J. Kates, Editors
Only the perishable is precious.
Only what's on paper is important.
As for the purposeless, it's really practical,
The ephemeral is essential.
What is hopeless may yet be done,
but what's conceivable is corrupt, All that's docile is also dull;
what is hopeless is unhindered.
What's futile is fantastic,
what's troubling is trustworthy,
All that's involuntary, so injurious!
But all that's ebullient is eternal.
Et cetera ...
Forty-four poets here from Russia, some born as early as 1947 --- the youngest, 1981. The writer of the discursive one above, Dmitri Polishchuk --- don't believe that name! --- was born in 1965 in Moscow but we are led to believe that he was born in a Noodle Factory, for one of his poetry books is entitled (breathe deeply) To the City Wanderer. In Seven-Count Verse. Fourteen Pages from the Diary of a Journey of the Oddities of Our City with Five Songs in Old-Fashioned Seven-Count Verse with the Addendum from Three Poems, Written on the Same Travels Using Different Syllabic Counts. This, as far as I know, from my years of reading poetry and poetry books and titles of poetry books good and bad, certainly must take some kind of prize as The Organic Spaghetti Title-of-the-Year Award.
Modern Russian Poetry has twenty-three different translators. Some poetry is as bad as,
You start to cry ---
he steals behind you
and licks your eyes
until you're blinded.
He even sympathizes with us, but he is a griefophile and a tear-aholic ---
But who are we to pronounce what's good over what's stinky? There is a poem below that stinks of dark tobacco, stinks so good you can smell it, being in the Rue de Austerlitz on a cool afternoon in a café with dozens of boulevardiers lighting up their filterless, wrinkled, blue-packaged cigarettes.
This is a face-en-face edition, but our Cyrillic has been somewhat rusty ever since we never got to the Heritage Museum nor indeed anything more Soviet than sampling piroshki at the Old Samovar in Kirkland ordered from the old White Russian in his Tartar-neck jacket. He had no wine nor vodka nor an on/off license so he offered us nothing but Bubble-Up, which he called "Booble-Oop." We usually brought our Châteauneuf du Pape in a brown paper bag.
They say that great poetry can shine through a miserable translation, a smile on the face of a dying prince. We hope so, because "Smoking You," by this self-same Dmitri Polishchuk won our hearts completely. Will "Smoking You" get the American Cancer Society --- or their Muscovy branch --- up-in-arms and out with their pickets? We hope so.
Smoking you, the sweetest Gauloise,
to stupor, to greedy tears in my eyes,
swallowing the sensitive French tobacco
until my lungs are heavily loaded ---
to me you're a first-rate cigarette!
You are the body's sweatshirt and moonshine;
like a woman, you're both my sweetness
and my smoking room; in the dark of male existence
you are the "Not Me" that shines like a star
and the preservative of my slow days.
O, how long its been since I smoked you!
But I haven't forgotten your stinging aroma ---
among the fleecy rings of smoke
the gaping spirit of womanhood
kindling my fervor to smoke you!
Burn! that from an erstwhile dose of nicotine
my web of veins would quiver,
where my heart's wretched bee beats
with its last energy! That my head would swim, and my knees would sink like a slinky
in front of a woman --- the strongest of all "gaul-was" --- whom I would inhale to stars in my eyes,
bend, bite ... Warmed to the point of screaming,
as if from a long drag on a cigarette,
you burned down at once in my lips.
This poem is translated by Olga Livshin and Andrew Janco.--- Richard Saturday