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Review: Orbita: The Project, by Orbita

Real Fractures in Fake Marble

Jade Cuttle reviews Orbita: The Project, by Orbita, translated by Kevin M. F. Platt et al, Arc, 2018.

[...] The most striking aspect of this anthology is the way in which it is styled as an interactive artwork, one that transcends the material constraints of the page; the ink and paper that constitutes the two-dimensional flatness of language. Rather than settling into these shackles, the poem becomes a portal to multisensory immersion, as almost each poem is trailed by a Quick Response (QR) barcode. When scanned by a smartphone or tablet, these codes take the reader to a fascinating and diverse selection of audio-visual works by Orbita which cannot be reproduced in print.

[...] Whilst each Orbita poet entertains the idiosyncrasies of an individual poetic voice, there are certain parallels which draw them together. The very name of the collective, Orbita, is emblematic of their shared interests: evoking an image of spinning around a stable axis with progress as the propelling force, the motif of motion quickly emerges as a master trope. Punte, for instance, writes with suspicion for the shadows of parked vehicles in 'Highway', decisively preferring speed to stasis. Tiring of the 'annoying' need to brake through villages in the first stanza, the speaker delights in trailing a black rider whizzing across the Estonian border 'in sculptural clothing and | threateningly pulling | with a dark motorcycle | empty Sunday air' by the second. The thrill of the chase yields thoughtful self-reflection, 'we ourselves believe only in | what we can touch with our hands', an idea the poet develops further in 'Trip to the City' and also in 'Wrong Season' when 'boots slowly displace the land'. The secrets unearthed by these boots reveal as much about the man to whom they belong as they reveal about the path itself, charting inner landscapes as much as those outside.

Embarking on this double-edged quest, Khanin turns his attention towards bus stations, trains, canals and crossroads. However, acting with more emotive flair than Punte, these poems place emphasis on the melancholy of self-estrangement.

[...] Many hands have toiled over the translations in this collection, which complements the collaborative spirit of the Orbita group. Its pages gesture to patchwork as poems are followed by the initials of a different translator or translators. This includes the main translator, Kevin M. F. Platt, but also involves other translators such as Natalia Fedorova, Karina Sotnik, Sarah Dowling, Michael Wachtel and Polina Barskova. Overall, each translator remains impressively faithful to the adventurous flair of the Russian original, especially when it comes down to the delicacy of sonority, as certain Orbita poets court metrical regularity and end-rhyme. Khanin and Timofejev in particular are fond of crafting lines with three or four strong stresses, though all the poets in this collective mainly write in free verse. Whilst a free verse stance might not seem that striking in a Western European context, free verse is still regarded as somewhat radical in the canon of Russian poetics, which serves all the more as ammunition for challenging tradition.

Read the full review here.