Translator's notes

explosions are the new normal...

By BORIS KHERSONSKY

To readers interested in understanding the psychology of a certain kind of post-Soviet Russian thinking that contributes to the war in Ukraine, Boris Khersonsky’s work is indispensable. It frames the war within the larger context of millennia-old imperial ambition and the myopic patriotism of empire’s citizens, and it treats these destructive phenomena with urgency.

To accomplish this, Khersonsky borrows certain elements from Joseph Brodsky’s seminal work. Like Brodsky, he avoids open emotional expression; both poets place irony like a cement block on the place where the rainbow-hued Soviet confessional poetry of the 1960s used to be. Khersonsky also mines Brodsky’s work for the existential emptiness and dejection that underlie many of his poems. Most importantly, he continues Brodsky’s reflection on empire as a nauseating phenomenon that recurs ad infinitum.

Yet Khersonsky’s purpose is very much his own, and his voice, highly memorable. His poetry may concur with Brodsky’s general, nonconformist, late-Soviet negativism, but it bristles with resistance to empire. The poem appearing here is an example of his signature tool – parodic double-voiced discourse – given to a male speaker who cannot imagine himself apart from the jingoistic, ultra-masculine identity that had been handed to him by ‘warrior ancestors and Lenin’s words | and his commandments and soaring iron birds’. Imperial glory is his only possible glory; ongoing war, the only way to keep the adrenaline of glory pumping. The speaker is impotent in any other scenario – so much so as to fantasize about the murder of his family members; then he could retaliate. Empire and the idea of the basic human right of life cannot coexist. Khersonsky’s parody pushes the notion of war to its logical conclusion, and provokes rage.

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