(THE CHRONICLE OF A MOMENT)
Poems in Russian 1994 - 1997
ISBN 0-916201-21-X; 1997, 92 pages, $5
Mikhail Armalinsky became recognized world wide for his publication in the USA of the Secret Journal 1836-1837 by A. S. Pushkin. M. Armalinsky is the only emigrant author who’s works are still banned in Russia. This new book of Armalinsky's stunning poetry not only shows new facets of his talent but reveals the reasons why such a ban is imposed.
WORLD LITERATURE TODAY, Winter 1998
Mikhail Armalinsky has acquired some notoriety as a writer, translator, and editor of erotica. He is also a remarkable poet. His newest volume lives up to its title, "Biography of a Moment," which is also the last line of the last poem, in which the poet's only defense against oblivion is perceived as "meticulous, never-ending work - biography of a moment." This squares with what Ryszard Przybylski said in trying to define the poetry of Osip Mandelstam as a pursuit of "a moment of eternity."
In the next-to-last poem, an Exegri monumentum of sorts, Armalinsky says that he "guffawed, blasphemed, and used coarse language" and "would tear off the cover of shame when used as a disguise." In fact, he treats of the same topics as his genteel predecessors, the poets of the Silver Age: man's search for God, chronos and eternity, the excluded middle between love and hatred, life and death, the poet's calling, and so forth. However, his answers to these questions are not metaphysical or philosophical, but bluntly positivist, preferably biological or medical: "God is that which no single human could think through to the end but science will." A poem about the death of an elderly patient in a hospital is utterly prosaic, but just as strong as Pasternak's famous "In the Hospital." Love is described as either a mirage ("Romance on Order") or as a masquerade of sex, though it may be very attractive. In "A Fable" Armalinsky twists Mandelstam's conceit of "the rose who was earth" around to suggest that the rose's beauty depends on the manure it is fed, the moral being that a beautiful woman's attractiveness may be enhanced by her "unclean thoughts."
Poetry is reduced to "flight from prose" - it is composed of the same old words, but rearranged. Nevertheless, Armalinsky has some excellent nature poems covering all four seasons (as could be expected, fall and winter are favored). Whenever he chooses to do so, Armalinsky can produce impressive sound effects. For example, in a short poem about a leaf's path that takes it from the crown of a tree and the light of heaven down to rot and become a part of the crust of the Earth, he elegantly puns "Sisley, the pointilliste" with puti lista, "path of the leaf" to create a link between the two parts of the poem. Sometimes his puns rum into mere language games: the only point of the poem on page 17 is that it starts with the word lobzik (fretsaw) and ends with lob bzik (front quirk). As for erotica, there are quite a few, some not to everybody's taste. In one poem, "Brodsky Was a Genius," Armalinsky belittles himself, but he does have some of Brodsky's virtues, including a firm grasp of world literature, to which he often refers; the first poem discussed here, for example, alludes to The Catcher in the Rye.