Orbita – Reconfiguring Contemporary Dialogue

Orbita: The Project, Semyon Khanin, Sergej Timofeyev, Vladimir Svetlov, Artūrs Punte, translated by Kevin M.F. Platt with colab. (166pp., Arc Publications)

Orbita is a creative collective/group of Latvian poets writing in Russian which attempts and succeeds to reconfigure the contemporary dialogue between culture and creative genres. This refreshing poetry collection is an unpredictable Latvian cultural project rather than a straightforward poetry anthology; a cross between concrete poetry, poetry installation and art gallery.

In terms of historical anchors, Orbita invites me revisit directions proposed by the Black Mountain School and then look back at the British movements like the Gloucester Movement, the Westminster Group and the Scottish group headed by Ian Hamilton Finlay. However, the achievement of this innovative and remarkable anthology comes from the precision with which the four poets define, as Tony Ward mentions in the preface, a cultural path ‘the UK poets of a half a century ago dreamed of but never achieved.’

Semion Khanin, Sergej Timofeyev, Vladimir Svetlov and Artūrs Punte write in Russian and their work is translated by Kevin Platt in collaboration with many other translators and academics. A mark of the project’s complexity and relevance, as well as its polyphonic orchestration.

In Orbita, nothing should be excluded; each poem, photograph, installation are equal attributes in an unitary aesthetic discourse. The humour is dark, with vibrant tones reflected in linguistic choices:

do not think he is homeless
he simply lost his keys
and for the past four months he’s been sleeping
in front of a furniture store.
(Semion Khanin, p 28)

Khanin sets the anthology’s visionary axiom placing the reader at the centre of his preoccupation, as both reader and poet are  ‘surrogate brothers and sisters / related by reason.’ (***, p. 18) His intention is to ‘tell you a story from when I was still a burglar’ (p. 19) but the story unfolds ‘in state of zero gravity’ when ‘motionless on the sofa / and everything within fogs up with your breathing’. (p. 30)

The deictic centre expands with Sergej Timofejev and becomes spatial deixis. The locative space is the world where:

a dog softly barks
at a passing cyclist.
With restraint, the weather grows worse
and the barn falls apart.
Water pours modestly from the tap
not splashing and disappearing in the drain almost at once’
and where during a radio interview ‘a pianist answers every question
with ‘yes’ and no.’
(‘Morning in a Land of Introverts’, p.35)

Timofejev’s preoccupation to formulate the daily existence’s boundaries emerges, indoor again, when observing the quotidian. The present is defined by isolation, routine and angst:

I got to my own place and went to bed.
Woke up in the morning; it was Monday; and I lay face down
On the pillow and waited, but nothing special was happening;
So I got up, showered and went to work.’
(‘Quiet God’, p.36-37)

And so is the literary world:

Write me a novel
That will tell of another novel
All the same I’ll read neither one nor the other –
I’ll depart for Manchuria and perish for nothing.’
(‘Popular Song for Ukulele’, p.45)

Vladimir Svetlov who focuses his poetics on the practical aspects of consumerism similarly negotiates this metaphysical drive:

like a gift for loyalty
to repeat customers
we have been given these days
(‘Hit Parade’ p.63)

Svetlov’s discourse is direct and urgent, placed as critical question about the meaning of our contemporary socio-cultural preoccupations: ‘have you noticed we use the word “to tell” about posts in FB?’ His irony poses a destabilizing threat to our hierarchy of values…[the full review, in Stride Magazine.]

©Maria Stadnicka, 2018

 

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