Sreda magazine together with the online contemporary poetry platform GREZA present a selection of verse from an anthology of Russian feminist poetry translated into English, due to be published by isolarii in the form of a pocketbook later this year. The anthology includes works by 12 Russian-speaking poets, whose writing is closely connected with the Russian cultural context, gender politics and feminist discourse: Lolita Agamalova, Oksana Vasyakina, Elena Georgievskaya, Egana Dzhabbarova, Nastya Denisova, Elena Kostyleva, Stanislava Mogileva, Yulia Podlubnova, Galina Rymbu, Daria Serenko, Ekaterina Simonova and Lida Yusupova. You can find several poems from the anthology in the original as well as the English translations by Kit Eginton, Alex Karsavin, and Valzhyna Mort.
Ekaterina Simonova was born in Nizhny Tagil, Russia, and currently lives and works in Ekaterinburg. She has published poetry in magazines such as Vozdukh, Vavilon, and Novy Mir. She is the first laureate of the 2019 Poezia award, nominated in the Poem of the Year category (with Dmitry Vedenyapin). She has authored six books of poetry, the latest entitled Dva yeyo edinstvennykh platia (Two of Her Only Dresses, 2020). She is curator of the Ekaterinburg poetry readings Stikhi o and the poetic book series InVersion.
Kit Eginton is a poet and translator from Iowa City, IA. She is an editor of the online annual magazine Hypocrite Reader, and has recently left the European University in St. Petersburg.
Stanislava Mogileva is a poet and co-editor of the F-Writing platform at Syg.ma. Her works have been published in NLO, Vozdukh and [Translit] magazines as well as in online journals including TextOnly, Dvoetochie, and Articulation. Stanislava is author of the poetry collections Obratny poryadok (Reverse Order, 2016) and Eto proiskhodit s kem-to drugim (This is Happening to Someone Else, 2018). She lives and works in St. Petersburg.
Alex Karsavin is a writer in Chicago, and an editor at Homintern Magazine. Their writing and translations have appeared in The New Inquiry, Pen America, Columbia Journal, and The Sick Muse, among others.
Galina Rymbu is a poet, translator and literary critic. She was born in Omsk, Russia. She is an editor at the F-Writing platform for feminist literature and theory, as well as at GREZA, a (micro)media on contemporary poetry. Her books have been published in the USA, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Latvia, Russia, and her poems have been translated into many languages and published in magazines such as NLO, N+1, The White Review, Berlin Quarterly, and Asymptote.
Valzhyna Mort’s new book of poetry is Music for the Dead and Resurrected (FSG, 2020). Born in Minsk, Belarus, she teaches at Cornell University and writes in Belarusian and English.
Translated by Kit Eginton
Every time, with the death of another
Of my unfertilized eggs,
When one less additional human life is made,
Another Siberian tiger gets to live,
Another taimen, another musk deer, a white-beaked dolphin,
A manul, or an Atlantic walrus; the Red Book
Becomes alive and green.
I have this dream: they’re hugging me
With their fuzzy paws and wet flippers,
Rubbing my face with their snouts and flanks,
Thanking me for taking care.
I have this dream: there’s no more us. Flying out into the light,
Come the puffin, the curlew, the pale harrier,
Wings beating. The black and rufous elephant shrew,
The hairy-nosed wombat, the angel shark.
Peace has spread far and wide.
Coastal waters are becoming cleaner. The cities are overgrown with grass.
Concrete and metal are falling into disrepair,
Like nuclear power plants and oil derricks,
Barrels of chemical waste. Everything bears
The name of peace.
A cloud of startled butterflies
Rises on the backdrop of a toxic cloud.
There’s not much time left:
In twenty years, no one will imagine
I might have sex.
In thirty more, no one will think
I could ever have had sex.
Look, standing behind me on the trolley,
Asking me to pass along fare for two tickets:
Could anyone ever run fingers through that straggly hair?
Could that sagging body press up against another?
Could men and women want her, now or ever?
For thirty years now it’s been something no one must know,
Because these things just aren’t supposed to happen.
Look, they’re getting out, walking away in the morning light,
One supporting the other.
Loose skin above the elbow, stooped backs,
Two ridiculous camel colts
Not touching each other more than they ought.
Life worked out this way, they only have each other,
Neither ever managed to meet “the right guy.”
Before bed one of them flicks through Instagram,
Half of the people she follows are dead. The second one dabs
Cream on her hands, covered in liver spots, then, complaining
About the pain in her back and neck, about
How lately she gets cramp in her legs at night,
Takes the phone from the other woman,
Lays her head on her right shoulder, slips her hand
Underneath her pajamas — the main thing is not to tell anyone about this.
For thirty years now it’s been something no one must know,
Because these things just aren’t supposed to happen.
Translated by Alex Karsavin
Oh! and is my writing sufficiently feminist
Oh! and is it sufficiently activist
Oh! and is my writing sufficiently political
is it relevant to the here and now or am I hurtling into eternity
or am I hurling into a damned distant despairing infinity
and does my writing mirror history’s specificity
isn’t it too personal, too simple
isn’t it overtly dense
is it trendy enough
is it fully feminine
is it already free
Oh! and will my writing wound those that it should
will it pierce right through them
Oh! and will my writing not offend those that it shouldn’t
or will it whack them with its ricochet
Oh! and does my writing meet all necessary criteria
including the aesthetic
did I take the right tactic
did my technique go out of date
or did I mistake my target audience
am I not repeating myself am I not peet-peet-peeting myself
am I not committing plagiarism
for surely my writing is far too lengthy
will it be read
for surely my writing is too tedious,
far too frivolous,
for surely my writing is too hermetic,
too short, not concise
is it even original
Oh, will it be understood will it be loved
Oh! my long suffering, Oh, my woebegone writing
if only someone would fal-de-ral-la-ral-lal-lee you, understand and grow to love you
Oh! if only they’d understand, if only they’d love
Oh! my poetic methods are they even fresh enough
and my stylistic devices
will them herods not read their fuckery into my fal-de-ral-la-ral-lal-lee
did I succeed this time around
did I fully problematize the question
did I break open the matter, did I deploy novel means
in the ideal ratio, without excess
and is my writing sufficiently reflective
is it not too intense
does my writing contain an emancipatory effect
and is its sensuality in measure
is it sufficient in its intellect
And yet who even cares about my writing
besides mine and me
fal-de-ral-la-ral-lal-lee besides mine and me
Oh! my long suffering, Oh, my woebegone writing
let us step out into the open field, into the wide steppe
who will fal-de-ral-la-ral-lal-lee us, understand and grow to love us
Oh! if only understand and grow to love us
Translated by Valzhyna Mort
why did she instagram the insides of a dead dog
mixed with sod, under a tree, is this the end already or not yet?
all day my stomach storms with muddy gushes of sod.
my brain keeps mum. body collapses. at night, the bed under me caught on fire.
they say, after having a child, you should take some time to be by yourself,
and keep waiting for him.
then wait for him to start speaking,
after he has started speaking.
once, in the night, as I watched you sleep,
love gushed like muddy
from the ceiling.
the world that awaits us —
like an abandoned manufactory in the industrial park
with a giant of a wild burdock growing inside,
colonies of blind worms, rays
of black sun.
how I waited for you, my boy,
so that I can wait longer and longer.
often, startled by that thought of you inside me,
I loved from a distance.
a tongue lashes at its limits.
day three of a depressive episode.
dead mint and cold dill on the table.
berries have no taste.
a tongue won’t cross these limits.
it’s serious there. inside the limits
guys with machine guns walk around the clock.
the world like warm boiled water
we have to take in small sips
who likes that?
a filthy kitchen. fat inside and out.
even the faces of the sun that reach here
through the grape leaves by the window
speak of dysphoria.
stupidly, I sit and hiccup.
pregnant cows in the buzzing armor of botflies.
as a child, by the river, I was afraid to approach them,
but today in my dream I lie
next to a cow, sucking its warm milk,
at once milk turns sour in my mouth
not made for conversations, for kissing.
perhaps I have to try harder, be
more sensitive, stop being jealous, invent something new inside my dailiness,
be lazy less, because really with some things — it’s my own fault, my own failure—
this is how every woman thinks when he screams or, vice versa, is silent and leaves,
when he is upset and the space tightens, oppresses,
or like he has no clue…
what is happening? in one episode the star
of patriarchy’s death went out. all as before:
a rain of tears. The TV’s
I watch and eat my fat.
fat hugs the body inside and out,
breasts like old buckets hang over a dark river
of madness. it’s summer. in summer
a body sweats and becomes sticky in twenty minutes, it’s scary
to allow a touch and to undress.
I eat rotting strawberries. I watch
the hearths of faces on the internet. this summer
thoughts shrink to the size of children’s swim trunks or socks,
clitoris swells more often.
we are together only yesterday and tomorrow,
but never today. your body like a cello
string. at night you put your hand
on the oily hearth of my face, on my stomach’s tumor,
you listen to the dull steps of a guilty heart. soon
together we will slurp blood with soviet spoons,
barricaded behind a thunderstorm in sullen Galicia.
because loneliness is the soviet spoons in my grandmother’s creaky kitchen cabinet,
my favorite polka-dotted mug, the slaps delivered by my mother.
it is a rural discotheque on a workday — almost empty,
only “solnyshko v rukakh” and the old car smelling of gas by the community center.
it is a blind eye of a rural bus station and dark-green hands of boreal grass,
it is a way back.
summer. in the banya: grandma and I. I play
with a little birch broom, playing a witch, piss
on a dirt floor.
her vulva resembles a wild gray rabbit —
large, a bit fat and gray,
with long hanging ears. why?
“I birthed many children
I scrub my heels with an old knife
I want to be alone, but have to
I leave the banya and feel
the wind from the river embrace my red skin.
my dog’s name is Till Eulenspiegel.
I write letters to my future self:
“Don’t live in the further on. Live here. Soon time will blow up our bodies.”
your body is a bow string. mine is all grandma’s jam and river slush.
my clitoris resembles the snout of an anteater, your thing is
made of warm marble in summer. when we are together — something’s off.
the world rests on this. and every day at home, like sleepy flies
in the bushes of hogweed, we lay on white clusters of pillows,
read about the end of the world in long books and in the cursive of vascular networks.
sour soup in an old pot. glam poster-icon above the table.
cellulose sausage, pink like Mary’s eyes. wind
carries the angel of smog through the window. burning roses of factories.
laughter of the past in a gray sandbox. already outsiders, though still kids,
signed up for the Slavistics club at the local community center, we took part
in the “solstice” festival, took part
in the Bolotny protest, but kept to the margins, ignorant of the cause, not
knowing about Tiananmen, in the future or in the past we supported
the protests of long-haul truck-drivers, ourselves too, we rushed someplace in dark vans,
watered ourselves with red Krasnodar wine, swallowed fire in night parks, covered the asphalt
with a carpet of sunflower shellings, we also counted small change, also
used real mail.
sometimes it seems that my hands are swift tiny paws:
they launder, wash, cook, move things from place to place,
but there’s no place for the things. we live tightly.
the house is filled with things, like a nest of thrifty birds,
and when we get tired — we shriek and peck each other.
here, our son fell out
from the nest into a new game, into a complicated world.
paws live their own life: they write at night, on the toilet,
in the tram, in the hotel, in the middle of a street, even in bed. rush,
paws, so much to do.
and my head is like the head of a large restless bird moving left to right,
thinking of what to do and how to do it:
he’s hungry, I’m hungry, they are hungry.
almost the whole world is hungry. somewhere
there isn’t even water. we have to invent food and water
that would reach everyone from everywhere.
paws, perhaps, like a racoon’s —
yet if someone comes and does
what father did, what boys did at school, and guys
from the neighborhood, total
strangers, drunk friends and poets, I know
I have claws, I’d say, razor-sharp,
they would tear his body, release his blood,
even if they’re scared. little paws.
I remember grandmother’s hands — hard like stones,
cracked from laundry and soap, like dried steppe clay,
also cracked — pink pulp, droplets of blood.
she sits on a low stool by the stove and caresses, comforts her own hands:
Just a bit longer and then I can sleep.
mama says: grandma needs a good hand cream, no,
she needs a different world
where grandfather doesn’t chase her with a dog’s chain across the garden,
where food and things create themselves,
a world of different labor.
caress me with stones, grandma,
lie next to me,
the way I lie right now next to my son,
and my hands are only my hands,
rumpling his hair,
moving time in any direction, in any order —
like magnets on the refrigerator.
in one direction, when all the nests of paper lampshades in our apartment block
light up simultaneously,
and the pots in the kitchen are whistling, wet
laundry dances, bread multiplies,
mama, once again
I want to eat your rough hand that caresses me.
white towers of beautiful cakes,
from fashion magazines — all
of this like it’s not meant for us.
“Lisa” magazine recommends
getting enough sleep, following
the Mediterranean diet:
strange berries of olives, cheeses
with the aroma of socks (dad is laughing: bullshit!), monsters
of underwater depths: wow!
is like a tattered women’s magazine
from the 2000s, you could leaf all you want
and be surprised, but how about
an empty page at the end…
and what about us?
crooked shitcakes of old cows
on the road, the cozy smell
from the bread factory,
the darkness of children’s heads
doused in camphor.
this mole under a breast, like a lost raisin,
I want to tear it off and eat it.
these cracks on the belly like trails through the taiga —
hello, my son! I’ve reached you.
you were inside my belly, like in a small timeless bog,
and now we are walking towards the house
with bags full of berries.
at night on my thighs I’ll see
new berry juice.
is it the month that’s coming to an end or all time? in a dream
I walk, and behind me
a shapely army of pills,
menstrual pad trailblazers,
will there be knots on my fingers?
will the nets and snares on my legs
will the traps of bones start clacking,
the boards of the back collapse,
when will time blow up the inflatable tubes
your body, like the wide gates of an old town, welcomes me.
my body, like the long grocery lines of the past, moves slowly.
do you see how at night in the Carpathian mountains
the animal of the moon eats its own body,
spitting the bones into our window? a dream puts on a black hat,
loneliness wears a new jacket.
tea and wine widen the body. states use a body.
the state has long since ceased to be that sovereign’s body, many-headed inside,
it’s more like a street the morning after a protest, the ruins of shopwindow. you like it?
do you want to go back there?
in the Carpathian mountains the low drone of dead trembitas,
followed by a Huzul night song.
we animals, we herds of autonomy.