Sasha Chernyi's "Poems from Children's Island"

Translated from Russian by Kevin Kinsella
from Katie Fowley's  Lightful Press

If you, like me, sometimes wonder why chocolates don’t grow on beds and frogs don’t use pillows, if you think that girls are cheese and boys potatoes (or is it the other round a way?); if you, even just once in a scarlet moon, imagine that little mouses are far braver than humungous lions, then these poems may be for you. Not recommended for adults! as these rimes are far too clever, and besides adults don’t like poetry.


“Come, Children!
Who is the bravest in the world?”
They knew—and answered in one singing voice:
“The lion!”
“The lion? Ha ha...It’s easy to be brave
If your paws are as wide as mops.
No, it’s neither the lion, nor the elephant,
But the littlest one—The mouse!
Why, just yesterday, I saw a miracle:
A little mouse climbed into a bowl
Right under the nose of a sleeping cat,
And without hurrying, it ate up all the crumbs.
How about that!



Green Verses

The woods have turned green,
The pond has turned green.
And green frogs
Croak their songs.
A fir-tree--a sheaf of green candles,
Moss--a green carpet.
And a green grasshopper
Conducts the song...
Above a house's green roof
A green oak sleeps,
And two green gnomes
Sit between its chimneys.
After breaking a green leaf,
The younger gnome whispers:
"You see, that red-haired student
In the window?
Why isn't he green?
It's May already...May!"
The older gnome yawns drowsily:
"Why don't you just shut up?"

from the translator's introduction:
Sasha Chernyi (1880-1932) is the pen name of Aleksandr Glikberg, arguably the most celebrated Russian satirical poet of the pre-Revolutionary era. Born in Odessa, a city that produced a disproportionate number of arguably-the-most-celebrated-Russian satirists—Isaac Babel, Ilf and Petrov, and Don Aminado—Chernyi’s best satirical poems are unforgettable: irresistibly hilarious, cynically biting, intelligent, and politically poignant. They mock things laughable and worthy of derision, from corrupt and stupid politicians

"These masterful, inspired translations do eminent justice to the caustic wit, paradoxical wordplay, idiosyncratic worldview, uniquely keen sensibility, and quirky prosodic rhythms of one of Russia's most interesting and gifted (and alas, undeservedly little-known heretofore in this country) poets circa the first half of last century. Before Daniil Kharms and Nikolai Zabolotsky, there was Sasha Chernyi. Without him, the history of Russian poetry would be woefully incomplete. This fine book's publication is an occasion to celebrate.” —Mikhail Iossel, editor of Rasskazy: New Fiction from a New Russia, and founder and director of the Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Kenya, and Vilnius

It is a pleasure to welcome the first English-language edition of Sasha Chernyi (or “Chorny” in alternate, more phonetically exact spelling), one of the earliest Russian-Jewish humor writers from Odessa, the town that also produced Isaac Babel. Chernyi’s satirical poems, with their mordant wit, observant eye, and ease of verbal caricature, made him the darling of the liberal intelligentsia of the early 1900s. His children’s poetry—which he especially cultivated as a political refugee after the Revolution—shows great empathy with how children see things, and especially how they see animals. Now ably translated by Kevin Kinsella, Sasha Chernyi’s Children’s Island (1921, 1928) ushers us into the mysterious world of children’s culture of a bygone era. —Eugene Ostashevsky, editor of OBERIU: An Anthology of Russian Absurdism