Sergey Markovich Gandlevsky was born in Moscow in 1952, one year before Stalin's death. An integral member of the Seventies Generation, Gandlevsky was one of the underground Russian poets who wrote only for themselves and their circles of friends during the Brezhnev era. Gandlevsky began writing too late to enjoy the Thaw, that mid-60s moment of cultural freedom, when Yevtushenko, Vosnesensky, and Akhmadulina recited their poems to packed stadiums.
Gandlevsky, like many of the underground, chose unprestigious careers, or even odd jobs, both to avoid participating in what he saw as a morally bankrupt society, while freeing up time for writing and travel. For Gandlevsky, to work was to collaborate with the system that was committing autogenocide.
Gandlevsky packs traditional poetic forms with, on the one hand, numerous literary references (Pushkin, Lermontov, Blok, Mandelstam, Pasternak, Nabokov, Goethe), and on the other, with Soviet-era slang, soap brands, and pop bands. The Third Wave poets like Gandlevsky mirror the work of the New York School and of pop artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein, in their more complex gestures to bracket mass culture in ironic or parodic terms. His poems witness to the twilight period, but also to his own poetic journey as a cultural dissident. Unlike much contemporary verse, Gandlevsky's poems explore cynicism, sentimentality, self-loathing and disdain. Reminiscent of Robert Lowell's work, whose confessional poems of mania seethe under the hard artifice of formal constraints, Gandlevsky's poetry works precisely through yoking oppositions—between form and content, between high concerns and daily indignities. So while traditional themes of poetry emerge from his work—obsession with language, freedom, death, love, the muse—these concerns always emerge against the backdrop of a life full of personal and social vulgarities: militarism, alcoholism, debauchery, ennui.
Look, it's snowing again. There are words in Russian
That make your mouth burn as if from infant formula.
It snows heavily, the head grows heavy,
You almost feel like crying. But these tears
Are from a different time, where a curtain trembles,
A nightingale wails, dawn swims across puddles...
The alarm clock exhausted, you finally rise,
Awakened by a green explosion of poplar.
I once lived in the country. There, where silence
Is equally common in ravine, church, or field,
A truth revealed itself to me:
Pain isn't difficult—it's the monotony of pain.
I lived in the village a month or so.
Patched holes in the wall with rags of oakum.
Spoke aloud to myself, my speech
Slightly overdone, like from a proper play.
A double-barrel gun of operettic length,
A clock, a bed, a pier glass, one leaf missing,
The other showing a slightly distorted
Four-poster bed, the wall clock, the gun.
The laws of genre—that's my field.
I was thrown into shivers, fell into fever,
But the ill-starred firearm of the drama
Just hangs there, forgot to fire.
I'm used to waiting. Anyone alive here?
Hang out with me. Come talk to me.
Today's already lighter than yesterday.
The stubble field is whitest white.
Let's have a smoke, stranger.
This morning I left the house and
Glimpsing the snow, was stunned and heard
Those good words—look, it's snowing again.
This book is the first English translation of work from Sergey Gandlevsky's collected poems, Celebration, originally published in 1995. Winner of both the Little Booker Prize and the Anti-Booker Prize in 1996 for his poetry and prose, Gandlevsky is the author of four books of poems; a memoir, Trepanation of the Skull (1996); a book of essays, Poetic Cuisine (1998); and a novel Unintel. (2001). His books consistently are short-listed for the top Russian literary prizes. He has been included in English translation anthologies 20th Century Russian Poetry: Silver and Steel (Doubleday Press, 1993), The Third Wave (University of Michigan Press, 1992), and In the Grip of Strange Thoughts: Russian Poetry in a New Era (Zephyr Press, 1999).
Philip Metres (www.philipmetres.com) is a poet and translator of Russian poetry. His own poetry has appeared in Poetry and Best American Poetry 2002. He teaches literature and creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland.
A Kindred Orphanhood, by Sergey Gandlevsky
A Kindred Orphanhood
from Russian by Philip Metres
ISBN 0-939010-75-5 (paper)
5¼ x 8½
120 pages [Bilingual Russian/English]