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This article is taken from PN Review 253, Volume 46 Number 5, May - June 2020.

How Do You Like them apples? J. Kates
Whenever I make a presentation about my work translating Russian-language poets, I have to begin with a disclaimer – I am neither a scholar nor a Slavist. I am a poet translating poems – the particular language the original poems are written in is almost secondary to this fact. When it comes to linguistic command, my Russian is inadequate and self-taught, although I confess a presumptuous affinity with the culture that enables me, in Mikhail Aizenberg’s generous words, to make ‘the right mistakes’.

For the most part, also, the Russian poets I have translated – however different in style and school – have been of my own generation and share many of my persuasions. My working relationships with them have been various, from collegial to laissez-faire to intrusive, but pretty much rely in the end on my own rooted American understandings in grounding the translations.

But, diffident as I am with regard to the Russian language, how much more distant from me is Central Asia? Russian serves as a shaky bridge I cross with trepidation. But for the Kazakhstani poet Aigerim Tazhi, born in 1981 in Aktobe – formerly Aktyubinsk – Russian is solid ground underfoot. ‘I live in Kazakhstan’, she has said, ‘but I was born in the Soviet Union. . . . I did not choose the Russian language, did not evaluate it . . . It’s just the language that I’ve spoken since childhood.’2

Fortunately for me, Tazhi also has a feel for English. Our collaboration (to extend the bridge) spans chasms of age and gender as well as culture, and somehow has ...


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