Albena Lutzkanova-Vassileva's 'The Testimonies of Russian and American Postmodern Poetry' +: new Lev Rubinstein volume from UDP
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). Her commentary is focussed on the ways the poems she addresses respond the emerging technological/digital environment of the time. While quite different in its readings, the work bears some resemblance to Jacob Edmond's cross-national approach in Common Strangeness. Lutzkanova-Vassileva provides remarkably illuminating close readings of many poems, with an emphasis on the social and political meanings of invented poetic forms. This is a remarkable study both for its Russian/American comparative approach and for it's thoughtful reading of each poet and artist.
Coincidentally, Ugly Ducking Press has just published a new, expanded –– Compleat–– edition of Lev Rubinstein's Catalogue of Comedic Novelties.
As I wrote at the time of the work's initial publication:
"This is a poetry of changing parts that ensnares the evanescent uncanniness of the everyday. By means of rhythmically foregrounding a central device—the basic unit of work is the index card—Rubinstein continuously makes actual a flickering now time that is both intimate and strange. Philip Metres and Tatiana Tulchinsky have created an engaging translation of a major work of contemporary Russian poetry. In the process, they have created a poem 'in the American' and in the tradition of seriality associated with Charles Reznikoff and Robert Grenier."
In Rubinstein’s poetry’s, cards work to create constellations of highly articulated motifs. He often uses parallel structures, for example, a repeated opening phrase, as well as other procedural devices (a poem from 1985 entirely of footnotes, one per page). Rubinstein collages language from a range of social discourses into his poems, twisting the material to create patterns of reflection. There is a strong non-linear narrative to many of the works, pastiche of lyric poetry, elegy. His poems are both dialectical and diacritical (self reflective).
Lutzkanova-Vassileva, like Edmond, provides an account of the affinity with poetry of the same time in North America. The issue is particularly striking with Rubinstein because some of what he does seems close to a number of us here, but this is not a matter of direct influence in either direction. You can see parallels with Rubinstein’s work also in Kootenay School of Writing poets Jeff Derkson and Kevin Davies, but also a bit of Ted Greenwald’s formal torquing of everyday speech, Ron Silliman's "New Sentence," and my own mid-70s appropriated/serial sentences in "Parsing"; but such comparisons are a trap. Perhaps we can say that Rubinstein confronted parallel cultural and aesthetic conditions. It would betray his work to read it outside the specific Soviet/Russian context in which it was written or to read its affinity with North American work as an intrinsic part its meaning. Neither Rubinstein (nor Dragomoschenko) was creating an American sphere of influence in Russian poetry, anymore than those of in North America were doing work that was meant to reflect Russian poetry. The account of this non-national affinity is more interesting than that.
You can flip through a stack version of Rubinstein's cards at BlazeVox.
My video portrai of Rubinstein is on PennSound YouTube channel (Nov. 18, 2007 at Bowery Poetry Club):
You can sample Lutzkanova-Vassileva's The Testimonies of Russian and American Postmodern Poetry at Google Books (and download the introduction for free).
Here is the publisher's description:
This book challenges the belief in the purely linguistic nature of contemporary poetry and offers an interpretation of late twentieth-century Russian poetry as a testimony to the unforeseen annulment of communist reality and its overnight displacement by a completely unfathomable post-totalitarian order.
Albena Lutzkanova-Vassileva argues that, because of the sudden invalidation of a reality that had been largely seen as unattained and everlasting, this shift remained secluded from the mind and totally resistant to cognition, thus causing a collectively traumatic psychological experience. The book proceeds by inquiring into a school of contemporary American poetry that has been likewise read as cut off from reality.
Executing a comparative analysis, Vassileva advances a new understanding of this poetry as a testimony to the overwhelming and traumatic impact of contemporary media, which have assailed the mind with far more signals than it can register, digest and furnish with semantic weight.
"Albena Lutzkanova-Vassileva's groundbreaking study is the first to compare Russian and US avant-garde poetries of the late 20th centuries-Russian Conceptualism and Metarealism on the one hand, American experimental poetry (especially the Language movement) on the other- as emblematic of their respective post-World War II cultures. Often considered merely self-referential, both these poetries, Vassileva argues, document the traumatic historical impact of the postmodern ethos in new and challenging ways. Anglophone readers will be especially fascinated by Vassileva's exciting presentation of the New Russian Poetry from Dimitri Prigov to Elena Shvarts-a poetry as brilliant as it is germane to an understanding of our own. A fascinating and genuinely original book!”
– Marjorie Perloff,
“Albena Lutzkanova-Vassileva's book is the first ever comparative investigation of the major trends in Russian and American poetry of the late 20th century: Metarealism, Conceptualism, and Language School. It is a treasure-trove for everybody who loves contemporary poetry and strives to understand its complex language, experimental courage and international scope. Contrary to the common view, the author demonstrates that postmodern poetic systems are not aesthetically self-enclosed but have a deep referential value and relate to reality both positively (as the multitude of realities in Metarealism) and negatively (as the traumatic experience in Conceptualism). The book explores refined poetic imagery in a most precise way and introduces a number of new concepts emerging at the cutting edges of contemporary critical theory.”
– Mikhail Epstein