Four Poems from It’s No Good

my friend misha
published an article in the magazine afisha
but under someone else’s name
that is they combined his text
with someone else’s
(albeit with his permission)
when misha sent them an email
asking if he would receive
any payment,
the magazine sent back a one-word answer—
misha told me about this
and I was furious.
I said to misha
that if afisha
did that to me
I’d burn all my bridges
and in fact I’d call them on the phone
and tell them very clearly what I thought of them
and their mothers,
so as to get at least
a little bit of satisfaction
from the whole affair;
but misha is smart and patient;
he probably even figured out
some way
to turn this whole incident to his advantage;
misha is going to do everything right
in this life,
whereas I’m going to continue sitting here
deep in shit
with my principles.

Trans. Keith Gessen

just a little bit more about literature:
I’ve always been really interested
in a particular type of poet
it’s a pretty well-known type:
fair-haired guys
who arrived in moscow
starting in the ’30s
enrolled at the Lit Institute1
raged through its dormitories
they were from the provinces
these were some very cool dudes
masters of nostalgia
and enigmatic fools;
I think the demand for them
was huge
because to the aging poets of the capital
they appeared as
a living conscience
their living conscience;
it seems to me
they really wanted
to occupy a kind of niche
like a singer from the country
languishing in the city;
I think
they also really wanted
to try on the mask of the god Lel;
a dozen of them
lost their minds
many turned
into bums
and have since
gone begging
on strastnoy boulevard
(once or twice I saw
ragged muzhiks
there pacing the lengths of the benches,
reciting poems,
claiming they were former students
of the Lit Institute)
a few of these boys
hanged themselves,
the rest sank into obscurity;
nikolai rubtsov2
was the most famous of them
although, of course,
with rubtsov it wasn’t so simple
at some point he lived in petersburg
where he spent time with the petersburg aesthetes
and trained himself in various formalist
he admired brodsky
and so on
I think
everybody knows
that upon arriving in moscow
he was roped in
by these beekeepers
from the Literary Institute,
it seems to me
they stuffed him
into the framework of their odious myth
effectively destroying him
and then put out for all to see
a straw-stuffed scarecrow in the pantheon
even now
at the Lit Institute
you can still find
guys like this

—Trans. Cory Merrill

Not so long ago, my girlfriend Anisa and I
were at a party
with, for the most part,
the young bourgeois intelligentsia—
designers, journalists from popular magazines,
and so on,
and Anisa admitted to me afterward
that she’s bored by such company,
and I said to her, “Not to worry,
before long you’re going to see something
straight out of Dostoevsky,
with no chaser”;
and sure enough
a few days later we showed up at a birthday party
for one of my old friends,
with a group of talented failures,
where the hostess, the birthday girl,
went into hysterics
screaming in front of everyone
that she was going to divorce her husband;
she lunged at him,
alleging that he had tried to beat her up
the night before;
she cursed him
for drinking too much,
drinking away her wages,
and for reading only newspapers
I listened to all this
and was shaken
I was trembling
from weakness and
from the impossibility
of anyone being comforted,
of anyone being helped.
Not her, not myself, and not him,
—her husband—
especially not him.

—Trans. Cory Merrill

in the Smolensky supermarket
at the corner of the Garden Ring
and Arbat
among the piles
of expensive
I found a sprat paté
for seven rubles;
on the can it said
it contained pearl-barley
I took two
this must be a special delivery
for neighborhood residents
who come to the store
every day
and aren’t anywhere as rich
as the plump middle-aged men
who come here in their cars
from other neighborhoods
to load up on groceries
for real
I took the paté
and started walking alongside
the shelves of products;
I wanted to find some inexpensive
and I looked and looked
at these beautiful foods
lying there on these
and at the magazines
which looked very odd
against the background of all this food
I walked around
for so long
that the guards
keeping an eye out for thieves
grew tired of watching me
it was very beautiful there
and I liked it;
I remember
I didn’t pay much attention
to the other customers
they didn’t really interest me
especially as
there weren’t so many of them
they walked around
hardly looking
the products into these rolling baskets
whereas I
very carefully
studied every single item
and read their
exotic names
these magnificently packaged meals
they could make your head spin
(there was for example
a product called
“two rainbow trouts”)
I wandered around so long
that toward the end
I developed a strange
it was something like
it was
a terrible
suffocating longing
and pity;
I was very sorry
for these fish
this wine
several hundred types of wine
and all the cookies
and the magazines
the candies
giant boxes of candies
massive pieces of meat
and fish;
and I looked for a long time
at these
idiotic beautiful expensive
lying there
on the shelves
of that supermarket
and I thought that this probably was
the main fuel
of civilization
(not because we all live in a
consumer culture,
but simply because
everything else
is just noise
whereas food,
say what you will about it,
is protein
food is the main guarantee
of family happiness and prosperity
everything happens
because of food
and so there’s probably
nothing surprising about the fact
that families collapse because of it
lovers part over it
and murders are committed
because of it);
walking around a bit more
I thought of the fact
that the suffocating pity I feel
for these products
is also
a form of fetishism
and also a symptom
of reification;
therefore it probably doesn’t make sense
to feel sorry
for these products
that cause all these things
to happen;
I bought some fish fillets
and two cans
of that incredibly cheap paté
which I named
“paté for the poor”;
walking out of the supermarket
with these products
I thought of how often
in my confrontations
with the face
of the society of consumption
sentimentality replaces disgust.

—Trans. Keith Gessen

  1. The Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow is the only university in Russia devoted exclusively to the education of working writers (novelists, poets, and translators); it was founded in 1933 as part of Stalin’s cultural program. Medvedev also studied there. 

  2. 1936-1971. Soviet lyric poet born in a village in the northern Arkhangelsk region, orphaned at a young age, served in the army, came to Leningrad after his demobilization, enrolled at the Gorky Literary Institute in 1962. Killed in a domestic dispute. 

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