08 July 2016

That Anniversary Thing / Юбилейное

That Anniversary Thing

It’s so good, is that graphomaniac
word-poetry gramophone-iac—
‘Let’s grab a boat and go sailing...’
Or a hansom cab splashing up filth!
To hear the poet-heretic railing,
covert-crossing himself from fear.
He’s a tallie, a very thin-skinned one,
but because of his resonant rhymes,
like by a toy scalpel, God-given,
I feel touched by his terrified eyes.

This tough guy, canary on shoulder,
by his nice Jewish girl cooed over,
by Evil-Giant Time who’s been poisoned,
pots a ball, cracks a joke or two.
And as for that death-pointing bowsprit,
he thinks it’s a billiard cue.
A ship from an old newspaper
puffs away with its cigarette stack.
So, poets, let’s head for ‘The Stray Dog’,
and take him along, poor chap.

Wrapped up in his yellow waistcoat,
the expert on viands sweet-tasting
toward his tragic mouth grapples
the corpulent corpse of a grouse.
So cut him a slice of pineapple,
for soon he will die, perforce.

[From Новые сведения о Карле и Кларе (New Information concerning Carl and Clara), 1996]

(Translation © 2016 G.S. Smith)

The poem takes off from the famous lyric with the same title by Mayakovsky in which he claims solidarity with Pushkin, written in 1924 for the 125th anniversary of the national poet’s birth; earlier, notwithstanding his profound admiration for Pushkin’s poetry, Mayakovsky had made several negative public statements about him and his ‘official’ reputation. The first couplet of Loseff’s poem probably alludes to the gramophone recording made of Mayakovsky’s poem by the great actor Kachalov: http://www.staroeradio.ru/audio/7526. For other details of Mayakovsky’s image mentioned here by Loseff, see Bengt Jangfeldt, Mayakovsky: A Biography, University of Chicago Press, 2014, translated by Harry D Watson. For Lev Loseff’s poem ‘Архипелаг’, dedicated to Jangfeldt and his wife, see the collection Послесловие; there is a translation in As I Said and here: http://levloseff.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-swedish-islands-a.html. ‘The Stray Dog’ was a bohemian cabaret in pre-revolutionary St Petersburg. The last four lines refer to Mayakovsky’s notorious squib of 1917: ‘Eat your pineapples, /Chew your grouse, /Your last day is coming, /bourgeois!’.


О, как хороша графоманная
поэзия слов грамофонная:
“Поедем на лодке кататься…”
В пролетке, расшлепывать грязь!
И слушать стихи святотатца,
пугаясь и в мыслях крестясь.
Сам под потолок, недотрога,
он трогает, рифмой звеня,
игрушечным ножиком Бога,
испуганным взглядом меня.

Могучий борец с канарейкой,
приласканный нежной еврейкой,
затравленный Временем-Выем,
катает шары и острит.
Ему только кажется кием
нацеленный на смерть бушприт.
Кораблик из старой газеты
дымит папиросной трубой.
Поедем в “Собаку”, поэты,
возьмем бедолагу с собой.

Закутанный в кофточку желтую,
он рябчика тушку тяжелую,
знаток сладковатого мяса,
волочит в трагический рот.
Отрежьте ему ананаса
за то, что он скоро умрет.