In premiere on NTM, we’re including an excerpt of the Russian Futurist opera Victory over the Sun, as well as a sampling of poetry in lovely new renditions by Larissa Shmailo. Enjoy! And remember: in February and beyond, read, write, and share your favorite translated poems.
—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman
Translated by L. Shmailo
It’s frightening to die, and such a shame to leave
This captivating riffraff that enchants me,
The stuff so dear to poets, so very lovely,
I never celebrated; it somehow wasn’t to be.
I loved to come back home at the break of dawn
And shift my things around in half an hour.
I loved the white windowsill, and also the flower,
The carved faceted glass, and also the water,
And the heavens, greenish-azure in their color—
And that I was a poet and a wicked man.
And when every June came with my birthday again
I’d idolize that holiday, bustling
With verses by friends and congratulations from women,
With crystal laughter, and gay glasses clinking
And the lock of that hair, unique, individual
And that kiss, so entirely inevitable.
But now at home it’s all set up differently;
It’s June and I no longer have that homesickness.
In this way, life is teaching me patience,
And turbid, my blood now is stirring this birthday,
And a secret anxiety is tormenting me—
What have I done with my great destiny,
Oh my God, what have I done with me!
25 июня 1939 года
И страшно умереть, и жаль оставить
Всю шушеру пленительную эту,
Всю чепуху, столь милую поэту,
Которую не удалось прославить
Я так любил домой прийти к рассвету,
И в полчаса все вещи переставить,
Еще любил я белый подоконник,
Цветок и воду, и стакан граненый,
И небосвод голубизны зеленой,
И то, что я — поэт и беззаконник.
А если был июнь и день рожденья
Боготворил я праздник суетливый,
Стихи друзей и женщин поздравленья,
Хрустальный смех и звон стекла счастливый,
И завиток волос неповторимый,
И этот поцелуй неотвратимый
. Расставлено все в доме по-другому,
Июнь пришел, я не томлюсь по дому,
В котором жизнь меня терпенью учит
И кровь моя мутится в день рожденья,
И тайная меня тревога мучит,—
Что сделал я с высокою судьбою,
О боже мой, что сделал я с собою!
Victory Over the Sun
The First Futurist Opera
by Aleksei Kruchenykh
Translated by Larissa Shmailo
Edited and with an introduction by Eugene Ostashevsky
Victory over the Sun, one of the most important events in Russian Futurism and in the avant-garde in general, is not well recognized in the West. Now in a new edition of Larissa Shmailo’s brilliant translation of the text, with a lively introduction by Eugene Ostashevsky, readers can appreciate the significance and innovativeness of the 1913 play. Using Shmailo’s translation and Malevich’s pathbreaking stage designs, the play was reconstructed and staged in 1980 to great acclaim and remains a signal accomplishment in the history of the avant-garde.
—Gerald Janecek, Author of Zaum: The Transrational Poetry of Russian Futurism (UCSD, 1996) and Sight and Sound Entwined (Berghahn Books, 2000)
Velimir Khlebnikov, literally, missed the train on co-penning this one, contributing only a poem to Kruchenykh’s libretto. Staged alongside Mayakovsky’s Vladimir Mayakovsky, A Tragedy, the 1913 original production of Victory is remembered primarily for Kazimir Malevich’s costumes, lighting, and set design, instigations for the Suprematism and Constructivism still to come in 1915 and 1919, respectivelyò. Nothing is more fitting for this centennial of úRussian Futurianismî than a celebration of Kruchenykh’s great contribution to poetry, his Zaum, and not just for its verbal play – the inventive neologizing and the ™pater-le-bourgeois utopianism – but for the underappreciated antilyricism of his verse, as well. In communicating to us his musicality in English, Larissa Shmailo has done a remarkable job in conferring on Kruchenykh his true due as a poet.
—Alex Cigale, Translations Editor of MadHat Lit
A century ago, Aleksei Kruchenykh was the way out writer’s most way out writer. If publishing today, he still would be.
—Richard Kostelanetz, Author of A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (Routledge, 1993)
Victory Over the Sun (Excerpt)
An Opera in Two Actions Six Scenes.
Music by Mikhail Matiushin, sets by Kazimir Malevich.
Two Futurist Strongmen
Nero and Caligula
A Time Traveler
A Futurist Machine Gun
A Telephone Talker
Eight Sun Carriers
The Motley Eye
A Fat Man
An Attentive Worker
A Young Man
First Action Scene One
White with black: walls white, floor black.
(TWO FUTURIST STRONGMEN rip the curtain.)
All’s well that begins well!
There will be no end!
We astound the universe
We arm the world against ourselves
Organize the slaughter of scarecrows
How much blood How many sabers
And bodies for cannons!
We inundate the mountains!
We’ve locked up in a house
Let the drunkards there
Walk different stark naked
We have no songs
Recompense of sighs
That beguile the slime
Of rotten naiads!
(FIRST STRONGMAN slowly exits.)
Sun you bore the passions
And scorched them with flaming beam
We’ll yank a dusty coverlet over you
Lock you up in a concrete house!
(NERO and CALIGULA appear in one person he has only one left arm,
raised and bent at right angles.)
N. AND C. (menacingly)
K’youllen sewern der
Fry rip what I left half-baked.
(He congeals with a noble gesture, then sings; during the singing the
SECOND STRONGMAN exits.)
I eat dog
And white feets
Fried meat cake
Space is limited
Zheh Sheh Cheh
(A TIME TRAVELLER rides onstage in airplane wheels; signboards over
him say Stone Age, Middle Ages, and so forthòNERO in an aside.)
N. AND C.
It’s simply not done to treat old people this way
Not standing for flewbeshes
A TIME TRAVELLER
Friend everything stood still
The lake sleeps
A floodò Look
Everything’s become masculine
Lake harder than iron
Don’t believe the old measure
(NERO carefully inspects the metal of the wheels through a lorgnette.)
A TIME TRAVELLER (sings)
The auges seethes
The velorus rolls
Faster than augergauges
Don’t trust old scales
They’ll set you down on your calf
If you don’t get an empfive
N. AND C.
It’s simply not done to treat old people this way! They like the
Oy I looked for a little bird-warbler
I looked for a little sliver of glass–they ate up everything didn’t
even leave the bones
Well what’s to be done I’ll go away askance into the 16th
century through the quotes over here.
(Starts to exit, turned sideways to the audience.)
Scummed up everything even the bone puke
(Takes off his shoes, exits.)
A TIME TRAVELER
I will travel all ages, I was in the 35th where there is strength
without duress and the insurgents wage war on the sun and even
though there’s no happiness there but everybody looks happy and
immortalò It’s no surprise that I’m covered with dust and
transverseò Visionary kingdomò I will travel all ages even
though I lost two baskets until I find myself a place.
(A CERTAIN MALEVOLENT slithers up and listens.)
There’s too little for me in the afeebe underground it’s darkò
Shoneò But I’ve travelled around everywhere (to the audience):
Smells like a rainy downfall.
The eyes of lunatics are overgrown with tea and wink at
skyscrapers and marketwomen have placed themselves on spiral
staircasesò The factory camels are already threatening fried lard
and I haven’t even traversed a single side yet. Something waits at
No more no less
Than cutting scareys
Hold on hold on
Oh I dared I’ll complete my journey and not leave a traceò The
A CERTAIN MALEVOLENT
What, you don’t mean you’re really going to fly?
A TIME TRAVELER
So? Won’t my wheels find their tacks?
(The CERTAIN shoots, the TRAVELER motionsickens, screams.)
Garrison! Catch the sleepless
(Then the MALEVOLENT lies down to sleep covering himself with his
Although I didn’t shoot myself–out of reticence–
But a monument I set myself–also not dumb!
For me first a monument–remarkable!
A black pair steers right at me.
(A FUTURIST MACHINE GUN appears, stops at a telephone pole.)
Oy lament! That’s what it means to look as if the enemy was caught
napping–lost in thoughtò
I am without continuation or imitation.
(A FIGHTPICKER enters, sprees and sings.)
Don’t leave guns for dinner over dinner
Or for buckwheat porridge.
Can’t stand it? Follow that.
(The CERTAIN attacks, silently shooting his gun several times.)
Ha-ha-ha! Adversaries, what, are you tired or don’t you
Advance enemies from the gratings of slit trenches challenge me to
single combat. I broke my
own throat, will turn to powder, cotton, trigger and noose… Or do
you think triggers are more dangerous than cotton?
(Runs away and returns in a minute.)
The headdress of matrons in the cabbage!
Ah…behind the partition! Drag him in, the bluenosed stiff
(The ADVERSARY drags himself over by the hair, crawling on his knees.)
Ah, coward you betray and lead your own self off!
(The FIGHTPICKER laughs aside.)
Miserable creature how much grave dust and shavings are in you go
shake yourself off and wash yourself another way.
(The ADVERSARY cries.)
Ah, adversary’s sinciput! You take me for a fork and mock my
meditations but I expected this and did not advance on you with a
I am the continuation of my own journeys.
I expected it… I carefully buried my sword in the earth took a new
ball and threw it.
(He performs a football player’s maneuver.)
Into your herd… Now you’re confused… You’re befuddled can’t
differentiate between your smooth heads and the ball you’ve lost
your heads and sit pinned to little benches and the swords
themselves are lost they crawl in terror into the soil the ball
if thourt faithless thoult strike thy master’s head and he’ll chase
after it in the floral food vend…
Larissa Shmailo is editor-in-chief of the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry (Big Bridge Press), poetry editor for MadHat Annual, and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. She translated Victory over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s celebrated reconstruction of the first Futurist opera; the libretto is now available from Červena Barva Press. Larissa also has been a translator on the Russian Bible for the American Bible Society. Larissa’s poetry collections are #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books), In Paran (BlazeVOX [books], A Cure for Suicide (Červena Barva Press), and Fib Sequence (Argotist Books). Her poetry CDs are The No-Net World and Exorcism (SongCrew); tracks are available from Spotify, iTunes, Muze and all digital distributors. Her novel, Patient Women, is forthcoming from BlazeVOX [books]. She blogs at http://larissashmailo.blogspot.com/.