It’s been a little while since any poetry featured on the Ramblings, so I’m happy to share today some thoughts on a wonderful collection I read recently (you might have seen it sitting in the pile of April reads!) The book is called “My Hollywood and other poems” and it’s by a poet who’s made several appearances on the blog, but as a translator – Boris Dralyuk!

“My Hollywood” is his debut poetry collection and it’s been garnering well-deserved praise all round; as well as being a brilliant translator, Boris is obviously a fine poet in his own right. A Ukranian-American writer whose family immigrated to Los Angeles when he was eight years old, he’s the Editor in Chief of the Los Angeles Review of Books, editor/co-editor of numerous collections of poems and stories, as well as a lauded translator of authors like his fellow countryman Isaac Babel and modern voices such as Maxim Osipov. “Hollywood” focuses on his adopted home city, specifically his experience as an emigre in Los Angeles; and also those of many other Russians who came to the city during the twentieth century.

The book is divided into four sections; three contain Boris’s verse, and one some sensitive and moving translations of those earlier emigres. As all of the poems make it clear, the emigre experience was a strange and difficult one; going from a rich titled existence in Imperial Russia to scraping a living in Hollywood cannot have been easy. It’s not only the lives of his fellow exiles which Dralyuk explores, however; he also looks back at the golden days of the City of Angels, when the film industry was in its heyday and the glamorous stars of the silver screen floated about in gloriously luxurious mansions. That world had declined when Boris arrived and the crumbling buildings and faded glory he describes is familiar; my one visit to the USA was a month on the west coast in my teens, and I recall Hollywood being very much as Boris describes here.

Intriguingly, Boris uses traditional forms for his work, including the villanelle (of which I’m very fond). His poems are quite beautiful, and the impact of some of the shorter works is surprisingly powerful; sometimes his verse can no more than four lines (“Old Flame”, for example) and yet the effect is stunning, which just proves just how effective words and poetry can be. The translated verses, from five Russian-LA poets including the composer Vernon Duke, are beautifully evocative and sit well, bookended by Dralyuk’s own work. This is a very rich collection; of Boris’s verses, “Emigre Library” was a particular standout, as was “The Catch: On Translation” and “The Flower Painter” (part of “My Hollywood: A Triptych”); but all are striking and often so moving.

“My Hollywood” is a wonderful debut poetry collection and I really hope we’ll see more of Boris’s verse appearing in print. He captures a Hollywood far from the one portrayed in the mainstream media, hearkening back to earlier times when those escaping from the conflicts in the east could find refuge on the other side of the planet. At a time when our world is once again being torn apart by war, it’s worth remembering how previous generations of refugees made a new life on the west coast of America, taking their creative talents with them. “My Hollywood” is a marvellous tribute to their (and Boris’s) spirit and new homeland. Highly recommended!