Thursday, July 19, 2018

Happy birthday, Vladimir Mayakovsky!

On the day of his death, Vladimir Mayakovsky visited his tailor, wrote this poem, played Russian roulette, and lost. Happy birthday, Vladimir Vladimirovich - we celebrate your life.
It's after one. You've likely gone to sleep.
The Milkway streams silver, an Oka through the night.
I don't hurry, I don't need to wake you
Or bother you with lightning telegrams.
Like they say, the incident is cloved.
Love's little boat has crashed on daily life.
We're even, you and I. No need to account
For mutual sorrows, mutual pains and wrongs.
Look: How quiet the world is.
Night cloaks the sky with the tribute of the stars.
At times like these, you can rise, stand, and speak
To history, eternity, and all creation.
Translated L. Shmailo

Monday, July 16, 2018


Delighted that the Poetry School is using Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry,  the

 anthology of ultra-contemporary Russian verse I edited, as the basis of their course, 

Transreading Russia.

‘We are Russian and we have extra genes for compassion and asking unanswerable questions,’ writes Larissa Shmailo, editor of Twenty-First Century Russian Poetry. This online anthology of 50 poets in English translation becomes our essential reading in the course that invites us to look at present-day Russia through its poetry, beyond the looming news of Putinism. We will write our own poems in response to the ‘accursed questions’ posed by contemporary Russian poets about ‘the meaning of life, love, suffering, God and the devil.’ As the anthology boasts a wide range of approaches, from experimental to lyric to language poetry, we can expand our own repertoire of engaging with similar questions: by offering tentative answers or formulating new questions. To celebrate creative writing as translation and translation as creative writing, we will be joined by our special guest, Sasha Dugdale, poet and translator from Russian, who will talk to us about her work, also as the editor of the Russian and Ukrainian focus of Modern Poetry in Translation. In cooperation with the journal, we will create new poems inspired by this themed issue – the texts will be published on the MPT website as a featured project.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Contemporary Russian Poetry in Search of a Global Poetics: The Poetry of Alexander Skidan

The program for the Association of Slavic, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies Conference is now available. My panel, Contemporary Russian Poetry in Search of a Global Poetics, will take place December 9, 8:00 - 9:45 am. Chair: Vladimir V. Feshchenko; Panel: Eugene OstashevskyEvgeny Pavlov, myself; Discussant: OIga Sokolova. I will be speaking on global prosodies informing syntax and semantics in the experimental poetry of Alexander Skidan.
Contemporary Russian Poetry in Search of a Global Poetics
Sun, December 9, 8:00 to 9:45 am, Boston Marriott Copley Place, 1, Columbus II
Session Submission Type: Panel
Brief Description
The focus of the panel is on contemporary Russian poetry's conscious quest for a global poetics. Specific case studies of several key poets, both living and recently deceased, conducted in the panel contributions will raise a number of important questions, ranging from linguistic to philosophical to political ones. What does it mean to be a global Russian poet today? How do globalised poetic strategies of Russian poets compare to the Western ones? What are the antecedents of the today's poets' globalising attitudes? What are the theoretical challenges of conceptualising a global poetics in the Russian context?

Sunday, July 01, 2018

My review of Marc Vincenz's LEANING INTO THE INFINITE

I am not a fan of the unadorned vernacular in poetry, no matter how sincere its sentiment or pertinent its message. In my book, what a poet should do is invent wonderful turns of phrases, new syntax, head-turning semantics. There should be a dialectic of differences which interacts to ­­create the magical, entirely new, entirely necessary synthesis. A poet should bring brilliant LANGUAGE to the reader, by which I more nearly mean semiotics, meaningful, culturally rich, innovative signs that the reader gets to deconstruct time and time again. If you are tired of reading monosyllabic laundry list poetry, then you will be delighted by Marc Vincenz, a poet who trucks in the unpredictable and unexpected, and who conjoins words like gems for jewelry.
In Leaning into the Infinite, Vincenz displays a magical imagination that mines from three continents and a dozen cultures. The language is literate and sparkling. Look at a typical title: “When Uncle Fernando Conjures Up a Dead-Bird Theory of Everything,” where Fernando is “Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa and his many alter egos . . .  written under more than seventy heteronyms.”  Other inspirations are Li Po, Wang Wei, Kafka, Paracelsus, Heraclitus, and Robert Bly. If Auden multitasked, if cummings studied alchemy, if Borges reincarnated into a Hong Kong-born British-Swiss living in America on a green card, you might get a Marc Vincenz.
Vincenz’s Infinite is a poetry of mind, a garden of images and ideas and characters that is uncannily aware of its reader. Perhaps all good poetry has this in common, this drawing of the reader in, like an accomplice to its art. Vincenz’s poetry engages and questions, implicitly and explicitly: “How?” “Should I?” “Who?” In “Unreliable Narrator,” he asks “Should I be / stumped / by the greatness / of God . . .”
Who then is
the protagonist
when trillions
of single cells
all think
for themselves?—or together?—
The poet asks and the spare Basho–like verses —and rich longlined poems later in the collection—wait for answer. The poet’s elegant use of line breaks and sculpted white space seem to invite readers to reply, to mark Leaning into the Infinite up with all kinds of marginalia.
We have a tradition in the European canon of the philosopher-poet, in which a poet offers insights into the human condition. Modern poets do so ponderously as a whole. Vincenz’s touch on this is so light and his language so original that you scarcely know you are being enlightened. His temporal range is from the nascent prehistory of cave paintings to the post-relativistic twenty-first century. His worlds are populated with extraordinary beings, including the aforementioned Uncle Fernando and his interlocutor, the oracular Sibyl. In “Uncle Fernando & Sibyl Exchange Curt Words,” Fernando asks for “that mythical moment” and the oracle replies, “Hush,”:
Carbon first.
Then light.
Sibyl, Vincenz’s untamed muse, also appears in dialogues between Prometheus and Orpheus:
Orpheus:                                             Prometheus:
The voice                                             & what
of time                                                 is that perfume—
 …                                                       . . .
within the planes                                 the word made
of being                                               Thing
…                                                        . . .
whenever I start
to try & explain it
I forget words
My favorite characters in Leaning into the Infinite include a finch singing to his mate from a tree-top which he thinks is a mountain, the Tree God Saluwaghnapani, and Milen, a Filipino wet-nurse who sings a song she “claimed drove off demons that grew within Javan / smog clouds: Ai-Li-Ma-Lu-Ma-Nu — . . . “
Leaning into the Infinite ranges from Olympus to “The Penal Colony” and is vivid and visceral:
Not from the gagged mouth—it knots & tangles in the larynx
& the chain simply groans: ‘Have done it.
Have it etched to the bone.
 It’s all in the pointed nib of the writers’ dark truth.
 In an enlightened moment the Bewildered gasps alone—
The Orwellian/Kafkaesque boot stamps:
Just                 Be                     
      good Citizen

Be                    Just
And then the poet escapes to his natal Asia:
O to be born reforested in Borneo
 where water doesn’t run off in disappointing sloughs,
 but cascades & careens within the bejeweled heart
of a single fruiting tree, where a child is a rambutan
(or the fleshy dumpling-pulp of a mangosteen)— . . .
Vincenz speaks to the childlike longing in us to have a storyteller/mentor introduce us to the world’s mysteries, to share its secrets:
If only I had a good uncle to sit me down at an uneven hearth
with a hot cup of mulled wine, a twinkle in his eye
& this background whiff of ancient pine:
To hear how the world begins green, fresh, tabula rasa:
& late at night or early morning through air still as glass,
to eavesdrop upon the grasses & their endless philosophizing.
You have this uncle in Marc Vincenz. Drink up.

Friday, June 29, 2018


The ancient military tactician Sun Tsu said in his Art of War: "When you are strong, appear weak; weak, appear strong." We have been laughing at the Trump administration, and they sprung a second Supreme Court nomination on us. No one in the leakiest of White Houses leaked a word about their campaign to install another extreme-right justice. Let's face it - net neutrality gone, world alliances shifted, two major propaganda arms installed - we've been outplayed, my friends. This is not Saturday Night Live - let's not underestimate our opponent.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

"God doesn't want you to retire."

White evangelicals are the driving force behind Trump. But living in a liberal bubble, it is difficult to appreciate the insanity of their thinking, for want of a better word, and the degree to which Republican politicians manipulate them with the Bible. 
For example: Representative Greg Gianforte of Montana (the one who beat up the Guardian reporter) was talking about social security to a constituent. He asked, "How old was Noah when he died?" The constituent dutifully answered, "600." "So, God doesn't want you to retire!" retorted the Republican.
Or, Jay Sekolow (Trump's lawyer) writing about the end of days and claiming Trump to be the only hope against the Apocalypse.
Or, states like Texas asking writers of textbooks (me among them) not to mention the age of the Earth or evolution, as creationism replaces science.
The evangelical movement forgives Trump everything because they believe he is fulfilling prophecy and will bring about a theocratic state, with them in charge. Only one of the reasons I am a #neverTrump.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Trump Administration Is Thinking Long Term

The Trump administration is not as stupid as it looks. With net neutrality gone, corporations which support the government will have greater control over the Internet content you can access. In addition to Fox News, Sinclair Media, which forces local news broadcasters to air 20-minute pure propaganda segments (eg, "Obama was funded by Hamas" - I kid you not!) will soon cover 72 percent of the television market. 
Trump has effectively isolated us by leaving the Paris Accord, the Iran Deal, and the UN Human Rights commission, and has alienated us from our democratic allies to partner with the dictatorial thugs of the world. Additionally, apparently, previous Republican administrations have devised plans for mass detentions - of US citizens. Trump is looking at these.
Trump's approval rating stands at 45%. These polls precede the migrant child incarcerations, but most Trump supporters approve of them. But with a 5 percent increase in voter registration, Bernie Sanders says Democrats can take back the Senate and the House. I hope you will vote and register some friends; it may be the last opportunity you have to do so. In any event, as George Orwell said, sanity is not statistical - I will fight Trump whatever his polls say.

Saturday, June 23, 2018


I was not a mother until today.
The brand Trump is emblazoned on tents
and abandoned Walmarts. 
Nannies wear jackboots, joke as
children cry.
Secretly, at night, children are taken
to undisclosed locations across the nation.
Where are the girls? With
the Roy Moores of the world?
Hear my NO.
Listen, Space Force:
I am the Horta, fighting for my children;
I will drive you from the planet.
Attention, big game hunters:
I am a tigress, risen from extinction,
to protest, protect the little cubs.
Hey, perps:
I, ordinary woman, with my instincts intact,
the maternal rising in me like a huge blue tide,
watch me topple the Orange Ozymandius.
What you have unleashed can’t be
lied to or stopped.
I am more than me, too;
I am the children, too.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

When Poets Get Shot

Orange: the color of emergency: Trump’s Mein Kampf has successfully launched. Here come the Nazis, the pedophiles, the “benevolent white supremacists,” the wife rapists, men who like their women bruised, the gay bashers who are secret homosexuals. Yes, Nazism has always had to do with violent and non-consensual sex.
Orange prison uniforms for asylum seekers kept hungry and in cramped dirty quarters. Little babies ripped from their mothers (Reference: see Sophie’s Choice). One thousand five hundred border babies lost, no one knows where they are, probably in human trafficking (see paragraph 1).
For you and me, orange uniforms? There is no surety that says no, even if you support the Nazis. One day, a Nazi pal will turn you in as gay or part black or disloyal, and there you go to the camps, to the beautiful BASF or DOW or Monsanto chemical gas (Reference: see This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski).
Here will be the reliable cadres of orange prisoners: mentally ill people, all disabled people for that matter, gays and trans, commies (and who’s to say that you are not), latinxs, blacks, and uppity women (whom we will keep in the Frauenblock for fun). And you, if you slip up. Or if somebody wants your job. Or just for fun. Oh, and Jews, perhaps after a reprieve, but always, ultimately Jews. (Reference: See Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz).
In 1921, a poet dreaming of his wife and Addis Ababa
is brought before the firing squad and shot.
During World War II in Stalingrad, a clownish writer accused of espionage dies of starvation trying to eat his prison mattress.
Poets who died in the camps:
Anica Černej
Grażyna Chrostowska
Robert Desnos
Benjamin Fondane
Pavel Friedmann
Peter Hammerschlag
Jakob van Hoddis
Noor Inayat Khan
Max Jacob
Itzhak Katzenelson
Peter Kien
Gertrud Kolmar
Igor S. Korntayer
Henryka Łazowertówna
Yechiel Lerer
Selma Meerbaum-Eisinger
Erich Mühsam
Arno Nadel
Sarah Powell
Moriz Seeler
Augustyn Suski
David Vogel
Ilse Weber
Here in the U.S., it will be me – I will be called a Democrat and hauled to a dark site to be waterboarded, not because I have any information (I don’t), just for stupid sadistic fun. There will be a picture of Ivanka Trump on the wall and my torturers will force me to genuflect and pray to her. I mumble lines from my poetry, proud that they have burned me, proud that I have told the truth. Then come the rats . . . .

Monday, June 18, 2018

25 Tell-Tale Signs That Trump Is a Nazi

1. He has his doctor brag about his genes.
2. He mocks a reporter with ankylosing spondylitis (ableism).
3. He lies and repeats his simple, outrageous lies until, like advertising, they seem true (see Joseph Goebbels).
4. He approves of Nazis and white supremacists.
5. He cultivates Nazis and white supremacists for his base.
6. He hates immigrants.
7. He thinks African nations are “shit holes.”
8. He spoke of “my African American” on the campaign trail.
9. He calls Mexicans rapists, as Hitler called Jews.
10. His wife Ivana said he enjoyed reading Mein Kampf.
11. He enjoys the company of dictators.
12. He emulates dictators.
13. He wants to shut down the free press.
14. He calls for the arrest and imprisonment of political opponents.
15. He wants to replace the FBI and CIA with agents loyal to him (see also Stalin).
16. Members of his own party fear him.
17. Loyalty to Trump, rather than agreement on policy, is the criterion for Republican candidate election today.
18. He encourages police brutality.
19. He reduces women to objects for male use.
20. Like a true fascist, he has consolidated his alliance with business and the oligarchy through tax breaks and other financial incentives.
21. He sets up concentration camps.
22. He separates families and puts them in concentration camps.
23. He hires Nazis.
24. He wants you to “sit up and pay attention” when he speaks.
25. He will likely succeed if you do not act now (see history).

Saturday, June 16, 2018

On arguing with Nazis

Nazis are stupid. They hate facts and logical arguments. They also hate literature, the arts, and science except as it pertains to weaponry. So the good news is that we are smarter than them. The bad news is that they are unimaginably brutal. Believe them when they say they want to have slaves, arrest opponents, and shut down the press, and never for a moment think that this cannot happen here.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

My Review of BORDER CROSSINGS by Thaddeus Rutkowski

BOUNDARY ISSUES: Thaddeus Rutkowski’s Border Crossings
by Larissa Shmailo

Border Crossings
Sensitive Skin Books
ISBN  978-1977850898
Copyright 2018
96 pp.

Like a Chinese-Polish American cross between Rod Serling and Emily Dickinson, Thaddeus Rutkowski invites you to the portals of mind and matter in Border Crossings. In this first collection of poems, the fiction writer and performance artist presents carefully sculpted, deceptively simple verses of immediate interest to the reader, typically with an understated but potent twist.

Whether at the boundaries between cultures, the edges of human interiority, or the trespasses of racism, trapdoors usually closed shut are pried open in Border Crossings. “Light and Shadow,” among the poems opening the book, describes the poet’s initial conflict moving in and out of hidden places:

My father opens a trapdoor
and leads me down concrete stairs
. . .

I don’t want to stay.
Spiders scrunch in the corners,
and pieces of copper tubing—
. . .
litter the floor.

. . .

Spiders notwithstanding, the poet finds himself liking the smell of horsehair cement in the cellar and wanting to stay there. The rest of the volume’s poems proceed to traverse borders to the secret and unknown.

As Rutkowski comes to love cellars, so he comes to love spiders. The collection reveals the rurally reared poet’s childlike fascination with spiders, bees, flies, rodents, raptors, tree frogs, and other animalia of crevices and corners. There is both a love for the honest presence of nature’s smallest and a vampire’s interest in “little lives”:

I can see and hear it now,
the crazy path of flight at blinding speed,
the inevitable, the unavoidable, hitting,
when the crazy fly comes into contact
with the eye, with the bed,
buzzing around upside down,
for the crazy fly has no great sense of equilibrium.
. . .
I stand back
while a hyper bird perches on a jumbo stalk
so another can feed on the multi seeds
next to the mad mud hole.

Perhaps these innocent animals offer a kind of escape from other, more malevolent creatures. From “Party Animals”:

I throw a party
 . . .

Another guest says
he killed people
who looked like me
when he was in Vietnam.

The kindness of nature juxtaposes vividly with the descriptions of rednecks and racists literally at the poet’s door; the conjunction is reminiscent of Viktor Frankl seeing hope and life in a sparrow perched outside his Auschwitz barracks window. The violent racists cross borders in threatening trespass and are held back spiritually by the poet’s integrity and wit, with the help of small loving lives.

As a veteran performance poet and ranter, Rutkowski routinely crosses audience boundaries with épater-le-bourgeoisie material. A common edgy theme is sex, delivered with deadpan. From “Nine Rules for No Sex”:

No kissing with a cold sore.
No kissing with a sore throat.
No thoughtless pressing, rubbing or brushing.

No fingering with long nails.
No fingering with hangnails.
No foolish fingering . . . .

The motion is sometimes toward stand-up comedy, as in “
Anarchist Manifesto” ( “I believe in anarchy, / but not if everybody goes wild.”) The same wry humor obtains as the poet finds his Asian roots in food and found poems; “Found Poem, Hong Kong Museum”:

When you are finished tilling the soil,
spading seedlings, weeding, winnowing,
hulling, grinding and pounding,

you may enjoy
the silky yellow rice,
the dry sticky rice,
the rat’s tooth rice,
the little flowery waist rice,
and the yellow husk full brow rice.
The poet encourages forays into the unknown, but with realism and caveats. Despite the “disappointing” toilet facilities of foreign places, and the shock of strange invertebrate foods, Rutkowski reminds us in the poem, “Border Crossing,” that “it’s the people we want to see.” And cautions his reader:

So let’s think twice before we cross
the twenty yards of no-man’s-land.
I know you want to get there
as fast as we can.

Larissa Shmailo is a poet, novelist, translator, editor, and critic.

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