The Misadventures of Quinxy truths, lies, and everything in between!

About Taras Zaitsev

I know little of poet Taras Zaitsev.

When I was 16 a friend of mine went to the USSR on a school trip. When she returned she brought me a Soviet army greatcoat as a souvenir, and when I tried it on I discovered there was something inside the lining, behind the interior pocket, it had the feeling of stiff leather, though considerably thicker. I thought no more about it at the time, assuming it might serve some military purpose, perhaps it's where the stock of a rifle might nestle against the chest and chaffe. It was winter, and the cold war still had a sinister cool about it, so I wore the jacket out and about a few times. On one occasion I was walking back from a movie with friends, it was snowing, and a snow plow either accidentally or intentionally strayed close enough to the curb to cover us all in snow and road salt. Knowing what road salt can do in staining clothing I decided I needed to wash the coat. As I was checking the pockets before putting it in the washer I realized that the object inside the coat could move, it wasn't sewn into the fabric. Curious, I cut the stitching of the inside pocket and discovered a very worn book and densely filled book of what appeared to be Russian poetry. I would find out later the title of the book said, "Collected Poetry of Taras Zaitsev".

The book intrigued me, but knowing no Russian I put it on my shelf as a mere curiosity. That summer I went to the summer camp where I worked, and met a lovely Ukranian girl, Natalya, who was working there. We became fast friends and I mentioned the book to her, and she seemed interested. I asked my mom to send me the book, and she did. On camping trips, and days off, Natalya and I would hang out, flirting with, but never quite becoming more than friends. It quickly became a ritual that each time we would hang out she'd read me another poem or two, first in Russian, then in her best (but clumsy) attempt to translate. I could tell I liked Tara Zaitsev, the themes, the ideas, the emotion, it was all kindred stuff, all familiar, comforting, insightful, but whatever beauty I suspected he put in there was lost in translation... and I wanted to restore it.

I began that summer. I borrowed Natalya's Russian-English dictionary (fortunately she had one written for English speakers) and the poems she didn't translate for me I'd translate by myself, word for word. They were devoid of beauty and often very vague in meaning, but they were the framework I'd then build upon to try to restore beauty and retain what I thought was the meaning.

And from that summer on to today, whenever I have the time and motivation, which is seldom enough, I bring out the battered book of poems, and translate another one. It's my outlet, my gardening without a garden. I've never learned Russian, so my translations remain as approximate as they must, but hopefully comrade Zaitsev would have approved. Despite considerable Googling I've yet to learn anything about him. I can only assume the rebellious and questioning nature of some of his work made him unpopular with the state-controlled publishing houses, and perhaps this one book was all that emerged in print from his lifetime of work. The poems in the book are dated from from 1932 to 1981, and the book has a publishing date of 1986, so one might reasonably suppose he died somewhere in those early eighties, before the walls came down.

How so ever Taras Zaitsev loved the world, I aspire to love it, too.

Quinxy von Besiex

P.S. - Here is a list of the translations I've put online.

P.P.S. - My second favorite poet is ee cummings.

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  1. I have been doing research to find my long departed Great Grand Father whose name was Taras Zaitsev, He was killed during WWII, he lived in the eastern Ukraine, served in the Army under the Czar,I wonder if there could be a connection ?

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