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 Contemporary Russian Poetry pt. II

 Author:  Topic:  Posted:
Dec 06, 2001
This is part two of the series; part one you can find in my previous diary entry here.

This time, I'm continuing to post exclsuive translations of Egor Letov. This is from his "existentialist" phase, spanning approximately 1989-1993. It was marked by much more involved and flowery poetic language, with a new element of folk incroppings. This period is generally considered his best, though people say that this is due to schizophrenia and/or drug abuse.

In any case, here's another exclusive release for readers:


More diaries by tkatchev
Fuck the geeks.
Totalitarian America
This just in:
A Question for Americans.
For Inden.
Hell in your Handbasket
Another one bites the dust...
Another terrorist act.
OMG, ESR is a troll!
Win a fabulous trip to North Korea.
Contemporary Russian Poetry
Happy Constitution Day!
Postmodern Art, Pt. I
Postmodernist Art, Pt. II
Contemporary Russian Poetry, Pt. III
Babylon Must Fall.
Happy New Year!
Weblog Pornography
Discover the Russia you never knew.
"New Chronology": As Requested.
LOTR: Please don't kill me.
The Satanic Nature of Kuro5hin is Revealed.
Link Propagation.
(Reading list)
The Benefits of Browsing Slashdot.
Kuro5hit Update
Controversial Wallpaper
Serious Inquiry about Paganism
Liberalists celebrating Hilter's birthday.
Happy Mayday!
Brilliant Kuro5hin article.
Please excuse the rudity.
Oh ghod this is rich.
Another mindless link.

Seven Spunky Steps Over the Horizon, pt. I

The sky is shaking under my feet,
The news are flying off into far-off lands,
Flowered into troubled circles,
The thundering view, the starry dust

  Willful rowboat, obedient stream,
  Seven spunky steps over the horizon.

Following the footsteps of the sworn volunteers,
Into icy depths of dry rivers,
Into flooded waters of dry wells,
Into lollipop fear,
Into unknown fords.

  Long little night, short little day,
  Seven spunky steps over the horizon.

The punished son never grew up,
The capricious oar is refusing to row,
The stubborn parachute didn't open on time,
The flittery boomerang decided to believe that,
  Well, there just isn't any going back,
  No, there isn't any going back.

No, you better listen
To the rain biting into my palms,
Listen to the mouse running over my throat,
Listen to the breach forming under my heart,
To the winter crawling into my guts,
To the lichen crawling onto my spine,
To the water springing into my eyes,
To the persistent dandelion ripping into concrete,
To the steady rusting of crystalline doors.

Listen to the rye growing into my skin,
Listen to the mouse running over my throat,
Listen to the laughter bubbling forth from my gut,
Listen to the rainbow flowing into your swollen veins,
  Sweet little rainbow, late little rainbow.
To the apple-tree giving birth to a star,
  Tiny little star, forgotten, domestic, and cute.
Listen to the movements in abandoned towns
Of uncontrollable choruses of wooden brides.

Listen to the rye growing under my heart,
Listen to the mouse running over my throat,
Listen to the night swelling into my guts,
To the grass biting into my palms,
To the milk drying on my lips,
To the worms stirring in my spleen,
To the grasshoper stirring in amber stones,
  Submerging himself into races from nowhere to noplace.

Yeah, things are going just great,
The nameless bunny is afraid
Under the eyeballs of the fences of the stuffy
Corners of your own dank insides.

The sky fell under my feet,
The news flew off into far-off lands,
Ruptured into molten circles,
The thundering plain, the starry swamp.

  Willful rowboat, obedient stream,
  Seven spunky steps over the horizon,
  Seven icy bridges over the horizon,
  Seven rainy days over the horizon.

(c. 1992, Listen to the original. [MP3])


Seven Steps (none / 0) (#1)
by Anonymous Reader on Thu Dec 6th, 2001 at 09:32:15 PM PST
Mmmm. Perhaps it's the translation, but this short-lined prose seems to have no literary merit whatsoever.

But thanks for posting it.

Seven Steps to the door (5.00 / 1) (#3)
by hauntedattics on Fri Dec 7th, 2001 at 10:58:00 AM PST
Mmmm. Perhaps it's the writing style, or the fact that you're a pansy-ass Anonymous Reader, but your comment seems to have no merit whatsoever.

Why don't you go back to listening to N'Sync or Staind or whatever the flavor of the month is, and let the rest of us enjoy something thought-provoking and profound for once?

Seven Steps to Ignorance (none / 0) (#7)
by Anonymous Reader on Sat Dec 8th, 2001 at 10:55:05 AM PST
I have a degree in Literature from a leading university.

What are your credentials, bub?

wow (none / 0) (#10)
by nathan on Sat Dec 8th, 2001 at 01:32:51 PM PST
You call that "credentials?"

Li'l Sis: Yo, that's a real grey area. Even by my lax standards.

Damn... (none / 0) (#13)
by hauntedattics on Mon Dec 10th, 2001 at 10:06:10 AM PST
Literature degree from a leading university and all you can come up with is that this has "no literary merit whatsoever?"

You've been gypped. Call up Lawrence Summers and demand a refund.

construction (none / 0) (#14)
by johnny ambiguous on Mon Dec 24th, 2001 at 07:42:54 PM PST
I have a degree in Literature from a leading university.

I'm a mother fucking construction worker and I like it. Hey have a heart, instead of hoard it all like you bastards always do, leave a little pleasure for us lower orders, will you?

Yours WDK -

Getting into my Chevrolet Magic Fire, I drove slowly back to the office. - L. Rosen

Tyrannical regimes in Russia (none / 0) (#2)
by nobbystyles on Fri Dec 7th, 2001 at 03:33:57 AM PST
Lead to great works of art being produced. Look at the art being produced under the Tsars and Stalin despite the threat of being executed, being deported to Siberia or getting beaten and tortured up by the secret police.

Although Putin is fairly authoritarian by Western standards if this poem a true reflection of contemporary art in Russia, then art lovers in the rest of the world need a return to harsh dictatorship. Your people's suffering leads indirectly to our enjoyment....

thanks for posting (none / 0) (#4)
by nathan on Fri Dec 7th, 2001 at 12:56:14 PM PST
I'm really enjoying the series.

Li'l Sis: Yo, that's a real grey area. Even by my lax standards.

thanks for posting (none / 0) (#5)
by nathan on Fri Dec 7th, 2001 at 01:06:26 PM PST
I'm really enjoying the series.

Li'l Sis: Yo, that's a real grey area. Even by my lax standards.

Nice. (none / 0) (#6)
by Anonymous Reader on Sat Dec 8th, 2001 at 02:25:32 AM PST
The poem begins with paradoxical juxtapositions of imagery that sieze the reader's attention (sky under feet, starry dust). Mention is made of the news flying into far-off lands, bringing to mind the shallow hype effect that often seen in the modern age of readily available information. The poet then inserts an refrain heavy with ironic use of "self-empowerment" language: "seven spunky steps over the horizon".

A second verse continues the paradoxical phrases, this time usd to reinforce the ironic tone achieved by the refrain (i.e. the deeds of the grandly titled "sworn volunteers" seem pretty feeble if the "icy depths" they slogged through were in a dry river, and the only fear they had to deal with was of the lolipop sort, etc). The ironic refain is repeated: "seven spunky steps over the horzon". So far the narrative voice seems to be of a "cynical smartass" tone.

Then the language abruptly shifts into a series of straight-on declarative sentences that oppose the empty boosterism of the opening lines. The imagery is all negativity, of man's tools turning against him. The rebellious boomerang at the end of the third verse asserts: "there's no going back." With this reference to the unforgiving march of time, the poet segues cleanly into some exquisite imagery of death and decay. The middle three verses are where the poet makes his point: the lyrical morbid images pile on, one after the other, when suddenly a few brief glimpses of hope and laughter are presented, before the corpse imagery takes over again, ending with a fossilized grasshopper, a classic symbol of eternity and death (note the pleasing symmetrical structure of the middle three lines, gloom-hope-gloom. This sort of thing is what separates poetry from some guy jotting down his thoughts). Against the easy answer of cynicsm, the poet opposes clear-eyed confrontation with mortality, and appreciation for the small glints of the good that are nontheless to be found in our brief span on earth.

The poem wraps things up by seguing back into irony: "yeah, things are going just great", but this time the sarcasm is tempered with a vein of negativity: the sarcastic kid has been shaken up by a glimpse of his (and our) impending death(s). The "seven spunky steps" self-empowerment refrain is repeated one last time, but is echoed by two gloomier scenarios: icy bridges and rainy days. The poet seems to conclude by saying that the horizon is still there to be reached, but it will be a long, cold struggle.

One small note. (none / 0) (#8)
by tkatchev on Sat Dec 8th, 2001 at 12:33:37 PM PST
"Reaching the horizon" is a thinly veiled reference to death. (In fact, pretty much everything here is a thinly veiled reference to death.) The difference here is the "horizon" refers to death-as-a-turning-point, a sort of death that your whole life leads up to. This is a familiar notion, if you are at all religious. The author is playing religious sentiment off of childhood fears of death, quite cynically, IMO. It's a sort of "self-empowerment through suicide" paradox.

Peace and much love...

I guess I misread (none / 0) (#9)
by Anonymous Reader on Sat Dec 8th, 2001 at 01:21:39 PM PST
When you describe the poem in that context, it reminds me of Baudelaire: "when at last (time) has his foot on our backs/then we'll be able to hope and cry: on!/Just as we used to set out for China,/eyes fixed on the horizon and hair streaming (...) Death, old captain, it's time to weigh anchor!/This country bores us, O death, let us sail!/If the sea and sky are black as ink/our hearts you know well, are bursting with rays!"

Somewhat. (none / 0) (#11)
by tkatchev on Sat Dec 8th, 2001 at 02:14:50 PM PST
Yes, it's got something from Baudelaire, (Russian poetry in general is very much influenced by Baudelaire) but it's more of a cynical tongue-in-cheek reinterpretation of him, like something that a young child might make. Mostly, it's just based on interplay of the human fear of death and the central role of death in nature.

I'm still undecided if it's optimistic or not, though -- on one hand, there is this nihilist propaganda of suicide; on the other, there is a harmonious coming-to-terms with the natural inevitability of death.

Peace and much love...

egor letov questions (none / 0) (#12)
by Anonymous Reader on Sat Dec 8th, 2001 at 02:57:55 PM PST
1. What does "Grazyudanskaia Defense" mean?

2. What does the text on this picture say in english?

3. Has Letov expressed an opinion on Putin and the war in Chechnya? From what I've read, he seems to espouse some sort of communist-nostalgia/nationalism philosophy.

4. Do you know of a discography/list of publications site in english?


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