19 August 2017

Bakhtin in Saransk / Бахтин в Саранске

Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin / Михаил Михайлович Бахтин 

Bakhtin in Saransk

Capuchins with their rosaries clacking.
Saracens with their dawdling dances.
Gross giggle of Gog and Magog.

‘M.Bakhtin’, the Saransk students stated,
in disgust at their coursework ratings,
‘isn’t much of a pedagogue’.

Though Bakhtin was not superstitious, 
he knew this grey-suited official
was no imp of a student sprog—

‘The dean’s office has something on you,
but meanwhile your alter ego 
gets this town into dialogue’.

It’s the world capital for trachoma.
The bedbugs have made it their homeland.
Couple of factories. Chemical works.

It’s where pudgy no-hopers and nasties
manufacture alkalis and acids,
and engender their rickety whelps.

Where the crucified Deity’s temple
is no more than a small heap of rubble.
Tall weeds in the sanctuary.

Some old git of a watchman, not sober,
rises up like a clit in the hole for
a door that has nowhere to lead.

Here, spuds have gone bad by the shedload,
icons burned, and books have been shredded, 
folks have dropped by to do you know what.

Which is why, from decay, dusty matter,
charred coals and fabric in tatters,
here is humus, as much as you’d want.

People say, ‘sacred sites stay settled’.
So Chrysostom’s gold lips have been fretted
and turned into compost, pure grade.

In this place, what had been putrefaction
now miraculously finds resurrection—
it’s sending forth shoots, the dead grain.

An inscrutable joy filled the soul of
Professor Bakhtin; he recalled how,
in some idiot dream long ago,

Golosovker appeared with a yoke on.
And suddenly meaning awoke from
all thе bother, thе fuss, thе ado.

It all jelled. This town in Mordovia.
That ridiculous carrot-like penis.
Stars. The universe. And all the rest.

And the wrinkles were smoothed from his forehead.
But a mob of Mordvins was appealing
for permission to retake their test.

(Translation © 2017 G.S. Smith)

From: Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid, 1987)

The celebrated literary thinker Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) was arrested with his informal circle of associates in December 1928, just after completing his Problems of Dostoevsky’s Art (published 1929), with its key concept of dialogism. He was exiled rather than imprisoned, first to Kazakhstan, then in 1936-7 to Saransk, the capital of the Mordovian Republic, about 400 miles east of Moscow; at the time its population was just over 50% ethnic Russian. In 1945 he went back and taught there at the Pedagogical Institute until he retired in 1961. He was in fact a valued Head of Department (Russian and Foreign Literatures) and teacher, and a highly productive scholar. In particular, his Rabelais and his World (as the first of his works to be translated into English was called in 1965; in Russian The Work of Francois Rabelais and the Folk Culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance), to which the first stanza of Loseff’s poem alludes, was largely written in Saransk. See N.L.Vasilev, ‘Mordovskii universitet v sudbe M.M.Bakhtina’ in M.M.Bakhtin v sovremennom mire (Saransk, Izd-vo Mordovskogo universiteta, 2016), 28-33, with abundant bibliography.
Yakov Emmanuilovich Golosovker (1890-1967) was an eminent philosopher and classicist, famous for his translations into Russian of Ancient Greek lyric poetry and German philosophers. He was arrested in 1936 and spent three years in Vorkuta; he was allowed to return to Moscow in 1942. The ‘yoke’ he is imagined to be wearing here refers to an extended metaphor in Chapter IV, ‘Thesis and Antithesis’, of Golosovker’s Dostoevsky and Kant (1963), where the philosopher’s antinomies (from the Critique of Pure Reason) are said to be ‘ingenious constructions made of four swinging yokes’. See A.V.Korovashko, ‘K interpretatsii stikhotovoreniia Lva Loseva “Bakhtin v Saranske”: Semantika i kontekst’, in M.M.Bakhtin v sovremennom mire, 200-202.

Бахтин в Саранске

Капуцинов трескучие четки. 
Сарацинов тягучие танцы. 
Грубый гогот гог и магог. 

«М. Бахтин, — говорили саранцы,
 с отвращением глядя в зачетки, — 
не ахти какой педагог». 

Хотя не был Бахтин суевером,
но он знал, что в костюмчике сером 
не студентик зундит, дьяволок: 

«На тебя в деканате телега, 
а пока вот тебе alter ego —
с этим городом твой диалог». 

Мировая столица трахомы. 
Обжитые клопами хоромы. 
Две-три фабрички. Химкомбинат. 

Здесь пузатая мелочь и сволочь 
выпускает кислоты и щелочь, 
рахитичных разводит щенят. 

Здесь от храма распятого Бога 
только щебня осталось немного. 
В заалтарьи бурьян и пырей. 

Старый ктитор в тоске и запое 
возникает, как клитор, в пробое 
никуда не ведущих дверей. 

Вдоволь здесь погноили картошки, 
книг порвали, икон попалили, 
походили сюда за нуждой. 

Тем вернее из гнили и пыли, 
угольков и протлевшей ветошки 
образуется здесь перегной. 

Свято место не может быть пусто. 
Распадаясь, уста златоуста 
обращаются в чистый компост. 

И протлевшие мертвые зерна 
возрождаются там чудотворно, 
и росток отправляется в рост. 

Непонятный восторг переполнил 
Бахтина, и профессор припомнил, 
как в дурашливом давешнем сне 

Голосовкер стоял с коромыслом. 
И внезапно повеяло смыслом
в суете, мельтешеньи, возне. 

Все сошлось — этот город мордовский. 
Глупый пенис, торчащий морковкой.
И звезда. И вселенная вся. 

И от глаз разбегались морщины. 
А у двери толкались мордвины,
пересдачи зачета прося. 

27 July 2017


Camille Pissarro - Effet du Pluie au Valhermeil, Auvers-sur-Oise, 1871


Pissarro — you’re aware of his style,
what he puts in those sodden scenes,
so pick up your pen, if you please,
and describe for us what you descry
in this plasterwork leaked on by rains,
this window low-wattage can’t light,
this stain spreading ever more wide
on the Leader’s tarpaulin face,
and this driving wet snow that whips
the word СЛАВА behind, upper left,
with ПОЧЕТ right up there next to it
with its middle ‘Ч’ coming adrift.
This wet snow isn’t yet a storm,
but all day it’s been battering away
at the shiny gilt tinsel and braid,
at the window’s grey-wadded form.
So pick up your pen, if you please,
without knowing which way you’ll go,
from the maw of the metro beast
toward the skitter of tyre and sole.

Driven crazy by trams’ chiming row,
here’s a sparrow instructing its young,
‘In ten years, all of time will be through.
You were born when the end had begun.’
In Big Bullyboy’s sanctum meanwhile,
waves of warmth rise to fill the air,
from the raindrops the window is veiled
by the Leader’s ten-foot chevelure.
From his tea steam wafts over the pot.
The newspaper tells him what’s what.
And the Leader’s through-the-nose speech
between the lines labours the point.
But the lord of this luxury suite
doesn’t get it that day after day
in the corridor waits Heart Attack.
‘We’re not open today, didn’t I say?’
‘Never mind, when I’m free I’ll be back.’

To their last dirty crevice you know
Utrillo with his plasterwork scenes, 
so pick up your broom, if you please,
take a flight all around this town.
There beneath you on tracks wet with rain
will be trains, and black granite slabs,
and old ladies standing in line
in the hope of one final stash,
so that then they can drop down dead
on a grey-wadded hospital bed. 
That sparrow is singing nearby,
its young does a poo on the ‘Ч’, 
and, surveilling your farewell flight,
the word СЛАВА, behind, upper left.

(Translation © 2017 G.S. Smith)

From Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid), 1985

The words СЛАВА [slàva, ‘glory’], and ПОЧЕТ [pochòt, ‘honour’] frequently appeared in the ubiquitous slogans mounted on rooftops during the Soviet period, particularly those in which the Communist Party sang its own praises. The letter ‘Ч’ is pronounced ‘ché’.


Знаешь ты, из чего состоит 
отсырелый пейзаж Писарро, 
так бери же скорее перо, 
опиши нам, каков этот вид
штукатурки в потеках дождя, 
в электричестве тусклом окно, 
расплывающееся пятно
на холстинном потртете вождя, 
этот мокрый снежок, что сечет
слово СЛАВА о левом плече
и соседнее слово ПОЧЕТ
с завалившейся буквою Ч.
Эта морось еще не метель,
но стучится с утра дотемна
в золотую фольгу, в канитель, 
в сероватую вату окна.
Так бери же скорее перо,
сам не зная, куда ты пойдешь, 
отступая от пасти метро
к мельтешению шин и подошв.

Ошалев от трамвайных звонков 
воробей поучает птенца: 
«Десять лет до скончанья веков.
Ты родился в начале конца».
В кабинете Большого Хамла 
поднимаются волны тепла,
и закрыто окно от дождя 
трехметровой прической вождя. 
Над чайком восходит парок.
Он читает в газете урок.
И гугнивый вождя говорок 
телепается между строк.
Но владельцу роскошных палат 
невдомек, что уж сутки подряд 
дожидался Инфаркт в проходной. 
«Нет приема, тебе говорят». 
«Ничего, я зайду в выходной».

Коль до трещинки грязной знаком 
штукатурный пейзаж Утрилло,
то бери поскорей помело,
облети этот город кругом.
Под тобою на мокрых путях 
поезда, и блестит диабаз,
и старухи в очередях 
выжидают последний припас, 
перед тем как удариться ниц 
в сероватую вату больниц. 
Воробей где-то рядом поет,
с лету какает птенчик на Ч,
и следит твой прощальный полет
слово СЛАВА о левом плече.

07 July 2017

Shana Smith: Lev Vladimirovich / Шана Смит: Лев Владимирович

Shana Smith

Lev Vladimirovich

They ask me why.
How does a Southern hillbilly speak
the language of a frozen tundra,
the Cold War, of purges and pogroms?
A practical question, a pragmatic people –
It all started with a contradiction … or three.
A Saltine cracker wrapped in golden ivy.
An Amazon felled by a gray-sweatered sprite.
A swamp city eclipsing the sun.
Incomplete smiles answer words
that cannot explain an impossible dream shared:
Svoboda i odinochestvo.
He never told me that, above all,
he craved freedom and solitude,
but perhaps I understood in a way that knowing can’t  –
He lived best when feeling found form;
the inexplicable metered out into wing-tipped words
trailing snowberry velvet on rough cave walls.

From this fullness of solitude
he took me to parasite trials and silenced voices
until exile escaped the censors;
to an endless icy plain that caged
innocence, suffering, expectation;
to the indifferent candlelit window
and confused gloves of a final yellow parting;
to mothers, sisters, wives huddled hopeless,
breath fading into stone-cold prison walls;
to a monkey in a crowded bus,
tip-tapping chaos onto Soviet commuters’ heads.
All this he showed me without ever leaving
the white clapboard halls whose windows
saw the same sky of Brodsky, Zoshchenko, Akhmatova.

In him he carried a world that was sometimes absurd
to show us our rules are ephemeral, at best.
He carried what had been taken but never lost,
and with a finger to his beard,
a light passing through thick glasses
to small, dark, bottomless eyes paused in thought,
he would crack open the door, and it burst full
with lacquered music, stringless puppets,
and cucumbers chasing vodka until dawn.
But when he left, the door did not close;
the wings he found for us still soar,
shimmered to life by motley stars dancing
beneath the prism of his humble lion’s soul.

                                                        15 November 2009

Шана Смит

Лев Владимирович

Почему, спрашивают они.
Как так вышло, что южанка и провинциалка
изъясняется на языке 
мерзлой тундры,
холодной войны, 
погромов и чисток?
Деловитый народ, их интересуют существо дела:
Все началось с противоречия… вернее с трех:
Девушка из захолустья в элитном университете,
Амазонка, поверженная эльфом в сером свитере.
Город на болоте, затмевающий солнце.
Полуулыбки в ответ на слова, 
неспособные передать общую мечту:
svoboda i odinochestvo.
Он так и не сказал мне, что больше всего на свете 
хотел свободы и одиночества,
но, наверно, я поняла не умом, а как-то иначе –
лучше всего ему жилось, когда чувство обретает форму;
неизъяснимое мерится оперенным словом,
и стелится бархатным снежноягодником по шероховатому своду пещеры.

Из этой полноты одиночества
он увел меня туда, где судили за тунеядство 
и лишали  речи,
пока изгнанник не ускользал от цензоров;
увел на бескрайную ледяную равнину,
 где содержались под стражей
невинность, страдание, надежда;
к равнодушно желтым свечам в окне
и к перепутанным перчаткам последней встречи;
к жалкой толпе матерей, сестер, жен, 
чье дыханье ложится на промерзшие стены тюрьмы;
к обезьяне в битком набитом автобусе,
мечущейся по головам граждан пассажиров.
Все это он показал мне, не покидая
белых, обшитых доской комнат, чьи окна 
видели то же небо, что и Бродский, Зощенко, Ахматова.

Он нес в себе мир, который порой был абсурден, 
чтобы показать нам, что наши правила в лучшем случае эфемерны.
Он нес в себе то, что было отнято, но не потеряно,
палец прикасался к подбородку,
свет струился сквозь толстые стекла очков 
к маленьким, темным, бездонным глазам, захваченным мыслью;
он открывал дверь, за которой теснилась 
музыка на виниле и марионетки без ниток, 
и огурцы до рассвета принимались гоняться за водкой.
А когда он ушел, дверь не закрылась;
Крылья, которые он подарил нам, 
продолжают пари́ть,
оживленные танцем 
пестрых звезд 
мерцающих  в призме 
кроткой львиной души.
15 ноября 2009 г

(© 2009 Shana Smith)

(Translation by Mikhail Gronas)

Shana Smith studied Russian language and literature with Lev and Nina Loseff at Dartmouth College in the early 1990s.

From: Лифшиц / Лосев / Loseff: Сборник памяти Льва Лосева (A Collection in Memory of Lev Loseff), Barry Scherr and Mikhail Gronas Editors, New Literary Review Publishers, Moscow, 2017

04 July 2017

New Book! Лифшиц / Лосев / Loseff: Сборник памяти Льва Лосева (A Collection in Memory of Lev Loseff)

New Book! Лифшиц / Лосев / Loseff: Сборник памяти Льва Лосева (A Collection in Memory of Lev Loseff)

Compiled by Mikhail Gronas and Barry Scherr
Составление Михаила Гронаса и Барри Шерра  

Новое Литературное Обозрение (New Literary Review), Москва (Moscow) 2017

29 June 2017

The Bus Back from Narva / Автобус из Нарвы

The Bus Back from Narva

Here’s the thing — delirious, right?
Two tech-eds taking a bus ride.
Past the plant called ‘Phosphorite’,
poisoning the whole of nature,
i.e. soil, and air, and water,
soon we’ll all be choked by it.

Bumpy road. Another turning
’s near. Exchange another gurning
sneer. For three straight centuries
they’ve competed, who’s more noisome —
Russia’s, Prussia’s, or Livonia’s
belching-smokestack industries.

High above its scorched-earth gradient
soars the donjon of an ancient
castle, one that keeps a watch
steady on its neighbour Russian.
Theirs is no polite discussion
’cross the river, but reproach.

And the Russian castle’s past it,
down into its derelict bastion
seeps the apathetic slime.
Here’s the thing – proof, emendation,
mockup, copy saved for later —
much like all the rest of life.

From Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid), 1985

(Translation © 2017 G.S. Smith)

Автобус из Нарвы

Это так, в порядке бреда.
Едут рядом два техреда.
Предприятье “Фосфорит”
отравляет всю природу,
то есть почву, воздух, воду,
скоро всех нас уморит.

Тряская дорога. Пово-
рот. Кривит усмешка снова
рот. Уж триста лет подряд,
соревнуясь — кто зловонней,
Руссий, Пруссий и Ливоний
предприятия дымят.

Над откосом подожженым
возвышается донжоном
старый замок и в упор
видит русского соседа.
Между ними не беседа
через речку, а укор.

Русский замок — маразматик,
в обветшалый казематик
заползает вялый слизь.
Это так — помарки и гранки,
заготовочки, болванки,
как и вся, вообще-то, жизнь.

15 June 2017

The Year 1937: An Ode / Ода на 1937 год

Moscow/Москва 1937

The Year 1937: An Ode


On some forgotten date... Oh, come now, really,
it was a date that people surely know—
on this date, then, a new note had its birthday,
sprang into being, then began to grow,
muscling its way out from the orchestra
like Gorky into life, like breast from bra,
like the proud forelock on the Cossack’s brow,
or by Picasso shaped from a guitar, or
imported to Old Russia by the Tartar,
or knife-scratched onto glass by a small boy.


So, here comes June, recruit to village hall.
Terror sun-like over the USSR.
A foetus lies there like a comma, sort of.
The girl’s already gone to fetch some water,
‘A-Apple’ dying to start the alphabet.
Krylov’s already tuned up his quartet.
June strides with squeezebox to the village hall.
The stratonauts soar high above the Union,
above this woman too, her belly huge, who
waits for a tram that just won’t come at all.


For the state holiday granite’s polished bright,
the garden sleeps in curlers of cast iron,
in an Egypt-worth of pyramid-stacked carbines
there’s forage caps, whose stars rise with the night,
and buckles with their brass stars too ascending,
in the capital the walls of the old kremlin
touch up the morning with a tender light—
the way that mummy sprinkles talcum powder
on nappy rash. Aggrieved by his valet
the son of man is bawling ever louder.


Yakir’s no more, Blyukher’s extinguished too,
and Tukhachevsky takes down Uborevich.
Some things can’t happen, then they bloody do.
Ouch! Never mind, dear—it’ll soon get better.
O poplar down, why fly hither and yon,
those handbills you can never ever whiten—
Chelyuskin’s crew! won’t be chewed up! by winter!
like teeth they are extracted, one by one…
The Star of Nonsense might make you a loan,
but only for amounts too small to matter.


‘So, we shall sing, let the red rooster run,
reduce the juice, leave levity less labour’
—the thoughts of Daniil Ivanych Kha.
And Mikhail Mikhailych Z., his neighbour,
nibbled a sandwich, sipped his rosé wine,
and thought, ‘What ever next, just wait a while,
the people’s pathway ’s not grown over—even,
in fact, the mob comes crowding every day
to sport and feast over the yawning grave’.
(He exits, sandwich not completely eaten.)


One hundred years before, bullet in belly,
convulsed, the poet Pushkin passed away—
that’s why the people now are making merry.
But why is it for us the carriage waits?
Why’s it for us the piper toots his toot?
Why ever do we, scorning sleep and rest time,
at a nag that dawdles launch a salty cuss,
why, like the head lad of the village, hasten,
responding to the call of Russian blood
when water’s thicker between that and us?


The gloom of night lies over Georgia’s peaks,
the Star of Nonsense switches on its lustre,
and here’s what now is clear as clear can be:
that poetry is both base and superstructure—
it sings out like a flute, creaks like a bed,
and meanwhile flies high over its own head,
like mattress fluff above a bloody pogrom,
like MIGs above the rugged Kurile coast,
like mignonette o’er Gorky Park, or pong that
floats o’er the sturgeon at the Writers’ House.


So here’s your June! Recruit to village hall,
into this great big world the baby falls,
and sees on some tough Baltic sailor’s chest
a tattoo that announces (just in jest)
that in this world no happiness can be,
a plant that looks to be a kind of flute,
is tooting forth, reading from its own leaf,
‘The Turkish March’. What’s this, though? Hang about.
Are you the one, or not, you unknown note?
Yes, yes! You are the one, you are in truth.


You are the one. You grew up, it turns out,
you weren’t done in by hitman or physician,
you have a birthday that is not a date,
a tone that in the scale holds no position,
in terms of where is home you have no level,
remaining on this side of good and evil,
scratching a knife across a dark glass surface,
with nose and lips scrunched up to it, then boom!
A drumbeat! Listen! Trumpets? Trumpets surely!
Trumpet and drum through background noise and gloom.


... facing us stand columns row on row,
a blue and sunny day, and tenderly exposed
’s a jasmine flower, and from round the corner
striding to meet us is a golden cohort—
their uniform! not made! of common stuff!
Over a gilded horn that silvery note
ascends and winds above.

(Translation © 2017 G. S. Smith)

[From Тайный советник (Privy Councillor), 1987] 

Translator’s Notes (and Queries)

I am very grateful to Mikhail Efimov, Nikita Eliseev, Robin Milner-Gulland, and Sarah Pratt (personal communications, September 2015), for generously sharing their expertise in explicating this text. I am solely responsible for the selection of notes and queries as presented below.

Lev Loseff was born in Leningrad on 15 June, 1937, at the height of Stalin’s Great Purge.

Nikita Eliseev summarizes his view of the poem as follows: ‘I think this is an ode about the way that no matter how they tried to do in poetry and poets, no matter how they tried to reduce them to the level of night soil men (zolotarei), they held on, survived, squeezed that silver note out of themselves and turned out to be a genuine golden company, a company covered in gold and not shit… Something like that’. [Мне думается, что это ода про то, что вот как ни гробили поэзию и поэтов, как ни опускали их до уровня золотарей, а они остались, выжили, выжали из себя серебряную ноту и оказались настоящей золотой ротой, ротой в золоте, а не в говне... Вот как-то так...] 
Robin Milner-Gulland argues that ‘This poem has a distinct journey, and distinctive tonalities, I feel. Beyond its amazing kaleidoscopic collage of Russia in that birth-year, it’s an investigation into what musicality (progenitor of all the arts and culture: both base & superstructure!) is, how it manifests itself—both discordantly and harmoniously—not least in the poet himself, how it relates to all of nature. An ‘Ode’ is at heart a musical form, and often structured as a logical progression. You might say it’s an investigation into the birth and nature of the ‘note’, ‘no-ta’. The tonality (to-na!) takes us back to some of the best poets of the 1930s, with basically 18th c. structures, often diction, disrupted by startling ‘sdvigi’.’ 

The nature of this ‘new note’ is curious. It is unambiguously musical in origin, but is capable of being scratched on glass. The non-Russian element in its putative ancestry (Spanish, Cossack, Tartar) is intriguing.

As with the other poem of his most closely comparable to this one, ‘1937-1947-1977’ (see  http://levloseff.blogspot.com/2015/07/1937-1947-1977.html), Loseff does not maintain strict chronological order in the presentation of his material, but moves freely in time forward and backwards, between private and public spheres, and between physical locations (chiefly Leningrad and Moscow).
The form of the poem deserves comment. It uses the 10-line stanza length that was canonical for about 75 years for the panegyric ode in Russian from its introduction by Lomonosov in 1738, based on German practice. Only the first stanza of Losev’s poem uses the canonical rhyme scheme, though: AbAbDDdEEd (except that Losev’s lines 5 and 6 have what I once called a ‘pseudo-masculine’ rhyme). No two subsequent stanzas preserve this same scheme. And instead of the iambic tetrameter of eighteenth-century practice, Losev uses pentameter.

Stanza I

The phrase ‘like Gorky into life’ plays on the title of Part II of Gorky’s autobiography, usually translated into English as In the World (1916); the original Russian means something like ‘Being Someone’ (В людях, literally Among People), i.e. leaving home and getting a job, entering life as an adult individual.
Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ was painted in June 1937; his guitars, generally held to represent the human (female) body, come from earlier periods.

Stanza II

Идет июнь, как рекрут в сельсовет. What is the force of the simile? Is June just doing what it has to do, called by some authority? Later in the poem, it seems that joining up is done with enthusiasm and communal support, which is based on no good reasons.
Уже пошла девица за водой, а азбука раззявилась арбузом: on the first phrase, see Stanza VI below: this is the first allusion to Pushkin in the poem. On the second: in Russian children’s books for learning the alphabet, the letter ‘A’ is always illustrated with a watermelon (arbuz). The couplet is presumably meant to suggest the beginnings of literary consciousness in the young child. 
Krylov: the well-loved monument to Krylov stands not far from the entrance to the Summer Garden in Petersburg. The four animal-musicians from the fable ‘The Quartet’ appear at the right-hand front corner of its pedestalNikita Eliseev points out that the reference is sarcastic: in the fable, no matter which way round they sit, the animals (Monkey, Ass, Goat, and Bear) cannot manage to play in tune.
The stratonauts: During the 1930s, the USSR was among the world leaders of ascent into the stratosphere, using balloons. The three-man crew led by Georgii Prokof′ev (1902-39), which consisted of the Petersburger Konstantin Dmitrievich Godunov (1892-1965), and Ernst Karlovich Birnbaum (1894-1965), broke the world altitude record on 30 September 1933 at 60,698 feet. There were many catastrophes during the period 1931-9; seven of the 16 leading Soviet stratonauts perished. Prokof′ev committed suicide as a result of one such incident. The most famous Soviet achievement of 1937 in terms of aviation was and remains Chkalov’s 63-hour transpolar flight, from Moscow to Vancouver, which took place on 18-20 June.
над женщиной с ее огромным пузом,/трамвая ждущей, а его все нет: again Nikita Eliseev: ‘I think you’ve missed the allusion to an idiotic Soviet anecdote: ‘There’s two pregnant women and a pot-bellied old bloke standing there. [...] One woman says to the other, ‘What’re you looking for, boy or girl?’ ‘Boy’. ‘Me, a girl’. The fat bloke: ‘Me, a tram’.’ [Думаю, что Вы не заметили отсылки к идиотскому советскому анекдоту: "Стоят две беременные женщины и один пузатый дядька. Одна другой говорит: "Вы кого ждёте?" — "Мальчика" — "А я девочку" Пузатый дядька: "А я трамвая"..."]
 The woman concerned here is evidently Loseff’s mother. In another poem, ‘There But For… (15 June 1925)’ (S grekhom popolam (15 iyulya 1925)), whose title names a date 12 years to the day before his actual birthday, Loseff imagines being aborted. Abortion was made illegal in the USSR in 1936, and legalised again in 1955. For a translation of this poem, see As I Said, 96-101.


в Египте карабинных пирамид: Nikita Eliseev thinks this refers to ‘the Summer Garden opposite the Mikhailovskii (Inzhenernyi) Castle’, the spot where in 1941 the people’s militia was assembled, one of them being Loseff’s father, Vladimir Lifshits; their rifles would have been pyramid-stacked. These, though, are carbines, so the image refer not to real weapons, but depictions of them as a decoration, perhaps as part of a cast-iron railing.
The couplet ‘in the capital the walls of the old kremlin/touch up the morning with a tender light’ paraphrases the opening lines of one of the best-known ‘mass songs’ of the Stalin period, ‘Moscow in Maytime’, created in 1937, with words by Lebedev-Kumach and music by the Pokrass brothers. See http://www.mmsk.ru/notes/note/?id=45273. There are several videos online of performances of this song for May Day parades in Red Square during the Stalin period. cf. ‘Нежным светом озарялись/стены древнего Кремля./Силомером развлекались/тенниски и кителя’, Timur Kibirov, ‘Послание Н.Л.Рубинштейну’ (1990), another long poem that abounds in references to cultural paraphernalia of the 1930s and high Stalinism, similar in tone to Loseff’s. 


Yakir, Blyukher, Tukhachevsky, Uborevich: this couplet refers to what was officially labelled ‘The Case of the Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Organization in the Military’, the component of Stalin’s Great Purge that decapitated the officer corps of the Red Army. Marshal Tukhachevsky and seven other high-ranking officers, including Yakir and Uborevich, were arrested on 22 May 1937, accused of spying for Germany, tried in secret on 11 June, and executed that night. Vasilii Blyukher was a member of the tribunal. He went on to serve in the Far East and was promoted to Marshal, but was arrested as a Japanese spy in October 1938. Brought back to Moscow, one month later he died in prison after being tortured. 
‘Poplar down’: the down from thousands of cotton-poplar trees deluges Moscow in June. These trees were planted by command of Stalin, because, in theory, the down could be used as a component in making ammunition; see http://www.mk.ru/editions/daily/article/2006/06/17/181203-spasibo-stalinu-za-puh.html.
Chelyuskin’s crew: The vessel Chelyuskin, not an icebreaker, was sent to explore the Northern Maritime Route in August 1933, with a crew of 111. After being crushed in the ice, the vessel sank on 13 February 1934. The crew built an airstrip on the ice and was eventually flown to safety; the pilots who rescued them were the first to receive the nation’s highest decoration, Hero of the Soviet Union. Nikita Eliseev asserts that ‘those handbills’ refers to a famous newsreel image showing the returning Chelyuskin crew being showered with messages of greeting by the crowds lining their route; see  http://mos80.ru/ch/chaadaev_chhaidze/chelyuskintsy.html.  Also, the image and exclamatory style of ‘Chelyuskin’s crew! won’t be chewed up! by winter!’ refer to Marina Tsvetaeva’s lyric on the subject (1934), which begins: ‘O men of the Chelyuskin! The sound/is like clenched jaws!/Frost bursts out of them,/Bears bristle at them./And indeed by their jaws/into world fame/from the jaws of the ice/the comrades have been torn!’ (‘Челюскинцы! Звук —/Как сжатые челюсти./Мороз из них прет,/Медведь из них щерятся.//И впрямь челюстьми/— На славу всемирную —/Из льдин челюстей/Товарищей вырвали!)
 ‘The Star of Nonsense’ is an image from the concluding lines of the dramatic poem of 1931 by Aleksandr Vvedensky (1904-41), ‘God is Possibly All Around’, a classic of the absurdist literature associated with the OBERIU group of Leningrad writers. Another principal poet from the group, Daniil Kharms (1905-42), appears in Stanza V. ‘Like Kharms, Vvedenskii devoted his life to an essentially theological attempt to reconcile a denial of rational meaning with an affirmation of meaning beyond human reason. This is implicit in his concept of the “star of nonsense” (zvezda bessmyslicy) and is elaborated, albeit absurdly, in works such as “God Is Possibly All Around” (“Krugom vozmozhno Bog”), “Fact, Theory, and God” (“Fakt, teoriia, i Bog”), and “A Saint and His Subordinates” (“Sviatoi i ego podchinennye”)[…]’ (Sarah Pratt, Nikolai Zabolotsky: Enigma and Cultural Paradigm, Evanston, Northwestern UP, 2000, p. 85). However, Nikita Eliseev considers that ‘[…] here there is a general feeling of the absurd, not tragedy, in so far as in tragedy some meaning is inherent, whatever it may be, but meaning all the same, and in this case, of sanguinary senselessness, for which reason we have the frequent references to the poetry of the OBERIU, which more fully than anything else has conveyed the sense of the absurdity of the year 37’. [Я думаю, что тут общее ощущение абсурда, не трагедии, поскольку трагедии присущ хоть какой-то, но смысл, а именно, что кровавой бессмыслицы, по таковой причине частые отсылки к стихам обериутов, наиболее полно передавших ощущение абсурда 37-го...]


«Что ж, будем петь, пуская петуха,/поменьше пить, потешничать потише»: Nikita Eliseev asserts that ‘This means that in the circumstances of 37 one needs to live as quietly as possible. Take care to emphasise the official good humour and the official joyfulness […] but genuine relaxation—friendly feasts, private gatherings, pranks—you need to keep that tied up. It was a time to bury yourself in your burrow’. ['Это о том, что в условиях 37-го надо жить, как можно тише. Старательно подчёркивать официальное веселье и официальную радость ("петь, пуская петуха"), но настоящей раскованности — дружеские пиры, посиделки, розыгрыши — вот с этим надо завязывать. Пора забиваться в норку.'] The gravity of the statement is undercut, of course, by the over-the-top alliteration. ‘Release the red rooster’ is an expression usually referring to anarchic arson by peasant rebels.
Mikhail Mikhailovich Zoshchenko (1895-1958), the Leningrad short-story writer known for his lugubrious depictions of ordinary people in ordinary situations, who was not oppressed during the 1930s, but subjected to official condemnation in 1946.


Pushkin died on 10 February 1837, after being fatally wounded in a duel two days before. The centenary of his death was commemorated in the USSR with massive pomp and wholesale re-imaging of him as a Russian national hero with dissident democratic and republican views rather than as aristocratic rake, imperialist/chauvinist in politics, and (at least towards the end of his life) a believing Christian. See Stephanie Sandler, Commemorating Pushkin: Russia’s Myth of a National Poet, Stanford UP, 2004.
Loseff’s poem makes passing reference to some of Pushkin’s best-known lyrics: in Stanza II to ‘Winter Evening’, in which the poet asks his old nurse to sing him old songs, including ‘how the girl went for water early in the morning’; in Stanza V ‘the red rooster’ possibly refers to ‘The Prophet’ (1826), with its final exhortation ‘with your word burn the hearts of men’, i.e. write engaged, public poetry; also in Stanza V, ‘Exegi momumentum’ (1836), with its boast about ‘the people’s path will not be overgrown’; and ‘Whether I wander through noisy streets’ (1829) with the phrase ‘at the entrance to the grave’; stanza VII cites the first line of ‘The gloom of night lies over Georgia’s hills’ (1829); and in stanza VIII, ‘…in this world there is no happiness’, comes from ‘It’s time, my friend, it’s time…’ (1836?).
Lines 4-10 of Stanza VI seem perhaps to present the poem’s core; is LL really suggesting that the Russians seem to respond enthusiastically to terror?


Gorky Park: in Russian ‘The Central Park of Culture and Rest, named after Gorky’. 
‘the Writers’ House’: the building housing the administration and dining facilities of the Union of Writers, open to members only.


растение, похожее на дудку,/«Турецкий марш» со своего ж листа/уже дудит. Nikita Eliseev sees in this a reference to Nikolai Zabolotsky’s poem ‘Lesnoe ozero’ (1938); the experience to which it refers probably occurred near Leningrad in the autumn of 1937 (Pratt, 233), and the poem was actually written in a railway coach for prisoners (vagonzak) en route to Siberia after Zabolotsky was arrested in 1938: ‘Один лишь кулик на судьбу негодует/И в дудку растенья бессмысленно дует.’
‘The Turkish March’: Association with the famous piano piece by Mozart would appear to be a red herring. The reference, suggests Mikhail Efimov, is rather to Soviet-Turkish relations, for which 1937 was a pivotal year, when, as a result of Turkey’s realignment with Fascist Germany, the friendly relations with the USSR that had been maintained since the revolutions in both countries began to cool. These friendly relations are documented in several films: see "Анкара — сердце Турции" (1934), commissioned by Ataturk; see http://www.kino-teatr.ru/doc/movie/sov/12283/annot/; and "Турция на подъеме" (1937), see http://www.eleven.co.il/article/14953. In July 1936 the Montreux Convention was signed, whereby Turkey regained control over the Straits, contrary to the interests of the USSR.


‘A drumbeat! Listen! Trumpets? Trumpets surely!/Trumpet and drum through background noise and gloom’. Mikhail Efimov suggests that the music concerned here may be Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47, which was composed between April and July 1937, and first performed on 21 November by the Leningrad Philharmonic under Evgenii Mravinsky. The performance was a triumph; it marked the composer’s return to the public after being brutally criticized the previous year. There is the additional connection that Shostakovich was called in by the KGB after the arrest of Tukhachevsky and interrogated about their relationship; the exact facts of this incident are disputed.


The jasmine flower is an enigmatic image.
a golden cohort: ‘The Golden Cohort’ (Zolotaya rota), originally an elite detachment of grenadiers, formed as an honour guard for the Tsar in 1827; later, by ironic contrast the phrase came to mean the urban dregs, with criminal associations. It also evokes zolotorotsy or zolotari, night soil men or honey bucket men, i.e. workers who removed human waste from dwellings before flush toilets came into general use (see Eliseev’s summary of the poem’s theme, above). The phrase probably indicates primarily the cohort of Leningrad poets and intellectuals born between 1930 and 1940, and in particular Loseff’s own particular group of friends, who appear constantly as individuals and as a group in his writings in poetry and prose.
Over a gilded horn that silver keynote/ascends and winds above: Could this be the Golden Horn in Istanbul? Or does it refer to the hull of the ship on top of the St Peter-Paul Fortress in Petersburg?

Ода на 1937 год


Какого-то забытого... Ах, что ты,
какого-то известного числа
был день рожденья новой нотой —
она вдруг народилась и росла,
и выбивалась из мотивчика,
как Горький в люди, как грудь из лифчика,
как гордый чуб на запорожский лоб;
то ль вычесал ее Пикассо из гитары,
то ль завезли ее на Русь татары,
то ль мальчик по стеклу ножом проскреб.


Идет июнь, как рекрут в сельсовет.
Стоит террор, как солнце над Союзом.
Лежит зародыш в виде запятой.
Уже пошла девица за водой,
а азбука раззявилась арбузом,
уже Крылов настроил свой квартет.
Идет июнь с гармошкой в сельсовет.
Летают стратонавты над Союзом,
над женщиной с ее огромным пузом,
трамвая ждущей, а его все нет.


Отполирован к празднику гранит,
спит сад в своих чугунных папильотках,
в Египте карабинных пирамид
восходят ночью звезды на пилотках
и медные посереди ремня,
в столице стены древнего кремля
подкрашивают утро нежным светом —
так мама марганцовочкой кропит
опрелость. Огорченный туалетом
сын человеческий ревет ревмя.


Угас Якир и Блюхер наш потух,
за Тузачевским рухнул Уборевич.
Клюется в жопу жареный петух.
Бо-бо, но ничего, переболеешь.
Зачем летишь ты, тополиный пух —
листовок всех ты не перебелеешь:
челюскинцы! из челюстей! зимы!
удалены по одному, как зубы...
Звезда Бессмыслицы дает взаймы,
но только незначительные суммы.


«Что ж, будем петь, пуская петуха, 
поменьше пить, потешничать потише»
так думал Даниил Иваныч Х.
А рядом Михаил Михалыч З.
ел бутерброд, прихлебывал розе
и думал: «Это надо же, поди же,
не заросла народная тропа,
напротив, ежедневно прет толпа
играть и жрать у гробового входа».
(Уходит, не докушав бутерброда.)


Сто лет назад от выстрела в живот
скончался в корчах Александр Пушкин —
вот почему народ навеселе.
Но почему нам подают телегу?
Но почему нас дудочка зовет?
Но почему, презревши сон и негу,
по матушке лошадку кроя,
летишь, как первый парень на селе,
откликнуться на голос русской крови
своей седьмой водой на киселе?


На холмы Грузии легла ночная мгла,
Бессмыслицы Звезда себя зажгла,
и вот что выясняется дотла:
поэзия есть базис и надстройка —
поет как флейта и скрипит как койка,
она летает над самим собой,
как над погромной кровью пух перинный,
как МИГи над Курильскою грядой,
как дух в ЦПКО над резедой,
как в ЦДЛ душок над осетриной.


Ну и июнь! Как рекрут в сельсовет,
младенец вваливается в белый свет,
он видит: со стальной груди балтфлота
татуировка заявляет в шутку,
что счастья в жизни нет,
растение, похожее на дудку,
«Турецкий марш» со своего ж листа
уже дудит. Но что это? Минутку.
Та нота новая — ты та или не та?
Да, да, ты та, ты та, ты эта нота!


Ты та. Так значит, все же, проросла,
не извели врачи и душегубы,
имея день рожденья без числа,
звуча, но не имея места в гамме,
по отношенью к дому кверх ногами,
по эту сторону добра и зла,
водя ножом по мутному стеклу
и об него ж расплюша нос и губы —
ба! барабан! чу! уж не трубы ль? трубы!
Труба и барабан сквозь гул и мглу.


... навстречу нам стоят ряды колонн,
день синь и солнечен, и нежно оголен
цветок жасмина, из-за поворота
на нас шагает золотая рота —
мундир! не лыком! шит!
Над золотым рожком серебряная нота
взлетает и кружит.