Victor Sklyarov

Biography of Victor Sklyarov

Victor Sklyarov poet

The English language has been my love since school. I was fascinated by the diversity of meanings that may be implied in one phrase. I discovered it reading Translator’s Notebooks – a brilliant periodical with poetry and prose translations criticism. School was quite a chore to me and instead of making lessons I read books only slightly related to subjects studied: Dostoyevskiy, Shakespeare (in Russian translation – it was next to impossible to find his works in English at that time) , books on theory of relativity, history, etc. And, of course, I wrote poems in Russian. Later I burnt them all. Once I rhymed my composition. It was then that I made my first translation – Hamlet’s soliloquy. The English text was published in Translator’s Notebooks alongside with several translations and comments. It was extremely instructive practice and motivating too. There I also read the article entitled “Shakespeare’s untranslated sonnet” with at least three variants of translation, all commented as inadequate (“My mistress eyes…”) . Then I entered Krasnodar University. There were no boring subjects there. Even CPSU history was interesting. The lecturers urged us to read initial documents and not the textbook. And those, though incomplete and sometimes corrected documents, revealed party history as ceaseless chain of treacheries. Marxist philosophy was just negative polemics with opponents and I concentrated on the latter. Here in province it was possible to discuss anything, to express any doubts even at seminars and exams. All forbidden literature circulated easily. Books published abroad started to appear in second hand bookstores somewhere in mid ’70. And a great number of pre-revolution editions appeared. I could afford buying new books almost every day on my student’s maintenance allowance. Frankly speaking we couldn’t understand dissidents – why shout what everybody knows? Every year we were sent to the collective farm to gather grapes for about a month. This inevitable gavel work annoyed me most of all in our socialism. Same as senseless meetings. But these were happy days. I read books on theory of information and principles of self-organization, experimented in yoga and telepathy. It was then that I understood why most experiments in telepathy failed. They bear no information. And information is that what is essential for the receiver. This is a condition precedent. If it is not essential – it is not percepted. Same is true with poetry and prose perception. There must be not a unison, but enhancing. If you enjoy a poem you wish to share it with other people and you start to translate. Here lies the problem: you must preserve same rhythm, same number of syllables, not to loose any of ideas and images, and, above all to preserve natural language. In English<>Russian translations the worst enemy is the length of words. They are much shorter in English. You either have to change the number of syllables but the melody would differ then or omit or add some images but this changes the impact. The secret of the poem’s perception lies in integrity of rhythm, melody, images and that what may by called subdrive (feeling enhancer) . This is heatening of feeling and then – a kind of stepping aside. Then the thing that resonates inside is released and enhanced by some outer harmony.

I have loved you. Perhaps the love’s still hiding
Within the corners of my heart and soul
But do not think it would be disobliging,
Afflicting on my side you’ll never know.

I have loved you, so silently, despairly
Timidity and jealousy perused
I have loved you so tenderly, sincerely
As God bless you be loved by man you choose.

I translated these Pushkin’s lines only recently when suddenly remembered Byron’s line that was an epigraph to one of Puskin’s verses (And I have loved thee ocean..) . At that time I thought it was impossible to translate adequately from Russian.
After I graduated and escaped from schoolteacher work in Kalmykia (where pupils asked why I didn’t beat them for their behavior) I learned what joblessness is. My work record card showed higher education and I was unable to become a worker – nobody wished to hire me, and I was unable to become a specialist – I did not have permission from the Ministry of education. I moved to Novorossiysk and half year after managed to become the customs officer. Every three years I changed jobs circulating between customs and higher marine school. My best 3 years were spent in a small self-supporting group headed by my father in law (ex-commercial director of the shipping company, now dead) . We were preparing weeklies and monthly reports for Russian major oil steamship companies. Often the material was at our own choice. I made digests of Admiralty law cases, translated charter-parties, etc. We were granted permission to read foreign newspapers and magazines Lloyd’s List, Fairplay, Lloyd’d Law Reports. That was the time when Brezhnev died. Then I made several translations: My mistress eyes…, Kipling’s Pict Song, some small poems of Ogden Nash. There were no computers, no internet, we could only dream about Encyclopaedia Britannica and free access to foreign books (though I had pretty big library) , but these were the only things we were missing. I got acquainted with the beauty of the English law, its irresistible logics and fairness. Those who leave in its jurisdiction are unable to notice it. Grand things are visible at distance. Our work was needful but financing was cut-off. Then the third Russian revolution occurred. Communist leaders divided national property between themselves, some remained communists, some proclaimed themselves anticommunists, few became presidents, but each had a share of property. The mimicry was called democracy. But can the leopard change his spots? Those who, like me, were not party members or did not belong to party hierarchy gained nothing.

Democracy is too far-fetched notion
I just have negative emotion
Recalling slaves of Greece
That lived in peace
With their masters. Cheers!
Oh, sorry, it appears
I haven’t finished yet.
Do not forget
The human rights
That are delights
To the slavocracy
And the bureaucracy.

Down with democracy
That’s just autocracy
Of the chrysocracy
Of self-chosen peers…

The time for swindlers came to Russia. My knowledge and experience was required, but I didn’t profit from it. I created several maritime and forwarding agencies ab ovo for those with initial capital together with my wife, then we divorced retaining good relations. My wife now has her own maritime agency where she works with my daughter. I secluded myself from society doing any work that people brought to me at my home. I wrote test papers, projects and diploma papers in a number of disciplines, made translations for private persons and for companies. About 6 years ago I had telephone installed and obtained Internet connection. I have Britannica and Encarta now …

Soleness is what we seek when we are young.
Loneliness is what we get when we're old.
Most dreams when implemented seem like dung
That's what Ecclesiast for us foretold.

In moment of despair I started to make new translations from Russian into English and even sent them to Jeff Humphrey: Founder, Contest Director, Executive Editor of The Voices Network and he advised me to start writing my own poems in English.

We are not destined to embrace
The way our word percepted is
And understanding, like God’s Grace,
Depends on Heaven we’re beneath

Back in my youth I made a wonderful discovery: if you have some sincere non-profit wish it will implement the moment you completely forget it having realized its unenforceability. It doesn’t depend on your actions – only wish and disinterestedness are counted. I used it several times. I’m sure the above is just one of the cases. D’you hear lawyer and researcher sounding now? I have many usually incompatible manifestations. This phenomenon was many times described by Dostoyevskiy and analyzed by Mikhail Bakhtin. Black-and-white linear perception is out of Bakhtin’s approach and analysis. Bakhtin, to my mind, is the antecessor of the theory of chaos (and anti-chaos) approaches in terms of philosophy. Tracing the infinite bifurcation of inner dialogue he shows the fragile unity of opposite tendencies within one personage still having his own vector and the interaction of this personage with otherwise vector-oriented personages creating conflicts of immense depth. Moreover, Bakhtin traces the way Menippean satire structure and other ancient forms become embedded in contemporary novels. Such multidimensional viewing produces objective veritable picture. Please, read his works. I urge and plead you. They are available in English now. He is long dead. But that’s a man who seems to ignore politics as if it were non-existent. I am unable to rise at that height.
I am bound to 19-th century. I’m unable to accept and adopt further events.

I am in haste. My time’s expiring.
So much to say I am desiring
In vain - no questions’ firing
But for the begging help
I cannot help admiring
Of those who are attiring
As judges over wiring
Of concentration camp.

From watchtower security
Preserving their purity
Ignoring the obscurity
Of those beneath who yelp
They pose as the deputies
Appointed by the prisoners,
The inexactest reasoners,
The country’s ever felt

The following is hardly my own voice I intended to write something different. And in Russian. But it happened so that I heard an irresistible melody and vowels symphony. This must be the spirit of time.

Voco vivi

In the vast desert I am calling for alive
Not to instruct, to preach, or to oblige
But just to talk, to see I’m not the last
Of living souls of the past;
To see the reasons those derive
The nation’s dumbness. But, alas!
I see just zombies. I can’t grasp
Why this is happening. The die is cast.
The current won’t turn awry,
Ressentiment won’t either. Should I strive
For something vague, or should I die?
My time has ended century ago, but why
I’m sill alive stuck in the loop of Time?

But having given it another thought I realized that it is not the spirit – it’s the Muse. That Muse so many poets spoke about. And she is definitely female. She has no age – she lives out of Time. But what nobody has ever said, fantastic though it may sound, my Muse has nationality! She is definitely English though I am Russian. I could not write even small verse in Russian. I do not mean translation or a parody or imitation. But here it is different. Amidst urgent translation of the purely commercial text I suddenly recollected Hamlet’s words I knew by heart since school (what an expression – to know by heart!) . Then some images emerged and I felt some strange snake-like rhythm. For some unknown reason I disliked blank verse. But I was compelled to use it despite my attempts to squeeze at least some rhymes. The image of crucified Russia merged with hopelessness of my own future.

Russified Hamlet

I overlived my time, but was it really mine,
Time stolen from the country less than an age ago?
Oh, brave new world! Big Brother’s watching us
Writhing in slime, in hunger and in pains.
We’re robbed again and spat in our face.
The cycle’s over. End has come to time.
Pigs just like men, Swift’s yahooes, Bosch’s visions –
All in one place. Their name is Legion.
They torture us. The pressure’s reached the crest
I’m wasteable. But what about the rest?

The rest is silence… I’m afraid eternal.

People in my country have long been regarded as a waste material. Before Peter the Great personal pronoun “I” had been identified with the first letter of Russian alphabet. After his reforms (including but not limited to linguistics) it became the last letter. Any outer reform of the language threatens nation’s security. And we had two reforms. The first alienated us from Greek culture and that of predecessors. The second infringed links with Eastern Europe and predecessors. Now some are proposing the third. I can only regret that the so-called political correctness is destroying English.
Why I mention death so often? I had or seamed to have such experience. I have always had hemicrania. But once, when I was alone, my heart stopped to beat, breathing ceased, the panic seized each cell of my body, but mind was clear. I raised in the air above my body and flew to the door in order to unlock it. But hands went through the door and key. Unlocking the door seemed most essential task for me then. I was already dead but I wanted to facilitate entry for my daughter or ex-wife who might come. And I managed to concentrate and unlocked it. I returned to my body and waited what would happen next. Suddenly the heart resumed beating violently and capability to breath returned. After I came to myself (what a wonderful expression! Same exists in Russian) I checked the door. It was unlocked. Soon my girls came and arranged the brain scanning. Suspected arachnoidite (destruction of brain) . A doctor said I’d live one year at most if go on smoking, drinking coffee and beer. That was some five years ago. I am still chain-smoker, drink much coffee and 1,5 liters of beer every evening. Them, doctors!

However, eyesight is reducing and sclerosis is progressing.

Sklyarov’s sclerosis is queer process.

I do not remember names, dates, figures, new faces to the extent that I often answer people without understanding who they are until they mention some specific problem. And it turns out that I saw them many times.

The above was written some six years ago. Some things have changed since then. I practically stopped drinking beer, reduced smoking; and I translated some more Russian poets. And, what’s most important, I stopped thinking of death and soon was impatiently awaiting the girlfriend to move to my home. Poetry practically saved my life and by all means has changed it. I’m still in utter poverty yet, but I’m making long-term plans. I write more poems in Russian now. I hope some of my poems will help to better understand Russian mentality and may even help somebody to overcome despair. Updates

Voco Vivi

In the vast desert I am calling for alive
Not to instruct, to preach, or to oblige
But just to talk, to see I’m not the last
Of living souls of the past;
To see the reasons those derive
The nation’s dumbness. But, alas!
I see just zombies. I can’t grasp
Why this is happening. The die is cast.
The current won’t turn awry,