Maia Evrona

Poet; Memoirist; Translator; Leonard Cohen Enthusiast

“It Drew Us Both Here,” Sutzkever translations in Lunch Ticket and Ezra; An Online Journal of Translation

Six of my translations of the Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever were recently awarded the Gabo Prize from Lunch Ticket, an online journal published by Antioch University in Los Angeles. I am including my favorite poem from the selection at the end of this post, but you can read them all here:

Three more poems, also by Sutzkever, were also just published in Ezra; An Online Journal of Translation. There is a slight error in their introduction (they identify the poems as being from Hebrew rather than from Yiddish) but I’m grateful to them for publishing the poems nevertheless!

Read them here:

In a few days I’ll write a new post for a special poem/translation of mine that was just published by the Yiddish Book Center.

Lastly, in upcoming news, one of my own poems is forthcoming soon in The Coachella Review, along with an essay on Paul Celan and Nelly Sachs in Poetry Northwest.

It Drew Us Both Here….

By Abraham Sutzkever

Translated by Maia Evrona

It drew us both here, both the seashell and me,
to bring us together on the seashore in Yaffo,
so that within the seashell that being could send me
a greeting from its creator in the grottos.

The shell around the small pink body is still tender in immaturity,
and warm: a shell-child born in a woman’s head covering.
Still reflecting the caress of its distant arm
and the anguished parting with faultless form.

If I could be the smith of such a seashell,
with the phantom weeping sea and struck up bit of feeling,
with its armor speckled with tiny rainbow rings
and within the rain also rushing, a half shell or a whole:

I would tear myself away from syllables and thoughts—
the ribs of the soul—and like nothing in my nature,
lift the sea onto my shoulders in thanks
and gleam like its gull.

A Horizon of Furious Salt

A new Sutzkever translation of mine was recently published in Tupelo Quarterly.

This is one of my favorite poems from the Diary collection. I don’t think that one has to have survived the Holocaust to have an experience like the one Sutzkever describes, in which hearing or seeing or smelling some particular thing suddenly takes one back to another time in one’s life. In Sutzkever’s case, the catalyst is seeing, and listening to, the storks who migrate through Israel back to northeast Poland/Lithuania/western Belarus—where Sutzkever was born but to which he could not return.

This poem featured the word Lite, a tricky word to translate, as I have explained elsewhere:

While in The Blade of Grass from Ponar, I translated Lite as Lithuania, this time, I chose to translate it as “what then was Poland.” I did this for a number of reasons, one being that, in this context, it is correct: Sutzkever’s hometown, Vilna, was indeed part of Poland at the time he lived in it. Going with what some might describe as an over-translation had other benefits, the first being musical: Poland goes better with “caravan” than Lithuania does.

Beyond that, “what then was Poland” drives home for the English reader that the place Sutzkever is longing for is one that no longer exists as it once did. Unfortunately, using either “Lithuania” or “Poland” as the translation for Lite carries the danger of leading an English reader to believe that Sutzkever held more attachment to each of those countries, as we currently define them, than he really did (his feelings about Poland as a country are a topic for another time). The Vilna he had known and loved, which had shaped him, was a city with a significant Jewish presence, but where Jews were not necessarily seen as fellow citizens by Poles or Lithuanians. At the time when Sutzkever wrote this poem, Vilna was still behind the Iron Curtain. Even today, he might have had difficulties visiting: Lithuania has, in recent years, taken to prosecuting former Jewish partisans, claiming that they murdered innocent Lithuanians (they didn’t, but Lithuanian volunteers did carry out the majority of the murders of Jews at Ponar).

While it’s always a danger, when translating from Yiddish, to make too much of the presence of words borrowed from other languages, there is a certain Polish presence in “A Horizon of Furious Salt.” “Butshan” the Yiddish word for stork, is borrowed from the Polish bocian. At the very end of the poem, Sutzkever uses the rather unusual Yiddish verb brentslen, to describe the demon strumming the “string of storks.” This word may be a related to a similar Polish and Russian word, which also means to pluck or strum, but which my klezmer friend Michael Alpert tells me has also come to denote playing a stringed instrument badly. When this poem appears in a book, I may change “pluck” to “strike.”

In the original collection, “The Blade of Grass from Ponar” and “A Horizon of Furious Salt” appear next to one another. I look forward to replicating this order when these translations are published as a book, so I can keep readers on their toes about the imperfect translations of Lite.

If you are interested in the connection between Poland and storks, be sure to read this article:

Migrating birds, hundreds of thousands of storks among them, travel through modern-day Israel, and are particularly fond of the Hula Valley. There was a time when the Israelis were, as Yehuda Amichai once wrote, “convinced the Hula swamp had to be drained” due to malaria. However, doing so proved disastrous for migrating birds, and the valley was eventually filled with water again. As Amichai wrote, “it was all a mistake.” Now some birds are so comfortable in the Hula Valley that, in a twist that is both fitting and ironic, they stay year-round.

Here is an article about Israel’s migrating birds:

New poem in Habitat Magazine

One of my poems (not to be confused with one of my translations!) was published today in the online journal Habitat Magazine. The poem is inspired by a month I spent subletting an apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It's from a series of poems I've written about cities and languages, or perhaps a different series about childhood, or yet another series on being Jewish in the 21st Century. 

In any case, you can read it here:

My poem "Childhood Spanish"

This poem first appeared in Poetica Magazine. I am sharing it again in light of Stephen Miller's recent comments on "cosmopolitan" outlooks and the Trump Administration's demand that prospective immigrants be fluent in English. 


Childhood Spanish


Language I learned en la escuela primaria,

en una programa bilingüe, language of homework

and a terrifying third grade teacher, language I feared

forgotten after every summer.


Language of nearly none of my ancestors,

except those fleeing Sephardim, 

who dispersed in all directions

and, I have read, through all Ashkenazim.


Language once purged, still so Catholic

school seemed parochial by mistake,

as if my native English needn’t be selective,

purged of Jew-you-down and good Christian praise.


Language that feels so American,

not the Russian, the German, the Polish

my grandparents’ parents fled Europe fluent in

and shed, keeping only Yiddish.


Language that confused my English pronunciation,

loosened my accent, further cultivated in me

the seeds of a rootless cosmopolitan,

even here, in the Land of the Free

--Maia Evrona


Piece on continued funding for the NEA published on Artnet; more Sutzkever translations in The Brooklyn Rail

A piece I recently wrote on financial funding for the arts in the US, particularly in light of the Trump Administration's desire to defund the NEA, was recently published on Artnet

Five of my Abraham Sutzkever translations were published a week or two ago in The Brooklyn Rail; In Translation. Here is a sample:

Of All Words I Envy Only One

Of all words I envy only one: The Hebrew yehi’,
“let there be.” Would the creator grant me a spark
of the word, the smallest trace of its strength, yehi’,
I would proclaim, let there be song, and it would be.

Let song be made from a rainbow’s vanishing end,
from a single ant, one lost in the desert,
from moonlit ivory born in the jungle,
from a human skull laughing at its own reflection.

Let a star become song, for no one leaves it at least
a wooden grave-marker, there where it falls.
A small face of grass in the aquarium giant and green,
a tiny golden ring, for its wife cannot see.

Yehi’, let there be a song, which until now has never been,
for the living and for these, whom men name “the deceased.”
Yehi’, let there be joy, and joy would be and all would be joyful,
Yehi’, and for an instant suffering would grow hollow.

More translations are coming soon in The Ilanot Review, West Branch, and The Northwest Review of Books. (The last two will only be in print, as far as I know.)


Reading in Brooklyn on March 9th

I will be reading for the Another Way to Say reading series in Brooklyn, on March 9th. This reading series is dedicated to works in translation, writing influenced by multilingualism and the polyglot experience in New York City. I'll be reading some of my own poetry, as well as translations of the poet Anna Margolin, who was very much a poet of 1920s New York. If I have time, I'll squeeze in a Sutzkever translation or two. Hope you can make it. 

Here is a link to the Another Way to Say website:

Here is a link to the Facebook event page (feel free to RSVP):

And here is a link to the restaurant: (What better way to enjoy translations of Yiddish poetry than with oysters?)

New Publication and a Reading at Book Culture in New York City

I will be participating in a reading at Book Culture in NYC on February 26th. The reading is sponsored by The Grief Diaries, an online journal that recently published two of my Sutzkever translations. I'll be reading those translations, as well as my own poetry. 

Here is a link to the event page on Facebook:

And here are the translations:

See you there!

Copyright: Maia Evrona, 2013. All rights reserved.