Kholin 66: Diaries and Poems. Igor Kholin. Translated by Ainsley Morse and Bela Shayevich. Eastern European Poets Series #40. Ugly Duckling Presse. Brooklyn, New York. 2017.
Today's book of poetry can't even begin to imagine the life Igor Kholin (1920-1999) endured. The few poems in this utterly intriguing translation by Morse and Bela show an utterly unforgiving Kholin in full unmitigated rant. It's rather splendid.
Russia in 1966 was most likely as reported, not a very nice place for most people. Today's book of poetry lived in Eastern Europe for the best part of a year in the late 80's. I had unrestricted freedom, access to more money than most citizens and at best it was a bittersweet existence. Kholin shared squalor, abject poverty and an orphanage childhood are one hard anvil to pound a life out on. As a young adult fighting in World War II he got a bullet in the head and survived. This is a tough man in a tough world.
You may think
Is a washing
I'm not what I seem
I'm a poet
Man on Venus
Are light switches
My best friend
Is a blender
Even though his Diaries name drop an encyclopedic run on the artists and writers of the day Igor Kholin was never one of the educated intelligentsia who wrote poetry. Kholin was an orphan who ran away when he was in grade two (if Today's book of poetry followed along closely enough) and ended up shot in the army. After the war he was banned from Moscow for a time for a drunken fight in the street with soldiers. Kholin may be the most outsider poet of all.
Kholin died poor in Moscow at the age of 79 and it is only now that most of his work is seeing the light of day. Igor may be the first true pissed off, pissed drunk, piss stink poet we've seen at Today's book of poetry in a while. He certainly paid all of his dues, some of yours and mine as well.
One guy says
I'm a genius
That's definitely true
I'm a hack
And I agree with that
A third says
I killed a guy
Indeed, I nod
Everything people say about you
Is the truth
Our morning read stretched into an early afternoon vodka shower and an early evening headache. Today's book of poetry only now remembers our love/hate relationship with vodka. Milo, our head tech and soon to be excommunicated vodka dispensing poetry junkie, thought vodka shots suited the sentiment of Igor Kholin's Kholin 66: Diaries and Poems and he was right. I was wrong to bring out the Becherovka.
I know that now.
Today's book of poetry did make sure that theses short little power shots by Kholtin were given the space, time and respect they deserve. These short poems may be the most honest window into a corner of Russia we were never allowed to see. Igor Kholin was abrasive and completely unrepentant. These poems are poetry time bombs from a past that was previously impenetrable to the west.
Kholin broke his leg
Against him, but
May he break
May he break
Son of a bitch
In the next life
And in this one
May his children
May he be
Fall down the toilet
Choke to death on shit
Today's book of poetry is hoping more poetry by Igor Kholin in uncovered and translated. He makes the world seem a smaller place. Even in his desolate disquiet Kholin finds humour, dark as a rat's shadow, but humour none the less. Khodin is proof yet again that there is nothing stronger than the human spirit.
And that there is no one grumpier than a bitchy old poet. Bless his cotton socks.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Igor Kholin was born in Moscow in 1920, ran away from an orphanage in Ryazan, and eventually enrolled in a military academy in Novorossiysk. He barely survived World War II (a bullet that grazed the corner of his lips came out of his back). In 1946, he was exiled from the military and Moscow for slapping a drunken comrade-in-arms. Kholin landed in a labor camp in Lianozovo, a suburb of Moscow, where one of his friends was the guard and would occasionally let him out to visit the Lianozovo library—he'd started writing poetry. When he asked to check out a book by forbidden poet Alexander Blok, he aroused the interest of the librarian, Olga Potapova, an artist married to the poet and painter Evgeny Kropivnitsky. The two of them hosted a Sunday salon out of their nearby barracks apartment, encouraging the work of young artists and a few poets, including Genrikh Sapgir and Vsevolod Nekrasov. Along with Kholin, they called themselves Kropivnitsky's students and formed a loose poetry collective known as the Lianozovo Group. Kholin's early work took the rough edges of Soviet life—the poverty, brutality and alcoholism rampant in the barracks—as his primary subject matter, while lampooning formulaic Socialist Realist poetics. The world that Kholin depicted in his poems, where abrupt death inevitably cut down two-dimensional stock characters, was too crude and inglorious to be considered poetry by official standards. Later years saw cycles of outer-space poems and a series of poetic self-portraits, simultaneously wildly superlative and deeply self-deprecating; but all of it equally unpublishable until the fall of the Soviet Union. Kholin barely supported himself with odd jobs: children's book author, writing tutor, waiter and, after the 1970s, antiques dealer. Igor Kholin died in Moscow in 1999. Kholin 66 is the first book of Kholin's work in English translation.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATORS
Ainsley Morse has been translating 20th- and 21st-century Russian and (former-) Yugoslav literature since 2006. She holds a PhD in Slavic literatures from Harvard University and teaches all over the Russian and Yugoslav traditions. Previous publications include the co-translation of Vsevolod Nekrasov, I Live I See, (with Bela Shayevich, UDP 2013) and Andrei Sen-Senkov's Anatomical Theater (translated with Peter Golub, Zephyr Press, 2013). Upcoming translations include the farcical Soviet pastoral Beyond Tula, by Andrey Egunov, and a collection of theoretical essays by the brilliant Formalist Yuri Tynianov.
Bela Shayevich is a writer, translator, and illustrator. She is the co-translator of I Live I See by Vsevolod Nekrasov (UDP). Her translations have appeared in It's No Good by Kirill Medvedev (UDP/n+1) and various periodicals including Little Star and The New Yorker.
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