David Burlyuk, translated from the Russian by Alex Cigale

Today, we’d like to share with you 5 Poems from “The Father of Russian Futurism” DAVID BURLYUK (1882-1967), translated from the Russian by Alex Cigale. We hope you like them as much as we did. And remember, in February and beyond: read, write, and share your favorite translated poems. Enjoy!

—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman


Homage to Khlebnikov

I was aging, on my face formed furrow-like wrinkles—
Lines, the rails of trepidations and worries,
Where the woes of plosive ideas raced past —
Trains rattling into abandoned junctions.
You were aging and your face came to resemble a map
Scratched all over by a network of trestles
Where an unsaddled mare can no longer gallop,
And there’s nowhere for an unrestrained feeling to flee!
And these transparent eyes and eye sockets
Penetrated all the time deeper, and less often than fire
Impulses fluttered by, like startled birds,
Suddenly remembering the tenderness of an autumn day….
And consciousness flickered under the glutinous network
Of wrinkles, like a sky-blue moth in a sack,
And time flogged me with its vicious whip
But my steed was wooden.



There’s no conductor nor a trolley
The motor roaring like a swamp thing
Beneath the foliage of boulevard alleys
To thunderflight of streets we cling

SEDAME delivering a load of hams
To the suburbaubles of restaurants
Ferry me not for an hour but centuries
Empress of ethereal hallucinations

Smirktoad sycophantoservants
Broadauctions of foreign nations
Hypopotomi shiraffes and crabs

And everynight in herds at tables
The cream of society we insistently
Surge as a crowd of husbandames
To the sound of lusty French horns

The waiter with erected platter
Belafricon of his starched dickey
A refinedappetiteatlas
Murky nausea and loud burps

Glance upon entering clammy exclamation
The unfathomableguest of commonhall
I ordered the Muse’s heart

Not for me some vulgar Tenibac
Nor a herring skull bullet
Oh unpleasant storyline

Moscow, 1910

Opus 8

A six-story building being erected
The windows blaring in bleak rows
Not one of them flared up a flower
Echoing the familiar footsteps.
How many glances were pierced by night
And dove headlong from the upper floors
Having cried and mourned over a daughter
Driven mad to pacing of wakeful watchmen.
Inhaling deep from the refreshing tower
Staring out the window on a nameless roof
How presently purified you are
and raised up, sacrificially sacred.



Flung myself — rocks, in the cracks live scorpions….
Dive in the depths, and the jaws of agile-skilled sharks….
Hide in the heights? – mountain-town marauding predators.
Everywhere the eternally wakeful Spirit of Death lurks!


From Arthur Rimbaud (Opus 75)

Each of you is younger younger
In your stomachs devilish hunger
Walking so you follow after….
Glancing backwards
I cast a proud call
This curtailed caterwaul!
We will swallow stones and grasses
Poisons bitterness molasses
Stuff our mouths with emptiness
Depth and height we will consume
Birds beasts monsters fish and glue
Wind clay salt and ripples too!
Each of you is younger younger
In your stomachs devilish hunger
All things on our path we meet
May comprise our daily meat.


*“Homage to Khlebnikov” and “From Arthur Rimbaud” first appeared in Eleven Eleven, the journal of the California College of the Arts. The other three translations are being published here for the first time.

David Burlyuk (1882-1967) has been called “the father of Russian Futurism” and was its impresario, organizing the group’s barn-storming and immensely popular tours throughout Russia. Burlyuk is perhaps most famous for having served as mentor to Vladimir Mayakovsky, both having been expelled from the Moscow Art School in 1914 for their political activities. His artwork brings in substantial sums at auction, and among his many accomplishments as an artist was a leading role in bringing Modernist art to Japan, where he lived from 1920-1922, before immigrating to New York. A New Yorker (and Long Islander) for the last 45 years of his long life, he was not allowed to return to Russia until after Stalin’s death. An excellent collection of his art is at the Ukrainian Museum in NYC. Another selection of his poems in Alex Cigale’s translation is part of a 15-poet feature in EM-Review (pp. 109-112) celebrating the centennial of the founding manifesto of Russian Futurism, A Slap in the Face of Public Taste.

Alex Cigale’s translations from Russian, and his own English-language poems, have appeared in Cimarron, ColoradoCortlandGreen Mountains, New England, and The Literary ReviewsDrunken BoatInterlit QuarterlyLiterary ImaginationModern Poetry in Translation, and PEN America. He’s on the editorial boards of AsymptoteCOEUR journalThe Madhatters’ ReviewThe St. Petersburg ReviewThird Wednesday, and Verse Junkies. From 2011 until 2013, he was Assistant Professor at the American University of Central Asia.

He is a 2015 NEA Literary Translation Fellow, for his work on the poet of the St. Petersburg “philological school” Mikhail Eremin, and is the editor of the Spring 2015 Russia Issue of the Atlanta Review and of the Indigenous Writing from the former USSR feature in Fulcrum 8.


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