Debora Vogel. Day Figures. Mannequins

Anastasiya Lyubas ・ March 2016
Kyiv: Dukh i Litera, 2015.

This book contains Ukrainian translations of two poetry collections by Debora Vogel, a poet, writer, philosopher and literary scholar, as well as a translator’s foreword “Vogel’s Bird” by Yurko Prokhasko. The book also includes Debora Vogel’s foreword to her collection Day Figures and an afterword to her collection Mannequins, according to first editions of her work in Yiddish. Largely unread and forgotten, Debora Vogel (1900?-1942) lived for most of her life in Lviv, where she tragically perished in the city’s ghetto. She came from a Polish-speaking Jewish family, and she spoke and wrote her works in Polish, German and Hebrew, and later also in Yiddish, which she learnt as an adult. During the WWI she studied in high school in Vienna, later to study Polish language and literature, philosophy and psychology in Jan Casimir University in Lviv, defending her doctoral thesis on Hegel’s aesthetics in Jagellonian University in Krakow. She traveled to Paris, Berlin and Stockholm. Her collection Day Figures was published for the first time in 1930 by the “Cusztajer” publishing house in Lviv, where her second collection Mannequins (1934) appeared later, making the poet part of the Yiddish literary “Renaissance”.

The present book published by “Dukh I Litera” is the first edition which presents the author’s work in Ukrainian in a masterful translation that retains the author’s stylistic particularities, namely geometrical poetics, stemming from Vogel’s fascination with avant-garde movements, such as Cubism and Constructivism. It also represents a Hegel-inspired dialectic of cold stasis as a poetic principle, namely in the arts, which Vogel discussed in her doctoral thesis. The experimental geometrics as an «attempt at a new style”, according to the author herself, starts with the Day Figures collection, an example of literary Cubism with its characteristic play of contours, colors and geometrical figures, like, for instance, lines of the “grey rectangle” that stands in for the monotony and boredom of life. These “stylistic attempts” transition into the Constructivism of Mannequins, a collection that is divided into the two cycles: “Bawdy Ballads” and “Shoddy Ballads,” both reflections of the “decorative and consumption-oriented worldview”, where on the streets of Paris, Berlin or Lviv a person transforms into a mannequin, a half-mechanical, half-live decoration, combining a “machinic-mechanical basis” of life with “live matter”.

Yurko Prokhasko retains the rhythm and melody of Vogel’s verses by translating the stylistic devices that the author uses, such as repetition (“over the Seine bridges: / bridges pathetic/and bridges sentimental, /bridges with tragic gestures of the bow/and bridges of poignant sadness/made from iron….), parallelism (“a grey rectangle/ a second. a third one./ seven times opens a tin rectangle ./a yellow sun. a red sun. / on the one side, on another one: / the rectangle of day closed.”), similes (“there hover bodies with faces, like cool flat windows/ and glass birds fly away, like identical clots of days). The translation also preserves the economy of words and Vogel’s unique glossary where the usual words, such as “life” take on various meanings (“life is a slight passing/ through Annenkov’s blue corridors”; “what does the word “life” mean, / although everyone understands this word…”;“life is usually too abundant…./and one has to turn to it.”). 

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