With Gary Corseri and Victor Postnikov
CYCLE Two, Round One, July and August, 2013
Victor Postnikov: Hi Gary. … Hope everything is fine with you!
Gary Corseri: Hello Victor. …Nice to hear from you! Welcome back from your vacation! I hope you are rejuvenated! How was your trip to the Black Sea?
VP: It really improved my health! Headaches and heartaches are gone! Blood pressure is normal. … The sea was warm and inviting. The only problem is people (pollution). But I lived as a hermit, communicating mostly with spiders and scolopendras. (They are good to me!) Also, the problem is getting there. It’s a nuisance – 18 hours on a stuffy train from Kiev, and then a 90 minute bus ride. …
GC: I suppose it was good to get out of Kiev?
VP: Living here becomes even more problematic! The ceaseless construction and noise make me mad! Nowhere to hide! Seems like my headaches are about to return!
GC: I'm glad to hear the Black Sea was therapeutic for you... but sad to hear about your headaches and other problems in Kiev.
Of course, I was only there about 8 days last year…, so I don't have a very good sense of the city's daily life! I did feel it was a BUSY place. It almost seemed like there were at least 2 Kievs--one a more spiritual, laid-back place of old, ubiquitous Eastern-Orthodox churches, with gold-plated dones, and very pleasant parks; and then, another city of nouveau riche racing by in their Mercedes and BMW limousines! There were "average" people and then there were "fast women"--prostitutes, probably--and young guys with too much money thanks to political connections, etc. The new post-Soviet reality of oligarchs and the struggling working class! No wonder you have headaches!
VP: Kiev has changed a lot. … I don't recognise it any more! Once it was a tranquil city with lots of parks and boulevards, life was slow. We called it "Big Village." Now, it's booming with construction, SUVs of the nouveau riches have flooded the streets (and sidewalks). It's hard to walk on the streets!
But… it seems you are ready to talk politics again!
GC: I never tire of it!
VP: And Literature and the Arts?
GC: That, too!
VP: Shall we continue where we left off? A 2nd “Prologues” or “Poets’ Talk”?
GC: No better place!
VP: Do you know this quote by Bob Dylan: “Let’s not talk falsely now. The hour is getting late!”
GC: I hadn’t heard it before. But, I do like it! Let’s make it the motto for our discussions! Then, let’s inscribe it in the pediment of the U.S. Congress and in the Russian Duma!
VP: I’ve been a fan of Dylan’s since the early 60s. The quote is from his programmatic "All Along the Watchtower." You and I are of the same generation… so I thought you’d recognize it. … I recently wrote a short article, prompted by the latest events with Snowden. … It’s a spin-off of my work in poetry.
GC: The question of “Politics and the Arts,” and issues of State Secrecy, as raised by Snowden, Wikileaks, Assange and others—I’m sure we’ll keep returning to these.
I’m glad to see you developing themes about Snowden. He has raised major questions for all of us in this post-Cold War, Hyper-Security, International Prison House in which we find ourselves. Artists should be especially sensitive to the encroachments of the State on our ability to think and communicate and express ourselves.
VP: Yes! While the US and Russia exchange hostilities, let us exchange poetry!
GC: Artists must be the antidote to all the insanity in this world! I want poetry to be dangerous! Do you know the American journalist/thinker/commentator, Chris Hedges? He said recently in an interview that the point of democracy is to have a government that is afraid of the people! In a Tyranny, the People fear their government; but in a Democracy, the government fears the People! When the people are truly informed and empowered—then there can be true democracy and freedom of speech and flourishing arts… and the government will serve the people!
VP: I know Chris Hedges. … I have translated a dozen of his articles and posted them on my site. He's popular in some Russian left circles. I admire what he writes and his style too. He's precise and expressive.
I’ll re-read our 1st “Poets Talk” and will make up my mind on the 2nd. Also, I thought to share with you my own plans on future books… and the ones I have already compiled as samizdat.
GC: That seems like a reasonable way to keep the flow going. … I believe we can do important work together. The Internet has opened up possibilities that 20th Century artists could not even imagine! We'll keep it going!
Let’s call it a “Round” for now. When we resume, tell me more about your literary plans. …
Cycle 2, Round 2
VP: Hi, Gary. … Do you recall, from our first cycle of dialogues, that I was telling you about “looming” book projects of mine?
GC: Of course! Sounded very ambitious!
VP: My personal “egoistic” interest lies in publishing my collections of poetry translations! Those I’ve translated into Russian: Emily Dickinson, Robinson Jeffers, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence; and various selections of Anglo-American poetry (past and present). And, those I’ve translated into English: Maximilian Voloshin, Marina Tsvetaeva, Alexander Blok, Michael Lermontov, and others. …
GC: I’m a fan of each of the English and American poets you mentioned. … I’d certainly like to know more about the Russian writers you’ve translated!
Recommended for You
VP: Another American poet I admire a lot is Lawrence Ferlinghetti. …
GC: One of my heroes! I believe he is 94 now. He pretty much ignited the “Beat Movement” with his City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, and then with City Lights Press publishing the likes of Ginsberg, Snyder, Gregory Corso and others. There were progenitors like Kenneth Rexroth and Kenneth Patchen, even William Carlos Williams. Yes… we could talk a lot about that. City Lights Review published a poem of mine about Brazilian environmental activist-martyr Chico Mendez—back in the 90s!
VP: All the counterculture of the 60's and its music were fed by those poets! It was a true Renaissance.
GC: That adds another dimension to our discussion--showing your knowledge, not just of poetry and science, but of the American 60s Renaissance. (In fact, we've been living here in a Reactionary Age to that "Counter-culture" movement-- starting with Reagan--for the past 33 years!)
VP: The ideas we’ve exchanged about the need for poets and artists of different cultures, different backgrounds, to talk to one another about this modern world—and our need to take political stands… it put me in mind of this short poem:
Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signaling you through the flames]
By Lawrence Ferlinghetti
I am signaling you through the flames.
The North Pole is not where it used to be.
Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.
Nemesis is knocking at the door.
What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?
The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.
If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.
You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words....
(From Poetry as Insurgent Art by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Copyright © 2007 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Used by permission of New Directions. All rights reserved.)
GC: That’s splendid! That’s the power of poetry! So much can be said with a few words! I often think of it as “packed language”—packed the way a tube of dynamite has the gunpowder packed so tightly… and then a little spark will set it off. The style is very simple here; other poets will use various styles. … I think what is most important is a concept of appropriateness. Are the words, the metaphors, allusions, etc.—appropriate to the meaning and feeling the poet wants to convey? Ferlinghetti’s message is a simple challenge: “you can conquer the conquerors with words….” The language is appropriate for that message!
VP: That poem reminded me of the necessity to keep the flame! That is, we have obligations towards the great poets to continue their work. I have always felt this and this inspired me greatly. We don't have a duty so much to one's country, one's family, clan, etc. But we have a duty to our great precursors, a duty to posterity, so to speak. Strangely, I feel more connections to the writers and poets of the past than the present. Sometimes I think that the culture (in Russia and in the world at large) is in decline. I think it has a lot to do with the environmental destruction and the growing enmity among nations, religions, etc. The rich try to use this to their end: divide and rule.
In our first “cycle,” we also “spoke” about “Poets of Today”—the 1966 anthology of “new American poetry,” edited by Walter Lowenfels. You wrote that you had seen it back in the day, perhaps thumbed through it. I wanted to send you this from that anthology, as an example of a modern American poem that should be translated and disseminated in different cultures:
Award [A Gold Watch To The FBI Man Who Has Followed Me For 25 Years]
By Ray Durem
Well, old spy
looks like I
led you down some pretty blind alleys,
took you on several trips to Mexico,
fishing in the high Sierras,
jazz at the Philharmonic.
You've watched me all your life,
I've clothed your wife,
put your two sons through college.
what good has it done?
sun keeps rising every mourning.
Ever see me buy an Assistant President?
or close a school?
or lend money to Somoza?
I bought some after-hours whiskey in L.A.
but the chief got his pay.
I ain't killed no Koreans,
or fourteen-year-old boys in Mississippi
neither did I bomb Guatemala,
or lend guns to shoot algerians.
I admit I took a Negro child
to a white rest room in Texas,
but she was my daughter, only three,
and she had to pee,
and I just didn't know what to do,
see, I'm so light, it don't seem right
to go to the colored res room;
s brown, an folks frown on that in Texas,
I just don't know how to go to the bathroom in the free world!
Now, old FBI man,
you've done the best you can,
you lost me a few jobs,
scared a few landlords,
You got me struggling for that bread,
but I ain't dead.
and before it's all through,
I may be following you!
GC: I like it! It's straight-forward, witty, conversational, easy to "get into"--and then, we're WITH the writer, in his skin, in a very human situation with his 3-year old daughter in backward Texas! It's memorable. Definitely worth repeating, worth sharing!
The great Anglo-American poet, W.H. Auden, was once asked, “What is poetry?” And he replied simply, “memorable speech.”
So, yes, let’s continue to bring this kind of work to the attention of our respective cultures! These ideas, these sentiments need to be reiterated… because we’re up against the propaganda machines of this modern world—and “they” (the State, the corporations, the oligarchs, the religious organizations, the political parties--and the “artists” who have been co-opted!) are constantly reiterating their messages of hatred and xenophobia!
Just a month ago, the major news in America was all about Trayvon Martin—an un-armed African-American 17-year old who was shot and killed by a white “neighborhood-watch” guy when Trayvon was minding his own business, just walking through the white guy’s area. Even Obama commented upon that incident! But… a poem like Durem’s “Award,” properly understood, properly explicated, could have bridged the gap between those disparate American cultures! That’s what we need to do—walk around in the other person’s skin!
So… let us be bridge-builders! … And, in that vein, I hope we can close this with a few thoughts on the latest developments in the continuing saga of US whistleblower, Edward Snowden—recently granted political asylum for one year by Russia. I believe the US government is doing everything it can to shift the attention from what Snowden has been saying about America’s illegal spying on its own citizens and others—to shift the blame onto those offering sanctuary! To my mind, Putin, and Russia’s government have done exactly what needed to be done. What about you? Can you tell us how things look from your viewpoint? Can you speak freely about such matters?
VP: I'm grateful to Putin for what he did. Although, I’m by no means his fan. … I know his unsightly role in the “Pussy Riot” trial, in harassing the LGBT-community, in the military build-up. But perhaps he, a former KGB-man, has finally recognised the value of brave whistleblowers and dissidents. I don't exclude the elements of the political game, “political theater,” however.
Now, the political situation in Ukraine is dim. The nationalist opposition has roughly the same credentials as the pro-Russian government. I don't support either side. So we're living in a kind of limbo.
GC: Thanks, Victor. … Ironically, I may be more of a Putin-fan than you! But, I realize that we’re all living in a world of limited and “monitored” information. … Let’s take up these matters again in our next talk. … We’ll see if we can work our way out of “limbo”!
Gary Corseri and Victor Ivanovich Postnikov