Ugly Duckling Presse

Sovietexts, Calculations, & Other Writings

Dmitri Prigov

translated by Simon Schuchat

Poetry
Fall 2018
Forthcoming"I have no choice but to read this book again, until someone translates some more."
Dmitri Alexandrovich Prigov was a leading writer of the late Soviet and early post-Soviet era. Born in 1940 and died in 2007; a lifespan longer than usual for a Russian male of his generation. Almost until the collapse of the Soviet Union, his writing circulated solely in samizdat, or else in overseas publications. He was briefly detained in a Soviet psychiatric hospital in 1986 but released after protests from establishment literary figures. A founder of Moscow Conceptualism, Prigov was an amazingly prolific writer, in all genres, as well as an accomplished visual artist. This collection, the first to appear in English, covers the Soviet era, with work which make serious fun of the Soviet version of reality. Short stories about amazing heroes of the revolution and after, poetic sequences that expose literature, history and culture to the stark light of laughter. It also includes a generous selection of post-Soviet writings, concerned with human mortality and human sinfulness – concerns he shares with Dostoevsky. He shares his humor, which is always present, with Gogol. Lists of deaths avoided, punishments for the menagerie, and the cosmic balance of existence. While Prigov’s writing is very definitely of the Soviet and post-Soviet world, it also is consonant with contemporaneous avant-garde writing elsewhere. He was a “Pop Artist” in a land without consumer culture.Excerpt ˇ

Excerpt

from TERRORISM WITH A HUMAN FACE (1981)

*

Here is bronze Pushkin standing stupidly
Quite sly was he, like you
But I’m alive, as a matter of fact
And I’m on Gorky Street
Meeting people and thinking: Look!
He climbed up on the granite plinth
He is the leader of Poetry
And then a terrible bomb
Drops on the city of Moscow
Killing every single person
And there is nobody to lead
Close ˆ

About the Author

Dmitri Prigov
Dmitri Alexandrovich Prigov was born in Moscow in 1940. Trained as a sculptor at the Stroganov Institute, he worked as an architect and made sculptures for public parks during the Soviet era. A prolific writer (in 2005 he estimated that he had already written 35,000 poems), he was a founder of the “Moscow Conceptual art” school. He wrote in almost all conceivable genres (including two novels), was an active performance artist, produced videos, and drawings and installations. He also acted in films, including Taxi Blues. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Prigov published in underground and émigré journals, and was briefly sent to a psychiatric hospital after being arrested by the KGB. With the onset of glasnost and perestroika, he was able to publish and show his visual art in “official” venues, and also exhibited his art outside of Russia. During the Soviet period his work fiercely satirized official language and culture; after the collapse his writing became more philosophic – but both before and after it energetically explored all the possibilities that language and literature offered. He won several prizes, including, in 2002, the Boris Pasternak prize. Prigov died, in Moscow, of a heart attack in 2007. His collected works are being published in Russia, edited by Mark Lipovetsky.

About the Translator

Simon Schuchat
A retired American diplomat with over twenty-five years of service, Simon Schuchat worked on U.S.-Russian affairs at the State Department in Washington, and in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. His poetry can be found in several rare books, including Svelte (published by Richard Hell when Schuchat was 16), Blue Skies (Some Of Us Press), Light and Shadow (Vehicle Editions), All Shook Up (Fido Productions), and At Baoshan (Coffee House Press), as well as the anthologies None of the Above (edited by Michael Lally) and Up Late (edited by Andrei Codrescu). A native of Washington DC, he attended the University of Chicago and published the journal Buffalo Stamps before moving to New York in 1975 and becoming part of the St. Mark’s downtown writing scene. Schuchat was also active in small press publishing; he edited the 432 Review and founded Caveman. In addition to the University of Chicago, he has degrees from Yale, Harvard, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at the National Defense University. He taught at Fudan University in Shanghai, and led workshops at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. Most recently, his translation of Chinese poet Hai Zi’s lyric drama Regicide was published in Hong Kong.

Advance Praise

This Prigov cocktail is a knockout: one part Brecht, one part Jarry, one part OBERIU, a twist of bitters; shaken, not stirred. Prigov is the unparalleled debunker of the Soviet unconscious. His conceptual audacity, verbal pyrotechnics, and hilarious political satire have made him one of the premiere innovative poets and parabolists of the postwar generation. Simon Schuchat brings to life, in English, this essential Russian artist. —Charles Bernstein
Dammit! I’d never read Prigov before, and I’m close enough to the end of things that I almost made it out without having to say now I’ll never forget him! It’s all Simon Schuchat’s fault, his sharp, no-nonsense translations, cheeky “Prefatory Note,” and insightful footnotes that set Prigov up just right, as if he were a one-man arts movement, somewhere between Klebnikov and Oulipo. There’s the opening list of “During Me” (seems the history of the universe happened during Prigov), and then “Representatives of Beauty in Russian History and Culture ” (in which the actual existence of the egg, among numerous other things, is shown to be unlikely). In the middle we get the epic “Image of Reagan in Soviet Literature” (“So here he is, in scabs and shit/Pus, blood, mange/…He wants to completely defeat us”), and “The Battle Across the Ocean” (an allegory of why hockey is no longer played in the US). Then towards the end there’s, “Recalculating Time” (mathematically proving that “with our accelerated pace of life…27 years…(for) Pushkin, a reduction factor of 1.3 (45-26):1.3+26=15+26=41) and “A List of My Own Deaths” (“I might have died at 1 year from chickenpox, but didn’t”). Do you see what I mean? Prigov is a conceptionalist of irony, a tongue in cheek needing no cheek, a writer who makes you shake your head and say, Oh dear, now I must recalculate world literature. No one needs to have written write poems and other pieces. But some one did, Dimitri Prigov. Now I have no choice but to read this book again, until someone translates some more. More Prigov. Or maybe I learn Russian. —Bob Holman
It’s hard to believe that this book of Dmitri Prigov’s poetry and prose appears 10 years after his untimely death. It should have appeared decades earlier, when he was still alive! But a silver lining is also apparent: throughout this decade, Prigov has finally received the recognition that he deserved – not as one of the “weird” experimental authors from the 1970s underground, but as a radical reformer of Russian literature, who has performed a real cultural revolution, after which it is impossible to keep writing in Russian as if nothing has happened. Prigov was not shocked when his colleagues compared him to a vulture, indeed, he created innovative neo-avant-gardist, conceptualist, and postmodernist textual performances from the material borrowed from various discourses – Soviet, post-Soviet, political, metaphysical, mystical, etc. But the strategies and concepts revealed in his texts remain to influence and feed contemporary Russian culture, in a range from experimental poetry to Pussy Riot’s actions. Simon Schuchat’s work as a translator is especially significant because he did not limit his selection of texts to Prigov’s classical early poems mocking Soviet official rhetoric, but included his lesser-known (even in Russia) late texts that deconstruct a capitalist logic of “quantification” and “monetization”, along with his mock-existentialist meditation and grotesque fantasies. I hope very much that this book will trigger the long-standing interest of true poetry lovers to Prigov who has yet a lot to offer – thousands of poems (literary!), four novels, dozens of plays and performances as well as numerous texts in genres that have no analogs elsewhere. —Mark Lipovetsky