Several Poems by Feodor Svarovsky in Translation

  1. Feodor

About the Author

Feodor Svarovsky was born in Moscow in 1971. At the age of 19, he emigrated to Denmark. In 1997he returned to Moscow and worked as a journalist and editor at Vedomosti, then at the Paulsen Publishing House and Esquire. In 2007, he published his first book of poetry Все хотят быть роботами (Everybody Wants to Be a Robot). He is also the author of Путешественники во времени (Time Travelers, 2009); Слава героям (Glory to the Heroes, 2015). In 2011, Svarovsky participated in PEN’s New Voices reading series at the National Arts Club in NYC. He currently lives in Montenegro.

We are pleased to introduce several poems by Feodor Svarovsky in translation. Among the diverse and vibrant voices of Russian poetry today, Svarovsky’s poetry nevertheless stands out immediately with its fantastic adventurous spirit and unusual poetic manner. As soon as Svarovsky’s first book Все хотят быть роботами was published in 2007, it was instantly noticed by literary critics and readers alike, nominated for the Andrei Belyi Prize, and received the prestigious Moskovskiy Schet award for a debut book of poetry.

Starting with his first published book, Svarovsky has played a significant role as a proponent of the revival of the ballad genre, or narrative poetry written in an “epic” mode. It is often defined as a “new epos” in the process of genre renewal in the past decade. Its major features include narrative text without an author’s linear voice or lyrical statement, a predominance of metaphysical meanings and unusual topics, as well as a fascinating plot (Manifesto, 2008).

This poetry, post-modernist in its nature, often referrers to metaphysical forces beyond the control of an individual. It represents an original artistic approach to understanding a complex reality as a scene of the interaction of different forces and actors. This tendency in Russian poetry continues and flourishes in recent days. Many contemporary poets explore the long ballad genre at the new level of metaphysical comprehension of the world. Among them are poets like Maria Stepanova, Leonid Schwab, Arseny Rovinsky, Linor Goralik, Pavel Goldin, Andrei Rodionov, Sergei Kruglov,  and others.

Svarovsky’s first works were extraordinary and sometimes grotesque – they introduced topics unusual for Russian poetry; their heroes were robots fighting in civil wars, aliens stuck in Moscow’s suburbs, or post-Soviet warriors acting in extraordinary circumstances and sometimes in a timeless space. Within the poetic space of Svarovsky’s first book, Все хотят быть роботами, humans and robots, heroes and villains interact in bizarre circumstances, moving freely in time and space. Besides the unusual plot, some critics immediately noted the conventional features typical to postmodern Anglophone literature such as a fragmented narrative, paradox, dry humor, and irony.

One of the distinguishing features of his first book was its attribution of infinite human emotions to robots that expanded the poetic space to a universal dimension:

знаешь
у роботов ангелов нет
никто не беспокоится
не летит
не закрывает
невидимыми крыльями
нас в пути
поэтому в тяжёлый момент мы обращаемся напрямую
и вот я прошу
кислоты и воды
но
главное
я тоскую

you know
robots have no angels
nobody worries
nobody follows us
or covers us with
their invisible wings
on our path
so, at challenging times
we deal directly
and here I am begging for
acid and water
but
above all
I am yearning

Written as modern-day ballads without an author’s visible presence, Svarovsky’s poems turned out to be consonant with aesthetic requirements of postmodern literature. The unusual entourage and heroes, space pirates, robots participating in galactic wars, and humans interacting with robots, miraculously responded to the public’s desire for literary forms and heroes outside of the familiar lyrical standard. This debut brought deserved fame to Svarovsky; many his poems became popular among readers.

The rationale for this phenomenon is not just the author’s poetic gift, but also his poetic style and appeal to readers’ imagination. Svarovsky explained: “The author describes events whose reality or apparent fiction does not matter for achievement of the aesthetic effect since the main goal of the ‘new epic’ is mostly artistic  – to cause an aesthetic, emotional, or intellectual reflection” (Manifesto, 2008).

The heroes of Svarovsky’s poems, similar to heroes of ancient tragedies, often face a difficult choice and sacrifice themselves. The poet’s detached voice infuses emotions beyond our comprehension. Behind the fascinating plot is a hidden ageless epic story about the individual overcoming despair and tragic circumstances. The entertainment turns to compassion and readers are captivated by a dramatic story,  like the poem “Mongolia” about the incredible bond of the old warrior-robot and a little Japanese girl, Aiko, in an empty land devastated by endless wars (Everybody Wants to Be a Robot). As a result, we react to the fantastic events in Svarovsky’s poems as though they have happened in reality, and indeed all of us are coexisting in one complex universe, where time and space, and nature are interconnected.

In Svarovsky’s recently published book, Glory to the Heroes (2015), new themes and metaphorical systems appeared. In the foreword to the book, Oleg Pashenko stressed that Svarovsky became more candid talking about his Christian eschatological ideas, among them the “image of water, sea or seashore as the Kingdom of God.”

His poetic style has become more sophisticated and reflected new ontological dimension of reality , “when a person sitting in front of the screen, writing or reading, and at the same time swimming or diving in the notional sea in such a way that the reality is not alien but exists as an additional dimension, as another layer of ontological freedom” (Pashenko,  Foreword).

In an interview with Sergei Sdobnov about his book (Colta, Oct.25 2015), Svarovsky emphasized that ”for the postmodern and other consequent paradigms, time does not exist; like any other categories, it is an easily controllable part of artistic creation. Since the author isn’t identified with the text, his or her personal sense of time isn’t important.” In this regard, his poetry is consonant with the works of Russian postmodern prose writers like Mikhail Shishkin, Valery Votrin, and others. The objects there are just approximations of an ideal world.

Timelessness and the idea of the universal world where people are coexisting in absolute harmony with all living beings is embodied into his poetic texts. It resonates with Plato’s idealistic concept about the unity of all things, but it is also an essential part of the poet’s Christian perception of the world:

life is love
people are immortal
and glory
glory to the heroes

All of this makes Svarovsky’s poetry in tune with our times when we all suddenly realize that the continuation of humanity’s existence depends on harmony with nature, on not abusing animals or other living beings, on the love and heroism of many unnamed heroes fighting for all of us. It may sound unrealistic in today’s world, but after all, only poetry is capable of explaining life in its entirety.

When the Antarctic ice will melt

we’ll be happy
after many rainfalls
dry bones will become wet
all gardens will bloom
on the Queen Maud land
on the Queen Victoria Peninsula –
there are white tents in the wind
and meadows stretch from one mere to another –
the bird snatches fish and bread from our hands
everything’ll be fine
all the dead will come back to life
all the good
except for the bad
oh, glass cities
oh, the earth rising from the ice
his majesty the emperor
is swinging
ankle-deep in warm water
walking
towards the green coast

just a penguin
imperial

Authentic poetry always loses some of its beauty and magic in translation, but we have tried to keep the originality of the poetic texts and the author’s voice as much as possible.

Elena Dimov
Charlottesville, 2020

Day at the zoo

1.

we went to the zoo
but we didn’t see a crocodile
because he was lying at the bottom of a concrete pit
and didn’t float up
and we didn’t see the hippo either
my parents said: look, there are his ears and nostrils
but I saw
neither ears
nor nostrils,
polar bears
and brown bears alike sat in their cages
the giraffe was cold
and didn’t come out
monkeys and lemurs were hiding
eagles were sleeping
capybaras were peeking out of their homes
with their backs to the audience
the elephant was standing in the distance
and it was hard to see him
just some pointless
deer
and bulls
which could be seen everywhere
were posturing in plain sight
all of a sudden, I’ve got an upset stomach.
and they didn’t buy cotton candy for me

it was Saturday
on my birthday
seventy-two-and-a-half years
ago

2.

it was a special day
everything went awry from the start
giraffe had a stomach ache
crocodile had a toothache
monkeys and lemurs were bored and cold
eagles were sad and cold
capybaras were sleepy and cold
hippo was cold
brown bears were cold
and even polar bears were cold
and the elephant was appalled
deer and bulls
wandered in some despair
nobody remembers now who it was
but one of the animals
or not of them
but definitely someone
said:
Animals, so be it, it is okay,
one day it will end
it will be over
and we’ll go
home

Alice and Tiger

In my early childhood
it was absolutely necessary

to keep a super small dog
the size of my pinky

and honestly

a similarly sized little girl
so, they fit in my pocket

the dog was called Tiger
and the girl’s name was Alice
I loved them

I wanted to own a swimming pool too
but a weird-shaped one
long

with curves
with the houses
under the water

where we would be at home
and there
we would swim between the walls
in the crystal water
devoted to each other until death
and absolutely immortal

Glory to the Heroes

four Canadians
saved the world from a genetic catastrophe
one Armenian invented a new type of rocket fuel
and a treatment for cancer
one Russian sacrificed himself
he shut down the reactor and saved the international space station
one Englishman gave his liver to a wounded journalist
who came back from the California coup
one Tatar during the ethnic conflict in Southeast Asia
saved 240 Malaysian babies
one Frenchwoman died for the freedom of Phobos in the dungeons
of Deimos
one Cardian
was supposed to attack Earth on a neutrino-driven ship
but
after seeing the blue planet
he turned the ship toward the sun
life is love
people are immortal
and glory
glory to the heroes

Слава героям

четыре канадца спасли мир от генетической катастрофы
один армянин изобрёл новый вид ракетного топлива
и лекарство от рака
один русский пожертвовал собой
отключил реактор и спас международную космическую станцию
один англичанин отдал свою печень раненной журналистке
вернувшейся после переворота в Калифорнии
один татарин во время этнического конфликта
в Юго-Восточной Азии спас 240 малайских младенцев
одна француженка умерла за свободу Фобоса в застенках
Деймоса
один картадианин
должен был атаковать Землю на корабле с нейтринным приводом
но
увидев синюю планету
он развернул корабль в сторону солнца
жизнь есть любовь
люди бессмертны
и слава
слава героям

Brothers     

the elephant would never
start fighting the whale

not that the whale is stronger than the elephant
it’s that a war between them is impossible

these animals are brothers
together they swim under the water

the whale is young
and lively
the elephant is jovial and young

the whale’s fin cuts through currents in the depths
the elephant’s trunk flaps overhead

mermaids glide after them
they are the people and gorillas’ brothers

Aristotle
wrote about it

and Plato at the Academy spoke
of it

 

Translated by Elena Dimov






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