Thursday, November 12, 2015

"An Invitation for Me to Think" by Alexander Vvedensky (Translated by Eugene Ostashevsky & Matvei Yankelevich)

ISBN: 978-1-59017-630-6  NYRB/Poets


"An Invitation for Me to Think" by Alexander Vvedensky (Selected and translated by Eugene Ostashevsky.  Additional translations by Matvei Yankelevich)  NYRB

For me, poetry is the end result of when thought meets language.  A poem can express many things, but for my taste, I have always attached to poems that express something that is not here, or there, but somewhere in-between.  Avant-garde poetry to me is the ultimate adventure, or a journey without a map.   Like rock n' roll produced in Sun Studios in Memphis in the mid-1950s, I feel like I'm getting the real thing, when I read poetry that was produced in the early part of the 20th century.  The "new" was not only modern, but "now" as well.  It is like the full first kiss or tasting the avocado for the first time. It can never be better that the initial approach.  This is how I feel when I read Alexander Vvedensky's (Алекса́ндр Ива́нович Введе́нский; 1904–1941) poetry for the first time. 

It's fascinating how poetry can be so dangerous in a society such as Russia for instance. I can understand if Stalin felt threatened by someone saying "Down with Stalin," but when a poet like Vvedensky writes "snow lies/earth flies/lights flip/to pigments night has come/on a rug of stars it lies/is it night or a demon?"  Well, it doesn't sound right!   So we might as well as arrest this poet.   

Alexander Vvedensky was a member of OBERIU, an early Russian avant-garde group that was similar to DADA and the Futurists.  The Stalin world craved an art that is easily understood and therefore much more controllable.   Alas, the avant-garde played with literature and the visual art as a motor of sorts, to spurn out desire, humor, and a sense of playfulness that went against the Soviet sense of the aesthetic.  Vvedensky basically died due that he was a poet of great imagination and wit.   As of now, we know he was shipped to Kazan and died of pleuritic on that train trip.  Where he is buried is unknown.   Along with his fellow playmate and poet/writer Daniil Kharms, his work was saved by Yakov Druskin, and though many years later, we now have at least a good example of his writing.  "An Invitation for Me to Think" is a sample of this wonderful poet's work. 


When one reads the poetry, the reader doesn't think of it as a work of political thinking, yet, sometimes the landscape surrounding the poet makes their lives very difficult.   It is interesting that both Kharms and Vvedensky wrote numerous works for children.  While reading this book, I often thought of its rhymes and the way the words are expressed seemed to be in a sing-song style of poetry written for children.  Perhaps the sophistication of the words, and how it is told, is what's dangerous in that world at the time.  It is also interesting that Pussy Riot has commented on the works of OBERIU as an example of freedom of doing one's art.  They quote Vvedensky as saying "It happens that two rhythms will come into your head, a good one and a bad one and I choose the bad one.  It will be the right one."  Which to me is art in a nutshell.   Stalin didn't get it, but then again, he doesn't seem to be a man of great humor and appreciation of the enlightened poet. 

- Tosh Berman

Alexander Vvedensky

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