Poetry News

The New York Times Reviews Kirill Medvedev's It's No Good

By Harriet Staff

Kirill Medvedev

Kirill Medvedev's new book (in English), It's No Good, has been reviewed in The New York Times! (We wrote a bit about it here and here.) Now it is the turn of one Dwight Garner, who contextualizes the work with our favorite Russian punk band of the moment, Pussy Riot:

[Pussy Riot] rejects the criminal capitalism so prevalent in Russia. When Madonna and Björk offered to perform alongside the group, a Pussy Riot member replied: “The only performances we’ll participate in are illegal ones. We refuse to perform as part of the capitalist system, at concerts where they sell tickets.”

This stance echoes one taken years earlier by the young Russian poet Kirill Medvedev, whose writing is introduced to American readers in “It’s No Good,” a spirited compendium translated by the novelist and n+1 magazine editor Keith Gessen, along with Mark Krotov, Cory Merrill and Bela Shayevich.

It’s not often you open a book, flip to its title page, and read a declaration like the one printed here: “Copyright denied by Kirill Medvedev, 2012.” He’s opted out of the literary world. He’s decided that his books will appear in pirate editions or not at all. Mr. Medvedev notes, in an observation that hangs over this book, “It’s strange now to think that business was once portrayed as the enemy of authority.”

As for the work:

Mr. Medvedev’s unrhymed, come-as-you-are poems (he is a translator of Charles Bukowski) reject romanticism of any sort. We find him “in the Smolensky supermarket/at the corner of the Garden Ring,” rejoicing over a can of sprat paté, which he terms “paté for the poor.” He writes about girls and bars and odd jobs and sex and why so many of his friends adore the movie “Amelie.” One poem commences with a haiku about buying a condom from a kiosk.

In another he wonders why he should feel the luckiest of his peers, luckier than those who married rich men or a friend who

left for the united states
and is working there
for the washington post
sometimes coming in on business trips
and staying at the National
of everyone who turned out to be a computer genius
of everyone who became an assistant
to editors-in-chief
or a designer
for major fashion magazines.

This litany continues, movingly:

of everyone who got married,
traded in their parents’ apartment,
and were separated by the fourth day
of all the half-drunk and stunted intellectuals
who (unlike me)
matured too early,
then burned out
of everyone who found work in the morgue
of everyone who did time in jail
then died of an overdose
of everyone who worked at
the politician kirienko’s campaign headquarters
and then joined his permanent team.

He is a shrewd and irritable observer of the petty (and not-so-petty) corruptions of the Russian literary world. Where once upon a time a hack poet might have schemed against his enemies (“ratted them out, turned them in to the KGB”), these days that same hack “simply would not accept a review of a book” by one of those enemies. Either way, silence is assured.

Mr. Medvedev’s most stinging assessments are reserved for Russia’s liberal intelligentsia. His book often put me in mind of an observation by the Soviet-era poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko: “Why is it that right-wing bastards always stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, while liberals fall out among themselves?”

Read the full review here.

Originally Published: March 21st, 2013