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.

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