ASTANA – The manuscript of the book “An Astounded World: Selected Poems” written by young Kazakh poet Aigerim Tazhi in translation of famous American poet, literary translator and co-director of Zephyr Press publishing house Jim Kates recently received a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Fellowship to Support Literary Translation. Tazhi’s poetry collection was awarded the maximum grant amount and Tazhi was the only Kazakh among the winners.
The book “An Astounded World: Selected Poems” will be printed by the American publishing house and released in two languages and will include both original poems in Russian and translated into English. It will include poems and translations, which the author and the translator have been working on together for several years.
“It is exciting that the book project in translation has become one of the most highly selected works of this year. I am glad that the English-speaking readers (and this is a huge audience) will be able to read the book with my poems in their own language. Although, it will be released in foreign publishing houses, it can find readers in Kazakhstan too. And about the creative plans … Our project has just won a grant. The next step is the publication of the book and it is a colossal work that can take a long time,” she said.
Tazhi recalled her first steps towards a literary career in the interview with The Astana Times.
“In 2002, I won the contest for a literary workshop in Almaty initiated by the Musaget Foundation that provided support for modern Kazakh literature. I was delighted to work with great teachers, such as Olga Markova, Victor Badikov, Lyubov Tuniyants and others,” she said.
Her debut book of poems “BOG-O-SLOV” interpreted in English as “THEO-LOG-IAN” (it is a play-on-words that could come out as “GOD-OH-WORDS”) was published in 2004. She was the finalist of the International Literary Debut Prize in the poetry nomination, the winner of the International literary competition Stupeni (Steps) and other contests.
Her works were released in many literary magazines in Kazakhstan, Russia, the U.S. and Europe, including “Druzhba Narodov” (Friendship of Peoples), “Znamya” (Flag), “Novyi Mir” (New World), “The Massachusetts Review,” “Words without Borders,” “Two Lines” and “Cyphers,” among others.
Foreign and Kazakh literary critics have repeatedly written about Tazhi’s style, naming it as “thinnest, even sophisticated linguistic intuition” and mentioned “fragility, brittleness of being” in her poems. Her poetic thinking is considered succinct. She manages “to place the whole world” in the verses and “it turns to the reader its psychological and even metaphysical essence.” “Tazhi, a deep and thoughtful observer, creates poetic images that remain long in the memory of the heart,” according to critics.
Poems by Tazhi have been translated into English, French and other languages. In 2012, editor of the American literary edition of “Words without Borders” proposed Kates to translate one of Tazhi’s poems in order to publish in its magazine.
Kates translated many famous poets, such as Genrikh Sapgir, Sergey Stratanovsky, Mikhail Aizenberg and others. He published several collections of translations of contemporary Russian poetry and poetic translations from the Russian and Spanish languages, which won U.S. national awards. He was also awarded the Cliff Becker Book Prize for the translation of selected poems by Mikhail Yeryomin.
Tazhi stressed that a translator should not only have an excellent command of the language, but also great literary experience for translation techniques, such as Kates who is a poet himself and has published several collections of his poems.
“Kates liked my literary works and offered to continue our cooperation. Since that time, most of my works translated by Kates were printed in some European and American literary magazines. We have been in constant correspondence with him and often discuss the nuances of the language. Three different translators tried to translate my poems but only Kates, in my opinion, really felt the original text and reproduced it in another language,” she said.
This year, the NEA allocated 23 fellowships for American translators for the translation of literary works from different languages into English, according to the results.
Since 1981, the foundation has supported the translation of literary works, representing 67 languages and 81 countries, including translations of Nobel Prize winners Pablo Neruda and Miguel Angel Asturias, Persian Sufi poet and Sufi master Rumi, Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, Russian classics Anton Chekhov and Marina Tsvetayeva, Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz and many others.