A System of Absence

Late Soviet-era co-op apartment buildings on the Smolenka River in northwest Petersburg, near the Primorskaya subway station. Photo: Roman Bezjak/Hatje Cantz Verlag. Courtesy of Business Insider

* * *

Along with the heating, in every building
there is a system of absence. Concealed in the walls,
its noiseless radiators
flood the apartment with unadulterated emptiness
the year round, whatever the weather.
Connected to the main, it apparently runs
on fuel supplied by death, arrest or
simple jealousy. This temperature
rises towards evening. One turn of the key
and you find yourself in a place where there is
no one: like a thousand years ago,
or somewhat earlier—in the Ice Age,
before evolution. Usurped space
never relinquishes its
uninhabitedness, thus reminding
the upstart monkey
of emptiness’s primordial, pre-glacial right
to housing. Absence is merely
the home address of nonexistence.
Being bourgeois,
in the long run, at curtain call,
it prefers wallpaper to boulders or brown moss.
The more elaborate the wallpaper’s jungles, the unhappier the monkey.

1993

Original text. Translated by the Russian Reader

“And the old hag will sob in her hut on chicken-leg timber”

◊ ◊ ◊

I don’t hear what you’re saying to me, but a voice’s echo.
I don’t see what you’re wearing, but the snow’s even expanse.
And this isn’t a room where we sit, but the polestar’s shadow.
Plus our footsteps leading away from it, not hence.

Once I knew by heart all the spectrum’s colors.
Now I can make out only white, to my doctor’s disbelief.
But even if the little ditty is truly over,
One might still recall its leitmotif.

I would gladly lie down with you, but that’s mere idle splendor.
If I lie down, it will be with the turf, warm and snug.
And the old hag will sob in her hut on chicken-leg timber
And cook herself up a soft-boiled egg.

Once I used soda instead of other stain removers.
It always worked, like talcum powder on a mole.
Around you nowadays the riffraff crash like breakers.
You wear brightly colored dresses. And I mourn.

Source: Odnoklassniki. Translation and photo by the Russian Reader

A Wave of Summer Bargains

“On a wave of summer bargains. Up to 80%”

August

Provincial towns, where you’ll never get a straight answer.
What’s it to you? It was yesterday however you cut it.
Outside the elms murmur, nodding to a landscape
Only the train ever sees. Somewhere a bee buzzes.

The knight made a career of crossroads, but these days
Is himself a stoplight. Plus there’s a river in the distance.
And between the mirror into which you gaze
And those who can’t recall you there’s also little difference.

Closed fast in the heat, the shutters are entwined in gossip,
Or merely ivy, to avoid making a blunder.
Bounding through the front door, a sunburnt stripling
Clad in only his swim trunks has come to collect your future.

So twilight’s a long time in descending. Evening’s usually cast
In the shape of a train station square, with a statue, etc.,
Where the glance in which you read “You bastard!”
Is in direct proportion to the crowd that’s not present.

1996

Source: Culture.ru. Image courtesy of Ozon. Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburg real estate developer and Brodsky museum founder Maxim Levchenko

43-year-old Maxim Levchenko is a managing partner at Fort Group, the developer of a large number of shopping centers in Petersburg and Moscow. His company is one of the largest proprietors of commercial real estate in the country. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, he opened A Room and a Half — a Joseph Brodsky museum located in the communal apartment where the poet lived with his parents. A Brodsky museum has long been the talk of the town in Petersburg. Friends and fans of Brodsky have been trying to open [a museum in the apartment] since the late 90s. A neighbor in the communal apartment [where the Brodskys lived], Nina Vasilyevna prevented it from happening, responding to all requests [to sell her room in the flat to make room for the museum] laconically: “Over my dead body.” That is, until a shopping center proprietor seemingly remote from literature, businessman Maxim Levchenko, showed up at the flat. Brodsky’s fans naturally wondered who he was. Anna Mongayt asked Levchenko to give her a tour of the museum for the program “Patrons” and recount how he managed to persuade Nina Vasilyevna [to make a deal], how architect Alexander Brodsky was involved in designing the museum, and why the businessman wanted to invest in such an unprofitable project.

Watch the thirty-nine-minute program (in Russian, with no subtitles) on TV Rain. Image courtesy of TV Rain. Program synopsis translated by the Russian Reader

Queer Culture (Podcast)

Press release, July 7, 2021

In the Side by Side LGBT International Film Festival’s podcast Queer Culture, festival organizers and invited guests chat with the people creating Russian queer culture. These are cozy gatherings featuring conversations about queer and LGBT topics in literature, cinema, fine art, and art actionism.

The debut issue of the podcast is dedicated to a significant event in Russian literature — the release of the debut novel Wound by Oksana Vasyakina, the first novel published by a major Russian publisher in which lesbian topics are openly discussed.

Oksana Vasyakina. Courtesy of Side by Side Film Festival
We met with the writer and poet Oksana Vasyakina and discussed her book, how it has been received by different communities, the writer’s creative path, and her successes and difficulties on the road to recognition.

Episode #1 features:
Oksana Vasyakina, writer and poet
Ekaterina Kudryavtseva, moderator of the Telegram channel Like a Cultured Person, co-moderator of the Telegram channel Lesbian Lobby and the queer podcast Wide Open
Gulya Sultanova is an organizer of the Side by Side Film Festival

Listen to the podcast Queer Culture wherever is handy for you, subscribe to us on the following apps, and give us your likes!
Buy Oksana Vasyakina’s novel Wound [in Russian]
[Read an excerpt from Oksana Vasyakina’s poetry collection Wind of Fury]

All events and projects of the Side by Side Film Festival, including those online, are for adults only. 18+

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ancient Field

ПОЛЕ СТАРИННОЕ

о Божий
в творении Облика из Ничего
зримо пробивший
и неумолкающий
РАЗ

 

 

 

 

 

 

в образе Поля

Source: Gennady Aygi, Razgovory na rasstoianii (St. Petersburg: Limbus Press, 2001), p. 36

ANCIENT FIELD

o Divine
conjuring Countenance from Nothing
visibly pierced
and indefatigable
ONCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

in the image of the Field

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to KKML for the suggestion and Comrade Koganzon for the assistance.

Gennady Aygi (Marina Razbezhkina, director, 2001)

Gennady Aygi (1934–2006), one of the most original of modern Russian poets, was born in the village of Shaymurzino, in the Chuvash Autonomous Republic, some 450 miles east of Moscow. His father was a village schoolteacher, his maternal grandfather a priest of the ancient Chuvash religion. Although he wrote mainly in Russian, he eventually became the national poet of Chuvashia, having published volumes of Chuvash poetry, translations from French, Polish, Russian and other languages, and an Anthology of Chuvash Poetry.

Expelled from the Gorky Literary Institute for his links with Pasternak, Aygi found a society of like-minded artists in the creative Moscow underground. For ten years he worked at the Mayakovsky Museum, organizing exhibitions of modern art, but generally he led a life of poverty, constantly harassed by officialdom; only with the advent of perestroika did he begin to be published in the Soviet Union and to accept numerous invitations to travel to the West. But from the 1960s onwards his Russian-language poetry was published and acclaimed throughout the world, being translated into more than twenty languages. Living mainly in Moscow, he was married four times and left seven children.

Source: New Directions Books

“ever more westerly the distance”

ever more westerly the distance
footsteps steadily darken,
the stars still do not suffice
to think about the water,
but the first bridges —
predawn bridges as it were —
fracture the night
brilliantly nowhere.

child, let’s bid farewell here,
in the coldness of this line
the word’s color is forever white,
only meaning is not eternal.
the february water
is even blacker than the light
looming over it,
more unheard of than the darkness

Vladimir Kazakov, Selected Works, vol. 3: Poems (Moscow: Hylaea, 1995), p. 106. Source: LitMir. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader. Thanks to KKML for the suggestion.

Yuri Leiderman: This Is Trotsky’s Tribe and Udder

Yuri Leiderman
Facebook
March 26, 2021

This is Trotsky’s tribe and udder,
this is the universe shedding tears in armillaria.
As you lift, so you go,
whether you’re Lenin or Soloukhin.
Humanity is evidence that the stars are rat finks,
even the Lord knows that.

Tiny paroxysms flit across the face of Ahab-cum-Trotsky, Isaac aka Allotment, tiny fistulas, springs-and-wells, the Danube shallow, the Dniester shoaled. That crapper in the Udmurt village, where I dropped the latch made by their grandpa. I had gone there to meet my daughter’s relatives. I had no oriental rugs in my flat, no Aladdin lamps, and I didn’t even speak Hebrew, much to their dismay. And to my own dismay, I wasn’t a carpenter.

One leap is the ocean, another leap is the ocean. One nation is a leap, and not a very long one. One street is an ice pick. Did I say street? Hell, every lighted window! And who are we? The bandage on Trotsky’s forehead, the nails Tashtego used to nail the flag. We are the Lord, his soles, his lyrniks, and kill Biljo.

Mr. Leiderman’s drawing is reproduced here with his kind permission. Translated by the Russian Reader

_________________________________________________

The Russian Reader covers grassroots political, environmental and social movements, economic and social issues, and independent culture in Russia and the Russian-speaking world. It is not funded by no one except other readers like you. You can click the “Donate” button in the sidebar to make a donation via PayPal or go to my Ko-fi page and buy me a “coffee” or two. Otherwise, I do all work on the website for free and I do most of it myself. Unless otherwise noted, everything published on the Russian Reader can be reproduced elsewhere, so long as the Russian Reader is acknowledged as the source and a link back to the original post is included. || TRR

Dmitry Strotsev: 13.11.2020

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
November 13, 2020

*

bees are certain
said Tolstoy
that they are gathering honey for themselves

but in fact
they are pollinating the garden

Belarusians think
says Christ
that they are rallying their land

but in fact
they are healing the world

13.11.2020

“Let’s call it what it is: Roman Bondarenko was murdered.” Photo courtesy of BelarusFeed and TUT.BY

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
November 13, 2020

For Matches

going out
for matches

leaving the house
for any necessity

dress
carefully

pack as if
you might be gone for ten,
fifteen days

you never know
where terror’s claw
will grab you

the ever-watchful eye
can see you
everywhere

13.11.2020

Translated by the Russian Reader

Oleg Kotelnikov: La mort en rose

Oleg Kotelnikov, La mort en rose, 2020. 90 x 90 cm, oil on canvas

 

Oleg Kotelnikov, La mort en rose
23 October 2020 – 5 December 2020
Curated by Marina Alvitr and Katya Kabalina

Oleg Kotelnikov (b.1958) gained fame in the 1980s as a member of the New Artists, a group founded in 1982 by Timur Novikov.

The show features fifty graphic works, produced in 2020, which continue the upbeat Petersburg necrorealist tradition. “When we are born, we start dancing, and it is the dance of death.” For the artist, a work of art is the movement of life, a set of accidents and overwrites, a “punk scream” here and now.

Oleg says, “Art is contemporary (with time), it reflects time. Art that does not reflect its time is not contemporary.”

To contextualize the era and tell about the culture that Oleg and his friends shaped when a new world was emerged, the show will also feature videos and documentary archives. Buratinovka, an installation produced in collaboration with Irina Venskaya, attempts to interpret these archives creatively.

In addition to Kotelnikov’s works and the collaboration with Venskaya, the exhibition features Kotelnikov’s collaborations with Yevgeny Yufit.

[…]

Source: ART4 Museum

АRТ4 Museum
Khlynovskii tupik, 4, Moscow
Subway stations: Arbatskaya, Tverskaya and Pushkinskaya
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 12 to 8 pm
Tickets cost 300 rubles
https://www.art4.ru/

 

Oleg Kotelnikov, La Mort en Rose. ART4 Museum, Moscow. Exhibition view

 

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

Seven Poems by Oleg Kotelnikov

1.

the page
of history
is blank
the growth
of a plant
is plain
the sides
of each
scene
scratched
and starred

Oleg Kotelnikov, La mort en rose, 2020. 86 x 61 cm, acrylic, tempera, paper

 

2.

the devil walks the line
upright
wash your hands before you dine
at night

 

Oleg Kotelnikov, La mort en rose, 2020. 86 x 61 cm, acrylic, tempera, paper

3.

thunder over the field no rain
the crowbar burns in the chief’s hand
blood curdles in blue veins
a carrot is stuck in dear loins
the enemy won’t get their screws
into the junk food stew

 

Oleg Kotelnikov, La mort en rose, 2020. 86 x 61 cm, acrylic, tempera, paper

 

4.

the happiest minutes
happen before and after riots

 

Oleg Kotelnikov, La mort en rose, 2020. 86 x 61 cm, acrylic, tempera, paper

 

5.

nature, not the tokens of power,
nourishes water and partly
inspires with thoughts of liberty
the people living in it
in times of turmoil and bad weather

 

Oleg Kotelnikov, La mort en rose, 2020. 86 x 61 cm, acrylic, tempera, paper

6.

in the temple of the Lord
in the temple of the arts
a virgin in underwear
indulged her whims insensibly
two for one
one in three
dimensions
God

 

Oleg Kotelnikov, La mort en rose, 2020. 86 x 61 cm, acrylic, tempera, paper

7.

like circles of hell on the water
the traces of people disperse
a ship is going down
it is judgment day on board
there is only one direction
up towards chiaroscuro

All images courtesy of Art4 Museum. Poems selected and translated by the Russian Reader

Belarusian Children’s Writers Call for End to Violence

Belarusian Children’s Writers Against Violence
Oleg Grushetsky
Novy Chas
September 27, 2020

Belarusian children’s writers have recorded a video message in which they condemn the violent actions of the authorities, demand an end to the violence, and ask for restoration of the law.

Well-known Belarusian children’s writers, poets and translators, playwrights, publishers and illustrators, winners of numerous literary awards and creative competitions have made a video message demanding that the Belarusian authorities stop violence and restore the law. Anna Yankuta, Vera Burlak, Nadezhda Yasminska, Natalka Kharitonyuk, Nadya Kandrusevich-Shidlovskaya, Diana Balyko, Olga Akulich,  Andrey Zhvalevsky and Evgeniya Pasternak, and Maria Martysevich recorded the video message. The appeal was supported by Andrey Khodanovich, Maria Bershadskaya, Yuri Nesterenko, Anna Zenkova, and Oleg Grushetsky.

The appeal made by the children’s writers differs from a number of others: it was recorded in a way that resembles the manner of story or fairy tale.

We suggest that you read the text of the message.

Anna Yankuta

Writers can’t be outside of politics, because what we write is politics, even if we write for children. If we don’t fight evil and injustice in life, how will we write about it in books?

Vera Burlak

Children believe books. That’s why it’s important for writers to tell children what they themselves believe. I believe that freedom is necessary: freedom of thought, freedom of imagination, freedom from fear.

Nadezhda Yasminska

Children not only believe in fairy tales, but they also call writers wizards. Their faith is touching and quite precious to us. And we are ready to fight evil, violence, and lawlessness, even though in real life we don’t have magic wands.

Natalka Kharitonyuk

I don’t have a magic wand. But I have a way to take revenge on the security forces and falsifiers, and all the forces of darkness that have gone on the rampage in Belarus. The freedom of children will be my revenge—the freedom that children find in stories and fairy tales. Freedom that cannot be shot or sent to the jail on Okrestin Street.

Nadya Kandrusevich-Shidlovskaya

Children’s literature is a real art that does not tolerate censorship and ideology. Only in a free country can authentic children’s books be freely written, illustrated, and translated. We are against violence, deception and captivity.

Diana Balyko

As it is never too late to have a happy childhood, so it is never too late to realize yourself as a person, as a citizen, and start living in a free country of happy people. And we don’t have to leave Belarus to do this. All we need to do is stop the dictatorship.

Olga Akulich

Children know very well that an adult is not the one who is the strongest, the most evil, or the most cunning. Adults are objective, fair and willing to cooperate. Adults, be adults!

Evgeniya Pasternak and Andrey Zhvalevsky

In fairy tales, good always vanquishes evil. It’s the same way in real life. The evil dragon will slink back into its dungeon. Harry Potter will defeat Voldemort. The Belarusian people will find their fern flower. And a good fellow shall break Koschei’s needle. We will win!

Maria Martysevich

Quiet, mice, quiet, quiet:
We’re being held hostage by a psycho.
Don’t wake the cat with a squeak,
Don’t rock the boat with your paw—
The wolves will come out of the dark,
They’ll kick everyone’s tails.
Only our mice are punks,
Lullabies won’t put them to sleep.
Our mice are flower children,
You can’t break their bouquet like that:
Without the cat, we are in charge.
Shame on you, cats. Long live [Belarus]!

Thanks to Yulya Tsimafeyeva for the heads-up. Translated from the Russian and the Belarusian by the Russian Reader with some assistance from Yandex Translate.