Alexander Vvedensky: An Invitation for Me to Think

Alexander Vvedensky: An Invitation for Me to Think

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“Pussy Riot are Vvedensky's disciples and his heirs.
      Katya, Masha, and I are in jail but I don’t consider that we’ve been defeated.... According to the official report, Alexander Vvedensky died on December 20, 1941. We don’t know the cause, whether it was dysentery in the train after his arrest or a bullet from a guard. It was somewhere on the railway line between Voronezh and Kazan. His principle of ‘bad rhythm’ is our own. He wrote: ‘It happens that two rhythms will come into your head, a good one and a bad one and I choose the bad one. It will be the right one.’ ... It is believed that the OBERIU dissidents are dead, but they live on. They are persecuted but they do not die.”
  — Pussy Riot [Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s closing statement at their
trial in August 2012]

“I raise[d] my hand against concepts,” wrote Alexander Vvedensky, “I enacted a poetic critique of reason.” This weirdly and wonderfully philosophical poet was born in 1904, grew up in the midst of war and revolution, and reached his artistic maturity as Stalin was twisting the meaning of words in grotesque and lethal ways. Vvedensky—with Daniil Kharms the major figure in the short-lived underground avant-garde group OBERIU (a neologism for “the union for real art”)—responded with a poetry that explodes stable meaning into shimmering streams of provocation and invention. A Vvedensky poem is like a crazy party full of theater, film, magic tricks, jugglery, and feasting. Curious characters appear and disappear, euphoria keeps company with despair, outrageous assertions lead to epic shouting matches, and perhaps it all breaks off with one lonely person singing a song.

A Vvedensky poem doesn’t make a statement. It is an event. Vvedensky’s poetry was  unpublishable during his lifetime—he made a living as a writer for children before dying under arrest in 1942—and he remains the least known of the great twentieth-century Russian poets. This is his first book to appear in English. The translations by Eugene Ostashevsky and Matvei Yankelevich, outstanding poets in their own right, are as astonishingly alert and alive as the originals.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590176450
Publisher: New York Review Books
Publication date: 04/02/2013
Series: NYRB Poets
Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 128
File size: 219 KB

About the Author

Alexander Vvedensky (1904–1941) was born into the liberal intelligentsia of St. Petersburg and grew up in the midst of war and revolution, reaching artistic maturity just as Stalin consolidated control over Russia. After attending a progressive high school, Vvedensky spent a year working at the State Institute of Artistic Culture (GINKhUK) as a researcher in a lab devoted to Futurist abstract poetry. Along with Daniil Kharms, he then became a major figure in the short-lived underground avant-garde group OBERIU (a neologism for “the union for real art”). Unable to publish his poetry—by the 1930s there was no tolerance in the USSR for work of such shimmering invention and provocation—Vvedensky made a living as a writer of children’s literature. In 1931 he was arrested for his so-called counterrevolutionary literary activities, interrogated, and sentenced to three years of internal exile. He was detained again in 1941, and on February 2 he died of pleurisy on a prison train, leaving behind his wife and four-year-old son. Though much of Vvedensky’s work has been lost, what remains has established him as one
of the most influential Russian poets of the twentieth century.

Eugene Ostashevsky is the author of the poetry collections The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza and Iterature, both published by Ugly Duckling Presse. He is the editor of OBERIU: An Anthology of Russian Absurdism, the first collection of writings by Vvedensky and friends in English translation. Ostashevsky teaches in the liberal studies program at New York University.

Matvei Yankelevich is the author of the poetry collection Alpha Donut (United Artists Books) and a novella in fragments, Boris by the Sea (Octopus Books). His translations of Daniil Kharms were collected in Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms (Overlook/Ardis). He edits the Eastern European Poets Series at Ugly Duckling Presse.

Read an Excerpt

The Joyful Man Franz 
the joyful man Franz                                      
maintained protuberance
from start to finish
he never came down the porch                       
measured stars named flowers                        
believed I am you       
affixing number to time
humming in rhyme
he died and was deceased
like the shotgun and the cyst
frightened, he would see a skirt                                              
as he fantasized asleep
and would sail at the helm
to a melancholy elm                                       
where squads of beetles          
performed about-faces
showed their mustaches to gods
pronounced themselves to be clocks              
gods howled out of tune
and tumbled down from the moon
there in luxurious grass
an ant was being stamped
and the glowworm, unkind king
lit up a large lamp       
silently the lightnings flashed
languid animals snorted                                  
unhurriedly growled    
the waves that lay on the sand           
where? where did all this happen
where did this location roam
I forgot, the sun will say
sinking into the unknown
all we see is the exit    
from the schoolbag of Franz
of the contemporary of man
the psychologist of the divine
this wizard announces
the party begins
idle stars crowd in
boring people smoke  
lonely thoughts run around
everything is sad and pointless
God what kind of party is this
it’s the christmas of death or something
hens step around gulfs
the hall hops with cupids
and the iron steam-engine
meditates upon cow-patties
Franz awoke from his nightmare
why are all these things here?
the valet stood here like a palm
before the meadows of eternity
short as a reed
the collar sleeps upon a chair
a branch of kerosene
overlooks the twilight
answer me wizard
is this a dream? I’m a fool
but where is that wizard
where is the psychologist of the divine
he counts songs in his sleep
growing bald as a tree
he can’t come here
where the real world stands
he calmly multiplies the shades
he does not shimmer in the sky
Turks give me my carriage
the joyful Franz called
give me the rocket of Oberth
give me horsepower
I will ride around the world
in this fascinating cab
I will orchestrate a race
of the star with the prisoner earth
touch the ceiling with my head
I’m a bluebird I’m […]
meanwhile out of the acute night                               
out of the abyss of the bad dream                              
appears a crown                                              
and the ramified scythe
you’re an irate serpent
my childless death
hello Franz will sadly say                                            
each of your hairs holds
more thoughts than a pot
more sleep than a powder
take out your saber
and slice open my shirt
then slice open my skin          
glue me to the bed                                          
all the same shall learning triumph                 
I’ll announce as I gurgle
and create a grandson
my substitute in the form of a lamp
he will stand and glow
write essays for school
death said you are a flower
and fled to the east
Franz remained alone
to contemplate protuberance
measure stars name flowers
compose I and you
lying in absolute silence
in the empty heights               
[Trans. Ostashevsky]

Snow Lies 
snow lies
earth flies
lights flip
in pigments night has come
on a rug of stars it lies
is it night or a demon?
like an inane lever
sleeps the insane river
it is not aware
of the moon everywhere
animals gnash their canines
in black gold cages
animals bang their heads
animals are the ospreys of saints
the world flies around the universe
in the vicinity of stars
dashes deathless like a swallow
seeks a home a nest
there’s no nest a hole
the universe is alone
maybe rarely in flight
time will pass as poor as night
or a daughter in a bed
will grow sleepy and then dead
then a crowd of relations
will rush in and cry alas
in steel houses
will howl loudly
she’s gone and buried
hopped to paradise big-bellied
God God have pity
good God on the precipice
but God said Go play
and she entered paradise
there spun any which way
numbers houses and seas
the inessential exists
in vain, they perceived
there God languished behind bars
with no eyes no legs no arms
so that maiden in tears
sees all this in the heavens
sees various eagles
appear out of night
and fly inane
and flash insane
this is so depressing
the dead maiden will say
serenely surprised
God will say
what’s depressing what’s
depressing, God, life
what are you talking about
what O noon do you know
you press pleasure and Paris
to your breast like two pears
you swell like music
you’re swell like a statue
then the wood howled
in final despair
it spies through the tares
a meandering ribbon
little ribbon a crate
curvy Lena of fate
Mercury was in the air
spinning like a top
and the bear
sunned his coat
people also walked around
bearing fish on a platter
bearing on their hands
ten fingers on a ladder
while all this went on
that maiden rested
rose from the dead and forgot
yawned and said
you guys, I had a dream
what can it mean
dreams are worse than macaroni
they make crows double over
I was not at all dying
I was gaping and lying
undulating and crying
I was so terrifying
a fit of lethargy
was had by me among the effigies
let’s enjoy ourselves really
let’s gallop to the cinema
and she sped off like an ass
to satisfy her innermost
lights glint in the heaven
is it night or a demon
                        January 1930
[Trans. Ostashevsky]

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