Daniel Weissbort. 1935-2013

We are sad to announce the death of MPT editor, poet and translator Daniel Weissbort. Daniel Weissbort and Ted Hughes founded MPT in 1965, and Daniel Weissbort continued to edit the magazine until 2003, when he retired and handed the editorship to David and Helen Constantine.

We have opened this page up to tributes from friends, past colleagues and well-wishers. We will continue to accept comments until mid-December, when we will archive them on this page.

Please leave your comment below, or send it by email to webeditor@mptmagazine.com

Read the Guardian obituary here.

David and Helen Constantine
21 November 2013

MPT was Ted Hughes’s idea, but at once he co-opted Daniel Weissbort into the execution of it, and before very long turned aside into other concerns. Danny stayed on, editing a magazine whose importance increased with every issue. He kept MPT going. Anyone who cares for the poetry of the world, and wants access to it through translation, owes Danny gratitude and will gladly acknowledge that debt. Quite simply, but for him there would be no MPT. It would have died many years ago. He kept it going, for nearly four decades, and through him, at the end of 2003, we entered into a lively and abundant tradition, to continue it as well as we could. His achievement is colossal. And for us, following him was a privilege beyond telling.

Irena Grudzinska Gross
20 November 2013

Without knowing about Daniel Weissbort's death, I reached yesterday again for his very generous book From Russian with Love. So tragic he will not write/translate anymore.

Norma Rinsler
22 Nov 2013

I met Daniel Weissbort for the first time when a mutual friend told me that Danny was looking for a way of continuing the publication of Modern Poetry in Translation, the international journal that he and Ted Hughes founded in 1965. Hughes had eventually decided to concentrate on his own writing, and Danny moved in 1973 to the University of Iowa as Professor of English and Comparative Literature. It looked as if the magazine would not survive. The Arts Council was persuaded to offer a grant to King’s College London, and publication continued under the College’s imprint. For over twelve years Danny and I contrived to keep the magazine going, and the Second Series of MPT ran to twenty-two issues, from 1992 to 2003, when Danny decided to retire. King’s is fortunate to possess the archive of the original series of MPT.

Working with Danny was never a matter of routine. It was he who knew the poets and the translators, and he would present me with a list of contents for the next issue, some typescripts and a list of addresses, and leave me to negotiate with the translators. There would often be last-minute additions and changes of mind, but somehow a coherent issue would emerge. We would take a bus along the Finchley Road, he from the north and I from the south, and meet at Swiss Cottage for coffee, where the cafe tables were always too small for the jumble of papers that Danny brought with him.

Danny was a diffident man, and it seemed to me that he was in awe of Ted Hughes. He had no need to be: he was a sensitive translator and a fine poet, whose poems were, according to Hughes himself, ‘natural, relaxed and true to the writer’s self’. I miss our collaboration, and our friendship.

Mangalesh Dabral
22 Nov 2013

I feel sad at the news of Daniel Weissbort's passing away. He was a lovable person, a very good friend, and genius poet-translator. We spent a rich time in Iowa where he was teaching translation at the university, and we worked finalizing the anthology of Hindi poetry, the outcome of a workshop he conducted in India. He also gave me a precious anthology of his translations of poetry from Russia, and European countries--Poetry of Survival. My condolences to his wife, who offered me food at their place.

Amarjit Chandan
23 Nov 2013

I came to know Daniel Weissbort closely when MPT's 'Mother Tongues' issue, the last under his editorship, came out in 2001. We attended the launch as an introducer and reader in London and Cambridge. I found him well informed about Indian poetry scene, as he came to know many poets personally when he visited India and at the University of Iowa, where he directed the MFA Program in Translation.

I had to be patient for over twenty years with the publication of my collection of ‘Englished’ (Danny’s coinage) poems as the Punjab was not a trouble spot on the globe. Once John Berger recommended me to a mainstream publisher without telling me. His advice was not heeded. Eventually a good word put for me by Danny was instrumental in the publication of Sonata for Four Hands (Arc, 2010).

I’ll be ever so grateful to him for that gesture. Once at a dinner hosted by a common friend, Danny sat next to me chatting with a lady. Valentina Polukhina, his wife known for her great sense of humour, was sitting opposite and feeling ignored. She told him loudly: "Danny I'm still a virgin." Danny gave her a smile and continued talking to the lady.

When I think of Danny I always see the enigmatic smile in his eyes looking in the distance behind his thick glasses and beard.

Tony Ward
23 Nov 2013

How very sad we were to hear of Daniel's death. I can't help feeling it is an end of an era, the era where two people, namely Ted (Hughes) and Daniel, brought into the UK a galaxy of poetry from all over the world that would have otherwise remained outside the realm of the English speaking world. Without doubt he was a true visionary and will be remembered not only for his invaluable work with MPT but also as a first rate translator and a first rate poet. Indeed as a translator who, by example and encouragement, was a true internationalist the like of which were rare enough but barely, it seems, exist now.

The continuing publication of MPT is surely a fitting memorial and tribute to the commitment he showed over such a long time in the face of all sorts of difficulties. Also the fact that he could attract such dedicated and experienced co-editors must illustrate the charisma he showed and the strength of will to continue, quite rightly, to believe in the importance of his calling. He will be greatly missed but his work will continue to be celebrated for many decades to come.

Peter France
24 Nov 2013

Very sad to hear of Danny’s death – a modest, devoted, very gifted man, with a wry sense of humour. The creation and continuation of MPT was a remarkable achievement – but so were his translations, above all his Zabolotsky. So many of us owe him a debt of gratitude.

Cynthia Haven
29 Nov 2013

I knew Daniel Weissbort had been ill for some years. I was saddened, if not surprised, to hear of his death. I never met him face-to-face, but I know him from once remove; his wife, the Russian scholar Valentina Polukhina, is a colleague, friend and regular correspondent.

I'm told the major obituaries are yet to come out. I hope so, because it's surprising how little a splash major figures in translation make in today's world, and Weissbort was also a poet of note.

"Poetry happens everywhere," he wrote in the introduction to Mother Tongues, "but sometimes, often, it happens in languages that do not attract attention. We are the poorer for not experiencing it, at least to the extent it can be experienced in translation."

I reviewed his memoir on Joseph Brodsky, From Russian with Love, in the Kenyon Review in 2006. Being a Brodsky translator was a crushing, ego-deflating experience for many, and Weissbort was one of the earliest translators, before he could have taken courage from the tales of previous casualties. Weissbort agonized over the experience, analyzing and doubting himself – something the Russian Nobel laureate never did. As I wrote then, Brodsky “came from a culture that had bypassed Freud and his heirs, where an enemy was an enemy and not just a projection of an inner landscape. He was not, to put it mildly, a man crippled with a sense of his own contradictions. Hence, his attacks could be unambiguous and fierce. As sycophants multiplied exponentially, it became hard, some of his friends say, to tell him the truth—for example, the truth about his abilities to write English verse and translate into it."

Yet in the end, Weissbort seemed to be unexpectedly buoyed by the experience, and came to a startling conclusion that says as much about the master translator as it does about the poet:

"In the book, he made a central, remarkable contention: Weissbort argued that Brodsky 'was trying to Russianize English, not respecting the genius of the English language ... he wanted the transfer between the languages to take place without drastic changes, this being achievable only if English itself was changed.'

"In short, Weissbort invites us to listen to Brodsky’s poetry on its own terms. As he tells a workshop: 'It’s like a new kind of music. You may not like it, may find it absurd, outrageous even, but admit, if only for the sake of argument, that this may be due to its unfamiliarity. Give it a chance, listen!'”

Optimism under pressure, creativity under duress. Take it as a measure of the man.

Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese
29 Nov 2013

I met Daniel Weissbort at the American Literary Translators’ Association conference in New York in 1999. We arranged to have lunch together and talk about Russian and Polish poetry, also in translation. His passion for Central and Eastern European poets is recorded, for example, in his 1991 The Poetry of Survival, the anthology which defined the reception of post-war poetry of my region. To discuss it, I invited him over to Kraków for a seminar I organized at the Jagiellonian University in April 2004. He also spoke about Ted Hughes’s translation of Pushkin’s ‘The Prophet’: he explained how Hughes worked from his literal versions. But I remember not only Weissbort’s ‘academic’ contribution; more importantly, he brought copies of Modern Poetry in Translation which featured Polish poets. It was a very kind gesture, so characteristically thoughtful of him. The copies found their home and readers at our department library. As a reader, I want to mention Weissbort’s Translating Poetry: The Double Labyrinth, the essays he edited, which have taught me more about translating and poetry writing than numerous other publications. I keep recommending the book to anyone who may be interested, now my Danish students in particular. So much to thank Daniel Weissbort for.

Muhamad Tawfiq Ali
3 Dec 2013

I corresponded with both Daniel Weissbort and Norma Rinsler for MPT No 19 Iraqi Poetry Today, March 2003, on the eve of the latest Iraq war. And still have memos and faxes from them. I provided the Kurdish input to the issue, the majority being from Arabic by the guest editor, Saadi Simawe. My condolences go to his family, friends and admirers.

Marilyn Hacker
4 Dec 2013

I first knew MPT through Daniel Weissbort, and have warm memories of him when we met at Poetry International. It's through his own poems and translations that he'll continue to be very present to me, and others.

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