The first Ukrainian publication of poems by Selina Tusitala Marsh is a rare opportunity for Ukrainians of making close acquaintance with modern New Zealand literature – in fact, with modern Pacific in general. The book, named Tusitala as well, has been published by the Krok publishing house. The translation, compilation and commenting is done by Hanna Yanovska, a Ukrainian performing poet, essayist, translator and linguist, who has already worked with New Zealand literature before.
Here are some fragments of the Ukrainian translator’s afterword:
Try on this role by saying: “I come from New Zealand”. Or even tougher: “I come from the Cook’s islands. I come from the COOK’S islands!”. So what, didn’t my motherland have any name before my islands were visited by a ship with James Cook on the captain’s bridge? One should be aware of this shizofrenic feeling to really understand the Pacific.
In many aspects, Selina’s poetry is a self-portrait of Polynesia, a lady mostly portrayed by foreign artists. And their pictures were, in fact, both true and false. I don’t think that most of those portrayers, except of R. L. Stevenson, seriously cared about making difference between the reality and their fantasies or ideas about what they see. But anyway the model starts speaking. And she talks strikingly. She is surprisingly able to curse, to tease, to let out ugly secrets. Do the words: “Gauguin, you piss me off” offend you? But how many of Ukrainians are not happy at all with our country being called “the land of beautiful women”? And should I explain who needs those “beautiful women” and what kind of need that is?
Tusitala’s characters exist simultaneously in several spaces: in the space of the past, in the space of the routine present, and in the space of the transcendental. The sequence of the poems in the book, and the very nature of them show: over and over again, we take our speed – through our personal and genetic memory, through our kitchen with pots and a record-player, through the street hieroglyphs – to fly up. And there it will open free. For a brief moment, maybe. But we are to return there.
The work of the translator was not only poetic, though she did her best to render the rhythms, the play and easiness of the spoken word and the very sensuality of Selina’s language. Alongside with re-singing and re-telling the author’s words, she had to guide the reader carefully and deeply into a totally exotic world, known to them mostly from Gauguin’s paintings, books by Thor Heyerdahl or Jack London and maybe some kitch pictures and stories by the authors hardly having any idea of Pacific culture. Ukrainian Tusitala requires a lot of cultural and linguistic comments. The long afterword, among other things, retells the legend of Hinemoa and Tutanekai, contains an essay about Maui, his deeds and his role in Polynesian image of the world, the other essay about the famous (but quite unknown to a typical Ukrainian reader) mutiny on the Bounty.
The result resembles some exotic fruit: it looks tasty, it is fresh, juicy and spicy – and if you try, it turns out to be quite digestible and wholesome.
Publisher’s page: krokbooks.com