Anselm Hollo
from Ahoe (And How on Earth) (1997)


Red Cats Revisited

wind-up bug
                       'moderne' wail
out of decrepit shop planks
bullets for nails they slung their zeal
new airs: hey, vodka!
bend, man, roll! look, shoes!
even if ings like that urn some way yes can't
make talk elegant pants off Hemingway, oh man
the hulk digs buenos articles
immortal suitcase huge, wet, good

and strong, tears, frilly creeds
all that grave poking, mister, shriek another
but real time hate reruns the sky
perhaps so must to catacomb ground floor

years go inside to lunch in bowl
earth weeps to waters whispers future
crumpled dead slow envelope hereunder
feet do perch on marble spout
sky honey-born black steel twigs growl
world bright in tramcar once love ever rushed afloat
see, Master Fu, grave millions step by subway knees
with sacks of air mail for her sky machine

splendid as globe eye vaults the stare
enter hermetic front face mouth
bones glow in toy room there's no door
swarm day to feather chatter take fat family a while
listen to world grief red hot burden
xylophone output hand foot eyelids beds
down woods dark shutters slip
up dawn go houses crows stalk soft
smack motors rain whips rocky eyes
echo in blood pale songs pits wait

all ever round again blue murder hammers
hard trails spurt dust birds shuffle bright
dragonfly stumbles over cloud
profile ancient
                          meet face embossed
tall sputnik midnight snow forgetmenots

            stare away bottles
            across whirling field
            rune posters flap


And a Note:

In 1962, Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books published in their Pocket Poets Series a small (64 pages) volume of poems by three Russian poets, in "English versions by Anselm Hollo," titled Red Cats. The back cover stated that "The translator . . . is a young Finnish poet living in London," which was true to the extent that I was twenty-eight years old, born in Finland, and working for the British Broadcasting Corporation in their European services.

In 1961, Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, with whom I had exchanged letters, became interested in American media reports of the literary "thaw" in Soviet Russia, and Ferlinghetti wrote to ask what I knew about the poets involved in that phenomenon. After some research in the BBC's and the British Museum Library's foreign periodicals holdings, I contacted my mother, Iris Walden-Hollo, a native of Riga (when it was part of Czarist Russia) and a fluent Russian speaker, and we collaborated on translations via the German (my first language; my own studies of Russian had never advanced beyond the alphabet).

After checking Mom's German 'literals' against some other translations into Swedish, Finnish, and German, I sent Ferlinghetti twenty-five poems by Yevgeni Yevtushenko, Andrei Voznesensky, and Semyon Kirsanov in English versions attempting to approximate what I then thought was 'hip' American English (Gilbert Sorrentino and Ted Berrigan later pointed out a number of embarrassing slips in that diction). Ginsberg came up with the title, Red Cats, and, well, there it was, with a nice red and white brushwork cover by Ferlinghetti.

Now long out of print (my present copy is the sixth printing of 1968), it has been an amusing if at times irritating albatross: persons who have never read a line of my own work, or any of my later translations from languages I can truthfully say I'm familiar with (Paul Klee and Bertolt Brecht from the German, Paavo Haavikko and Pentti Saarikoski from the Finnish, Gunnar Harding and Olof Lagercrantz from the Swedish, Jean Genet's Querelle from the French, etc.), have spoken or written to me about the Cats with a nostalgic enthusiasm I find hard to share. With the possible exception of Voznesensky's The Big Fire at the Architectural College, the poems now strike me as simplistic, sentimental, and not a little hypocritical in their post- and sub-Mayakovskian rhetoric. It is also quite obvious that neither I nor any of their subsequent translators have been able to match whatever purely aural pleasures the originals may offer.

Thus the present text, "Red Cats Revisited," may perform a kind of personal exorcism; by chance methods and subsequent editorial intervention, all of its vocabulary (but not a single line or part of a line) was derived from the contents of the Pocket Poets book.