Mikhail Armalinsky
Vplotnuyu (Close To)

poems in Russian, 1994, 100 p.,
ISBN 0-916201-16-3; $4

Poems from 1964 to 1994 never published before.


Mikhail Armalinsky is a Russian emigre poet and publisher now based in Minneapolis who has scandalized Russian literary circles since his 1986 publication of Alexander Pushkin's "Secret Notes" from 1836-37, the last year of the great poet's life. The pornographic nature of those notes, clearly of a modern Western stripe, drew apoplectic reaction from the Soviet literary authorities who first encountered them. One legal authority, in a sidebar to an article on this "hoax" in Ogonek magazine,

suggested that Armalinsky be castrated for so besmirching the hallowed name of Pushkin. But, of course, the sales of these "notes," now translated and published in English, Italian, German, and French, are guaranteeing the financial viability of Armalinsky's MIP Company, which might otherwise struggle to continue its production of Russian "erotica" (original Russian verse, prose, and translations of works by the Marquis de Sade). Currently, Armalinsky is publicizing his "dare" to Russia's publishers to issue a full and MIP-sanctioned version in Russia, where to date the press has only published unrecompensed excerpts.

Pushkinists worldwide have yet to address the authenticity of the notes per se, as if they feared the consequences of being unable to find a flaw.

Any credence the putative "Pushkin notes" might have is due to the formidability of Armalinsky as a literary scholar and as a poet himself. His formidability as a literary scholar is established by the notes' lack of glaring errors in the reflected details of Pushkin's last year of life. It

is not, after all, an easy matter to fictionalize Pushkin's well-researched life without making substantive errors, as witness Wayne State University Press's factually flawed (and with uncredited poetry translations) 1989 publication of John Oliver Killens's Great Black Russian. In 1990, when Armalinsky published his English edition of the notes, he added a number of textual explanations which offer yet further challenge to prospective debunkers within the community of Pushkinists. Still the challenge is untaken. Yet it is Armalinsky's formidability as a port, well reflected here in the collection Vplotnuiu (Close To), which offers the best explanation of the matter: his clear.feeling of "kinship" with Pushkin and his choice of Pushkin's persona to gain attention for his own literary endeavors, which have, especially since his emigration to the United States in the early 1980s, taken on a pornographic character strikingly similar to the notes he attributes to Pushkin. And it is this similarity which most erodes the credibility of the notes' authenticity. Surely the same mind created both the notes and the poetry here ... and it wasn't Pushkin's. The title of the present collection, "Close To," serves as an indication that the majority of the poems herein deal with various aspects of human intimacy, as indeed do Armalinsky's other nine books by the same publisher (see, for example, Vytas Dukas's review of his prose collection Dvoistvunnye otnosheniia in WLT Spring 1994, p. 389). There are three subtitled sections here: "Antiquarian Things," "Used Things," and "Things Afresh" &endash; with the poems arranged chronologically throughout. The poems of the late 1960s and early 1970s muse considerably on the passage of time, with calendar division (days of the week, months of the year) serving as the main metaphor. Even then, however, problematic human relationships can be seen in Armalinsky's poetry. He likens other people to "mosquitoes, like vampires ... who suck my blood," and he writes that he would like "to kill them, with impunity, like mosquitoes."

By 1981 his problematic human relations take on a decidedly misogynistic character, a reflection, it is easy to opine, of the obsession with Western pornography he acquired after his emigration to the U.S. This obsession, an addiction clear and simple, leads him to objectify women as sexual objects and to equate them with their genitalia.

Evidence of this is rife in the later sections of the collection, in the poems written after his emigration.

As mentioned above, one is struck by the similarity of Armalinsky's own observations with those his publication of the notes has attributed to Pushkin. His "Gospel from Me" mentions that he "feels sorry for Jesus Christ," who was crucified because he "didn't take to fucking" the harlot Maria who offered herself to him. This reminds one of the notes' discussion of how "Christ was ignorant of lust.

. . And if he did not commit adultery, it is only because he aimed to fuck her but she did not excite him." Later he states that "women are good only for fucking ... all to one person the same, only different by pussy." This disjunction of a woman from her genitalia is similarly expressed in the notes where "Pushkin" expresses the opinion that a woman's "soul resides in the pussy and not in the heart."

What we have here is a very expressive poet, and one very competent in form. He is capable of innovative rhyme, as in the macaronic Russian "s mysl'iu" (with the thought) and the English "I miss you." He experiments in

five-line stanzas and in cleverly syncopated sound textures. His message is never opaque and is arrestingly expressed. However, he has let a modern illness, pornography addiction, cause him to take his poetic expression to

places most of us do not want to go. He apparently has ambivalent feelings about this. On the one hand he takes pride in the scandal he has caused, writing of his creative rationale: "They were reading for fun, / My life they didn't notice&endash; / Tongues held behind their teeth. / So I beat them out of it so they couldn't be silent." This same pride motivated Eduard Limonov, in his Diary of a Loser (see, for example, my review in WLT 58:2, p. 834), to write the one-line poem "They were singing an opera, and I came in," itself a conceited formal parody of Valeri Briusov's famous one-liner (from Chefs d'auvres, 1897), "0 close thy pale legs." On the other hand, there is some internal indication that Armalinsky realizes the nature of his addiction when he writes: "I feel that I've fallen into a circle, like a cell, the repetitions of which there is no way out of." It should be noted that Armalinsky's disease is our disease, and that since it infected Armalinsky it has spread to his homeland as well. Let's hope for his sake, and ours, that a care is found soon.

Lee B. Croft
Arizona State University