Translator: Philip Metres
Translator: Tatiana Tulchinsky
Contributor: Catherine Wagner
: Ellie Ga
Publication Date: November 1, 2014
Eastern European Poets Series #33.
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.”
This edition collects all of Rubinstein “note-card poems,” and includes a preface by American poet Catherine Wagner, an introduction by the translator, Philip Metres, as well as short prose texts about these works by the author himself, all of which together provide the necessary contextualization for those unfamiliar with Rubinstein’s work and a deeper vision for initiates.
These texts have been translated into German, French, Swedish, Polish, and now Rubinstein’s complete card-catalog of “comedic novelties” has been re-opened—in a precise and sensitive translation—to the English reader.
[ 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
“The major work by a major poet, one of the founders of Moscow Conceptualism, and aptly translated. There is no question that this is one of the ‘must have’ [poetry] books of 2004…” —Ron Silliman
“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
[ exerpt ]
63. And where, I wonder, did the toppled fence and icy porch come from?
64. And the swallow’s dried dung on the haft of the spade?
65. And the wrinkled wiener on the bottom step of the escalator?
66. And how about slipping on a banana peel and falling down?
67. And breaking the glasses of the art teacher with a piece of chalk?
68. And the three of us trying to cram a live chicken into a suitcase?
69. And how about walking every day to the hospital, half an hour one way, to get one’s shots, and that thrilling scent of ether?
70. And the drunk surgeon dying in the ditch?
71. And the Jewish barber in the Mytishchi public bath?
72. And the bath itself?
73. Where did all this come from?
(—from “Questions of Literature”, 1992)
Born in 1941 and considered to be one of the founders of Moscow Conceptualism, Lev Rubinstein is among Russia’s most well-known living contemporary poets. His work is mostly conceived as series of index cards, a medium that he was inspired to create while working as a librarian. His work was circulated through samizdat and underground readings in the “unofficial” art scene of the sixties and seventies, finding wide publication only in the late 1980s. Rubinstein lives in Moscow and writes cultural criticism for the independent media. The first collection of his work published in the US was Catalogue of Comedic Novelties (UDP 2004). Ugly Duckling Presse has also published his series Thirty-Five New Pages (2011).
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 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.
Photo credit: Laird Hunt
Catherine Wagner’s collections of poems include Nervous Device (City Lights, 2012), and 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.
Ellie Ga's projects explore the limits of photographic documentation and span a variety of medium, often incorporating her exploratory writing and culminating in performative lectures, videos and installations. After an artist's residency in the archives of the Explorers Club in New York, she spent the winter of 2007-2008 as the artist-in-residence aboard the Tara, a scientific expedition in the Arctic Ocean. Her work from the expedition has been exhibited recently at Galerie du Jour, Paris, Subject Index at the Konstmuseum, Malmö, Sweden and Storyteller at Projekt 0047 in Oslo, Norway. She has performed The Fortunetellers at Museo D'Arte Contemporaneo, Palermo, Sicily and in New York City at MOMA/PS1 Contemporary Art and for the Edifying series at The Bruce High Quality Foundation University. Her artist's books are in the collection of MOMA, NYPL and Yale University. Ellie Ga is currently living in Brooklyn.