Russia’s new feminist poetry has so fully arrived in the US as to be featured in Time magazine, but that interest from a mainstream publication does not mean that this remarkable work is anodyne or safe. This work can be fierce, hilarious, tender, and sexy. It stretches the boundaries of the poetic, not least when the poets ironically ask, as Stanislava Mogileva puts it in her “Song,” whether the poetry is sufficiently feminist, sufficiently activist, or too personal, too simple, too frivolous, too intense.
It was a delight to hear Moscow poet Lev Rubinstein read last night at Hunter College, with translations from the UDP collection, Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties, which includes the complete set of his works composed (in sequence) on small library catalog cards. Matvei Yankelevich read the translations.
Aleksandr Skidan was born in Leningrad in 1965. He is a poet, critic, essayist, and translator. In 2008 his book Red Shifting was published in USA by Ugly Duckling Presse, tr. Genya Turovskaya. He is the coeditor of the New Literary Observer magazine and lives in Saint Petersburg.
Program One: Skidan reads from Red Shifting (Brooklyn: Ugly Ducking Press, 2008) in Russian as well as reading the English translations by Genya Turovskaya. MP3
Program Two: Skidan discusses his Ugly Duckling Press book, Red Shifting, the changes in the literary climate in Russia after 1989, the contemporary situation for poetry in Russia, and the mysticism of Arkadii Dragomoschenko. MP3
The Testimonies of Russian and American Postmodern Poetry: Reference, Trauma, and History (Bloomsbury, 2014) is divided in half. The first part looks at 1970s/1980s Russian (Moscow) conceptual poetry and poetics, focussing on Dmitry Prigov and Lev Rubinstein (Rubinshtein) but also on the "meta-realists" Elena Schvarts and Alexi Parschikov (Arkadii Dragomoschenko is a key poet for this context, though not a main subject here). Artists Grisha Bruskin and Ilya Kabakov are also main subjects. The second part of the book makes an between both Moscow conceptualism and St. Petersburg metarealist poetry and the 1970s/1980s poetry/poetics associated with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. Lutzkanova-Vassileva offers detailed readings of Bob Perelman, Bruce Andrews Steve McCaffery, David Melnick, Ron Silliman, as well as my work. Lutzkanova-Vassileva also traces the connection to the Russian futurists (Shklovsky, Khelbinikov, Kruchenykh).
During glasnost in August 1989, Lyn Hejinian, along with Michael Davidson, Ron Silliman, and Barrett Watten, attended the first international avant-garde writers’ conference, “Language — Consciousness — Society,” in the Soviet Union since the Russian Revolution. One of the main organizers of the event was Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, whose book, Endarkenment: Selected Poems, was published by Wesleyan University Press earlier this year.
Note: “Poetry has enemies,” Maxim Amelin once told us, “both internal and external.” Among the latter he cited “philologists and historians of literature,” a deliberately provocative stance considering that Amelin, trained as a philologist, mines word roots and literary history for poems.
The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone? — Ecclesiastes 6:11
What does poetry do with language? This question, shouted and shrieked by various avant-gardes of the early twentieth century, became increasingly relevant for Russian poets during the Soviet period. In the 1920s and ’30s, many learned that even as poetry uses words to forge alliances and break windows, words in poetry can also cause serious trouble: they can get you fired or exiled or killed. In the slightly warmer but artistically stifled atmosphere of the mid-1950s, the poet Vsevolod Nekrasov (1934–2009) started asking: what can poetry do for words?
The tension between the book as individual copy and as mass reproduced object is reframed and even collapsed in samizdat literature, the illegally copied and circulated typescripts that created an entire world of literary and intellectual life in the late-Soviet period. Samizdat texts were reproduced, four or five copies at a time through the act of retyping and the use of carbon copy. In these works, the acts of writing, copying, and publishing effectively fuse.
Beginning in the 1970s, conceptual writer and artist Dmitri Prigov sought to investigate the relationship between text and copy in laboriously reproduced samizdat texts, which in spite — in fact because — of their poor quality became fetishized objects for members of the Soviet samizdat community. Prigov exploited the nature of the samizdat text to produce singular works in which the materiality of the book plays a key role. At the same time, he stressed the relationship between the writer and copyist, between unique work and reproduction in samizdat book culture.
Today I present a guest post from Gerald Janecek, who has contributed so much to our understanding of the visual, verbal, and sonic breadth of Russian avant-garde poetry from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day. Jerry’s and my shared interests include the work of the conceptual artist and writer Dmitri Prigov, whose iterative practice spanned a vast range of genres and media from sculpture to performance, poetry to theatre. Some time ago, Jerry shared with me an extraordinary video of Prigov performing with the musician Vladimir Tarasov in the apartment studio of Ilya Kabakov in Moscow in 1986. Below, I present part of this video: Prigov and Tarasov’s performance of the 49-aya azbuka or 49th Alphabet from Prigov’s Alphabet series (you can read the Russian text here). Jerry’s commentary on the work and its performance follows. Together I hope they will serve as an introduction to a writer and artist who deserves to be far better known in the English-speaking world.