Published by Paul Dry Books, 2022, 69 pages.
Step into this book and be transported to Hollywood, a city of émigrés and faded glamour. It is a city that is constantly changing, where the old is demolished to make way for the new, and where what was once fêted is now forgotten.
In the first poem, a statue of a beautiful young man named Aspiration is now surrounded by a few trees that “drop broken shade on disenfranchised grass; / dogs loping, limping; vagrants begging alms”.
The poems pay tribute to the vanished landmarks and people of Hollywood: a château where a French painter used to live; the Garden of Allah hotel, once frequented by stars; Bargain Circus, a shop in La Brea, “Huge barn chockfull / of overstock, a poor man’s horn of plenty”, that is now a 99 Cent Store. Or the once-glamorous actress who “died a tenant in a bungalow / of a hotel razed sixty years ago”.
I love the way Boris Dralyuk uses language, vividly capturing images: “Fainter than an echo”, a painter’s ghost “patrols” the grounds of his old home; items in a shop that no one visits anymore “sit sulking on the shelves, unchosen orphans”, and in a park, “A crow clacks in the branches overhead / like a projector slowly going dead.”
Dralyuk is also a translator (among others, he has translated the books of Andrey Kurkov), and in “The Catch: On Translation” he writes about this art: the translator draws out the voice of the writer like “a famished angler reeling in a fish, / the kind that, in the folktale, grants a wish— / a golden thing, imbued with living magic”.
In this collection, Dralyuk uses different forms of verse, including Onegin stanzas and ballades. The villanelle is perfect for “Emigré Library”: the poem, with its repeating lines, is so evocative of an old, underused library—with the “poets’ mildewed gloom”, a library open only for the “half-blind holdouts hobbling through the room”—that I could almost smell it.
He uses the pantoum to describe the old men in Plummer Park: “Felled patriarchs, deracinated, lame,” the “spellbound warriors robbed of their power”. The repetition of the lines echoes the monotony of their lives, these once-strong men who are now left to sit in the park on folding chairs, looking “intently at their idle hands”.
This book also includes poems inspired by his translations as well as actual translations from poets who lived in Hollywood—Vladimir Korvin-Piotrovsky, Vernon Duke, Richard Ter-Boghossian, Vladislav Ellis and Peter Vegin. These poems add to the sense of nostalgia and absence that permeate this book.
I loved seeing the city from a completely different—and a much more interesting—perspective. Like the best writing, My Hollywood and Other Poems, with its strong sense of place, takes you into another world. These are poems to savour: Dralyuk’s work is haunting and a pleasure to read.
Read Talking About Books’ interview with Boris Dralyuk.
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