Via Eugene Ostashevsky, Music & Literature:
There is a lot of talk now, in the United States at least, about political poetry and even revolutionary poetry, and what these are, and how to write them. The discussants should consider the work of a young Russian poet, Galina Rymbu.
I first came across a poem of hers shortly after she posted it on LiveJournal, a social network popular in Russia, on February 27, 2014. It was the day that Russian troops started operating in Crimea, and several days after the victory of the Maidan Revolution in Kyiv and the tawdry close of the Sochi Olympics. Russian media fanned the flames of patriotic hysteria and the Kremlin was clearly going to exploit Maidan to crack down on domestic dissent.
It felt strange that a work of this artistic sophistication and power could be composed and posted on the Web simultaneously with the events it responded to. Its viewpoint was that of the minuscule and very young Russian Left—roughly the same political alignment as those of the poet-activist Kirill Medvedev and of Pussy Riot, to cite figures known to some Western readers. But the poetry was different. It was Big Poetry, very much grounded in tradition but also propelling it forward, into the terra incognita of the now. It’s been a while since I read a poem that felt so real.
That poem has since appeared in English translation by Jonathan Platt. It can be read here, the middle one, starting with “the dream is over, Lesbia, now it’s time for sorrow…” [There seems to be something wrong with that website, however, I couldn’t scroll down. P.J.]. I want to talk about the Russian original a little, and then say a few things about the present publication of Rymbu’s work in Platt’s translation in Music & Literature. / [Continue reading here].
I want to add one of the poems from the Music & Literature website, to give of sense of the strength & energy of her poetry:
I want to send you an excellent gift,
when the heat pierces the dry trees,
it’s a western—the gravel, the brown dust quivers,
rising over this scorched place, when
troop carriers pass by the abandoned industrial zones,
strewn with red caviar.
Maybe I’ll send you a letter, make contact, get mixed up in it once and for all.
Here it is, the fire’s started—the doors of the clouds open wide, and out
roll the guillotined heads of the Bonnot Gang.
History, sing your wrath.
Are you that little girl in the sticky panties, who
stands in front of the mirror, putting on
powder and blush.
Are you that little girl
the one with her black and pink, icy gob wide open,
who climbed into bed with everyone
playfully singing a patriotic song,
rubbing anti-fungal creams on her feet,
you piss and spit into a special pot
by the bed.
Turn around. Think about my gift,
think about weapons in general,
only a couple of days ago—
there was no mention of blood.
But the party is still going on somewhere
Night, the hum of voices, meat roasting, a little beer…
History, sing your wrath!
Let everyone in Moscow now look at the black sky
with its huge moon.
Why is the rage in our hearts so watered down?
Where “Russian, be afraid” rules the ball, where no one sings of freedom anymore,
where 60% of the population is dying from the “small public deeds”
of a few compunctious bureaucrat intellectuals,
where my little friends, little boys, who were born in 1990—
The provincial cemetery is swollen with wrath.
Remember them. My gift will come in handy.
Tomorrow, or now—
it will serve you very well
Translated by Jonathan Brooks Platt
Galina Rymbu was born in 1990 in the city of Omsk (Siberia, Russia) and currently lives in St. Petersburg. She has published poems in the Russian Journals The New Literary Observer, Air, Sho, and in the Translit series. Her essays on cinema, literature, and sexuality have appeared on the internet portals Séance, Colta, and Milk and Honey. She is the author of the recently published collection Moving Space of the Revolution.
Eugene Ostashevsky is a poet and translator of Russian avant-garde and contemporary poetry. His edition of Alexander Vvedensky’s An Invitation for Me to Think won the 2014 National Translation Award from the American Literary Translators Association.