Translational Poetics: Zaum as a Second Language* — Workshop with Matvei Yankelevich

Zaum — Beyonsense, Trans-Sense Poetry, Trans-Rational Language: The Russian Futurists posed a utopian project for poetry to overcome linguistic barriers through a new language of personal and indeterminate meaning. What can we hear, learn, and write from reading foreign voices trans-rationally? Can the zaum part of a text (the untranslatable) be translated, and if so, how? Translation also attempts to overcome the boundaries of time, nation, linguistic difference. By revealing our biases, prejudices, received literary notions, Translation — as process, procedure, and metaphor — calls on us to make crucial aesthetic and political choices, thus recuperating our volition and agency in the encounter with the authority(ies) present in any given text. Through a wide range of zaum practices we’ll explore the generative aspects of translation and “mis-translation”: how translating might open up new reserves of language for us to mine; how it might loosen our grip on our own “voice” and let in others; how our own language might affect our encounter with a foreign or faraway voice. We’ll examine several zones of freedom and choice available to the translator as agent, far from a silent medium for a text, and we’ll experiment with homophonic translation, revelatory redactions, variations on a theme, and devious deviations, translating against contemporary taboos with wild interpretations and trans-creations.

Knowledge of a foreign language is not required.
Some reading of exemplary and theoretical texts will be assigned.

*Note: The title of the workshop borrows the term “Zaum as a Second Language” from Filip Marinovich, who coined the phrase.

This workshop is now full. To be added to the waitlist, email Laura at

Photo: Sara Renee Marshal

Matvei Yankelevich

Matvei Yankelevich‘s books include the long poem Some Worlds for Dr. Vogt (Black Square), a poetry collection, Alpha Donut (United Artists), and a novella in fragments, Boris by the Sea (Octopus). His translations include Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms (Overlook), and (with Eugene Ostashevsky) Alexander Vvedensky’s An Invitation for Me to Think (NYRB Poets), which received the 2014 National Translation Award. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. He is an editor at Ugly Duckling Presse, and teaches at Columbia University’s School of the Arts and the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College.