That Week Everything Suddenly Became Somehow Off-topic

Usually it tells you a lot about your day-to-day activities, / When, at such a moment of mass enthusiasm, you find it difficult to move, / And you cannot “calmly continue to go about business as usual.”

Three poems by Pavel Arsenev

Photograph by ajmexico.

The following poems are from a cycle called “Off-Topic” (2011–2012). Arsenev will appear at the n+1 office on May 3, 2017 with n+1 contributors Roman Osminkin and Matthew Whitley. RSVP (and more information) here!

1. *** (That week everything suddenly became somehow off-topic

That week everything suddenly became somehow off-topic:
Poets could no longer cheerfully inform the public about their readings,
Artists were too ashamed to announce the openings of their exhibits,
Which would have been called, for example, Museum of the Revolution,”
And even retailers were somehow uncomfortable urging everyone into their stores,
When there were thousands of people.
Everyone who demanded attention was forced to justify themselves,
Because all attention was fixed on one thing.

And so everyone actively appealed to revolutionary themes and symbols.
They used people’s weariness with the day-to-day grind.
(Even then, many tried to go on with their usual song.)
But something immediately overcame them, some kind of completely new music left them at a loss for words.
Usually it tells you a lot about your day-to-day activities,
When, at such a moment of mass enthusiasm, you find it difficult to move,
And you cannot “calmly continue to go about business as usual.”

2. Offline.

The machines transmit
The poet is dying
Time is passing

Several icons depicting real people,
Several of whom are also considered poets
Start to flicker with messages conveying hurried condolences
Their words are strained, inappropriate, and, in the end, false

Their words
Transmitted by the machines
After the death of the poet.

Suddenly this torrent of zeroes and their corresponding ones
And it turns out that it’s not yet the end
That between poetry and oblivion
There remain long-standing bills and unpaid debts,
On account of which, perhaps, such a return was allowed.

It turns out that the machines will be left to smoke nervously in anticipation
That they don’t know how to behave at all in “such a situation”
That they can only sink their words in the torrent
Until the words congeal into the state of poetry, that is, into the death of communication,
That they will not be able to turn on background mode,
Tо mark it as read,
To turn off this option, to configure the interface in a more convenient way.

This alone made it worth pulling such a stunt
In bidding farewell.

When all’s said and done, it’s just plain old-fashioned,
The most impudent of the poets who never bother to log out will say,
Death is old-fashioned, the poetry of the future will consist of ones and zeroes,
It already consists of them,
It’s old-fashioned to be present at the death-bed, to be completely in one place,
After all, in the same time you can do so many interesting things
With the machine of language itself.

Unfortunately, these words,
Transmitted by machines,
Will no longer have any connection.


Dear cultural
And media workers
Rest assured

This barricade is regarded here a cultural
And artistic phenomenon”

After all, there are no more popular masses
And no more Central Committee
(the CPSU, as the internet portal OpenSpace
conscientiously deciphers it for their audience)

Only it smells a bit of conscience still
In this world
of slippers
and wallpaper.

—Translated by Jason Cieply

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