Translator's notes

Hurriedly, in Premature Celebration...

By TIMUR KIBIROV

Political poems, but it is difficult to think of Timur Kibirov as primarily a political poet. For one thing, it is hard to know exactly which direction he is coming from: his reflexes are so ironic, his ear for the falseness of public language is so acute, and his high-spirited desire to play with that falseness is so difficult to tame that every statement he makes ends up embodying or at least gesturing at its opposite. There is a tradition in modern Russian writing called stiob: parody which hews so closely to what it is parodying that it is difficult to catch; a form of writing that is the verbal equivalent of a glance or a half-caught wink. You see it in the inherent difficulty in parsing the aims and insistences of these poems: the future may be dead, as Kibirov’s reworking of Hans Christian Andersen suggests, but the past isn’t looking all that happy either. The answer, of course, is to realize that you are asking the wrong questions, are stuck between the wrong poles. Tradition is not the answer, but neither is it the enemy; the standard Russian faith in the power of literature as a balance to the state is overrated, but still present. So, for example, the poem ‘Historiosophical’ takes up, and riffs on, the most famous of all Russian self-definitions, Tiutchev’s clichéd stanza Umom Rossiyu ne ponyat’, but puts it in a liminal, perhaps ironic, perhaps entirely devout, new context. These are clear-eyed and surprisingly strong poems that deliberately aim to throw us off balance.


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