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Eugene Ostashevsky at 3:AM
Look, Kharms and his friends are the first Russian poetry group to take something akin to a linguistic turn. They are not after the Logos, as the Futurists and Mandelstam are. They distance themselves from language—by “language” they mean all cognitive frameworks, not just linguistic ones—emphasize its alterity, conventionality. Yes, their position is historically contingent. The Russian around them is Stalinizing, words move further and further away from their referents. But despite their historicity, Kharms and Vvedensky match our concerns very closely, infinitely more closely than the attitudes of their predecessors. By “ours” I mean two things. One is the people of today, or some people of today, but I don’t want to get into a genealogy of that, or a sociolinguistic explanation. The other is me. Let me talk about me! English is always going to be second-skin to me. It’s never going to be first skin. And that’s the basis of my poetry. However native my English gets, it still builds on the experience of somebody learning the language for the first time. You know how absurd other languages seem when you start learning them? You have this big external structure that claims to be transparent but it ain’t transparent at all, not to you! Hence the main move in my poetry is the pun. I even introduce myself as a pundit.
After Ostashevsky’s “punditry” they touch on a number of interesting topics, including “official poetry” in the US and… giraffe poop?
I don’t set myself in opposition to whatever might be construed as “official poetry” in the US, as the Language School used to. American poetry is vast, there’s space enough in it for everybody. It’s like Noah’s Ark… Although—Noah’s Ark was full of poop. Because they had only one window and it was closed. Sometimes you look at poems in the New Yorker or similar magazines, and lo, there’s the poop! This one is from a giraffe, and that one’s from an iguana. I don’t get that about the New Yorker. Their investigative journalism is so good, but the poetry… Maybe it would be the other way if I were a journalist.
Much more to savor after the jump.