Posle proshlogo (After the Past),
in Russian, poems, 1982; 108 p., $4
Cover by Alek Buzhaker
The poems in this book were written after Mikhail Armalinsky emigrated to the United States in 1976.
WORLD LITERATURE TODAY, USA, Summer, 1983, page 478-479.
Exile in the West does not appear to have been beneficial for this Soviet poet. His latest poetry collection reveals a tormented personal past and a gloomy outlook on the human condition, although there are sparks of wonder and celebration when "life" is taken in its cyclic permutations or in the yet wider perspective of the cosmos. As the title "After the Past" suggests, Armalinsky reexamines and contemplates the state of his existence since his departure from the Soviet Union five years ago. The balance sheet he draws is pessimistic and has cynical overtones here and there. He has concluded, for example, that "with each passing year life grows more tragic," that life "thwarts the realization of his dream." Armalinsky never makes quite clear what that "dream" is, but he does convey most powerfully his growing awareness that he has been irretrievably separated from some central purpose and expectation in life. Further, his experience has taught him that God remains aloof to prayers, while "the devil [duly] listens to that which is being prayed for . . . / in order to deny it." The poet also finds no consolation in people: "I don't get along with folks," for they live in "falsehood and blindness." In his desperation, he at times longs for the past he denounced so vehemently in his previous book (see WLT Fall, 1981, p. 691): "I wish so much to lie down on a bed / and reminisce to tears about the past."
A gamut of obvious reasons has, in part, caused the poet's disenchantment and depression. In a way that matters, he has been unable to find what he has been seeking in life. His beliefs have deceived him: "I am disgusted with that grand fantasy" (again undefined). For a number of years he has perceived life as "a painfully irreversible process," but in yet another deception, memory, or the intransigent besoin d'absolu, made him ignore that truth." He is perpetually revolted by such self-absorption and seething inner discontent.
The details of reality in the free world as presented by Armalinsky are oblique and impure, with all the trash and vulgarity licensed by capitalism (though Armalinsky diligently avoids condemnation of the West). However, like many others, he is disconcerted by the West's self-indulgence, promiscuity, psychobabble and especially marijuana, which he feels makes its users behave like zombies. He also finds it impossible to remain indifferent toward the incongruous, often sinister appearance of billboards dominating the skylines along with supermarkets and freeways; but here too there is no trace of criticism or sarcasm. For example, the poet does not understand the absence of feeling in the American way of life, yet he recognizes that the matter-of-fact attitude accounts for the efficiency: "one cannot sweeten [things] with feeling." He concludes that the emptiness in American life matches his own profound anguish.
In this respect, Armalinsky's problem is that of all those who have come to the pragmatic, dynamic New World from cultures of traditionally greater spirituality. His metaphysical considerations are not unlike those of Sologub, Blok or Esenin, to mention only a very few from that stream of Russian poetry where pessimism has always been rampant. Armalinsky is, to be sure, a craftsman in his art; no matter what the subject matter, he distills purity of feeling and achieves clarity of concept &endash; both of which are so pivotal to good poetry.
Yuri Vidov Karageorge
East Carolina University