Pushkin in Britain: poetry with rhyme and reason

This year's finalists competing for the title of King (or Queen) of Russian Poets Abroad was made up of 16 poets from 12 countries. Meanwhile, this festival has become an important event in the cultural life of London. The festival's creator, writer Oleg Borushko, spoke to Russia Now.
How well known in Britain is your tournament of poets?

The British press has taken notice of "Pushkin in Britain". But the most incredible thing to me was a call I got from a London friend: "My daughter just came home from her exam. Guess what question they asked her?" "What is the USSR?" I suggested gloomily. "What is `Pushkin in Britain'?" my friend corrected me. Indeed, the British examination board Edexcel has included that question in its Russian exam.

Today "Pushkin in Britain" is the largest forum in the world for Russian poets living abroad. The main event is the International Tournament of Russian Poets Abroad. It has taken place annually for seven years and aims to find new talents and to promote Russian culture abroad. So far, 117 Russian poets from 46 countries have come to London to compete as finalists. Three films about the festival have already been shown on Russian national TV, the press has written about the winners and the participants - and their poems - have been published in Russian literary journals as we invite their editors to judge the tournament. Ahead of every tournament, we publish a book of the finalists' poems.

How do you select the poets for the tournament? How do they find out about you?

The tournament conditions are published in about 50 Russian-language publications around the world and on literature-related websites. During the first phase, which takes place by correspondence, the poets send in 10 poems each. The first poem must begin with a line from Pushkin that we have chosen especially for the tournament. It is always connected with Great Britain. This year it was "The seas have fallen to Albion..." from Onegin's Journey. The other poems are up to the poets. The head of the festival then personally chooses the 15 or 20 best submissions. This year 16 poets from 12 countries were invited to London to take part as finalists. During one of the rounds, the poets come out onstage and read their tournament poem and two others of their choice. Then both the audience and the jury vote for the King or Queen of Russian Poets Abroad. The winner receives a crown, a bronze statuette of Pushkin, £500 and a diploma. The "deputy"King receives a crown, £300 and a diploma. The Herald receives a crown, £200 and a diploma. The jury awards the Rimma Kazakova Prize for the best poem about love, also a prize for the best parody and a prize for the best extempore poem.

Winners 2009

"Nowhere in the world is there anything to compare with `Pushkin in Britain' in the field of poetry translation," says Alexander Livergant, one of the contest's judges and editor-in-chief of the monthly Inostrannaya Literatura. "I was astonished by the level of the poets who competed. We plan to print not only the poems of the tournament winner, but also selections by other contestants.

"How wonderful that poetry translation, after a decade in decline, has returned with such force at the `Pushkin in Britain' festival." Sergei Sergeyev, editor-in-chief of Moskva and another "Pushkin in Britain" judge, has also promised to publish the poems of the tournament winner in his literary journal.

This year's prizes were awarded as follows. In the Poets' Tournament, first prize went to Natalia Maksimova (Great Britain); second prize and the Rimma Kazakova Prize for the best poem about love to Elena Petrova (France); and third prize to Mikhail Yudovsky (Germany). In the Poetry Translation Tournament, first prize went to Andrei Olear (Tomsk); second prize to Yuri Sapozhkov (Belarus); and third prize to Natalia Reznik (United States).

`Iramifications' work wins Rossica prize

The award for best in Russian to English literary translation was shared by Amanda Love Darragh, translator of Maria Galina's Iramifications, and publisher Glas. Darragh's translation was published in 2008. Central to Iramifications is the eternal misunderstanding between East and West. Misconceptions and the notion of identity are explored on a journey from Odessa to the symbolic Oriental city of Iram, via friendship and the blurring of fantasy and reality.

The Rossica Translation Prize, established by Academia Rossica in 2004, recognizes and rewards translators whose work acts as a bridge between Russian literature and its Anglophone audience. This is the only prize for literary translation from Russian into English and is open to works published in any country.

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