- Worm-Eaten Light (červotočivé svĕtlo), translated in its entirety, and a selection of work from Paperbound Poems (Brožované básnĕ). These collections represent Pavel's body of work written during normalization when life in Bohemia, especially for artists and thinkers, was anything but normal. In Worm-Eaten Light, Pavel's "Wasteland," he pays homage to Eliot andbears witness to the literal and figurative devastation of his fallen homeland in this haunting elegy written in the months following the Invasion. These poems function in stark stylistic counterpoint to those of Paperbound Poems that were circulated unofficially in samizdat edition in the late Seventies. After his work had been banned, Pavel stopped writing poetry for almost a decade. When he finally started again, his voice had changed irrevocably from the lyric to the ironic; from the elegiac to the nonsensical and profane.

For me Worm-Eaten Light and Paperbound Poems serve as metaphorical bookends in Pavel's triumph as a poet. Instead of yielding to the soul-crushing forces of normalization -- the worm-eaten time -- he emerged transformed by the very forces that would have silenced him forever. It's my hope that readers of this collection experience the liberating power Pavel's vision, the poetry's power to liberate us all. I am deeply grateful to the NEA for giving me the support to bring this inspiring work to an English-language audience.