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Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties
Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties

Lev Rubinstein

translated by Philip Metres, Tatiana Tulchinsky

Poetry | $22 $20
Fall 2014
Buy"An engaging translation of a major work of contemporary Russian poetry."

Almost ten years ago UDP published Catalogue of Comedic Novelties, a representative selection of Lev Rubinstein's "note-card poems," a seminal body of work from one of the major figures of Moscow Conceptualism and the unofficial Soviet art scene of the 1970s and 1980s. These texts form what Rubinstein called a "hybrid genre": "at times like a realistic novel, at times like a dramatic play, at times like a lyric poem, etc., that is, it slides along the edges of genres and, like a small mirror, fleetingly reflects each of them, without identifying with any of them." As American scholar Gerald Janecek has noted, the texts are made up of "language ready-mades (commonplace expressions, overheard statements, sentence fragments)" and organized "in such a way that we seem to be observing the creation of a poem from raw material."

This new edition collects for the first time all of Rubinstein "note-card poems" and includes a preface by American poet Catherine Wagner, an introduction by translator Philip Metres, and a short essay by the author.

Some of these texts have previously been translated into German, French, Swedish, and Polish; now Rubinstein's complete card-catalog of "comedic novelties" has been re-opened—in a precise and sensitive translation—to the English reader.

About the Author

Lev Rubinstein

Born in 1947, Lev Rubinstein was a major figure of Moscow Conceptualism and the unofficial Soviet art scene of the 1970s and 1980s. While working as a librarian, he began using catalogue cards to write sequential texts. He described his “note-card poems,” as a “hybrid genre” that “slides along the edges of genres and, like a small mirror, fleetingly reflects each of them, without identifying with any of them.” His work was circulated through samizdat and underground readings in the “unofficial” art scene of the sixties and seventies, finding wide publication only after the late 1980s. Now among Russia’s most well-known living poets, Rubinstein lives in Moscow and writes cultural criticism for the independent media. His books in English translation include Here I Am (Glas, 2001), Catalogue of Comedic Novelties (UDP, 2004), and Thirty-Five New Pages (UDP, 2011). In Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties (UDP, 2014), his note-card poems appear in their entirety for the first time.

About the Translator

Philip Metres
Philip Metres is the author of a number of books and chapbooks, including A Concordance of Leaves (Diode 2013), abu ghraib arias (Flying Guillotine 2011), To See the Earth (2008), Come Together: Imagine Peace (2008), Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941 (2007). He edited and co-translated the first American edition of Lev Rubinstein's poems (Catalogue of Comedic Novelties, UDP, 2004). His work has appeared in Best American Poetry and has garnered two NEA fellowships, the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, four Ohio Arts Council Grants, the Beatrice Hawley Award (for the forthcoming Sand Opera), the Anne Halley Prize, the Arab American Book Award, and the Cleveland Arts Prize. He teaches literature and creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Tatiana Tulchinsky

Tatiana Tulchinsky has translated many works of fiction, poetry, drama and non-fiction, among them, Anna Politkovskaya's A Small Corner of Hell, An Anthology of Russian Verse, and The Selected Works of Venedict Erofeev. In 1998, she was awarded the AATSEEL Prize for Best Translation from a Slavic or East European Language for her work with Marvin Kantor on Leo Tolstoy’s Plays in Three Volumes (Northwestern University Press). She is the recipient of a Witter-Bynner Foundation for Poetry Grant, and a Creative Writing Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Currently, she is translating and promoting English-language drama for the Russian stage. 

Other Contributors

Catherine Wagner
Photo credit: Laird Hunt

Catherine Wagner’s collections of poems include Nervous Device (City Lights, 2012), My New Job (Fence, 2009), Macular Hole (Fence, 2004), Miss America (Fence, 2001), and a dozen chapbooks. She has performed widely in the U.S., England and Ireland; her poems and essays appear or are forthcoming in Abraham Lincoln, Lana Turner, New American Writing, 1913,How2, Cambridge Literary Review, Soft Targets, Action, Yes, and other magazines. An anthology she co-edited with Rebecca Wolff, Not for Mothers Only, was published by Fence in 2007. She is associate professor of English at Miami University in Ohio.

Advance Praise

Lev Rubinstein's note-card poems, here transcribed for the page and imaginatively translated by Philip Metres and Tatiana Tulchinsky, are an eye-opener! Their particular brand of conceptualism has affinities with our own Language poetry as well as with the French Oulipo, but its inflections are purely those of contemporary Russia—a country struggling to make sense to itself after decades of repression...We can literally read between the lines and construct a world of great pathos, humor—and a resigned disillusionment that will strike a resonant chord among American readers.—Marjorie Perloff
Lev Rubinstein's Catalogue of Comedic Novelties is a poetry of changing parts that ensnares the evanescent uncanniness of the everyday. By means of rhythmically foregrounding a central device—the basic unit of work is the index card—Rubinstein continuously makes actual a flickering now time that is both intimate and strange. Metres and Tulchinsky have created an engaging translation of a major work of contemporary Russian poetry. In the process, they have created a poem 'in the American' and in the tradition of seriality associated with Charles Reznikoff and Robert Grenier.—Charles Bernstein
Rubinstein's "texts" can be compared with computer hyper-texts, where each message conceals a larger context and where you unavoidably leave certain files unopened on each page as you go on… His poetics can be described as that of fatally missed opportunities and in this sense he brings to mind Chekhov, a fact that has been noted by many critics. —Ekaterina Degot, Commersant Daily
Lev Rubinstein is the true heir of the OBERIU artists of the late 1920s. Like his most illustrious predecessor, Daniil Kharms, Rubinstein creates deadly serious, devastatingly funny comedy that incorporates a broad range of literary forms. In the precise translations of Philip Metres and Tatiana Tulchinsky, this witty and elegant work is available to an English-language public in its full glory for the first time.—Andrew Wachtel
At the end of the prose tract Democratic Vistas, Walt Whitman calls for a kind of book that is written 'on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half sleep, but, in the highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast's struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem.' Lev Rubinstein's Catalogue of Comedic Novelties is exactly this kind of book. It is interactive, engaging, and sometimes exhausting as a good workout should be. The reader is constantly implicated in the meaning making process of the poem, invited to fill in the blanks, to recreate the context from a series of intriguing and mysterious clues. Reading Rubinstein indeed strengthens one's imaginative muscles, but it is importantly a ludic as well as calisthenic activity. His poems are funny, utterly playful, 'comedic' to use his own description, yet not without pathos.—Michael Leong
Rubinstein’s work … drives a wedge between cultural production and the culturally produced. I’m not expected to do anything or buy anything, I’m flickering between emotion and ironic awareness; that is, I’m learning about the way I work when I encounter language...Rubinstein lets me acknowledge both my human emotion and its quoted, cultural ground.—Catherine Wagner, Galatea Resurrects