17 February 2014

An Interpretation of Tselkov / Tselkov: an interpretation / Истолкование Целкова

Oleg Tselkov (Russian B. 1934), 'Collection (Green Version)' 1988, oil on canvas.

An Interpretation of Tselkov

The nap of some string and some candle wax.
The rearing up of a rump above a face.

As for the rest, just try to make it out

amid the flame, gloom, and oily smoke.

Only forebodingly can we make out
in the black memory-flame of paints
Tselkov’s period of guises,
“larvae” in Latin, “masks” to us.

Replacing landscape and flowers,
these masks, torn and pocked,
hung in Soviet apartments

like shields of vacuity and vanity.

There, as if some kind of anti-icons,
they eyelessly observed
the passing of repellent days,

the flowing of alcohol and the flouting of laws.

But the brush and the pencil

have a movement from cycle to cycle.

A soul appeared in the form
of a yellow butterfly on Tselkov’s canvasses.

Out of such larvae, which, God forbid
won’t ever return to haunt our sleep,
look, the soul crawls through

the socket of an eyeless eye.

Here it sat awhile on the nail,

there it leaves its trace like lightning.
On the candle, on the string, everywhere.
Even there, where it’s invisible.

(Translation © Henry Pickford)

(The Wondrous Raid, Tenafly, NJ, USA: Hermitage Publishers, 1985; Selected Early Poems, New York, NY, USA: Spuyten Duyvil, 2014)

Tselkov: an interpretation

Rope fiber and candle gout,
A rear end rampant on human shoulder,
For the rest, you try to make it out
Among fire and murk and smolder.

Ominously, though, we still mark off
In the black mind-flicker of hues
The figure phase of Oleg Tselkov,
Of larvae in Latin, “masks” for us.

Replacing paysages and painted flora,
These masks, all in fissures and gaps,
Like emblems of poverty and vainglory,
Were hung up in Soviet flats;

Where they hang and witness, eyeless,
Like anti-icons of sorts,
The days unreeling, joyless,
With boozing and trampling of laws.

But paint-brush and drawing-coal
Show movement from era to era.
In butterfly yellow, the soul
Has emerged in Tselkov’s oeuvre.

From incubuses and larvae
God save us from seeing in dreams.
The soul, behold it wafting
Through the eyeless caves her beams.

Here you find it perched on a nail-head,
There it flares like a meteorite,
On the candle, the rope, you name it,
Even where it is hidden from sight

(Translation © Estate of Walter Arndt)

Истолкование Целкова

Ворс веревки и воск свечи.
Над лицом воздвижение зада.
Остальное – поди различи
среди пламени, мрака и чада.

Лишь зловеще еще отличим
в черной памяти – пламени красок
у Целкова период личин,
«лярв» латинских, по-нашему «масок».

Замещая ландшафт и цветы,
эти маски в прорехах и дырах
как щиты суеты и тщеты
повисали в советских квартирах.

Там безглазо глядели они,
словно некие антииконы,
как летели постылые дни,
пился спирт, попирались законы.

Но у кисти и карандаша
есть движение к циклу от цикла.
В виде бабочки желтой душа
на холстах у Целкова возникла.

Из личинок таких, что – хана,
из таких, что не дай Бог приснится,
посмотри, пролезает она
сквозь безглазого глаза глазницу.

Здесь присела она на гвозде,
здесь трассирует молниевидно.
На свече, на веревке, везде.
Даже там, где ее и не видно.

(Чудесный десант, Tenafly, NJ, USA: Эрмитаж, 1985; Selected Early Poems, New York, NY, USA: Spuyten Duyvil, 2014)

11 February 2014

Sonnet On a Plane / Сонет в самолете

Sonnet On a Plane

A separate terror, multiplied by hundred.
The jets roar out. A gentle reek of vomit.
God knows of what; He can’t have wondered,
Knowing what went last night into the Boeing’s stomach.

The passengers are all in place like bingo markers,
And each has his particular look to him.
Well, actually, they don’t, for minus outer trim
They seem to be the linings of their parkas.

 As once forebodingly the prophet wrote,
‘Tokens and Portents in the Heavens showed.’
Still, we went night-night in the fragrant dusk,

The Boeing flew like a speeding garbage husk,
Clouds brawled outside like mongrels, tusk on tusk,
While in our seats, fear, terror, panic rode.

(Translation © 1993 Walter Arndt)

Read G.S. Smith's translation of this poem HERE.

Сонет в самолете

Отдельный  страх, помножлнный  на сто.
Ревут турбины. Нежно  пахнет рвота.
Бог знает что... Уж Он-то знает, что
набито ночью в бочку самолета.

Места заполнены, как карточки  лото,
и каждый  пассажир  похож на что-то,
вернее, ни на что — без коверкота
все как начинка собственных пальто.

Яко  пророк провидех и писах,
явились знамения в небесах.
Пока  мы баиньки в вонючем полумраке,

летают боинги, как мусорные  баки,
и облака грызутся, как собаки
на свалке, где кругом страх, страх, страх, страх.

05 February 2014

18-20 September 1989 / 18–20 сентября 1989 года

G.S.Smith, Michael Kirkwood, Lev Loseff - Under Eastern Eyes conference, London, UK, 1989

18-20 September 1989

In a loathsome German railway train I spent a sleepless night,
consoled, though, by the quiet of the empty dining room
at Ostend. Two hours later from behind the bluish gloom
began to peep out patches of that well-beloved white.
Without once looking back again to where the Halcyon bird
frolics, not for the first time I set foot on Albion’s shore.[i]
(So, live the way you write, you say? But I find living hard,
so if the writing comes, take notes, so you can keep the score.)

It was diligent McMillin brought us in from all around.
So good old Gerry Smith was there, punctilious Martin Dewhirst,
nice Julian too, etcetera, but the topic—not the newest—
was ‘Russia and the West’, and so the atmosphere was down.
These Slavists drank a lot of tea with milk, for sweetening sought
gossip on this and that, such as: ‘Has anyone seen Limonov?’
‘Alas, Limonov couldn’t make it’. ‘Which one is Aksenov?’
‘Him with the leather manbag, with a novel poking out’.
Slavists from every latitude sat bored in their own way.
As usual, Rozanova M. sweetly purveyed her poison.
We all snapped to attention, though, when Belaya let loose on
A. Solzhenitsyn, and the way she went about it made
my jaw drop. But I caught it (right?) and batted her away
(my conscience really needled me, though I’m a ‘hard-boiled cynic’).[ii]
From the seat right next to mine I got a right-on wink from Zinik.
Maybe he was just winking, though, I’m not sure to this day.

I walked away from Bloomsbury, by crowding flâneursurged.
A corpse lay on the pavement: brolly, jacket, briefcase, specs.
Embankments lined with face-paint punks, of all three sorts by sex.
The tide drove up the Thames, straining, like men hauling a barge,
and dragged along the evening light, an oil slick, rotting fish.
It moved the river like a line of poetry, ever rightward.
So write, you say, the way you live? Well, here’s some crabby writing.
And live the way you write, you say? Me living, here it is.[iii]

[Translator’s Notes]

The poem refers to a conference held at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, on the dates given in the title. The conference was convened by Professor Arnold McMillin of that institution, now retired. Other British Slavists mentioned in the poem are the present translator, at the time Professor of Russian in the University of Oxford; Martin Dewhirst, then Lecturer in Russian at the University of Glasgow; and Julian Graffy, then and currently Professor at the School of Slavonic Studies. Eduard Limonov was not present, as the poem says; the late Vasilii Aksenov was. The writer Zinovii Zinik has been resident in London since 1975, and worked for the BBC Russian Service. Galina Belaya did indeed make a critical speech about Solzhenitsyn, and was rebutted by Lev Loseff. Loseff returned to this theme in the work on Solzhenitsyn that was later collected in his book Solzhenitsyn i Brodskii kak sosedi (2010).
Lines 5-6 allude to the opening of Konstantin Batiushkov’s poem ‘Ten′ druga’ (1814): ‘Я берег покидал туманный Альбиона./Казалось, он в волнах свинцовых утопал./За кораблём вилася Гальциона,/И тихий глас её пловцев увеселял.
The School of Slavonic Studies was at the time located in Senate House, which is in the district of Bloomsbury, next to the British Museum.

[i] [Author’s note] At 36 Bolton Gardens a grey tomcat would do me the honour of sitting next to me, and a female cat black as revenge would rub against my breastbone. [Translator’s note: when in London in 1989, LL stayed at this address, the home of his friends David and Tanya Chambers.]
[ii] [Author’s note] ‘The author of The Wheel will return like a kind of conductor, and the voices of the Russian revanchists will flow together in a concerted choir. For us Jews, in particular, there is no more terrible threat than his prejudiced prose coming back to the USSR…’ She went on like Enfranshish losing his rag about a diabolical conspiracy. I would call it Chiverafash, i.e. Shafarevich the wrong way round’.
[Translator’s note: The Wheel is of course Solzhenitsyn’s enormous novel Krasnoe koleso (The Red Wheel). ‘Enfranshish’ comes from Andrei Bely’s novel Peterburg, and indicates a sinister presence sensed by the narrator as a looming threat. Loseff re-reverses Bely’s Шишнарфне, a word apparently produced by reversing the French word ‘Enfranchise’ (thought by Omre Ronen to be taken from a poster advertising a powder against roaches), producing a pseudo-Persian name.
The dissident mathematician Igor Shafarevich (b. 1923), a convert to Orthodox Chistianity, was in the news in 1989 because of the publication that year of a book of essays, Russofobiia; one of the essays, ‘The 3000-year-old Mystery’ led to accusations of anti-Semitism. His work was quoted approvingly by Solzhenitsyn in his Harvard speech on 8 June 1978: ‘The mathematician Igor Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliantly argued book entitled Socialism; this is a penetrating historical analysis demonstrating that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death. Shafarevich’s book was published in France almost two years ago and so far no one has been found to refute it’.

(Translation © G.S. Smith)

Clockwise from top right: Lev Loseff (caricature by Joseph Brodsky); Eduard Limonov; Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; Joseph Brodsky; Aleksandr Zinoviev; unknown; Anatolii Gladilin; Vasilii Aksenov; Zinovii Zinik

18–20 сентября 1989 года

В немецком мерзком поезде я ночь провел без сна,

но был утешен тишиной пустого ресторана

в Остенде. Через два часа из синего тумана

потихоньку стала вылезать любезная белизна.

И, не оглянувшись назад, где гальциона вьется,

Не берег Альбиона я ступил опять.[1]

(Живи, как пишешь, говоришь? Но что–то не живется,

а если что и пишется — так, на память записать.)


Заботливый Мак–Миллин нас созвал со всех сторон.

Там были добрый Джерри Смит, дотошный Мартин Дьюхирст,

наш милый Джулиан и др., но все же темы тухлость —

«Россия и Запад» — задала какой–то вялый тон.

Слависты подолгу пили чай с молоком и не без подсластки

перетолков о том, о сем. «А здесь ли Э.Лимонов?»

«Увы, Лимонов прибыть не мог». «А который Аксенов?»

«Вон тот, у которого торчит роман из кожаной пидараски».


Скучали в зале кто как мог слависты всех широт.

М.Розанова сладкий яд привычно расточала.

Но все оживились, когда вдруг Г.Белая застучала

на Солженицына, да так, что я аж рот

разинул. А разинувши, как говорится, дал отпор

(уж больно было совестно, хоть и «прожженный циник»).[2]

Мне одобрительно мигал сидевший сбоку Зиник.

А может, он просто так мигал — не знаю до сих пор.


Из Блумсбери я шел пешком. Меня несла толпа гуляк.

Лежал мертвец на мостовой — зонт, пиджак, портфель, очки.

Вдоль банков панки — трех полов раскрашенные феечки.

Вверх по Темзе пер прилив с натугой, как бурлак.

Прилив тащил закат, мазут и дохлую плотву.

Он двигал реку, как строку, т.е. слева направо.

Пиши, говоришь, как живешь? Вот и пишу коряво.

Живи, как пишешь, говоришь? Вот и живу.

[1] На Болтон Гарденс, 36, мне серый кот окажет честь, изволив рядышком присесть, и кошка, черная как месть, о брючину потрется.

[2] «Вернется автор Колеса как некий дирижер, и русопятов голоса сольются в дружный хор. Для нас, евреев, например, страшнее нет угрозы, чем возвращенье в СССР его предвзятой прозы...» Как Енфраншиш, вошедший в раж, несла про дьявольский комплот. Я бы сказал: Чиверафаш — Шафаревич, но наоборот.