“They want to do good…”

They want to do good
And for themselves, too, but above all for the nation, the people.
For all people, but especially for us, you and me.
For kindred souls, those like themselves.
Well, not quite like themselves, let’s face it.
Not so bright, not so bold.
Not so free — not free inside.
Not ready for anything — afraid of real challenges.
Not ready to pay the price, show true grit.
Unwilling to shut their eyes or hold their noses.
Only — let’s face it — ready to envy those doing good.
Sniping behind their backs.
Pawing into their souls.
Why ask what’s in their souls?
What’s it to you what it cost them?
What they gave — for the good?
How much they got for it?
They did what was necessary — it’s as simple as that.
And did a great job.
Because you can always do the good thing.
Doing the good is always good.

Translated from the Russian by Catherine Ciepiela, Charles Bernstein, Matvei Yankelevich, Katherine O’Connor, and Pavel Khazanov as part of the Your Language My Ear 2019 symposium http://web.sas.upenn.edu/yourlanguagemyear/  Please see translator biographies at http://web.sas.upenn.edu/yourlanguagemyear/participant-bios-2019/

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Dmitry Kuzmin is a poet, translator, editor and organizer of literary projects. He was born in Moscow in 1968. He has taught at various Russian educational institutions, and in 2014 was visiting professor of Russian poetry at Princeton University. Kuzmin co-authored the first Russian textbook of poetry. He is the founder of the publishing house Argo-Risk (1993), the site Vavilon (1997), and the journal Vozdukh. He has been editor of a number of anthologies, including one of contemporary Russian LGBT poetry. He headed the first almanac of Russian haiku, Triton, and the first journal of LGBT literature in Russia, RISK, and also created the online directory New Map of Literary Russia and the gallery Faces of Russian Literature. He was honored for his organizational work in 2002 with the Andrei Bely Prize. His 2008 collection of poetry and translations was recognized with the Moskovskii schet prize for best debut book of the year. His own poetry has been translated into fourteen languages. Kuzmin has translated into Russian Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Southern Mail, the works of the American poets e.e. cummings, Auden, Charles Reznikoff, and C. K. Williams, as well as the works of Ukrainian, French, Belarusian, German, and Polish poets. Due to his opposition to the Russian political regime he has lived since 2014 in Latvia, where he has founded the Literature Without Borders project—an international poetry foundation and residency for translators of poetry. Since 2017, the project has been funding the Poetry Without Borders festival in Riga.

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