Tatyana Apraksina and James Manteith

Tatyana Apraksina and James Manteith

Monday, April 28 at 7:30 PM
1719 25th Street
Host: Tim Kahl


Tatyana Apraksina, a visual artist and writer with roots in St. Petersburg, Russia’s nascent rock music and venerable classical music scenes, will be joined by translator James Manteith in presenting the debut bilingual edition of her book-length, award-winning poem cycle California Psalms, recently published by Oregon-based Radiolarian Press. California Psalms, addresses from continent’s end on the legendary Big Sur Coast, spiritually ranges from Far West to Far East, with the Russian poetry’s beauty and the author’s personal odyssey spanning Petersburg and the Pacific. A selection of Apraksina’s artwork, including original illustrations to California Psalms, will be on display at the evening’s recital.

The book publication of Apraksina’s California Psalms builds upon a literary reputation established in the U.S., Russia, Israel and Western Europe through recitals by the author and translator, as well as performances by spoken-word and vocal artists.  Recalling Apraksina’s own delivery, Radiolarian publisher Greg Darms notes, “Her powerful and dramatic performances lent…a setting for flight for these remarkable poems.  The feeling…approached the ecstatic — of being part of a much larger-than-ordinary sphere of experience.”  Apraksina’s poetry has also inspired classical settings by Russian and American composers.  Manteith recasts many of her poems as songs.

St. Petersburg’s Neva journal first published California Psalms in Russian.  A subsequent citation from Russia’s Literary Gazette, partnering with the country’s Cultural Ministry, honored the poem sequence as the work of “a powerful, extraordinary poet, with a unique style and theme and a distinctive creative method.” A complete recorded edition of California Psalms, performed by the author, is forthcoming from St. Petersburg State University’s audio encyclopedia of poetry.  Among her recent English-language publications are excerpts from California Psalms — including a section dedicated to California poet Robinson Jeffers — in the international literary journal St. Petersburg Review.

As an artist and then writer, Apraksina grounded her vision in study of ensembles and composers such as the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the Borodin Quartet and Dmitry Shostakovich, with related concert venues among the hosts of her exhibits beginning in the 1980s.  A broader sense of music led her to seek resonance with wild nature in Russia and beyond, including life-changing years in Big Sur that made her a poet.  Apraksina has established a retreat center in Big Sur’s Santa Lucia Mountains, complemented by a San Francisco Bay Area studio.

Apraksina’s work has been covered by cultural media in Russia and abroad, including documentaries for Russian and European broadcast.  Her poetry, philosophy and memoirs have appeared in numerous magazines and academic publications in Russia and abroad.  She has partnered with many organizations for lectures on her philosophy of creativity.  She also publishes an acclaimed interdisciplinary magazine, Apraksin Blues, founded in 1995.

West Coast-based translator, writer and musician James Manteith’s rendering of Tatyana Apraksina’s California Psalms stems from collaborations with the author and artist starting in St. Petersburg in the 1990s.  He began Russian studies through Middlebury College and St. Petersburg State University, with time in Petersburg leading to ongoing interaction with the city’s esoteric intellectual and spiritual life.

Formal recitals and informal conversations with the author, and contact with her Russian and American artwork and settings, inform Manteith’s approach to Apraksina’s writing, as does a role as contributing translation editor for her alternative magazine Apraksin Blues.  In counterpoint to his Apraksina translations, he has composed bilingual song cycles based on the writer’s poetry, balanced with original English-language adaptations from the Russian song canon.

In addition to the full California Psalms sequence — including his bilingual introduction and commentary for the 2013 Radiolarian Press edition — Manteith’s  book credits as a translator include In the Shadow of Landau (World Scientific), on the history of particle physics in Russia, and memoir Thank You, Comrade Stalin, for Our Happy Childhood (Barbaris).  An award-winning poet, he has published poetry, translations and essays in American and Russian journals including St. Petersburg Review, caesura, Reality and Subject, Terra Nova and convolvulus, as well as in academic anthologies, while also regularly reporting for Apraksin Blues.  He is currently preparing translations of a contemporary science-fiction novel and a further pairing of Apraksina’s poetry and art, Different Game.



We all originate in ocean…
In which magnitude
should I place the poetry of what I see each instant at the walled
Californian citadel?
May it come as a day, may it come as a dream…
Who succeeds
in measuring the heat of breath and black of rock and whiteness of a quill
without comparing details in the strength of steadfast
Pole stars?


My loyalty to you
wants measuring in salt’s measure in ocean.
There is no arrogance
in your honed profile of steep coast straining past clouds to light,
open to the pale line of high-voltage transmissions
holding a contact field of converted neophytes.
A day will come
with my own time to tell which is my bell.
Why promise me
while my feet still harbor the memory of oceanic salt?
They’re at the point
of becoming seagrass, shore sand dappled with their soles,
gilded with rainbow crystals like a petrified shell
insensible to alien allures of incidental magic
of a floor never touched.


When we walk, the two of us,
the road’s unruly mountain loops, pinching wild strawberries from stems,
I apprehend a way of precious faith, a wayfarer
proceeding over Jordan.
I listen closely
for voluminous meanings of violin section summits:
the same hand crafted you and me and these titans singing Gloria,
casually epic in their words, accepting of our patter
as tributes to our wish to learn by copying and borrowing
a role model’s example.


Transfiguration wine,
ocean salt fermented, gathered blindly, I will channel into words,
traversing the plateau of jagged pain, trying my hand as a handler of magnitude,
probing the crust of wrinkled earth like petting a wolf’s mistrustful cubs.
To walk the blade, you need balance and speed
for good luck in unloading red-hot honey from inspected combs
of the Old Testament…


Stone-sculpted caryatids,
water enclosing their knees, spoke to tell me
a providential eye saw my questioning that time
I sat on the escarpment as a bird.
— Like it? — God said to me.  — Then take!
— Taken. — I said.

—Tatyana Apraksina tr. By James Mantieth

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