Mikhail Armalinsky
Po napravleniyu k sebe (Toward Myself)
poems, 1980, 106 p.; $3

Cover by Alek Buzhaker

All poems in this book were written in Leningrad from 1972 to 1976.
First published in the USA in 1980.

WORLD LITERATURE TODAY, USA, Fall, 1981, page 691.

Mikhail Armalinsky's "Toward Myself," his fourth book of poetry, is a poignant, introspective scrutiny as well as a reflection!on some aspects of contemporary Soviet reality.

The major themes of the search for spirituality and true identity, love, and the dehumanization of modern society are developed in eight groups of poems entitled "Questionable Entity," "Companion in Arms," "The Self-Sounding Chime," "The Bounding Thoughts of Life," "The Dungeon of Light, " "The Time of Quietude." "The Remains of Love" and "Light Can Resound."

The opening poem might represent an assessment of Armalinsky's underlying malaise: the duality of human nature that misalliance of spirituality and corporality which perpetuates the difficulty of defining the essence of man. The poet believes that this essence is the "spirit," lodged in that questionable entity, the body. But he is nevertheless intrigued by the mystery of the flesh. It has taught us pain, and pain is all we know about it. His frustration resolves itself in the realization, "And so the cathedral is sanctified / only because of the celebration of the Mass." On love, Armalinsky projects a mythical allusion of the role of women in men's lives. Beyond the embrace, she could be a "dolphin savior," as well as the anima providing a solid ground.

In this volume of poetry the sterility of the mechanized Soviet landscape reflects the shallowness and anonymity of the throng that populates it: the "erected cranes" standing "like ominous sentries," the "hardware chaos / and multitude of garages," the "abscess of plants and factories" and the "anesthetizing light of the lampposts." It is the environment which destroys humanism. The individual person has been replaced by a "swarming mob" from which the poet is alienated: "To the throng I am a dubious catch / It gives me no pleasure to be with it; in turn, the crowd distrusts me."

Human kindness and love play no part in the ethos of this society. Except for one's parents and the (mostly pragmatic) love of a woman, human warmth appears to limit itself to chatter and the pleasure of smoking ill groups.

However, it should be noted that neither bitterness nor pessimism permeates these poems. Armalinsky knows that the business of man is to live, even when his lot is that of Sisyphus. His effort is focused on pointing out the mutations that have taken place in society as well as the very forces which have caused them. The most impressive quality of Armalinsky's work is the originality and clarity of his poetic expression. Ideas and images are translated here into a rich, accurate language. This poet's work is indubitably worthy of translation.

Yuri Vidov Karageorge

New York