December 2008

Erin McKnight

poetry

As It Turned Out by Dmitry Golynko, translated by Eugene Ostashevsky and Rebecca Bella, with Simona Schneider

How has Russian poetry turned out? What have these post-Soviet Union texts -- reshaping a linguistically and socially altered language -- turned out? Is it apropos to consider the verse of current Russian poets as in situ of a subversive framework, underpinned with incendiary expression and vulgar aestheticism, and blotted onto the page as drippings of commercial regurgitation? If acclaimed poet Dmitry Golynko’s latest chapbook, As It Turned Out, offers anything to the post-Soviet dialogue, it is the mixing of “iodine with prosody for a good gargle.” Golynko’s sterilizing agent sweeps into a context that never materializes, yet nevertheless sets about its medicinal purpose in flushing a transitional and unstable lexicon from the collective Russian throat. Comforting as a reliance on Golynko as cultural and linguistic “purifier” of words long articulated in unsure mouths may propound, however, As It Turned Out effectuates the poet’s antiseptic rinse as brutalizing to the reader’s tongue.

Poised within a matte black cover are poems that slice, as scalpels sharpened by years of linguistic oversimplification, at the postmodernist scab that formed after the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991. With “brutal naturalism” and the reassemblage of stumbled-upon things, Golynko’s incongruous fragments of an equally alien experience come into being as a clinical experiment of sorts: its function resultant upon the “debasement of the soul.” As such, Westerners seeking explanation in Golynko’s chapbook will not find it, for to a large extent the illusionary scenes of a society caught in “the speech of criminality” continue to resound in a pitch that remains as foreign as the original language of this translated collection. Try as we may, our “emery board won’t admit [us] into [Golynko’s] photograph.” And yet, this unflinching non-admittance proves as stimulating as it is cruel.

Whereas “Sashenka” may expound the “dandyism, camp and mauvais goût” of Golynko’s early postmodern writing, his conveyance of human behavior as mechanized manifests most significantly in “Elementary Things”:

it has an increate, morbid, inanimate nature
the elementary thing is always mimicking something
rarely itself, more often the papal nuncio, satrap
old father superior or stepmother maniac
usually monsters or cultural figures
it sometimes imitates an immobilized idol
cadaver tricked out in sackcloth
professor basking in auditoria
at times struts like a hussar, fans itself with a dolman
wears a cossack coat, on the rim of a reservoir

The theme of replication, of forgery, pervades. This reflection of reality as lacking location and contextualization in phrases which seem to exist as the dermis to a shadowed form -- flaking off in banal, common speech utterances -- adds further emphasis to the triviality of language in context.

And perhaps this aggregation of oddities, found features of everyday cognition and speech, is most apparent in “Founts of Joy,” a poem noted in the chapbook’s introduction as consisting, in places, only of “idiom-surfing, one brief phrase after another”:

Samaritan woman expelled
with a broom, hand crumples
Treasury bill, a stun attached
where the sun don’t shine, shirtfront is wrinkled
                       
the bookworm stood up and walked
ramen is ready, forced entry everywhere
hangover head, over the top
the sweatervest fits the figure

Despite “Founts” unidentifiable matrix, its existence suggests that the cementing of pieces of language usually discarded or trivialized reveals their occasionality as dynamic: truncated to exist in the temporary turn of a phrase, yet layered with a precise deftness so as to create a sense of posturing that in turn juxtaposes routine language not with the other, but with the everything.

Serving as a reward for his undoubtedly shell-shocked reader, however, Golynko appears to relent -- briefly -- in his rendering of a man caught in the act of “scrutinize[ing] a pile of books”:

he found out lots of different things from them once
lots of information, many sensible theories, big idioms
lots of correct and precise observations
now these springs of doubt and anxiety
gather dust, piled up in a corner, on a chair
the reader is surprised at himself, what a bookhead
how many of them he managed to read through, sneezing

Just as the reader may experience astonishment over recognizing the poem’s subject in “the reader,” Golynko comes “very close to evoking what it is like to be a human being... seeing others as autonomous subjects and not as aspects of, or deviations from, our selves” -- his forgery all but squashed.

And yet, in “as it turned out,” there is the issue of the skewers: packed for a nature excursion, but proving “too big” and “meant for another grill.” The available cooking surface -- a rusty grill -- in true Golynko fashion is obscure, transitory, and pitiful; yet the other grill is characterized as no more concrete or promising, for its presence is never certain.

Dmitry Golynko’s contempt proves, at times, vicious and harsh; the painful gargling an act that feels very much in the reader’s best interest, but no less punishing in function and form. As it turns out, however, just as the disinfected mouth remains sterile only temporarily and requires consistent liquid punishment to maintain a sterile environment, readers won’t be able to resist coming back for a treatment -- for a good Golynko gargle.

As It Turned Out by Dmitry Golynko, translated by Eugene Ostashevsky and Rebecca Bella, with Simona Schneider
Ugly Duckling Press
ISBN: 978-1-933254-36-4
144 Pages