Two Poets—Stephanie Young & Kirill Medvedev

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Stephanie Young

Stephanie Young lives and works in Oakland, California. Her most recent book is  It’s No Good Everything’s Bad, which charts the growing crisis of the new intellectual working class. Revealing important truths about labor in direct poetic form, Young’s work was recently featured on Hyperallergic. Her collections of poetry include Telling the Future Off (2005), Picture Palace (In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni, 2008), and Ursula or University (2013). She edited the anthology Bay Poetics (2006) and is a founding editor of the online anthology/“museum” of Oakland, Deep Oakland. Young and poet Juliana Spahr coedited the book A Megaphone: Some Enactments, Some Numbers, and Some Essays about the Continued Usefulness of Crotchless-pants-and-a-machine-gun Feminism (2012), a collection of “enactments” investigating politics, feminism, and collaborative poetry practice that the pair performed between 2005 and 2007. She is a member of the Krupskaya small press publishing collective.
Stephanie Young wrote It’s No Good Everything’s Bad during a few pressured weeks at Mills, which included health complications, the women’s gender strike, non-profits arts fundraisers, and researching 1970s feminist health collectives. Her long poem deliberates on gender, revolution, money, and the medical-industrial complex.
She says of the book: “If someone else had not already written a book called Seizing the Means of Reproduction, I would say this poem would like to seize the means of reproduction.”

 

IT’S NO GOOD EVERYTHING’S BAD

the day of the gender strike I stayed in bed
with my ruptured ovarian cyst
hot water bottle and spreadsheet

in my t-shirt with a holstered gun
printed in gray, strapped across the right tit
above where I felt the pain
but it burst on the left

What can I say about a ruptured ovarian cyst that someone hasn’t already bitterly reported
on the Sutter Health Alta Bates ER Yelp page?

I’m guessing there were plenty of men also in bed that day
with a heating pad and menstrual cramps
women with testicles twisting on the spermatic cord
cutting off the blood supply
people with kidney stones with severe pain in the side and back below the ribs
pain that spreads to the lower abdomen and groin

it was the week Representative Jason Chaffetz suggested people should invest in their own
health care instead of getting a new iphone

the week wikileaks leaked stuff about how the CIA can turn your television into a
recording device

and someone said “I’m always on strike, I’m a poet“

in his 2004 essay MY FASCISM Kirill Medvedev says you can see how a person can become kind
of crazy from all the various ideological streams moving through his mind in impossibly quick succession

this sort of person should definitely make art, not journalism, so as not to poison people
with trash ideas before you yourself see that they are false, dangerous, and disgusting

I did some budget calculations on international women’s day
and talked on the phone with students
financial aid has more to do with being a poet than many want to admit

I guess you could say it was a makeup day for the cyst
which got there before me on Monday or who knows when
interrupting work but still I wouldn’t take off sick
no matter how much it burst, or hurt me

I’m always working
but I had a choice

so I lay in bed and read It’s No Good
Kirill’s poems and essays translated by Keith Gessen
then got up, started to write this

at the reading the day before the strike Kirill said the thing he likes about translation
is the inherent critique of private property, the fact that anyone can take his work
and do something else with it

his translation practice began with Bukowski
a different figure in Russia I think
almost Sylvia Plath

I never know what to say when a young femme poet names Bukowski as influence
or obsession but almost invariably the writing turns out to be good

I can’t claim this is a translation of Kirill’s translation of Bukowski
or the way Bukowski appears in Kirill’s early poems
back into english as Bernadette Mayer

but I can suggest it

so friends! Hold the bloody sponge up! for all to see!
the bedpan they turned over and propped me up with for a pelvic exam
because the room didn’t have a bed with stirrups
the fear a doctor would say there’s nothing wrong with you
you’re just constipated
something I’ve been told before
sometimes that was true

the handyman always blames tampons
when the pipes back up and leak sewage in the basement

the Saturday before I went with my husband to a philanthropic gala
to benefit the theater that pays his wages
we took Lyft to a large hotel on a hill
recently purchased and renovated by the Wyndham Group

people say the hotel is haunted
and tunnels beneath it from prohibition run all the way to Shattuck

the gala began with a reception for corporate sponsors
in a formerly private room built by a backer of the hotel
who once half climbed Everest and built the room in homage,
as the concierge put it, to that culture

the walls of that room are blue, deep, and Aegan
its windows look out over the bay and a swimming pool below

one corporate sponsor noted it must have been a little cold to swim
another thought the pool was heated

to this I added it’s always nice to swim in a warm pool of water
while clouds move across the land pushing cold air before them
driving rain onto your head

as we spoke palm trees waved around in the air
causing me to get carried away
inciting the observation that this deep blue room
looking out as it does on a green vista
evoked the subject of that evenig’s money, the theater, exactly

in 2003 Kirill refused to participate in literary projects
organized or financed by government or cultural bureaucrats
then a few years later refused all public readings, gave up copyright
his work could only be released as pirated editions, without permission

in 2005 his poems were full of people on the street, in the train station
full of fantasies between people in dense public spaces in Moscow, his homeland

how one hates the people who destroy one’s homeland
who come in with containers and stack them
install glass doors, sell smoothies

even though it was never mine
as Kirill writes, how many times will we say about our homeland
our sometimes cruel but in the end beloved homeland:

THIS FUCKING COUNTRY

those poems remind me a little of Paris Spleen or A Season In Hell
except his baby son is there too
and intellectual girls with sharp tongues
the kind he likes

[..]

in 2012 Kirill wrote if you’re having some problems, or feeling sad, I recommend you tkae a weekend
evening and go with a group of antifascists to Myasnitskaya Street, next to the Moo-Moo cafe

I suspect he’s right

he answered Micheline’s question by saying that the danger to be avoided
is for the opposition to feel that they are this heroic minority
who sees the majority as brainwashed
and that if you talk to people and learn more about their story
you’ll see you share much more than you thought possible

I keep striking this answer from the poem then putting it back in

I’m tired of speeches about storytelling’s special value in this moment
I don’t think that’s what he meant but worry some might think so

now it is next week
Kellyanne Conway said she’s not inspector gadget
she doesn’t believe people are using microwaves to spy on the Trump campaign

in the poem about buying a condom Kirill guesses the cashier at the kiosk
must think he’s up early and needs to fuck, imagines
telling the Turkish worker standing in line next to him
what the condom is actually for

[…]

IT’S NO GOOD EVERYTHING’S BAD
DOUBLE CROSS PRESS

 

Kirill Medvedev

Born in Moscow in 1975, Kirill Medvedev has recently emerged as one of the most exciting, unpredictable voices on the Russian literary scene. Widely published and acclaimed as a poet, he is also is an activist for labor and a member of the Russian Socialist movement Vpered [Forward]. He contributes essays regularly to Chto Delat, and other opposition magazines. His small press, The Free Marxist Publishing House [SMI], has recently released his translations of Pasolini, Eagleton, and Goddard, as well as numerous books at the intersection of literature, art and politics, including a collection of his own essays. IT’S NO GOOD  is Medvedev’s first book in English.
Medvedev performs vocals and guitar in the Arkadiy Kots Band, a riotfolk band based in Moscow that was formed in 2010, and is named after Russian socialist poet Arkady Kots.

 

ATTACK ON CITY HALL

[…]

§

On the way to defend the forest
I thought about powerlessness.
In my mind I turned over the old thought about how
the use of weapons is the sign of powerlessness.
That’s what I was thinking about
when a division of the OMON riot police started coming toward us,
and everyone freaked out, not from a philosophical but from a
very earthly and real feeling of powerlessness.
I giddily recalled a line from some anarchist manifesto
about how only those who have weapons
are able to philosophize about pacifism.
if they just gave us some weapons, I thought, we could do some great
philosophizing about pacifism.
And then suddenly from this apex of our powerlessness a weapon appeared:

We parted and from out of this mass of student-pacifists, useless
intellectuals and local pensioners,
a machine gun started firing.
The OMON troops started falling
like the trees of the Khimki forest.
“But the main thing is for there to be no revolution,“ said the environmentalist Evgenia Chirikova
as we stood over the bloody troops of the riot police wondering what to do next.
“There were fewer people killed during the October Revolution than there were today,“ I said.
“But then consider how many people were killed during the civil war,“ said Mikhail, next to me.
“That’s because the army and the police didn’t come over to the side of the people,“
said someone else nearby,
and then we drank a little vodka,
we all drank for the police and the army
to come over to the side of the people,
that is to say our side,
and at that moment we saw on the highway,
dressed up as OMON fighters
in camouflage suits the color of the forest,
our reinforcements were on their way.

In the summer of 2010, many Russian activists, including Medvedev, became involved in an attempt to keep the government from running the new Moscow-Peterburg highway through the heart of the Khimki forest north of Moscow.

 

§

if you’re having some problems, or feeling sad, I recommend you take a weekend evening
and go with a group of antifascists to Myasnitkaya Street, next to the Moo-Moo Cafe,
and while hearing people honking in the distance start heading for the center,
reach the beautiful empty square at Lubyanka,
pass by the FSB thinking about
how one day we’ll pass by this rotten citadel
in such a way that nothing
will be left of it,
round the corner and find,
to your surprise, that the guards at Lubyanka aren’t reacting at all,
are even, it seems, showing you respect,
reach Kuznetsky Most while shouting “Freedom to Denis Solopov!”
and
“Don’t stop antifa!“
sense with a light euphoria that today the center is ours,
watch as a comrade turns over a metal barricade next to the entrance to the FSB,
watch as he’s attacked by a policeman, watch as those near him pull the policeman off, keep walking down Kuznetsky,
wonder why everyone seems so relaxed
today, reach Tverskaya, all thirty of you,
and block one half of it to traffic before, finally sensing a cop car behind you,
scattering next to Okhotny Ryad,
keep in mind that this is not in the end a panacea,
it’s not even really medicine,
this is a political act and nothing more,
so if you have a problem then after a while
you’ll still have to figure out how to solve your problem,
but antidepressant won’t help anymore, psychotherapy
won’t help, books and CDs won’t help, nothing that you bury your lives into
thinking that this is the sad but only possible fate for a
free human being
will help.

§

The wife of an activist who died under strange circumstances,
though more likely than not it was an accident,
says to me that she literally finds herself shaking
from everything that’s going on, the arrests and the interrogations of activists…
I’m sure you know the story of N, she says.
A labor activist, they planted drugs on him, he got five years.
International campaigns have proved useless.
Yes, i said, I know, of course.
So what can we do, she says, what sort of action can we plan,
so that everyone finds out? What should we do?
And I say, we have two choices. Either we patiently build the
labor unions… or we have to do something really ugly,
because no radical art actions are gong to help here,
are going to get through.
And she says, yes, and then what? We commit a terrorist act? That’s the same thing
right now
as sticking your head out of the trench,
and getting it blown off…
And as for labor unions, she says,
I know the labor activists,
the’re wonderful people, but
it’s all
so slow…
How long will it take,
although, it’s true, it’s the only way.
in the end it’s the labor unions
that are the true workshop of communism.
Yes, I say, right now that’s the situation,
no matter what anyone says,
and who knows what the future may bring, but for the moment
the progressive labor activists have a higher political consciousness
than the intellectuals.
than the professors,
it’s just too bad there are so few of them.
But strategically that’s the most important thing.
She says, You’re right, I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to unionize
the supervisors,
they’re too dependent on their private interests…
Night comes on
the cold streams in, streams in, streams in,
and enters
through the gates, through our sleeves
through our skin
enters our blood,
and somewhere in a warm room
on a soft be on white
sheets
a pretty young mother
is stroking her litttle child
sleep sleep sleep my litttle one
sleep my baby child
sleep sleep don’t listen
to the wind howling
the cars rustling
sleep tighter my little one
gather strength
you’ll need lots of strength
the working class needs brave strong tough fighters
there are difficult times ahead.

 

COMRADE KOTS

You say to me: Baby; I’m scared
you’re going to get caught up
in the arrests
for the May 6 protest.

I say, Look, we’re already in the fire.
There’s nothhing else for us to fear.
You’re registered on Maly Kiselny,
We live together on Nizhny Kiselny,
We live in the center of Moscow,
And so does the FSB.
Torture chambers, the old Cheka basements.
The millions, the billions of ruined lives.

It must be said, it’s a neat system the Bolsheviks created.
My comrades, my intellectual forebears.
And now it’s run by their distant heirs,
Not iron-willed masters, but pathetic losers.
Shady characters, with shady faces.
Though, in their way, not idiots.
And we’re living here with them in this big dormitory
When they see me on the street they say confidently and rudely:

Comrade Kots, how’s it going?
Comrade Kots, where you going?
Comrade Kots, why keep this up,
Comrade Kots, comrade Kots,
comrade, comrade, comrade,
Kots.

I say: Don’t worry, they have nothing on me.
You remember, that was the night we went dancing.
Although you may have seen on Channel One
How I gave that cop a beating, and another one.

But still, I don’t think they take marginal people like
me.
The whole intelligentsia will rise up to defend.
The human rights activists and the EU Parliament,
The Estonian Union of Writers, and the Italian Communists.
You see, that’s why they’re afraid of me,
I don’t know why you’re laughing.
I don’t see why you’re crying.
Everything’s fine, everything’s great, I’m free.
We’re sitting in the kitchen, and it’s almost spring outside.
Although all around us, blocks and blocks of FSB …

Comrade Kots, how it’s going?
Comrade Kots, where you going?
Comrade Kots, why keep this up,
Comrade Kots, comrade Kots,
comrade, comrade, comrade,
Kots.

The largest of the ant-Putin protests took place at Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on May 6, 2012. It was the last of the big protests. In its wake dozens of activists have been arrested and imprisoned on charges to “Bolotnaya.“

 

IN PRAISE OF EVOLUTION

The owner of a factory—underworld nickname: Toothache—sat in a
cafe wondering how he was going to break the labor union.

For a while this was the most important thing in his life.

He was developing some ideas about it when all of a sudden a
group of comrades walked past the cafe bearing a red flag.

The factory owner decided that the revolution had come and he
began to repent, and shed tears, and share his profits with the
workers.

But it turned out the parade was part of a slow evolution, and
there was still plenty of time to exploit, crush, and kill.

IT’S NO GOOD
FITZCARRALDO EDITIONS
TRANSLATED BY KEITH GESSEN WITH MARK KROTOV
CORY MERRILL AND BELLA SHAYEVICH 

 

 

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