The summer of 2008 saw the release of a typographically and artistically magnificent volume, Russian Poetry from Latvia(Russkaya poeziya Latvii), containing verse in three languages, Russian, Latvian and English. It was put together by two poets, Artūrs Punte and Sergejs Timofejevs, and published by the lone star promoters of Latvia’s Russian diaspora’s culture, the energetic and resourceful Orbīta group of authors and artists.Below you’ll find an interview with Punte and Timofejevs, the latter being also the author of the anthology’s ample foreword.
The article is reprinted courtesy of its original publisher, the Latvian daily Diena.
Let’s start perhaps with discussing the differences, if there are any, between the Russian poetry in Latvia and the one created in Russia.
Sergejs Timofejevs (ST): Here, the local Russian poetry first appeared as a distinct phenomenon in the second half of the 1980s, which coincided with democratisation and the struggle for [the country’s] independence. It was unrelated to the Soviet literary system and to the central powers in Moscow. It was a rather beautiful beginning.In actual fact, the generation that came just before us, i.e., Orbīta, had become writers and poets already during the Soviet rule, however most of them seriously set to work in the latter half of the 80s and only some of the earliest among them did so in the first half. My own first publication, appearing in the Rodnik magazine, is dated with the late 80s, which consigns me to the subsequent generation. In principle, that poetry embodied, in a manner of speaking, a feel of freedom, a kind of Europeanness, an orientation toward Europe’s values of arts.Also perhaps not so much showing a focus on the Russian literary tradition but in a way capturing a local feel and manifestations of modernism and postmodernism.
What about Russia in the late 80s, did anything similar take place there?
Artūrs Punte (AP): Paradoxically, no. However, there were parallels between Latvia’s Russian poetry and Russia’s underground poetry. Here, that kind of poetry was accepted in the regular periodicals earlier than in Russia. If you look at the recent periods of Russian literature, the samizdat literature, not known to readers before that, then broke free. It changed the literary landscape drastically; in Latvia it had already happened.And, in Russia it was different also because here the Russian language literature was influenced by Latvian literature. People [from both groups] met in the same Writers’ Union, knew the local arts people but for them the setting in Russia was somewhat less relevant.
What had been the situation before that? Did the Russians living in Latvia write any poetry?
ST: Say, in the 60s or 70s?… It wouldn’t be appropriate to seek any lineage or any serious artistic milieu. Little has been left, not even books or witness accounts.
AP: For example, Andrey Levkin, then editor of the Latvia-based Russian magazine Rodnik, wrote that his generation would be happy to identify with a tradition, if there only was one.
On the other hand, there’s Roald Dobrovenskiy.
AP: Yes, but he’s a prose author. The difference ought to have been—as we have hypothesised—that in the 1970s it didn’t matter where you were, in Rīga or St. Petersburg. Finally, in mid-80s the decisive moment ripened, determining that the specific type of poetry could be written here and nowhere else.
Still, is there any chance to find a lineage connecting to the interwar Latvia’s Russian literature?
ST: No, but there existed here a Russian cultural hub, or at least a few periodicals. The examples were Dlya Vas, a magazine, and Segodnya, a newspaper.
AP: This was quite closely related to the refugees fleeing from Russia to the West.
ST: Dlya Vas was an interesting one. My parents happen to have preserved one year’s volume, I think it’s 1937.Strange as it seems, it was a Russian language magazine writing about Paris fashion, millionaires and their lifestyles, also interspersed with news from abroad, including photos of Hitler and Stalin. It seems completely unbelievable in comparison to the events of that same period in the Soviet Union.
Why does the anthology emphasise the poetic styles of Rīga and Fergana?
ST: It’s only in Rīga and in Fergana, where you can speak about emergence of poetic milieus and generations whose literary styles differed from what was going on in Russia. In Fergana’s case, there was a grouping uniting Russian poets and Uzbek poets. They wrote in Russian, but the Uzbek poets didn’t feel that because of this they would have become part of Russian poetry. They just used Russian as a global language, while also seeking their poetic stepping-stones in Italian, French, Greek and Mediterranean poetry and widely using free verse.
AP: When studying at the Moscow Institute of Literature in late 1990s, I had already grown used to the processes then taking place in Rīga, so I was deeply shocked about the discussions, sometimes seriously extending over several seminars, on whether free verse had a right to exist… I dared to object mentioning that there were already excellent poets using it, but I met with reproaches saying that I wasn’t the one to judge the state of things. At the literature department of the University of Latvia, such premise would never have been used in a seminar. In Russia, even in the underground milieu with its interest in alternative strains of literature, the hero of the day was Brodskiy, who used classical devices, the stylistics typical of modernism while obviously expanding it a great deal and taking his inspiration from the literature of the West. And still he belonged to the tradition of classical modernism. He may have just about five free verse poems. Concurrently, in the 1980s, we have here Oļegs Zolotovs writing lines that are long enough to require the publisher to print them in the landscape orientation on a book’s pages; and you cannot make out what metre those have been written in. For him [Latvian] authors such as Uldis Bērziņš and Jānis Rokpelnis were the reality, while no poet based in Moscow or St. Petersburg would be able to know them.
The anthology titled ‘Russian Poetry from Latvia’ is already available at leading bookshops. Photo by Vladimirs Svetlovs, ‘Orbīta’.
You’ve written that the 80s’ generation of Rigan Russian poets are disillusioned in the Rīga of the 90s.
ST: Perhaps not exactly disillusioned, but before that time there had been a hope that Rīga would quickly become something similar to Prague… A cultural hub of Eastern Europe, if you wish.
AP: Yes, an illusion about a multiculturalism. Clearly, the local situation asked for a much greater importance for the construction of a nation-state. Maybe that illusion could exist only among the local Russian authors, for whom it would seem cool that Latvians intermingle with Russians. The moment it all ended went unnoticed.
ST: It was a time when the border checks [between the countries] didn’t exist yet and organising various things was easy. Literary events and festivals of avant-garde art could take place, featuring many guests from Russia and from elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.
AP: Also, the Rodnik magazine published in Rīga was sold in tens of thousands of copies outside this country.They must have thought that things could only improve from that point and that Western markets would also open up… Once you realise that here it makes no sense to publish a magazine in more than a thousand copies, everything changes.
ST: Most of the subscribers lived outside Latvia. When the prices skyrocketed, they just couldn’t carry the cost anymore. The money they earned from annual subscriptions lost all its value in mere six months. Many among them were not prepared for a situation where you need to turn a profit—simply because the Soviet [social] system provided a surreal opportunity to be provided for and be an artist. Even the most talented failed to adapt and start making money. For example, Aleksejs Ivļevs gave it a try: he drew some naïve cards with cats flying over Rīga. The entire educated class of local Russians found themselves disillusioned. They had thought they were backing democracy and independence, and then shortly after it turned out they weren’t even nationals of this country.
AP: It shows in the example of Vladimir Linderman, who initially participated in the [pro-Latvian] Popular Front but then joined the ranks of [Russian] National Bolsheviks.
But you slipped into the new system seamlessly.
AP: [Because] we belonged to later period.
ST: I think it’s different with Linderman, as he appears to be a natural born revolutionary.
AP: Yes, he’s determined to oppose. While pornography was illegal and there was “no sex”, he also became a publisher of porn. That’s his life scenario.
ST: Once I watched him talking to a Dutch journalist—he was already a National Bolshevik—and I asked him what would happen if he won [politically]. There was no answer from him.
AP: Yes, that’s the paradox with the National Bolsheviks. Today’s party leader Eduard Limonov in Russia is among the few who defend democratic values, while in fact the National Bolshevik agenda is something quite different; and yet currently it appears that he’s pro-democracy, he backs fair elections, and so on. Both of them, Limonov and Linderman, are artists.
Artūrs Punte enjoying the library donated by Roald Dobrovenskiy at ‘Orbīta’s’ abode in Andrejsala’s Power Shop.
Can Russian literature have an adequate existence in modern Latvia, or is this a rather monoethnic-oriented society?
AP: Yes, it can, and possibly it’s just okay that it isn’t turned into some matter of national importance but instead takes up a certain niche segment. What’s important is that it’s not pressed against.
ST: Here, another issue crops up: is it at all important to the local Russian diaspora? They’ve become used to doing without Russian culture. If they have a link to it, then it probably points at somewhere in Moscow or St. Petersburg, a place where, for example, books and films are available. It seems that among wider public there’s no interest in Russian culture. It may, alas, be related to the subjective aspects of the media. The Latvian media, still, are much more responsive to our activities than the Russian media.
It’s believed that literature ought to not separate itself from its social environment, and yet we haven’t heard about any authors in Latvia who’d exploit the local ethnically varied situation and write specifically about what’s it like to be a Russian or a Latvian here. Say, UK’s Indian authors do write about that and they receive attention because it’s interesting enough.
ST: Not sure yet whether it will happen—but I have written lyrics for an Intars Busulis’ album and imagined that, based on that material, there could be a theatrical production. If that succeeds, it may be the first such piece.There is a fair number of Russians like me but there exists no centre that would attract activity, no institution or media outlet. There’s often talk about a russophone environment but in fact it’s very disparate.
AP: The difference is in that even to a “culturally illiterate” Latvian it’s obvious that the Latvian culture is located here. At the same time, many Russians would be completely surprised having found out that there exist local Russian poets.
ST: It’s not that we would like to complain about the way things are. We just don’t feel like we ought to. If you have a project in mind or if you want to publish a book, all of that is indeed possible.
AP: It’s much more typical to hear from those who’ve visited foreign countries and there heard about Orbīta.
Arts and culture professions have nowadays become by and large optional, thus having lost their role of “missionaries”. Likewise, poets may feel that their romantic aura is now gone. And it might be more rewarding to be a prose writer.
ST: I’d say that there was a rapid decline in attention approximately in mid-1990s. There were other things to be taken care of. Nevertheless, at the very end of the 90s, the interest again grew to quite an adequate level. It appears that the average size of a poetry book printing is more or less the same in London, Moscow or Rīga.Poetry nowadays is indeed a cultural underground. While music and film have assumed a role in entertainment, poets still are attributed a “weighty” status. One could say that the latter have not sold out yet … but who would be willing to buy anyway?
AP: The only situation when there’s a buyout proposal was the week before elections, when we got a call asking whether we’d be interested in putting out a collection of poems.
ST: Speaking of publishing the local Russian poets in Latvia, getting yourself started is much more difficult. It’s of course easier if you’re a complete novice writing in Latvian; you get more attention and resources.
AP: A Latvian poet would have to begin by joining the Aicinājums retreat, then the Society of Young Authors, and then proceed to the Writers’ Union. If you’re, however, a Russian poet, you have to think your way through it. Some end up inventing completely different scenarios. Such as the rather vibrant hip-hop era in Daugavpils, which was in fact a derivative of poetic activity that hadn’t found an institutionalised release and instead became a popular form of expression.
Also, the widely known writer Aleksandr Garros moved out from Rīga to Moscow.
AP: And when he still worked at the arts and culture of the Čas daily, it wasn’t concerned with the cultural events in Latvia at all. Having read its arts section you wouldn’t be able to discern whether its publisher was located somewhere in Voronež or in Rīga.
Who knows, could be intentional… or unintentional.
AP: I’d say intentional. It’s easier to run an article on Kirkorov than find something of local interest. This serves as a way of optimising your business, and there isn’t even any ideological message—the way the Latvian press would sometimes portray it saying that the Russian press is biased. There’s optimisation just like in any other business.
Did poetry attract a wider readership in the past?
AP: Hardly. For example, Oļegs Zolotovs is known to very few. At best, 30 copies of his books were sold. But a printing of Semjons Haņins’ sold entirely. The thing with Rodnik was that before it appeared many things were forbidden but, once free rein was given, one felt the need to read everything and anything. Nowadays some of those things wouldn’t be read at all, say, a few of Castaneda’s concoctions. The situation has vastly improved now in comparison to the latter part of the 80s.You shouldn’t say there were readers then and now there aren’t. You can take note of the numbers of copies of Imants Ziedonis’ poetry collections in the 1970s. A printing would have perhaps 70,000 copies. And what about now? Does it mean that Ziedonis’ readership has been lost?
ST: If I had to choose between being a 1970s poet with 70,000 copies per printing and a modern poet with just a thousand then, speaking purely about poetry and excluding any politics or social factors, the second option seems fairer and more attractive.
In the recent releases by Orbīta, what would be the specifics of Latvia-based Russians’ poetry?
ST: During the last eight years, the newest Russian poetry uses free verse much more frequently. On the one hand, there’s an interest in the local creations but, otherwise, I wouldn’t say that the literary style would be different to the writing done in Russia.
Why is it that Latvia-based authors do not employ the theme of multiculturalism? It is used in the UK and Germany.
AP: Here it is natural to present the country as a monoethnic nation.
ST: In mid-1990s, while the Latvian national infrastructure was developing, so was also a concept of an independent kind of Latvian literature. Nowadays, when the self-image is better defined, there may begin a greater interest in others as well.
In culture at large, the most interesting messages are often those that propone universal values of some sort.
ST: A novel about the way Rīga and various phenomena are seen by a local Rigan of Russian ethnic origin hasn’t been written yet.
AP: Andrey Levkin’s unpublished novel is based in material about Rīga. He lives in Moscow but visits Rīga quite often.
ST: In his writing, though, Rīga is not exactly a social environment. He focuses more on certain metaphysical qualities of a city. There doesn’t exist any fiction simply portraying a lad from Rīga’s Latgales administrative district.
AP: What you said about the universal values constitutes the next stage: the local arts and culture environment already is faced with it, and there’s quite an active movement of exporting artwork. Artists and authors from Latvia have their works exhibited in other countries or their books presented to foreign publishers. Isolated local creations have been losing attention.
ST: Many things until now remain to be done, because even Latvian readers would find it interesting to see how a Russian sees their social environment. Yet we at Orbīta do not write about it…
Would this perhaps harmonise somewhat the relations between Russians and Latvians, if there arose a specific Latvia-based Russian culture, eventually also creating a stronger bond with and loyalty to Latvia?
AP: From the politicians’ point of view, the smartest thing would of course be to “acclimatise” the local Russians, stop them from viewing the Perviy baltiyskiy TV channel (as it is a “propaganda tool” of a totalitarian country) and ban visaless travel to Russia.
But, Russia has spoken out about admitting travellers of Russian ethnic origins into Russia without a visa.
ST: And that greatly brought to the surface the question of what are the Latvia-based Russians. If they remain sidelined from what’s going on in Latvia then Russia exerts its influence.
AP: This would be an area worth fighting for.
In fact, there’s not just the problem of Russians belonging or not, but also with the strengthening the self-identification of Latvians with the nation. If you look at the rate of emigration…
AP: Perhaps it even exceeds what happened between 1940 and 1945? What if the official Latvianness, as it is publicised, is too idealised and withdrawn from the reality?
‘Orbīta’ always beckons a welcome from its residence in Andrejsala’s Power Shop, whenever it’s getting dark outside and inside there’s an exhibition, poetry event, etc.
If it were more varied instead of being confined to gatherings of many thousands of people wearing ethnic costumes then perhaps young people would better understand what’s it like to be a contemporary Latvian and how to identify with that idea. I see that this does need to be brought up.
ST: When we began our activity, we had a feeling like standing in a doorway: before us, there had been just the Soviet generation but we were already among those who started creating in the freed and independent Latvia. [We thought that] the next generation of local Russians would be Europeans, embracing European values and observing what’s happening in Latvia and elsewhere in the world. But that didn’t come true. Because a large part of society is left to fend for themselves. That’s why nothing changes… but, time goes on.
Born in Rīga in 1977, he went on to graduate from the Moscow Institute of Literature. Punte is a poet and works in advertising. He also edits the Orbīta almanac and the www.orbita.lv website.
Born in Rīga in 1970, he graduated from the Faculty of Philology at the University of Latvia. His occupations span poetry, deejaying, copywriting and journalism. Timofejevs co-edits the Orbīta almanacs and multimedia titles. Jointly with Punte, he’s responsible for organising the Word in Motion festival of poetic video.
Interviewed by Viestarts Gailītis
One of the most adventurous and groundbreaking poets in the Baltic, Latvia’s Sergej Timofejev is a fundamental part of the radical reconfiguration of his nation’s poetic culture and landscape in the last few decades. A urbane, grounded, naturalistic stylist, the power of his poetry has allowed him to implement numerous innovations in a region associated with formalism. Experiments with poetry and music / art installations / performance / video & even computer games, have seen his popularity soar in Latvia, though he remains a poet writing in Russian. In the 40th edition of Maintenant, Sergej Timofejev discusses the influence of Western culture, the healthy state of Latvian poetry and the reward of poetic collaborative innovation.
3:AM: You utilise the Russian language in your poetry, do you think it lends itself to poetic expression in a unqiue way?
Sergej Timofejev: I think that it’s all about structures. You find some new structures in everyday life’s language and bring them into poetry – of course it’s not only street, conversational language. For example in the beginning of the 90’s, I was inspired by a style of “music journalism” in NME and other music magazines which I started to read in English. And I wrote a poem “Three albums of the 80′s” devoted to The Clash, U2 and Joy Division, which was inspired by this music journalism discourse. Because I perceived this music (which was at the moment so far from me as a part of another western world) like one drop of water from which you can get an idea of the ocean… All the things are little bit similar inside. So when I was speaking about how this albums were created it was actually about life, emotional situation on the boundary of 80 and 90′s, my East-European perception of this music et cetera, et cetera…
I have an old theory that all the actual things (structures, ideas and so on…) are already in the air. Every poet is like a radio. He has to have an antenna (spiritual self) for getting the things (waves, ideas…) from the air. But he has to have tuning knob for getting signal clear – and that is his professional skills. And also he needs loudspeakers for making the sound powerful and recognizable – that’s his talent. Sometimes people have an antenna but their tuning knob is not precise enough. Sometimes their loudspeakers are too quiet… Actually I wrote one poem about a person – a young girl – who is at the same time a radio wave and in 2001 we, with the animator Diana Palijchuk, made a poetry video based on this poem.
3:AM: What is the feeling in Latvia towards the Russian language in poetry? Is it favoured over Latvian? Has there been a historical precedence of Latvian being relegated?
ST: Modern poetry written in Latvian, I think, is very interesting and also very successful in the local society. Latvians are quite a small nation – around 2 million together with all the emigrants around the world. But poets publish around 500-1000 books. And it’s the same quantity of copies published per book like in Moscow. That’s really good. In the 20-30′s of XX century there was one incredible guy called Alexander Chak, who was writing really inspiring and human urban poetry. I don’t think that he is known in Europe and that’s quite sad. Then the Soviets came and actually my family moved here by the order of Stalin in the 50′s. In the 60’s-70’s poetry became quite oppositional to the regime and extremely popular. Then there was the time of perestroika and some poets even became politicians but of course hardly the best ones. Around this time also appeared the phenomena of Russian poetry from Latvia. At that time appeared a whole generation of Russian poets inspired by underground, samizdat poetry. I also started to write at this time. But then independence came and Latvia became a state oriented generally on the culture in Latvian language. But in the end of 90’s there was more interest in the poetry in Russian in society and at that time we (5 young poets from Latvia who are writing in Russian) organized a project called Orbita which was concentrated on new ideas of how to perform and to publish poetry. We were performing readings together with DJ’s and video artists (sometimes we were dj’iing and vj’ing ourselves), publishing poetry books together with photo- and visual artists, publishing CD’s and DVD’s with poetry performed with special music and videopoetry. This was quite new in the post-soviet space and we got a lot of attention also from Latvian audience and media, not only from local Russians. Now we even make some art-installations with poetry (for example – ‘Time Room’ – the poem about time and short unmeaning activities which actually fill up our everyday life was illustrated by short animated clips which were screened on the walls and the roof ot the special construction).
3:AM: Where do your own poetic influences lie? In the immense Russian tradition? What poets have had the most resonant effect on you?
ST: I didn’t feel so much inside the Russian tradition when I was looking for my own style. My greatest inspiration were beat-poets from USA from the 50-60′s. Before there were T.S. Eliot and some French, Greek and Italian authors. Maybe it’s because I was trying to find something different from what we had around. I also started to read samizdat literary magazines where new Russian poetry was published – Arkadiy Dragomostchenko, Dmitriy Prigov… And also poetry of Latvian poets, of course, – Klavs Elsbergs, Uldis Berzinsh.
3:AM: Your poetry maintains a free, colloquial tone, reminiscent in places of the great New York poets, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery. Has Western poetry come to influence poets across Europe, do you think poetry has become globalised, or does there remain national poetic traditions that will be kept by nations?
ST: I think Latvian poetry was and is much more oriented on the values of Western poetry then Russian classical verse. Here, even in the Soviet time, free verse was something quite normal and understood by the audience. In Russia it was different. Until now some Russian critics and authors think that free verse is something too easy and non significant. Once I personally heard from a guy who is writing only with rhymes that “free verse poetry” is oriented towards easy translation to the Western languages and participation in the Western festivals. I answered him that, for example, I started to write this way in the time when I had no chances both for translation and festivals. But he was very self-assured.
3:AM: You are well regarded for your use of multiple mediums, for your engagement with performance and with music. Do you feel poetry must not been limited to formal verse and formal presentation? Do you think poetry will increasingly cross boundaries in medium in the future?
ST: When we started the Orbita, poetry readings were actually kind of gatherings of sad drinkers with beards who were dressed in big polo-neck sweaters. After or even during every poetry reading people got drunk and depressed. We didn’t like it this way. We never had a manifesto or something like a new poetical ideology. We just grow up in the tusovka where poets, artists and musicians were mixed. And that was quite natural to us – to make efforts to bring poetry into collaboration with other forms of culture, to find for poetry an equal position amongst these forms. But we just pushed some boundaries further, of course, not more. I think that poetry nowadays both in writing and performing can be also quite classically oriented. Poetry could be very different. We never said that every poet now has to record with trip-hop stars and to make videopoems. For some authors it suits well, for others – absolutely not. But if we are crossing boundaries we are getting new audiences which were not so “literature oriented” before, that’s for sure. When we were performing in the clubs some young people came after and said: “We are surprised, we never thought that modern poetry could be just about us and what we feel…”
3:AM: Could you details the history of the Orbita project?
ST: We started in 1999, in 2000 already we published first CD with poetry +music and also our first almanac where poetry and prose were published together with black&white photos from Latvian photographers. Then in 2001 we organised first videopoetry festival in Europe (the German festival Zebra started in 2002). Also we made a few “poetry shows” and when we were performing we called ourselves text-group (kind of similar to rock-group). Then we were making more festivals, performances, almanacs and even computer games based on poems.
3:AM: Do you believe collaboration, not often associated with poetry, is vital for the artistic production of poetry?
ST: As I already said there are no universal laws how to make poetry and what poetry should be. For one poet it is absolutely necessary to sit in a closed room with all the phones turned off and after 3 years of that kind of writing to finish a perfect book, for another – is significant to write his poem in crowded internet-café and immediately publish it in the blog and to read responses of people and may be even correct something in the text after these responses.
But when poet, musician and videoartist collaborate in a good balanced way they finish with a thing which is getting all the attention that person in the audience can give. You perceive audio, visual and textual symbolical information at one time… But it’s also not an universal law – some people in the audience, especially from the older, “book” generation say that it’s too much. That they want to separate these experiences – first to read a poem, then to listen to it, then to see the visual part…
3:AM: What is your methodology of writing? Your poetry uses potent imagery and deliberately energetic style, do you restrict yourself and edit your work, or do you simply write in bursts of creativity?
ST: I cannot really control it. Something comes into the air and sometimes I get it and sometimes I miss it. I’m editing of course when I’m writing but after the last line comes I really rare re-edit the text. Some of the poets I know publish in their blogs 2-3 poems a week. I’m not like that, really. It’s just a very special condition which comes and you sit down and write and then it goes away and you can do other things.
3:AM: There seems to be a great number of excellent Latvian poets, is poetry popular in Latvia as it seems to be in other Baltic states like Estonia, where the print runs dwarf those of Western countries, in relative population terms?
ST: Yes, I think poetry and theatre are quite popular here because they still give us that intimate feeling of contact and understanding. We have a great theatre here called New Riga Theatre with director Alvis Hermains, sometimes we organise our readings there and sometimes I also translate their performances from Latvian to Russian when they are performing in Russia.
And for Latvians it’s very significant what is happening with the Latvian language and in the Latvian language. That’s one of the reasons why poetry is also significant. And the literary scene here I would say is quite human and friendly, also for beginners. One of the “bright young stars” is Arvis Viguls who’s become famous just in a few months and his first bookThe Room was republished a few times.
Poetry still is not really mass or commercial product, you can not invest your capital in poetry too. That’s why poets mostly can not make their living with poetry. That’s sad because sometimes you have to go for jobs which just take all of your energy away. But from the other point of view it means that poetry still is a very “clean” and human field of creativity. It helps people – of course if they know at least something about how to read it or to listen to it. Modern poetry still needs some cultural baggage from audience. But I really believe that new forms of existence for poems like videopoetry or audio recordings mixed with good, not banal music are ambassadors of the grand country of Poetry, and they do their job well.
Orbita formed in 1999 when Latvian poets Artur Punte, Sergey Timofejev, Semyon Khanin, Zhorzh Uallik, and Vladimir Svetlov, who write in Russian, got together to establish a “text-group.” The mulitimedia project entitled Orbita (The Orbit) birthed from these roots starting out with readings in clubs, city squares, and even a small ship, from locations spanning Riga, Moscow, Minsk, Stockhom, Prague, Leipzig, and New York. In 2000 the group produed a CD titled O2 and in 2001 they held a poetic video festival, Word in Motion. Orbita 4 was released as a poetry CD+DVD in 2004. The audio CD is a collaboration with a variety of musicians from Riga, Moscow and St. Petersburg. The DVD is compiled works of Latvian artists from two video festivals and new videopoems from Orbita and partners. Orbita’s website is www.orbita.lv.
The anthology titled ‘Russian Poetry from Latvia’ is already available at leading bookshops. Photo by Vladimirs Svetlovs, ‘Orbīta’.
VIDEO of poem When we run out of jazz by Sergei Timofeyev
VIDEO of poem Neither tomorrow nor today by Semyon Khanin
VIDEO of poem Sveta by Sergei Timofeyev
VIDEO of poem Physicist by Sergei Timofeyev
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sergej Timofejev was born in 1970. He is a Latvian poet, visual artist, journalist, DJ, musician, member of the cultural group Orbita, a creative collective of Russian poets and artists, and co-organizer of the festival of poetic video World in Motion in Riga. Since the late 1980s, he has published in the journals Rodnik, Mitin zhurnal, Vavilon, Znamia, and others. A pioneer of video poetry in Russian, his first video poem, “Orchestra Rehearsal” (1995), may be seen on YouTube. Timofejev is the author of six books of poetry, three of which were published in Latvia and three in Russia. He was short-listed for the Andrei Belyi prize in 2002. His poetry has been translated into several languages
A man comes in, his suit is crumpled
And there are thin-rimmed glasses on his face.
He’s arguing with the emptiness, he’s crazy, he’s a wind.
The thin-rimmed glasses quiver.
His suit is crumpled, he argues quickly.
The man comes in and fills the room.
The man comes in, he’s been coming in for hours.
His suit is crumpled. He argues too quickly.
His glasses quiver, he’s an idiot, he argues.
He’s a wind, he’s crazy, he’s coming in.
Translated by Irina Osadchaja & Lyn Hejiinian
Resistance with Mickey Mouse
I got myself a gun
and fought back from the ninth floor
where Mickey Mouse is under my protection.
It’s been nine rising moons
since we became friends.
Every morning he brings me cartridges
we drink cocoa
there is still just a little left in the big can
that you bought at the flea market
when you put it on the floor you spilled a little.
Where are you wandering
in the cold strident wind of crimes?
Mickey Mouse is reading Robinson Crusoe
sitting on the couch
surrounded by pillows
his big ears –
like resistant radars.
not to ask to be forgiven,
in the kitchen while looking
into mirrors we swore,
Mickey Mouse said:
This will be a jolly day!
Pay your beeper
your cell phone
bang-bang we shoot through newspapers
but it is not really their fault and Mickey
Mouse in a Mao T-shirt yells into the megaphone:
Where did you go
come back soon
this will be a jolly day –
plenty of backed potatoes and
lousy movies about
the fact that everything passed by like
a division of internal troops.
But she’s not coming
they give her presents
earrings with diamonds
a new watch with a medieval dial.
Every night somewhere in America
at the Japanese restaurant they
have dinner at a table
surrounded by faithful dogs
and a lilac page who faultlessly
constantly strives to do his very best.
But Mickey and I load the cartridges again
we created a transatlantic bulwark
in conditions of chaos and misunderstanding
we are not afraid of Baal
we are on familiar terms with cocoa
territory of kindness.
Yesterday the Spanish ambassador came on a visit
he kept playing his violin for hours
we lit a candelabra
but it was still too dark for him –
last morning the electricity was shot down.
A peace envoy was sent here today
some super model
that I intoduced to Mickey
they approved of each other
I granted them the bathroom
love must be moisture and in the shade
between Turkish towels
Her name is Candy
the queen of scholarships.
Little by little the desert took shape
I was dreaming about somebody anybody
there will always be a home
to look at
but it was so nice here – without.
And suddenly we got up and walked
through a flat pink space
but you in America
had lobsters for dinner and felt sorry for
I’ll sell my gun
no I’ll melt it on the stove
I let the drops of metal drip
I will give Mickey Mouse back
to Walt Disney & Co
(I can imagine his despair).
There is nothing left in the cocoa can
may be you will come back in September
the prepared lobsters? on the plate
– finally got us.
Translated by Ieva Auzina & Håkan Bravinger
Hello. We’re thieves from a small town hotel.
We’re waiting for someone to get wasted,
Or maybe we’ll slip ’em a Mickey.
Then we’ll rummage through pockets,
Take the watch and wallet.
We just like money a lot.
And everyone has their life goals.
I want a big house with enormous posters
Of Metallica on the walls. He wants a Hummer,
In order to cruise down main street,
Lowering the windows now and then
To yell, “Fuck you and this whole town!”
However, our volume is pretty lousy.
Who ever comes out here? Just love birds
And sales reps for Swedish makeup.
We clean their pockets with zero regret.
But can you live on that kind of money?
We live simply; rent a guest house;
Recently bought a Toshiba entertainment system;
But there isn’t enough for a car.
And in the evenings, along snowy streets,
Beneath infrequent streetlamps there move
Two bundled up figures. That’s us on the way to work
In the hotel bar. The owner gets a cut.
And also, by agreement with him, we do a neat job.
We don’t smash in faces or break ribs. And we deposit
The unconscious on porches, not in the snow.
Basically, we’re getting ready to move to the capital.
We know some people and, anyway, sometimes you want to live large,
You know. Otherwise, at times, we’re left slipping eachother
Mickeys and robbing eachother, just to stay in practice.
Then the “victim” wakes up with a hellish headache,
And the “robber” is ready with a cold compress and strong
Tea. In general, we’re getting by. Of course,
We cannot reveal the name of the hotel or of the town itself.
Quite possibly, we won’t stay long.
Just don’t say it’ll be forever.
I want to share simple truths with you;
Reveal to you important things.
Always open doors, step into elevators,
Go upstairs, move down corridors.
Always get into cars, start the engine,
And if it’s winter, wait until it warms up.
Always spend money, but sparingly,
And only occasionally spend everything you’ve got.
In summer will be summer; fall will come in fall,
Don’t get flustered; don’t do anything that disgusts you.
Girls will become young women, and then you’ll notice
Them crossing the street holding little kids by the hand.
Men will glumly weigh the options
Then act according to circumstances, making mistakes often.
Governments are made in order to fall;
Ships — in order to glide beneath bridges.
Nevertheless the lights on the other side of the river
Will never — just imagine — never go out.
But if they are extinguished all the same, pack your bag;
Take only the essentials and leave the city as fast as possible.
You’ll arrive in a new place, look around, lean up against a tree;
You can light up, if you smoke, stand, think.
You see, here too they drink evening tea and morning coffee,
Curse the mayor and hope things will change for the better.
And if there is a river and you see lights on the other shore,
It means there’s something to cling to.
Man with Woman
Romance! Sheer Romance! They rushed aboard a steamboat;
But the steamboat sounded the horn and became a train; they grab
The emergency brake, but it’s a champagne cork; foam
On hands, as if they’re swimming underwater, and then up comes
The head captain who says: “I’ve studied greying cliffs
Of fractured high-rises…” Must have swallowed a gramophone
And now he mutters and mumbles. But they weren’t there long.
They rushed to kiss, rush and kiss; astounding eyes
They have. Romance! Sheer Romance! They run into a huge city;
Building stands above gully, radio blares in gully,
And on the radio they’re saying: “We’ve closed all communications,
Tarred over all thoroughfares and released into the sewers
Rivers of gold!” Gee whiz! So they threw 500 matches in the gully
And ran on. Birds flying at them in low trajectory
Grape vines weave a symbol around them; the world’s deep basso
Sings and moos. The earth moves luxuriously; wind licks at them,
Like a Londontown kitten. Yes, then they found a tinderbox,
And a vast treasure trove big as a nut, and spread their
Chestnut tree bed, and went to sleep, exhausted from love,
Man with woman, Riga boy and Moscow girl.
Translated by Kevin M. F. Platt
READ ALSO interview with S. Tomofejev – http://wp.me/p2E1km-15 and http://wp.me/p2E1km-1j
Poetry in Russian http://www.orbita.lv/authors/26