Friday, November 1, 2013

Alex Cigale on Gennady Aygi

I should first say I’m a poet not an academic, and a poet-translator only as a product of my affinities. My goal here is to pay tribute to Gennady Aygi’s work and, in concert with his widow, Galina Aygi Kuborskaya, and his primary translator and friend, Peter France, to expand Aygi’s English readership.  Please join in the conversation, post your comment, and return often for daily-updated links. I would also like to invite critical attention, to stake a claim for Aygi’s place in the canon of world literature.

I’ll begin with the obvious, the immediate association of Aygi’s name with the word “difficult” because metaphysical and linguistic concerns predominate in his work. Yet his symbolic vocabulary, standing in for the numinous—field, tree, rose, light, fire, heart, snow, emptiness, whiteness, purity, silence—is simplicity itself. Conceptualism, minimalism, yes, but of a kind that may be qualified as nearly “sentimental,” as the thinking self is never dissociated from the feeling self in Aygi’s work. I read in it, existing as it does between cultures, the autobiography of the liminal, the construction of a semantic space as a sacred object, an object for meditation. Above all, his is a personal Voice.

Gennady Aygi began writing in his native Chuvash and only switched to Russian in 1960; thus his body of work may be viewed through the lens of post-colonial literature. Its “foreignness” (that glacially-paced resistance of the text, slippage between object and idea, ambiguous conjugation—as though, like speaking, the writing too is accented) presents a difficulty to the reader, perhaps even more so in the original Russian than in translation. For this reason, Aygi’s reception abroad has far outpaced acceptance of his poetry in Russia, where he is still primarily thought of as a “poet’s poet.”

Famously encouraged by Pasternak, whose verse (except the early, Futurist-inspired work) bore no resemblance to his, Aygi had to switch to writing in Russian to gain an audience. Among other Silver Age antecedents, Aygi shares with Velimir Khlebnikov a folk, ethnographic subtext expressed in a very different tradition. Perhaps one key to appreciating Aygi’s lyrical voice is its performative aspect, also an influence of folk song. What one hears in his verses is a shamanic practice, in praise of the naïve and natural world.

Aygi’s contact with French poetry (he’d translated an anthology into Chuvash) and with the West more generally was rare in his time. “Free” verse was until quite recently alien to Russian practice, which privileged rhyme and regular formal structures. Influenced by French post war WWII poets and Paul Celan, he incorporated into his work complex linguistic textures, the semantics of broken, ambiguous syntax and diction, and the expressive use of white space and typography, a nearly unique contribution in contemporary Russian poetry.

As a translator of Aygi, I am left groping to construct in English a poem that might suggest, through its diction, registers, textures, and resistances, most of the associations of the original. As for the challenges in doing so, I need only point to the simplest word, the very first one, in the poem whose title I have translated as “Calmly: precious little (book inscription)”: The Russian est (soft “t”) cannot be translated only as “there is,” containing as it does all the particular occasions for the act of speaking. Nor is the second word really “awakening,” with its prefix suggesting a duration; perhaps better “coming to consciousness.” Here, one may read some convergences with Russian conceptualist and minimalist contemporaries, one particularly relevant example being Vsevolod Nekrasov’s “Svoboda Est’ Svoboda,” “Freedom is Freedom,” a poem consisting entirely of the simple statement repeatedly intoned, wherein the meaning may be read variously depending on the placement of the pause.

Elsewhere, I have addressed the necessity of privileging truth in spirit over truth in word, the value of semantic instability more generally, as well as issues specific to the insurmountable differences one encounters in travelling between Russian and English. At nearly every step a translator is faced with contingency—what is differently possible in English. In “Calmly: precious little,” the adjective for snow may be read as “rare” and what I’ve translated as “inadvertent” is, literally, “step-in-step,” neither a satisfactory solution in English.

What comes to mind is Joseph Brodsky’s reaction to Paul Schmidt’s translations of Khlebnikov: “At his best, Khlebnikov is an extremely difficult, highly hermetic writer, even in Russian. The very process of comprehending him is in itself a simplification. Translation is only the next step in that direction." So for Aygi: any possible translation represents but a single reading. To return to my example: the word est, repeated four times in the first five lines of the original, appears in my English twice; the other instances are implied. At every step, the translator, like the reader, comes face to face with ambiguity, the ineffable being spoken.

It seems to me that, for Aygi particularly, such word by word analysis is akin to the translator taking off his underwear in public—naked and shameful. And so the following will have to suffice for now: due to the “simplicity” I have mentioned, nearly every word in Aygi seems to require special handling on the part of the translator, the whole always teetering uncomfortably between profundity and cliché. My hope is that the “finished” product will engage this sort of word-by-word attention on the part of the reader without interrupting the perception of the whole, what may be said to be Aygi’s singular theme.

I have said enough. Now, I would like to hear you speak.


  1. “The body of the poem itself, which stands in for that sacred space and sacred time.”

    Our link of the day is, PETER FRANCE’s introduction to his translation of Some Kid of Beautiful Signal (from Aygi’s notes on Kafka).

    "The most original voice in contemporary Russian poetry, and one of the most unusual voices in the world.’ – Jacques Roubaud, Times Literary Supplement

    "It is a pleasure to find a book where difficult Russian poems not only have been translated without any errors, but also work as English poems … This is a thought-provoking volume, and Peter France and the publishers have done all lovers of poetry a major service." – Andrew Reynolds, Journal of European Studies

    "Aygi’s neologisms pose a challenge for any translator … France translates as literally as possible … This policy of judicious accuracy, honed, no doubt, by his many conversations with the poet, allows France to convey Aygi’s often startlingly beautiful verbal effects …." – Michael Pursglove, Translation and Literature

  2. Six volumes of Gennady Aygi’s poetry have been published to date in English translation, including Peter France’s bilingual Selected Poems 1954-94 (Angel Books, 1997,) Field Russia and Child-And-Rose (New Directions,) the bilingual Salute to Singing (Zephyr Press,) and most recently, Sarah Valentine’s Selected Aygi, Into the Snow (Wave Books).

  3. The poems in Salute to Singing are variations on Chuvash folk songs that Aygi collected and anthologized. Here's one, in the translation of Peter France (from Zephyr Press). ".... With nine ways of walking/ one-after-another in play!" Point Editions

    Peter France on Aygi's notes on Kafka in Two Lines.
    Peter France’s bilingual Selected Poems 1954-94
    Field Russia and Child-And-Rose from New Directions
    The bilingual Salute to Singing from Zephyr Press,
    Sarah Valentine’s Selected Aygi, Into the Snow

  4. I have previously published my other translations of Gennady Aygi's work in Asymptote, Drunken Boat, and Plume. Here is one, from the publication in Plume.

    (Book inscription)

    To Patrice de La Tour du Pen

    as after many years

    to one hungering

    uneaten bread – discarded once upon the grass

    it appears to those present in the world:

    so o b j e c t s in dreams sadden us! –

    it is then that we ourselves

    in the image of things with our entire lives

    appear in a dream to something intelligent… –

    may t h i s bigger than “I”

    greet all the objects-images:

    from the entire “Une Somme de Poesie”*


    *The title of La Tur du Pen’s collection of poems,

    “Poetic Summation” (Fr.)

  5. Here is the link to Peter France's 1982 Poets of Modern Russia (Cambridge University Press) that places Gennady Aygi in the context of 20th century canonical Russian poetry (pp. 210-219; this introduction to Aygi's poetry begins with a full text of France's own translation of the poem "Morning in August" and contains translations of several other shorter poems.) Following immediately after Joseph Brodsky, it proceeds, as most have seen fit to do, with an admission first and then a note (hopefully) dispelling doubt: "For most readers, the first experience of Gennady Aygi's poems is one of strangeness, possibly of bafflement. But although his work is very different from most Soviet poetry and is rejected by many Russian readers, it should not be unduly inaccessible to readers who are familiar with modern poetry in, say, France or America."

  6. Today's link is Leonard Schwartz's Cross Cultural Poetics hour-long program on Aygi at PennSound, Episode #105: April 16, 2006. Here is Peter France, reading his translations and discussing the work from both Child-and-Rose (New Directions) and Salute to Singing (Zephyr Press). Complete Recording (36:00): MP3. You may also hear Schwartz read Aygi's "Sleep-and-Poetry" from Child-And-Rose. Complete Recording (23:10): MP3. "....The perceptible/ all/ was vanishing...."

  7. Peter France, in this tribute to his friend in Modern Poetry in Translation, recounts Aygi's connection to "simple" Chuvash folk materials, his translation work from Scots and French into Chuvash, and the early history of his own "coming into English," with first publications in Polish and German, then Czech and Slovak, and finally his first appearance in English, in the 1977 Penguin anthology Russian Writing Today. This is from Aygi's final reading, a month before he died of cancer, in France's translation, of which he says: "I have kept something of the neologisms of the original, but not the beauty of sound."

    To an Icon of the Mother of God

    in dreamings and visionings
    in dawn day of nonevening
    in the house blazing with coals
    of joygrieving!
    in a corner-sanctuary that as with heart’s coals
    in dreamings and visionings
    as if amid the field the Living
    to the abandoned feasting table
    like signs many assembled


  8. Continuing today with Peter France's contribution, here are 7 of Aygi's poems in his translation, this from the early days of Words Without Borders, just now celebrating 10 years of its very substantial accomplishment (2003-2013).


    to V. S.

    but you are not the surrounding of such a one

    but a stair in yourself where poverty is like skyglow....

  9. Today’s post presents a collection of links to Peter France’s translations scattered around the net:

    “Daughter’s First Week” at the Academy of American Poets (

    3 poems at Duration Press (archives also include pdf of Jerome Rothenberg’s seminal journal of ethnopoetcs Alcheringa).

    6 poems in From the Ends to the Beginning; A bilingual anthology of Russian Verse

    And individual poems on various blogs: ””Day-World”; “Rose of Silence”; and “Shudder of a Daisy”.

    Last but not least, the Russian originals are at Vavilon.

    from Again -- Whisperings-and-Rustlings


    and the cuckoo's voice a dim coal
    patiently hollowing a pit in the forest
    its dampness reaching the heart
    and the heart slumbers and does not wake me

  10. Very illuminating. A particular consideration concerning Vsevolod Nekrasov’s “Svoboda Est’ Svoboda,” “Freedom is Freedom,” which, in my view, is very similar to Gertrude Stein's manner and philosophy of language (cf. "A rose is a rose is a rose" or "history teaches that history teaches that history teaches").

  11. Thank you for joining in on the conversation, Ian. I am reminded here of the conscious and unconscious concerns of such Minimalisms with the spiritual, these declarations of objective embodiment being almost koan-like (for example, I wonder what if anything Stein made out of the theosophical thought current in her time). Of course, I am not at all saying that Nekrasov's work was religiously motivated, but its working methods, of impoverishment as a spiritual practice, seem to share in their philosophical outlook in such principles, and these, though of course from a more neo-primitivist perspective, seem to be also central to Aygi's work.

  12. In coming days, I will be posting in this space a number of responses to Aygi's work by some of America's leading older and younger critics. I would love to ask them, and you dear reader, to engage in a more substantial discussion and evaluation. If I may, with their permission, I will begin with these short notes by Paul Hoover, Pierre Joris, Joyelle McSweeney, G.C. Waldrep, Andrew Zawacki, Ilya Kaminsky, and Chris Abani, the latter in verse form.

    In the words of G.C. Waldrep: "There is something stylized and delicate about Aygi's idiom that could easily cloy, but does not, perhaps because the poet's vision is so self-effacing, perhaps because of the essential humility of the voice. As with the icon, the reader (viewer) is invited to peer through the material, into the ineffable. The poem exists to focus the reader's attention, a kinetic cynosure, a vehicle for cathexis."

    And in the words of the poet himself (from Paul Hoover's note): "Poetry has no ebb and flow. It is, it abides. Even if you take away its “social” efficacy, you cannot take away its living, human fullness, profundity, autonomy.... Does poetry lose something in such circumstances, or does it gain? Let me leave this as an unanswered question."

  13. The most recent translations of Aygi to appear are the Selected Poems in Sarah Valentine's Into the Snow from Wave Books. Before posting links to the numerous reviews of her volume, here is her Introduction to her dissertation, from which the translations seem to have been a natural outgrowth. The footnotes, though without context in this abstract, offer valuable background information for the reception of Aygi's free verse specifically, and the historical, socio-political, cultural context more generally. "Abstract: This dissertation, The Poetry and Thought of Gennady Aigi, chronicles Aigi's (1934-2006) development from a regional poet working mostly in Russian-Chuvash translation to a leading figure of the late-Soviet Moscow avant-garde and considers how he and other writers and artists have been marginalized in the Russian tradition both for their avant-garde aesthetics and their ethnic difference. My introduction outlines the relation[ship] between poetry and power in the Russian literary tradition and discusses the ways in which oppressive regimes sought to control innovative and therefore dangerous writers by restricting their access to print. Along with other repressed writers in the Soviet metropolis, Aigi used this situation to his advantage, helping to create a performance-based literary milieu that became the 1960s Moscow avant-garde. The chapters move chronologically, and each treats a different aspect of Aigi's poetry and worldview within the context of the late-Soviet period. The first chapter discusses the importance of Chuvash language, culture, and literary tradition to Aigi's work and examines aspects of his language and imagery that are rooted in his Chuvash experience. The second chapter follows Aigi's transition from Chuvash to Russian in Moscow in the 1950s and his experimentation with Futurist-inspired poetic forms in the 1960s. The third chapter explores the themes of music, silence, and spirituality in Aigi's work of the 1970s, highlighting his friendship with the avant-garde composer Sofia Gubaidulina, and the fourth considers the intersection of personal and national grief in his work of the 1980s. The conclusion offers some thoughts on the place of Aigi's work in the postmodern, post-Soviet world and gives some suggestions for possible further study. The goal of the dissertation is to give a broad sampling and analysis of Aigi's work, which, despite Aigi's international stature as a poet, is still not widely studied in the United States. As a cultural study, the dissertation portrays the polarities of Soviet power and avant-garde innovation and contextualizes the modern struggle of poetry and ethics."

  14. Today’s collection presents selections of Gennady Aygi’s poems in the translation of Sarah Valentine.

    4 poems in Diode
    “Now Always Snow,” in Asbestos Meadow
    “Untitled,” in Circumference
    “Once Again – Into the Snow,” in PEN America
    Sarah Valentine reads Aygi poem and her translation of it at the 2011 Wave Translation Festival

    from Now Always Snow (trans. Sarah Valentine)

    to N.B.

    like snow the Lord is all there is
    when all there is is snow
    when the soul is all there is

    the snows the soul and light
    but still just this
    that there are those
    like death is all there is

  15. Broken links just came to my attention. Restoring them here: Sarah Valentine's translations of Gennady Aygi, from Into the Snow, 4 Poems in Diode, "Untitled" in Circumference. And earlier, Peter France's broken links: 6 Poems in From the Ends to the Beginning; A bilingual anthology of Russian Verse, 3 Poems at Duration Press, "Day World" in Poempire

  16. Today’s collection of links presents a selection of reviews of Sarah Valentine’s book of translations of Gennady Aygi’s poems, Into the Snow. Please chime in! [Not all reviews, unlike the ones here, are in praise; critiques are also welcome.]

    Review by Jamie Olson in Berfrois
    Review by Greg Bem in The Matterhorn Review
    Review by Thade Correa in ActuaryLit
    Review by Bob Arnold in Longhouse Poetry
    Review by Amy Henry in HTMLgiant
    Review by Casey McDuff in Internatioanal Poetry Library SF

  17. On Aigi: like the best of Russian "conceptualism," it is never a pure materialist conceptualism, but one married to some kind of transcendent principle.

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  19. Thank you for joining in the conversation, Philip. Am in the process of interviewing Peter France for a featured post later in the month and plan, towards the end of it, to ask Peter if he is aware of Aygi having a personal connection to either the Moscow Conceptualists or the younger Minimalists and post-Language poets in the 80s and 90s. Are you aware that he had any? Russian conceptualism seems to have had a particularly social, "ideological" and intellectual bent, in the sense of SotsArt irony or commentary. Whereas Minimalist poetry, beginning with the elder Kropivnitsky, Satunovsky, Akhmetyev and Makarov-Krotkov in the following generations, seems to me closer to a spiritual practice. What are your thoughts on this Phil, particularly in connection with your own work on Lev Rubinstein for example?

  20. Today, we are officially half-way today to ourl destination: paying tribute to Gennady Aygi (1934-2006). His friend, the Tatar Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina, had set several of his poems to music in her cycle Jetzt immer Schnee ("Now always snow"). Please enjoy this "break in the calendar".

  21. I'm intrigued by Sarah Valentine's translation of the Gennadi Aygi poem posted on November 13th -- it's such a beautiful and haunting poem.

    "Now Always Snow"

    to N.B.

    like snow the Lord is all there is
    when all there is is snow
    when the soul is all there is

    the snows the soul and light
    but still just this
    that there are those
    like death is all there is

    It's got into my head now, I'm afraid, so I've got to deal with it -- indeed, it's bothering me as much as it's pleasing me.

    I have no Russian to help me either, so I'm floundering.

    The crucial word in this version of the poem is "snows," isn't it? It bothers me because the poem is a poem about "is," which is as heavily and existentially singular as "the Lord," not to speak of the thrust of the title which subsumes all time and space in that one, all consuming, spectral, virginal yet profoundly maternal word -- "snow," not "snows." I think that's why my silly ear keeps placing an apostrophe in the word, "snow's," like that, because I want another "is" to be included as well. The fact that the apostrophe has been withheld must surely be deliberate on the part of the translator and presumably the poet too -- so I arrive at the point where I guess that the plural must be linked to the "are" in the lines that follow as opposed to the "is"-es that have come before:

    but still just this
    that there are those

    Is that right?

    Is the plural the death in the snow, so to speak, the inherent duplicity that makes all things equal, "like death is all there is?"

    Maybe that's a naive reading, and if so I won't mind it at all if you tell me as long as you also try to tell me how to read it better.

    Finally, I 'd like to say that I really admire poets who can still use words like "Lord" and "soul" in poems without worrying the slightest about whether or not god exists, what is more be concerned that readers might think they were religious. I think all Russians have an advantage in that!

    Christopher Woodman

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  23. What feels right today is more music and silence, from Sophia Gubaidulina's cycle, responding to Aygi's Now Always Snow.

    Chirstopher, your very personal response is very much appreciated. Here follow the first two stanzas of Aygi's eponymous poem from which both the book and Gubaidulina's cycle take their titles. I will try my best to respond to your quandary later in the day, having yet again re-read the poem, which opens the section titled "Field-Russia," its first subsection, "Province of the Living" (Poems 1978-1982).


    Н. Б.

    как снег Господь что есть
    и есть что есть снега
    когда душа что есть

    снега душа и свет
    а всё вот лишь о том
    что те как смерть что есть
    что как они и есть

  24. Alex, I'm not sure if I can speak to the specificity of minimalism as a spiritual endeavor, but it's fairly clear that since "spiritual" thinking and rhetoric were perceived as anti-Soviet (but also very Russian), that this mode was both spiritual and political. And unlike "our own" American tradition, in that way.

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  27. I see now your point about Conceptualism having an equal claim to spirit, Phil, whereas I, in my comparison, was privileging detachment from sociopolitical concerns. Poetry that spits or laughs in the face of power, as for example in varieties of Buddhist practice and in Manicheanism (the two sides of the force,) the poetry of conscience IS of a kind with the poetry of consciousness. As you likely know, the poets of the Lianozovo school I'd mentioned above began long before the emergence of the distinction: Conceptualism (a label they themselves denied). Perhaps the following poem, in my translation, might serve to re-establish that original bond (an unusual one for Aygi, in its political associations).

    (К 60-летию Яна Сатуновского)

    из времени Костодробителей
    в Аминазиновую Современность
    мозг и кость переходит Поэта
    Осью Неотменимой
    необычайной Поэзии:
    вместо пенья — такое Терпение
    что под огненным небом Газгольдера-Места
    выдерживая Спец-Обработку
    слышен Небу другому мерцаньем безмолвным
    маску тела отбросивший Хрящ
    Bce-претерпевшего Слова

    21 февраля 1973

    (for Yan Satunovsky’s 60th birthday)

    from the time of the Bonecrushers
    into the Aminazine Modernity
    brain and bone transfixes the Poet
    with the Axis of Irrevocability
    of Poetry inordinary:
    instead of singing – such Patience
    that under the fiery sky of the Gasometer Loci
    withstanding the Red Carpet Treatment
    is audible to that other Sky with a silent glimmering
    having shed the mask of the body the Cartilage
    of the All-surmounting Logos

    February 21, 1973

  28. Christopher: you are absolutely right about the signification of "is;" as I remarked in my opening post: along with the object-symbols -- field, light, fire, rose, snow -- it is always used in its special sense. In the semiotic treatment of Lacan, this function may be referred to by the upper case A' (Is) as opposed to the lower case a' (is). This requires an inordinate level of attention on the part of both the reader and translator. To answer your specific question, I have to note that Sarah Valentine, in her version, took what I call a degree of freedom in the first two lines that I think is largely successful in creating a parallel English language poem, but in the same note I think fails in the final two lines of the above poem fragment.

    First of all, the other word (snow) does appear in two different forms in the original, the singular and the plural, that is: my sense is that "snows" communicates a more "total" sense, and a feeling of being immersed, spiritually, in the material object (to use my earlier reference to Lacan, "snow" raised to the power of "Snows"). I hope this makes at least partial sense; that is, you were absolutely right in your general sense of it if not in the particular. Now the following is more difficult to explain and has to do with the taking of liberties, unavailability of English equivalents, and imprecision on the part of the translator. Specifically, the Russian "i" ("and") and "a" are "interjections," the first used exclusively for lyrical not pragmatic purposes, part of a litany of sorts, the second without an English equivalent. Valentine handled this, as is common and generally I think correct in Russian-to-English translation, by eliding the "and" and connecting, and so smoothing out the text, with "when". The other words not in the original per se or that have no exact equivalent are "all," "but," and "what". I agree with her insertion of "all," not in original, to make an English poem, but this obscures the clear biblical intention of the opening in the original ("I am that I AM," or the more literal "I am that which is"). Thus, her second line also communicates the wonderfully lyrical original by other means than the literal ("and there is that which is....") It is only at the end here, that Valentine has not succeeded in clearly communicating the intent of the original because her English fails her, as a poet and not just as a translator. I must be frank and say I may not be able to do better, and we cannot ask Aygi himself what is meant (or that one thing was meant?)

    As the particularly "difficult" poet of the St. Petersburg philological school, Mikhail Eremin, said when confronted with his his "difficulty": "but poets ARE meaning-makers".The problem is a nearly insurmountable one, in that the monosyllabic words acting as adectival but implied clauses, "that," "those," "like/as/though," and are incapable of bearing full meaning and so must be read and interpreted by each of us in their and our own context (just as the most simple verb "is" takes on a superabundant function, that of the action of Creation). We as readers must PERFORM meaning! (and the hightened musicality of the original, though Valentine has done a very good job in English) better assists us in doing so.

  29. Speaking grammatically (diction, syntax, understatement, metrically determined emphasis,) I could try to support my reading by going word by word. Sense, however, is holistic and not hermeneutic, so that I will just give my reading and let it stand at that. Valentine I think, has simply not quite parsed this. The literal is "that those like death which just is/ that they are as they are". For me this is a declaration, of authenticity, I assume ascribed to the addresse, the dedicatee of the poem, N.B. Can anyone shed further light on who this mysterious N.B. might have been? (I will ask this of Peter France later).

    The poem is dated 1978 and, apropos of the above discussion with Phil Metres, seems to also have a political subtext. You can check for yourself the full text in link to S.V.'s English version; I simply can't go over it word by word. The Russian makes the most prominent reference to this in lines such as "когда Народ глагол/ который значит нет" and "нет 'Мертвости-Страны'" -- "when the People are a verb/ whose meaning [sense] is no" (and I've had to change the active construction of the original of the second of these lines to the passive of the English) and "[There is] no 'Country-Deathlyness'" (in the Russian declarative "No," the unstated "there is" is implied; and what is one to do in English with the latter state of being neologism “Deathlyness”? Of course what is meant is "our country isn't dead"; how does Valentine handle these difficulties?) Hope I have not only confused you further, Christopher.

  30. If I may add a concluding note that might serve to unify Philip's and Christopher's comments above. George Berkeley's argument for a transcendent God, who by "watching us" confers on our subjective observation, and speaking, objective Truth/Reality, is in the panentheistic vision of Aygi reversed: it is poetry, and all spiritual aliveness in the face of conformity, as an expression of God's immanence, that makes speaking the truth not just a spiritual but a political act.

  31. In a way I don't think Gennady Aygi's poetry is particularly "difficult," Alex, or even "avant garde" in the sense of being ahead of its time. Indeed, what I've seen of his work seems to me very old-fashioned. As a mode of thinking, as a perception, as an ideal to live up to in one's daily life, what Aygi is saying has been at the limit of human understanding since time in memorial. Why, it's painted all over the caves!

    The best of 'primitive' art outstrips the 'modern' in concept, innovation and shock all the time, doesn't it? All we moderns do is try to catch up with the past even when we haven't a clue what it means.

    What one has to do with Aygi-type utterances "in English," it seems to me, or in any other language for that matter, is to get as close as we can to silence while still speaking. And then one ends up sounding like Simone Weil, for example, who isn't difficult either, just impossible to fathom unless one is also willing to live as she did right on the edge of drowning -- the operative word here being "willing," of course, as well as "fathom."

    Like in "Gravity and Grace:

    God could create only by hiding himself. Otherwise there would be nothing but himself.
    Holiness should then be hidden too, even from consciousness in a certain measure. And it should be hidden in the world.

    Like snow is all there is.

    Or our own Louise Glück, who is never deliberately difficult either:

    We never thought of you
    whom we were learning to worship.
    We merely knew it wasn’t human nature to love
    only what returns love.

    .............................................."The Wild Iris" (1992)

    I think we have to assume that Gennady Aygi was trying to say what he wanted to say as simply and directly as he could, otherwise you'd have to accuse him of playing around with our heads.

    That's what we say, isn't it?


  32. I would like to introduce our readers this Sunday, a day of rest, to Gennady Aygi's little known participation in the art world, his various friendships and "critical" appreciations on the subject. Here is one such product of his friendship and collaboration with the Tatar Russian painter Igor Vulokh, Vulokh's "illustrations" for a section of Aygi's 1991 book Three Poems, "Twelve Parallel's to Igor Vulokh". In his memoirs, Aygi wrote of Vulokh's figuration verging into abstraction: “The language of the tragic can arise in art only when it becomes very abstract and begins to express the core and essence rather than external appearance and detail of these tragedies....” You can find Vulokh's current solo exhibition at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art.

    Lastly, here is Aygi's introduction to Gennady Gogoliuk's 2003 show at the John Martin Gallery in London. From Aygi's introduction to the catalog, on the turn back to figurative painting:

    "Eight years ago, I began to notice a strange feature in the work of artist friends from the Volga region of Russia - not only those representing the national minorities, but Russian artists, too. These artists, all of whom were acquainted with the various "post-isms" of the flagging modern art of the last millennium were beginning, with growing insistency, to return to the life surrounding them - to the native streets and alleys of their own towns, to native, familiar, human faces and figures and to their native soil - to a concrete, rather than a symbolic, native land.

    In a poem written in 1996, I spoke of this tendency towards domestication, making intimate of the painted human environment: This art I, jokingly, call it 'intimism' - sounds bad but many historical isms sounds no better.

    I was reminded of this when I became acquainted with the delicate and powerful work of Gennadii Gogoliuk. What had appeared to me then, dimly, as a veiled hint, is here made manifest with technical sophistication but, for all that, with a clear purity of heart, devoted to simple things. In my opinion, Gennadii Gogoliuk could be termed an outstanding 'intimist' now entering the arena of European art.

    Be that as it may, I see his work, which creates the "eternally-simple simplicity of the work-as-miracle" (again, I am quoting myself) as yet another example of the new return to reality which, precisely because it is new, possesses elements of fairy tale and theatricality."

  33. Dear Alex,
    Forgive me for another little distraction – what you’re doing is very important but I think what I’m saying is important too. And your focus on “Intimism” today is just what I mean – and I love the painting of Gennady Gogoliuk, which gives me the courage to barge in yet again.


    Can a poet write mystical poetry without belonging to a cult or a radical movement?

    Of course, but only after first starting over from scratch like a child knowing nothing except what he learned as a child. Otherwise such poetry inevitably tends toward dogma – or politics.

    “That’s not it: it is…” writes Denise Levertov. And of course Denise Levertov was not only a Hassidic Jew, in her genes, at least, but also a very political poet, sometimes embarrassingly so. Indeed politics was Denise Levertov’s baggage, so to speak, and as a poet the weight in her feet of clay. On the other hand, and very much unlike Gennady Aigyi, she lived in an open society where she could say anything she wanted to without repression.

    The irony is that had Denise Levertov been harassed for her views as Aigyi was she might have become an even better poet. Had she had to be more cautious, that is, more circumspect, ‘obscure’ one might even say, ‘esoteric’ if one had to.

    Like another great contemporary woman, Adrienne Rich, it was hard for Denise Levertov to write without a mission, but when on occasion she did she could bring down words as delicately as Aigyi his snow. Indeed, both Denise Levertov and Adrienne Rich could cradle words in their own persons as intimately as a woman does a child. Like this:


    I thought I was growing wings—
    it was a cocoon.

    I thought, now is the time to step
    into the fire—
    it was deep water.

    Eschatology is a word I learned
    as a child: the study of Last Things;

    facing my mirror—no longer young,
    the news—always of death,
    the dogs—rising from sleep and clamoring
    and howling, howling,

    I see for a moment
    that's not it: it is
    the First Things.

    Word after word
    floats through the glass.
    Towards me.

    ……………………………..Denise Levertov, Oblique Prayers (1981)

    But imagine if Denise Levertov had been able to leave out “Towards me” at the end and just done “is” or “snow” in some way?

    That impossible suggestion helps me to understand Aigyi better, and to appreciate his extraordinary concentration, restraint and simplicity. Which I’d say is why in his best poetry he’s so difficult, not because he’s so avant garde.

    Here’s another woman’s poem I love that I feel sure both Aigyi and Levertov knew well. Read it carefully, because it says something truly revolutionary both about God and about the individual soul, indeed how one can’t exist without the intimacy of the other (which is why mystics are always such a handful for churches!).


    my mind – my separation.
    I cannot describe my intimacy with Him.
    How dependent is your body’s life on water and food and air?
    I said to God, “ I will always be unless you cease to Be,”
    And my Beloved replied, “And I
    would cease to Be
    if you

    ...................................St. Teresa of Avila

    Or try George Herbert’s “Love bade me welcome while my Soul drew back,” Simone Weil’s favorite poem.


  34. A slow day, this Monday, but I would still ask to be allowed time to respond (please, Christopher). Today's collection of links continues gathering critical responses to Aygi's work.

    Leading off, chronologically speaking, with "Poet who Gave Sound to White," Dmitri Antonov's 1997 review of first Selected Poems in English (Angel Books,) translated by Peter France, in Times Higher Education (UK).
    A post on Aygi (and attendant conversation) from a few years back in Stephen Dodgson’s always lively translation blog Language Hat (though discussion veers away to topic of Turkey's proposed admission to EU).
    Douglas Messerli of Green Integer on Aygi’s Child-and-Rose, poems to his daughter, in part taking issue with sentimentality in poetry.
    Elif Batuman's humorous response ,"Book Reviews: Are They Necessary?" (on being sent Aygi simply for her Turkic connection.)
    Have requested but yet to receive Hank Lazer's , Review of Child and Rose in Rain Taxi #32 (Vol. 8, No. 4: Winter 2003/2004): 7
    An academic paper, Irina Plekhanov and Sergey Smirnov's “Organic Avant-Gardism of Gennady Aygi”.
    Anita Rita Klujber's University of Cambridge doctoral dissertation, Snow and window: archetypes of imagination (Aygi chapter, pp. 173-233): "...An intertextual analysis and synthesis of self-allusive poems by Boris Pasternak, Ted Hughes, Gyula Illyes, and Gennady Aygi.... Contemplation of snow through a window is the central theme of the focused texts...."
    And finally, Reginald Gibbons on his attempts to translate Aygi at Northwestern University with the Russian poet and scholar Ilya Kutik: "The Chuvash[Russ]ian poet Gennady Aygi (1934-2006) says in his preface to a little book I just read yesterday (Winter Revels, translated from Russian by Peter France and just published by Rumor Books in San Francisco), 'I can briefly express my attitude to my own poetic work in the following formula: Life is a Book, one Life–one Book.' Ilya [Kutik] and I have not had much success translating Aygi, so Ilya still has to find another one or two for us to try. To judge from the few translators’ versions of his poems that I have read, whatever Aygi is singing is mostly a melody that we don’t or can’t hear in English–although Ilya and I, I believe, have found a new way to sing Russian in English, in general."

  35. That's fine, Alex -- I really don't have more to say. I'd just like to clarify what I said about Denise Levertov's reputation, a poet I hugely admire, indeed one who has inspired me personally for over 40 years. By "an even better poet" I mean even closer to the very top of my list.


  36. Today, a collection of videos of Gennady Aygi reading his poems, and related video, audio, and image files.

    Video of Gennady Aygi and Peter France, on their visit to NYC in 2003, at the table of Jonas Mekas, the Lithuanian-American filmmaker and founder of Anthology Film Archives.

    Gennady Aygi reading in Samara, Russia.

    The Calm of Vowels, A, a documentary-length conversation (2001) with the director Marina Razbezhkina (in Russian).

    Interview with Marina Razbezhkina on Aygi and music (in Russian)

    Translator Sarah Valentine reads a poem by Gennady Aygi at the Wave Books Poetry in Translation festival in Seattle

    A public radio interview with Sarah Valentine on her Into the Snow, Selected Poems of Gennady Aygi.

    The collection of photographs of Gennady Aygi from around the net.

  37. As has been remarked on numerous occasions, many of the following translations, beginning in the early 1970s, constituted Gennady Aygi’s first publications anywhere (the originals not appearing in print in Russia until after 1991). Here is a substantially representative if incomplete bibliography.

    Biography and bibliography of translations into German

    Biography and bibliography of translations into French.

    Selection of translations into Polish, by Wiktor Woroszylski.

    Three poems and an essay, in Bulgarian, translated by Magdalena Kostova-Panaiotova.

    Five poems translated into Ukranian, by W.S. Kulanic.

    Gennady Aygi’s widow, Galina Aygi, is herself a translator of German poetry. Here is a selection of her work (into Russian).

  38. I thought I was done, Alex, but I’m not – following up on all your wonderful URLs really gets me going.

    I’d love to have your response to this one, or anyone’s:

    I have a soft spot for e.e.cummings because the first poems I ever wrote were under his influence. It was the early ‘50s, and as a child writing like e.e.cummings came naturally to me. What I wanted was words that would make the common-sense world “speak in tongues” (I had just learned the phrase from my teacher, I remember that well). And that’s precisely what I think Gennady Aigyi was doing too – at least until Pasternak made him write in Russian and then the renegade painters in Moscow began to ooh and aah and make him an avant garde artist too. And then the readings abroad and all those translations and lectures, and of course the literary history still going on to this day.

    Imagine the things Andy Warhol started in a similar way, or Allen Ginsberg -- singing the Blues at the Y, wearing a tie like Buster Keaton his boater. Our fashionable, in-your-face, tap-dancing roshi as rebbe and staretz – whom I never liked much as a poet but will always love as our very own village shaman!

    The interesting thing about cummings back in the ‘50s was that, unlike Aigyi, he was popular but never modish in the artistic sense – he just wrote like he wanted to write, and nobody ever tried to make anything esoteric or difficult out of what he was doing because it was such a farce and so utterly naïve, transparent -- and dirty! A risqué magician at a 6 year old birthday party really, hurdey-gurdey poetry, the monkey’s pants falling down…

    e.e.cummings was in fact lucky to evade the literary-critical pin, and has never been defined by an –ism beyond his own name. Yet he’s still an inspiration to new writers to this day, like a balloon unstoppered among children. I mean, what happens to language if you inflate it with nitrous oxide, or just let it fart, or actually come (does anyone do the latter better than cummings)?

    And some of cummings poems are very good too, a few great even – as great as Aigy’s “Like snow the Lord that is,” and by no means dissimilar. And cummings really is easy, at least if English is your own baby-tongue and you love language and life as much as a Chuvash peasant loves flying saints, vodka and God. If you were Chuvash you’d have language levitate like a Chagall violinist, and that means writing not deeply but drunkenly, like being literally head-over-heels in the air even when, as in so much Chagall, it’s just kitsch upside down in the sky.

    I’d love to hear what Peter France would say about that parallel as well as younger translators like you, Alex, and Sarah Valentine. Aigyi was almost certainly a greater poet than e.e.cummings, but is my non-Russian-speaker’s hunch a bit right? Was there something of the spontaneous peasant-prestidigitator going on in him too as there obviously is in Gennady Gogoliuk, for example, who is a real discovery for me? And is Aigyi actually so “difficult” in Chuvash or Russian, or is it just the impossibility of translating such work at all -- as it’s certainly impossible to translate the baby-talk of cummings?

    Christopher Woodman

  39. Today we have a treat from the Rain Taxi Review of Books (Vol. 8, No. 4,) with my thanks to editor Eric Lorberer for granting us access to Hank Lazer's incisive and empathetic reading of Peter France's translation of Child-And-Rose, which includes Gennady Aygi's beloved poems to his infant daughter, "Veronika's Book". Here it is, in it its entirety.

    Gennady Aygi
    translated by Peter France
    New Directions ($14.95)

    by Hank Lazer

    The internationally renowned poet Gennady Aygi—held in high esteem by writers such as Jacques Roubaud, Bei Dao, Roman Jackobson, Fanny Howe, and Michael Palmer—is just beginning to develop an American readership. Encouraged by Boris Pasternak and Nazim Hikmet early in his career, Aygi writes poetry that is an odd mixture of the traditional (including folk-imagery from his native Chuvashia) and the modernist-experimental. Reading his work conveys the sensation of tires slipping on ice, a momentary loss of traction, a slippage which constitutes a major element of the poem’s content and often leads to a moment of clarification and wonder.

    To say that Aygi’s poetry dwells on the resources of the image does not adequately convey the strangeness of his writing. In Child-and-Rose, which includes selections from 1972 to 2002, he presents some stunning poetry of childhood—particularly of infancy—as well as of sleep, silence, and domesticity. There is, as others have pointed out, a recurring and compelling quality of wonder in Aygi’s poetry, but it is not a poetry that habitually concludes in wonder. Often that wonder is tied to speculation, as in Aygi’s brief introduction to the cycle “Veronica’s Book” (on the first six months of his daughter’s life), where he tells us,

    They are poems about the “period of likenesses.” I am convinced (and this is a little “discovery” of mine) that from the first weeks of life up to about the age of three, children experience, undergo and bear, both in and upon themselves, moments, days, and weeks of likeness and likenesses with a multitude of relations, both living and “departed.” The little ones (or rather ‘some forces’ within them) seem to be painfully seeking—eventually—finding what are to be their own ‘permanent’ features (6).

    Aygi is a genius of such liminal or border states—of perceptions that are altering, moments in our own processes of formation marked by a momentary slippage, as in the poem “Phloxes in Town” (53):

    as if
    in the impersonal thinking of the world
    quiet and clear
    here—as in the center of a clearing—purity
    trembles—and we pass by
    not disturbing it
    even with the imperceptible
    breeze of attention

    He is similarly superb when writing about sleep or silence. On sleep, he asks, “Why is a person composed of waking only, why is he or she nothing but waking, and sleep not merely the person, but something else, something ‘other’?” (83) His writing on silence and emptiness suggest that these categories in Russian differ greatly from their French counterparts. As for Aygi’s slippages, he himself suggests, “There are lines in my poems that are just lines of dots. Not ‘emptiness,’ not ‘nothing,’—these dots—rustle (this is ‘the world—in itself’)” (159).

    And there is so much more in Child-and-Rose: the vertiginous “Recognition of the Name,” the exquisite fugue-like music of “Now There Are Always Snows,” the Rilkean “Leaf-Fall and Silence,” and the domestic visual beauty of “House—In the Grove of the World.” For simplicity and power, there is the remarkable short poem “The People Are a Temple”; its single line reads, “And souls are candles, each lighting the other” (137). Peter France’s translations communicate a sense of the fragmentary or elliptical quality of Aygi’s writing, and Bei Dao offers an illuminating preface.

  40. A special announcement today: I have been conducting an interview with Peter France, Gennady Aigi's friend and translator, and our editor, Lee Sharkey, has graciously agreed to devote a separate post to the conversation, as a fitting conclusion to our month-long tribute. For now, I would like to post a part of our correspondence. Earlier I posted a link to, and the first two stanzas of, Sarah Valentine's translation of Aygi's poem, "Now Always Snow" (see post for Nov. 13.) We may now, for comparison, read Peter France's earlier "parallel" translation. It has often been remarked that the richness of the original may be better guessed at through having access to such multiple translations so that we as readers may judge for ourselves how each translator dealt with the particular difficulties faced. Over the past two days, Peter France has written:

    Wed, Nov 20, 2013

    ... I've just been looking at the blog and see that a lot of interest is concentrated on "Teper vsegda snega". It might interest your correspondents to look at my translation of this poem, which is in the New Directions Child-and-Rose, p. 103. Since it's (I think) the only Russian poem where Aygi keeps to such a regular metrical pattern, I've tried to do the same, and generally stayed close to his text (at the cost of some perplexity perhaps). Incidentally ... the television film Aygi in which this poem is used prominently ... was made in 2001 for the Kultura channel, and was directed by Marina Razbezhkina, with music by Schubert, Gubaidulina and Aleksey Aygi [see post for Nov. 19].

    Best, Peter

    Thur, Nov 21, 2013
    Hi Alex -

    I see the blog is progressing splendidly - I wonder how much feedback there is.... I was interested to see Gennady Gogoliuk appearing - did you know that he is my son-in-law? He met Aygi once and has done one or two imaginary portraits of him. I've also used two of his pictures (The Bright Gate and Lyre) for the covers of two collections -- my daughter Rose, who knew Aygi better, has also done Aygi things, some prints and some embroidery (which is on the cover of Salute - to Singing,). And her twin sister Siri did one or two portrait drawings, including a rather good double one of Gena and Galya in our house. So you see it's a bit of a family concern.

    You're welcome to use my translation of "Teper vsegda snega" -- attached. Looking at it again, I'm surprised how much I was willing to risk disorienting the reader in order to stay close to the original. It was probably the hardest of G's poems to translate. I wonder what you think of it....


    like snow the Lord that is
    and is what is the snows
    when the soul is what is

    the snows the soul the light
    and all is only this
    that those like death that is
    that like them too it is

    confess that it is so
    among light darkness is
    when once again the snows
    how can it be it is

    and is not to be checked
    as corpses are and not

    oh Deathmask-Land that is
    no question that it is
    then when the People verb
    which signifies is not

    and that such being is
    what is this doing here
    the Face is such a Mask
    it seems there only is
    the land Darkness-and-Face

    the Epoch-such-a-corpse

    and one there is that is
    when straightway they are not
    - oh God again the snows! –
    they are not one thing is
    only the Deathness-Land

    it is as is and not
    and only by this is
    but is what only is

    miracle sudden swirl
    there is no Deadness-Land
    oh God again the snows
    the soul the snows the light

    Oh God again the snows

    but be there there are none
    the snows my friend the snows
    the soul the light the snow

    oh God again the snows

    and snow that is there is


  41. Dear Peter France and Alex Cigale,
    I like the poem very much, and feel it has already become a permanent friend.

    The wonderful thing about a permanent friend is that you never have to worry about losing the friend, or ever have to try not to either, just as in this poem you never have to worry about losing the thread as all there is is snow.

    Needless to say, the poem says that a whole lot better than I can, just as the poem doesn't make any attempt to say what snow is either, in the world or in the poem.

    I like the "miracle sudden swirl" in particular, and wonder if it was one of the lines you worried might disorient the reader. It certainly is a shock, not only in the size, weight and particularity of the words, but in the way they lead into "there is no Deadness-Land," collapsing the mystic crunch.


    That's the engine room of the poem for me -- and many, many thanks for it. Truly a wonderful gift (and for once that word can be used to say what it means).


  42. Today (Nov. 22,) more music inspired by the poetry of Gennady Aygi. I had previously posted (Nov. 15) the Tatar Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina cycle setting several of Aygi's poems to music in her Jetzt immer Schnee ("Now always snow"). Another piece in the classical repertoire is Forest Music: (text by Gennady Aygi; soprano, French horn, piano, 1977–78) by the esteemed Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov (b. 1937).

    Today we have a special treat: my gratitude to the American composer Armando Bulayo for granting my request to make available his setting of Aygi's poem, "My Daughter's First Week," part of his Nocturne "Lullabies," (along with poems by Thomas Lux and Gregory Orr.) In his gracious response to my request, Mr. Bulayo wrote:

    " I found the poem through the Poetry Foundation, researching poems about parenthood for a commission from the Trio Montage which was supposed to touch on an aspect of life in your 20s. Since I became a father in my late 20s, I decided to write about that, and found four poems that fit nicely together and strung them together, along with two instrumental pieces, into a cycle for baritone, clarinet/bass clarinet and piano.... I'm not particularly interested in ethnic musics or utilizing them in my work, necessarily (though I'm not uninterested either). My influences tend to be from the post-minimalist/post-modern side, although I suppose that, if an ethnomusicological bent can be said to be part of my work, it's in my interest in taking aspects of rock and pop music and incorporating them into a broader concert music setting (which might not seem obvious to casual listeners of either genre)." The Trio Montage [Margueritte Levin, clarinet, who commissioned the piece, Tim McReynolds, piano, and Philip Collister, baritone] have performed it ["Lullabies," "which I re-titled as “Nocturne”] a few times since the premiere, most recently in Assisi, Italy...."

  43. On this day of rest, I would like us to remember the poet as the man. Ezra Pound said, with his special insight, "most poets fail as people first." Certainly, no one is perfect, but the effect of the life on the work is, in my book at least, inarguable (both talent and character being necessary but alone insufficient). And so, once again, from Peter France's messages to us:

    "Here are three pictures -- [they] have been a bit trimmed on this page, but should be complete when downloaded. The two paintings are by Gennady Gogoliuk, done since Aygi’s death, partly based on photographs. The half-length one is large, the other one small. The drawing is also large – it was done by my daughter Siri France, when Gennady and Galina were staying with us in Edinburgh in 1991. The curly line by Galya’s hand must be a representation of Gena’s cigarette smoke!"

    One final image, to complete our week. No man or woman is without ego or the desire for recognition, simply put, if not a need for celebrity, then for the company of other talented and beautiful women and men. Here, a series of portraits of Gennady Aygi, in Paris, with Jeanne Moreau.

  44. I’m grateful to Alex Cigale for his day-by-very-full-day on-line bibliography, which I’ve followed in detail as I am sure many others have as well, but in the end I’m troubled by it too.

    I think it’s important to remember that the Cold War was still on when translations of Aigyi first started appearing in the West in the ‘70s, and that the whole world outside the Iron Curtain felt a moral obligation to publicize every single word that managed to get out – and to amplify it as an expression of pure courage and the longing for freedom. By the time Perestroika allowed Aigyi to publish in Russia his reputation’s cat was already out of the bag in the West, so to speak – and his trajectory as a bona fide ‘avant garde’ artist was firmly established.

    But Gennady Aigyi is so much more than that, isn’t he? Both the music his poetry has inspired and the wonderful portraits, slide shows and photographs that bring him so vividly to life make me feel we’ve distorted his reputation. He’s not an avant garde poet, he’s a great poet!

    I love Aigyi’s pure, long, sing-song poem, “Now There Are Always Snows” in Peter France’s translation, indeed I find Peter France’s whole approach to his mystical friend very inspiring. I like the little poem, “To an Icon of the Mother of God,” very much, for example, and I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the France/Gogoliuk kitchen when the family gathered for Christmas and drank to him. I also find Sarah Valentine’s translations in her collection, “Into the Snow,” beautiful and moving, and indeed I responded in detail to one of those poems earlier on, and also added some thoughts about Aigyi’s idea of “intimism” in relation to the love of God as expressed in poetry. But obviously these sentiments are not shared by others who have been following this thread, and I think that suggests the western world is doing Gennady Aigyi a disfavor. He’s not hard, he’s a diamond!

    In fact, what I have difficulty with is that aspect of Aigyi’s work represented by the two poems Alex Cigale translated in the current issue of the BPJ, the texts offered specifically for this month’s discussion on the Forum. They are sensitively translated and interesting, certainly, but so terse, referential and private I have difficulty connecting them to his other, more generous work, and I just wonder why this contrast in Aigyi hasn’t been the focus of more discussion on the Forum. For the real issue, it seems to me, has to be the relationship between Aigyi’s ‘avant-garde’ poetry as represented in the BPJ selection on the one hand, and the much greater, deeper and simpler work that arose out of what was obviously a profoundly generous and passionate Russian heart on the other. I find that perplexing, how these two different reputations could have arisen out of one, most singular, most honest poet’s genius, indeed I can find nothing in the discussion to account for it.

    If anybody could help me with that before we come to an end I’d be very grateful.


  45. [Dear Christopher: Your point, regarding Aygi's "adoption" by the avant-garde is absolutely legitimate, and one Aygi is likely to have agreed with. I will ask Peter France, who by self-admission is simply not in the habit of blogging, if he might be able to comment. Rising as I have been two hours earlier before work to post daily, I will not be able to address your concerns fully till later, but it is precisely the kind of lively debate I was hoping to instigate. For now, I just want you to know that your comparisons of the "stereotyping" of Aygi's reception in the west to that of Denise Levertov's and Adrienne Rich's work is duly noted.]

    For today, the question of Aygi's lasting influence. I wish there was an opportunity to engage voices from Russia, re: his literary heirs. For now, two English language poems dedicated or "after" Aygi.

    "Imaginary Translation: Night Towards Dawn" by Susanna Kittredge, in The Big Ugly Review, selected by Maxine Chernoff.

    "Arboreal" by Erling Friis-Baastad, in The Two River Review.

  46. Hi Alex, thank you for inviting me to this discussion. Here is something I wrote in Russian back in 2006, which give an outline to my thoughts regarding Aygi's work:

    Вокруг да около (конспект памяти Г.А.)

    Уникальность Айги, его мёд между строк, нечто пойманное:
    «чистая поэзия»: охота на предмет поэтического
    с распахнутой клеткой стихотворения:
    в клетку попадает не-у-ловимое о н о.

    (Пустую клетку видно издалека ), но
    когда он в форме - ждите чудесного.

    «Клетка» Айги: «машинка из слов» Зукофски.

    Айги в Нью-Йорке: 2003 г: один из текстов: ошеломляющее
    впечатление: не вспомнить ни строчки, но: снежная пастораль:
    на полном ходу: врезается: с лязгом: топотом: красная конница: Малевича:
    "Скачет красная конница…":
    контраст: полюса:
    архаика / пасторализм / почвенничество /азиатство
    футуризм / модернизм / западничество / европейство

    Визуальная организация к о м п о з и ц и й:
    Малевич: три плана:
    нижний (снег на земле, прошлое, «давно»),
    средний (туман, жасмин, лес, «свобода»),
    верхний (облака, верхушки деревьев, «светлее»).

    Архетипы: свет/тьма, день/ночь, туман/снег, ветер/облака, Бог/душа.

    Его мёд между строк, нечто пойманное:
    ведь и Пастернак!

    Айги и Блок. Айги и Белый.
    Разумеется: Белый, потому что: Малевич.

    Айги и Гертруда Стайн.

    Французские сюрреалисты,
    еврейские псалмы.
    Пантеизм и православие.


    Слово-то какое н е м о д н о е:

    «Клетка» Айги:
    глаголы простаивают, буксуют.
    Динамика прилагательных и наречий.
    Особая роль шипящих: услышать навсегда:
    (волжскoe?) произношение:
    сдвоенное «шш» вместо щ.

    «Mашинка из слов»? ДА:
    ничего не объясняет:
    обыкновенное чудо:


    как светлая нитка дыханием в поле»

    у с к о л ь з а ю щ е й


    «со знанием белого
    вдали человек
    по белому снегу
    будто с невидимым знаменем»

    (Малевич +1)

    1. Thank you, Igor! I will do my best to translate here your "Notes for Aygi" in coming days!

    2. [My impromptu translation follows here (AC).]

      Around and nearby (notes commemorating G.A.)

      Aygi’s uniqueness, his honey between the lines, something slice of life:
      “pure poetry” a hunt for the poetic subject
      with the cage of verse wide open:
      the cage snares the un-capture-able i t.

      (An empty cage is visible from a distance,) but
      but when he is on – expect the miraculous.

      Aygi’s “cage”: “a machine made of words” Zukofsky

      Aygi in New York: 2003: one of his texts: stunning
      impression: can’t remember a single line, but: a snowy pastoral:
      at full speed: crashes into: with clanging: clatter: Malevich’s: Red Cavalry:
      “The Red Cavalry galloping":
      contrast: of polarities:
      archaism / pastoralism / rootedness / orientalism
      futurism / modernism / westernization / europeanism

      Visual organization c o m p o s I t I o n:
      Malevich: three layers/levels:
      lower (snow on the ground, the past, “long ago,”)
      middle (fog, jasmine, the forest, “freedom,”)
      upper (clouds, tops of trees, “lighter”).

      Archetypes: light/darkness, day/night, fog/snow, wind/clouds, God/soul.

      His honey between the lines, something perceived:
      even Pasternak!

      Aygi and Blok, Aygi and Bely.
      Of course: Bely, because Malevich.

      Aygi and Gertrude Stein.

      French Surrealists,
      the Hebrew Psalms.
      Pantheism and Orthodoxy.


      What a word u n f a s h I o n a b l e:

      Aygi’s “cage”:
      verbs idle, skid.
      The dynamics of adjectives and adverbs.
      The special role of sibilants: to hear once and for all:
      (from Volga?) pronunciation:
      twined “shsh” instead of shch.

      “Machine made of words”? YES:
      explains nothing:
      commonplace miracle:


      like a light thread with breath into the field”

      on what is
      s l i p p I n g a w a y


      “with the knowledge of white
      a human in the distance
      along the white snow
      as though carrying an invisible flag”

      (Malevich +1)

      *Link for Пустую клетку видно издалека (An empty cage is...": “О качестве американских переводов русской поэзии, №2” (“On the quality of American translations of Russian poetry, No. 2")

  47. Dear Alex,
    I’m so grateful to you for those words just above, you can’t imagine -- and I’m overjoyed that this thread is still so open.

    And forgive me for just butting in, Igor Satanovsky -- I have the feeling that we're actually on the same page and am so looking forward to a translation of what you have just posted.


    The question has to be, what happens when revolutionary artists finally achieve freedom from dictatorship? What do they do next, and beyond that what we do with them, we who are so free in the West? What do we do with those who wash up on our shores after the iron curtain has come down and the repression been lifted – speaking metaphorically, of course, speaking as a clumsy American who is also a world-citizen?

    Is this perhaps the moment when western critical establishments create what the great 20th Century art critic, Harold Rosenberg, called “avant garde ghosts,” his memorable phrase to describe those artists who have nothing to be in the vanguard of anymore but still feel they have to remain ‘difficult,’ i.e. hard, inscrutable and, as is so often the case, blatantly insulting to audiences? As there is nothing left that can be construed as a political threat, Rosenberg’s argument goes, nothing that can shock western writers, editors, teachers, students and fellow travellers into actual resistance, the ‘avant garde’ has to settle for just the pretense of overthrowing something. In the actual phrase Rosenberg coined way back in the late 1960s, our own literary establishment has to some extent become “a profession one of whose aspects is the pretense of overthrowing it" .

    What an irony – and how sad for our own home-grown village art!

    Is this possibly what happened to Gennady Aigyi’s reputation in the West? Have we not perhaps created an “avant garde ghost” out of one of Russia’s finest, truest, and most sensitive regional poets? And is this partly because we simply can’t comprehend what Aigyi took for granted in both his life and his best poetry, a level of inspiration, passion and, yes, mystical elevation to which we simply cannot lift our own self-conscious hearts? Are we not even embarrassed by such pure out-pourings of unfettered yearning, as if they were somehow indecent – in our elitist eyes naïve and lacking altogether in artistic self-discipline?


    1. Dear Christopher. As I wrote in my previous note, I am in general agreement with the substance of your commentary, but as I may have hinted, not with the tone. Please, do allow me time to get my thoughts together, and phrase them delicately. As I understand it, your intentions are two-fold. The first is a concern that Aygi's work has been in a sense hijacked as a "poster child" for their own purposes by western "neo-avant-gardist". The second, and I hope the more salient one, is that it does an injustice to Aygi's work by stereotyping and circumscribing it. To address this fully will require providing some historical background to the situation in both the West and in Russia. I don't believe that Aygi's reputation has been hurt by the work being "adopted" for, shall we say, academic interests. And so I'm tempted to quip, why "Thou dost protest too much"? I am uncomfortable mainly because this carries the risk of, even if unconsciously, simply promoting a different agenda, in a way doing precisely what you accuse "the other side" of. Briefly: my conversation with Peter France (no avant-gardist himself) gave some answers you seek and will post as a separate Interview today on As I suspected and noted in my introduction, the issue is partly generational, partly aesthetic. Of the Russian Conceptualists, Aygi felt closest to Vsevolod Nekrasov (who'd rejected the label for what he called "Contextualism".) This impressed me all the more, how truly close these two poets were to each other in their work, though within different traditions. What came across clearly is that both of them rejected post-modernism with its ironic content and so are more closely linked with their modernist forebearers (Aygi says "everything is in Proust) and so in this way Aygi and his generation of the 50s could be said to have re-constituted the earlier Russian avant-garde (c. 1913-1928,) something that makes historical sense in the Russian context only, the situation being different in the west. So no, Aygi is not a Conceptualist or Language poet, though these schools rightly feel close to him, but are uncomfortable with say his sentimentalism. I see no harm in that, for Aygi at least.

    2. I very much appreciate the turn this thread is taking, Alex, and do hope it will address the issues involved in Aigyi's contradictory reputation in the West -- always stellar, but what was he really doing, high art or speaking in tongues? Needless to say, tone does get involved when critics feel outrage at anything they feel is beneath them, indeed tone is what gives all critical 'struggles' their sense of urgency, doesn't it, as if artists were struggling in what they stand for in their art for their very lives?

      So, dear Alex, I put it to you that your reference to the way avant gardists regard "sentimentalism" is also heavily tinged with tone. I don't mind at all when you accuse me of that as long as you also admit to protesting a bit too much yourself. I mean, who doesn't in such matters?

      Indeed, and I quote your actual words, "I see no harm in that either, for Aigyi most of all." If Aigyi’s “sentimentalism” has anything to do with his transcendental celebrations of a very high order and intensity, I would say that whatever you call them they're still right up there with the utterances of the world's greatest poets. And what's wrong with that?


    3. Dear Christopher:

      Once again, I do not aim to dissuade you, but am reminded of one of my favorite Yogi Berra quips (which, consciously or unconsciously, was an echo of Einstein): "“In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” Only the reverse. It seems to me that neither to a serious practicing artist, nor within ethnography itself, does the distinction you speak of exist or is particularly relevant. So that one might say: "“In theory, there is a difference between theory and practice. In practice, there ain't.” We all have our competencies, so why not let the critics have theirs? After all, why expect someone who has lived the life of the mind to feel comfortable with the life of emotions? As for artists, most face enough real and constant struggle, for sheer survival, to concern themselves much if at all with struggle with critics. Sooner rather than later, I don't think any artist can afford to waste any energy on struggle "for what they stand for". I, and I think almost every artist, can certainly identify with your sense of identifying one's "survival as a poet" with real extinction, as you say "for their lives". But that is not Real. It is what is, and the work speaks, and must speak, for itself.

    4. Yes, Alex -- that's precisely it, the work must speak for itself. The trouble is that sometimes Madison Avenue gets involved, and often very beautifully and super-persuasively, and then it's sometimes hard to figure out what's market and what's us. Even we artists get bought and get sold on every level of the phrase.

      I love Bansky in "Exit Through the Gift Shop" as much as I love his work. But as he himself knows better than anyone, it's all very dodgey, who we are, what we mean, where we are going.

      The question that I've raised is how much Aigyi himself was the victim of such forces as his work got adopted in the West. I'd love to read the Peter France interview as I feel he's always on Gennady Aigyi's side, almost as if he were under Gennady Aigyi's own skin.

      You do very well too, Alex -- and this whole BPJ thread is of enormous value.


    5. On this day of Thanksgiving, I will do my best to address the issues you raised in your two initial posts, but warn you in advance that this is not the forum they will be resolved in, nor will nor can they be, any place. To begin at the end, as I've made clear before, I do not think the dualisms and comparisons that guide your thinking here are fruitful or constructive or, as I said in my last reply, require resolution or even much attention on the part of a practicing poet. Sure, we can accuse Ginsberg or Warhol or Aygi or John Lennon of selling out, but the analogy of the influence of Wall Street and Madison Avenue you refer to can be multiplied ad infinitum. By extension then, Starbucks is only exploiting Fair Trade coffee growers, and Putumayo is shamefully expropriating world music for its commercial purposes, and Aygi has commercialized the sacred heritage of his culture and made himself a pawn of the Chuvashia chamber of commerce, merchant and trade associations, and the tourism council, having very much, in Peter France's word, "put it on the map". And yet, there is real love there, that resists commodification, in the anthropological sense "The Gift". So what if certain, American poets have succeed in taking advantage of the poetry marketplace and of the official structures of poetry as institution, often to the detriment of the quality of their own work (grants, academic positions, etc.) Poetry at least, like information, seeks to be free, but it ain't and can never be (it is not news that ours is a market economy, shaped by concentration of wealth, international conglomerates, and statism on the global scale.) But historically, at least since the differentiaton of human society, art and artists have always depended on patronage, and none of us are without masters (free market economies are that in name only). Nor will I defend myself here against a possible charge that I am manipulating Aygi for my own ends by riding his coattails (I'm not say this is what was intended).

      So no, "Pasternak made him write in Russian and then the renegade painters in Moscow began to ... make him an avant garde artist" simply does not reflect the case. Re: "What happens when revolutionary artists finally achieve freedom from dictatorship? What do they do next, and beyond that what we do with them, we who are so free in the West?" NO! We are NOT free in the West (do you really believe this advertising for democracy-in-name-only?) No! No freedom from dictatorship is possible! All a Soviet non-conformist artist could do was navigate between the Scylla and Charybdis of Communism and Capitalism. Re: "The Gift" on the post-industrial stage, Benjamin, that theoretician of kitsch, said it all in his Dialectics of Enlightenment, and I paraphrase here -- Culture is the shadow of tyranny (which I've understood to mean that culture in a differentiated society cannot exist without, and so be conditioned by, the patronage of capital). But we CAN choose our own masters (though an artist cannot control the outside forces and factors of reception and, frankly speaking, I believe believing otherwise is immature): the true masters of "the gift" must remain -- the Lord, and the Light, and the love of the Word. So no, Aygi is NOT a greater poet than E. E. Cummings; Voltaire; "the great is the enemy of the good;" and "good poems do NOT replace other good poems".

    6. That's wonderful, Alex -- I've just read it once so far and if you don't hear more from me it will mean I'm still chewing my cud.

      Also because I've read the Peter France interview only once as well -- how much I admire such informed humility! And when I said "under Gennady Aigyi's skin," how right I was!

      And finally, how I wish I had written something as restrained yet passionate, flamboyant even as your last 3 sentences beginning "But we CAN choose..."

      Thank you so much for your patience, stubbornness, and generosity.


    7. "stubbornness" = purity of heart is to will one thing.

      Kierkegaard had it to an advanced degree, as did Kafka, indeed I suspect most of the authors Aigyi carried with him as his closest companions. Among ordinary mortals it means never taking your eye off the ball, among poets off the eye of the blackbird among twenty snowy mountains -- in Aigyi's case off the snow.

      In yours, Alex, off Gennady Aigyi. And what a gift!

  48. Peter France, in his interview forthcoming today as a separate post, had remarked that Gennady Aygi's immediate circles during the 60s and 70s were primarily comprised of artists and musicians, including the composer Valentin Silverstrov; see link two days ago (for ten years, Aygi had organized art exhibitions at the Mayakovsky Museum in Moscow). This confirms for me my own experience, that the most fertile ground for poetry is primarily in its intersection with the other arts (even more so than with other writing).

    Today, his son, the composer Alexei Aygui, wrote to say that he has completed a piece setting his father's poetry to music, but which is as yet unrecorded. He is Francophone and regrets being unable to address us in English. His group, with a nod to John Cage, is called Ensemble 4'33". His personal website is forthcoming, and so for the time being he asked us to find his work at his sites on Facebook and MySpace. A personal favorite of mine, among his extensive film work, is the recently released and very memorable epic The Horde (written by Yuri Arabov; I can't recommend it highly enough.)

  49. Marina Temkina wrote me, asking to post for her the following. My translations of Marina's poems are in Brooklyn Rail InTranslation and The Madhatters' Review.

    "Gennady Aygi, I think, might be a diligent reader of Velimir Khlebnikov and, belonging to a small ethnic group, he managed to avoid Khlebnikov's grandiosity. (The latter was probably caused not only by the specifics of Khlebnikov's personality but also his unfortunate syphilis, the psycho-somatic illness and his real cause of death). I also think that the late Parscshikov read Aygi [closely]. From my side, in the 1970s Aygi's name was known in Leningrad. I believe A. E. Parnis, the major scholar of Khlebnikov, introduced me to Aygi's poems. I remember that Sasha Parnis was especially impressed by the poem that Aygy wrote in memory and/or on the funeral of Konstantin Bogatyrev, the poetry translator assumed to have been killed by KGB. (K. Bogatyrev was a friend of Tomas Venslova and Joseph Brodsky and both wrote poems in memorium.) Another connection to Aygi, as it just happened that way, was through a person I knew in Leningrad in the 1970s, Vladimir Cholkin; Aygi was close to the circle of artists, poets and theater people.

    I befriended this circle through Sasha Parnis. Cholkin was an interesting figure but had a drinking problem and later he spent some time in jail for stealing from the Public Library, where he worked, prizhiznennoe izdanie Pushkina [an edition of Pushkin's work published during his lifetime,] which was found because he forgot it in a telephone booth. Before this dramatic event, in the mid-70s, his wife left him, married Aygi and moved to Moscow with the son from her first marriage, with Cholkin, and did not allow him to see their son. I remember thinking then what role Aygi played in this painful drama but paternal rights were not on the Soviet legal horizon and I do not know what happened to that child. Strangely perhaps, but this story influenced my perception of Aigy's life and works. Then came his sensational, for those times, French literary prize (Frers Goncourt), his trip to Paris -- something allowed only to the sanctioned regime's collaborators. Everybody hoped that this Chuvash was an exception. And somehow it helped Aygi to have a more protected and safer position while maintaining his autonomous and a little bit more independent life as a poet within the environment of totalitarian censorship. C'est tout."

    [N.B. Aygi was awarded the Prize of the French Academy (1972,) not the Prix Goncourt, though I am presently unable to locate a primary source citation. I believe his first trip abroad was in the late 80s, but it is understandable that even such a modicum of "official" toleration may have seemed suspect at the time, not to mention the conservative nature of the French Academy. Perhaps Peter France can answer if this presented a moral dilemma for Aygi, and possibly the reverse, creating difficulty with the Soviet authorities for allowing himself to be "used as a pawn," for propaganda purposes in the West, a situation eerily similar one may add to the one his beloved friend and mentor Pasternak had found himself in 15 years earlier. AC.]

    1. Marina wrote in reply: "I appreciate corrections. Thank you. Here are some additional thoughts. I was thinking about another poet who might be influenced by Aygi in the former Leningrad - Mikhail Eremin, a close friend of late Lev Losev. This type of poetry seemed less structured, less coherently organized but it allowed more of free association, more of mental freedom, even though it might seem-and-sound crazy. It also provided deconstruction of both the official and the non-conformist accepted requirement of form-content. This type of poetry and prose (Arkady Dragomoshshenko?) was a rarity in the FSU and that's why it is valuable to study. C'est tout. Happy Hanukkah and Turkey!

    2. Thank you, Marina, and Happy happy to be an American day to you as well! I very much appreciate you bringing up a possible connection to Eremin, who I have been translating as well and hope to begin publishing soon (Asymptote, Mayday Magazine, and Plume Poetry are among journals waiting for approval). Perhaps I will have an opportunity to ask him about any personal relationships if not mutual influence. Eremin's first compositions, date to 1957, before Aygi switched to writing in Russian (1960,) and were already fully formed in the sense of them being consistent, very, with the later work (as you know, in a form he made his own). Also, they are of the same generation, Aygi being less than two years older. Whether the two poets had any connections or were even simply aware of each to other, and if so from what time, is an interesting question to answer. As you yourself know, the cultural divide between St. Petersburg and Moscow is not one that can be overcome in a single night's train ride. It would be interesting to know if the so-called philological school (the group of university friends that included Eremin and Loseff) were even aware of the Lianozovo group that was contemporary with them. The structural relationship between the various non-conformist poets and groups (again, a social phenomenon, and one that linked writers closely to the circles of artists and so must be understood with the concept of "the underground" and "unofficialdom") is, as you say, a fertile ground for study (probably outside our scope of expertise).

    3. to Marina and Alex
      I don't think the prize of the French academy presented a moral dilemma - it certainly didn't win official approval in the SU, but it may, as Alex suggests, have created difficulties for GA, who was denounced in Chuvashia as a decadent cosmopolitan (though this was more when he was published in the Paris emigre journal Kontinent). The Academy prize was given for GA's extraordinary anthology of French poetry in Chuvash - which goes right up to Yves Bonnefoy, and this in 1968! One effect of the prize was to put GA in contact with major French poets and writers such as Rene Char and Pierre Emmanuel - rather like the Nobel for Pasternak.
      As for his first visit to France in 1988 - quickly followed by visits to other Western countries - I don't think there was any question of this being propaganda for the Soviet authorities. This was the time when suddenly lots of writers and artists (including some who had been distinctly persona non grata) were allowed to travel, to accept invitations from the west.

  50. Volume 22 issue 10, for 1993, of Index on Censorship devoted an entire Special Issue to New Russian Writing, and contained what I assume to have been two pages of poems by Aygi under the rubric of "Ancestral Voices". In addition, his work, in the English translation of Peter France, was anthologized in Birds, Beasts and Seas: Nature Poems from New Directions (ed. Jeffrey Yang,) with two poems from Field-Russia (2007,) “Clouds” and “White Butterfly Flying over a Cut Field”.

  51. Today, this American day of Thanksgiving, I present sources available on the Russian Wikipedia page for Gennady Aygi that are not available on the English Wikipedia page.

    Here is the beautiful presentation of four artists' books dedicated to Aygi's memory.

    A beautiful, collective, musical tribute to Aygi, an album called Poklon-Aygi (a word of tribute Aygi echoed repeatedly in his verse, and which cold be translated either with the American slang "respect," or as "regard," or in the ethnographic sense of "greetings," or as I have throughout, literally and more concretely: "bowing".)

    An impressive tribute and substantial biography, that includes a fascinating collection of photographs, portraits, and book covers, in Russian, by an 11th grade student, Polina Grigorieva, from the Chuvash capital of Cheboksary.

    A very substantial memorial to Aygi, including an interview and contextualization of Aygi's first trip abroad, to France, in 1988, etc., in Russian, by Vitaly Amurski.

    And lastly, for the time being, this gorgeous portrait of Aygi in old age on ru.wwikipedia commons.

  52. SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: due to technical difficulties, my interview with Gennady Aygi's friend and translator, Peter France, could not be posted for the holiday weekend as a separate blog entry. You can find the link to the following PDF at the top of this page, in the right hand column. Alex Cigale interviews Peter France

  53. Peter France's Poets of Modern Russia (Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp. 210-219) places Gennady Aygi in the context of 20th century canonical Russian poetry (pp. 210-219; Peter's introduction to Aygi's poetry begins with a full text of France's own translation of the poem "Morning in August" and contains translations of several other shorter poems.

    The Russian poetry site Vavilon contains the most extensive collection of Aygi's original, Russian texts. Please also find the author's page at Zhurnalnyi Zal.

    The Russian poetry site Vavilon contains the most extensive collection of Aygi's original, Russian texts. Please also find the author's page at Zhurnalnyi Zal.

    An Aygi Fest is held by the Chuvash National Library in the capital of Cheboksary in 2008. Part of the festival was the art show, "Aygi and his artistic circles". The closing memorial ceremony was held at his grave site (my thanks to poet Valery Petrovskiy for the links).

    Lastly, the editor Vavilon, Russian poet, critic, and publisher Dmitry Kuzmin had written, in response to my post re: Aygi's poetry translations into languages other than English, to say that he has made 10 poems available tri-lingually (in Russian, German, along with recordings of Aygi reading them,) a great opportunity to hear the Voice of the Poet! at LyricLine [clicking on pull down menu will take you to the other poems; the first here is "Now There Are Always Snows" we have previously discussed.]

  54. It is time to say "A-dieu," "vaya con Dios," but only for a time. I have appealed for their unique perspectives to a number of Russian and Chuvash poets, and to Gennady's younger sister, Eva Nikolaevna Lisina, primarily a children's writer, in both Russian and Chuvash, who has also translated the entire bible into Chuvash (link to her interview on the subject, in Russian). This fascinating conversation (on the work of two decades) concludes with her testimony to her brother's work.

    "У меня огромный архив брата. В архиве тысячи писем. Их надо привести в порядок. Брат просил меня написать книгу. Он говорил: «Напиши, ты же все знаешь». Такую книгу все ждут. И в России, и за рубежом. Так что у меня очень много работы." "My brother's immense archive is in my possession. It contains 1,000 letters alone. They must be put in order. My brother asked me to write a book. He kept saying: 'Write it. You're the one who knows everything.' Everyone is awaiting such a book, both in Russia and abroad. So I have much work that remains to be done."

    I have also asked Peter France to independently post here any details of his own continuing work on the Aygi archive and his unpublished translations for a prospective book of Aygi's prose, his tributes to writers (Kafka, Pasternak, etc.) For my part, I would like to close with the following note, from Gennady's wife Galina, who is herself a translator of German poetry. After his death, her initiative resulted in the following posthumous publications of Aygi's work in Deti Ra, NLO, and Novyi Mir.

    Дорогой Алекс,
    Я пыталась расшифровать тексты Геннадия. Пока мне чем похвастаться. Работаю очень нерегулярно. Очень мало законченных текстов. А как я работаю? Послольку я не профессиональный архивист, больше полагаюсь на интуицию. Кое-что я пару лет тому назад расшифровала и даже гдк-то опубликовала. Но надеюсь найти в себе мужество для этой ответственнейшей работы.
    Желаю Вам успеха, большой привет Питеру и всем Франсам.
    Сердечно - Галина А.

    Dear Alex,

    I have tried to decipher Gennady's manuscripts. So far I have nothing to brag about. I have been working very irregularly. There are very few finished texts. Regarding my method of work? In as much as I am not a professional archivist, I rely primarily on intuition. A couple of years ago, I managed to decipher something or other, and even to publish it here and there. Still. I hope to find in myself reserves of courage to persist in this work of heavy responsibility.

    I wish you success; a huge hello to Peter and all the Frances.

    Heartily yours, Galina A.

  55. In closing, I would like to honor Peter France's suggestion that we hear one more time, in this, his previously unpublished translation, Gennady Aygi's own words.


    when the last words were being written
    the night before leaving on white paper alongside a pencil
    by the phloxes on the table –


    not “farewell” – but the heart itself:

    they are ours
    in the earth and the heart:

    (soul – like “thank you” itself:

    for – the Word)


    1. An exceptionally beautiful, transcendent yet compact little poem -- and as coherent as anything that says everything ever can be.

      Indeed a poem that both models and says what I had hoped this exploration of Gennady Aigyi in English might also say about how poetry says, and in saying it how it all sounds a bit like our own e.e.cummings -- how we talk like that too when we talk about some kinds of poetry.

      Finally, I want to thank Alex Cigale specifically for the glimpse he has given us of Peter France as well, the quiet voice, the friendships, the family, the humility combined with the uncanny ability to get under the skin of another artist in the process of translating the untranslatable.

      What a month!



  56. Thank you for bringing us these beautiful poems like this, Alex Cigale.
    And for insisting so.