Notes on Notes from Underground, Punk and Russian Poetry
We all come out of Gogol's overcoat.
When I read Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground for the first time, it screwed me to my chair for about a week. I was paralysed with a not completely unpleasant terror that when or if I finally pried myself loose, the world would no longer be the brick-and-mortar, what-you-see-is-what-you-get place I had always thought it was. And I was right; when I eventually stepped out into the sunshine, I saw cracks and seams everywhere. I knew for the first time that if I had the right kind of crowbar, I could finally get a good look at the springs and sprockets that made things go.
At the time I was deep into the Austin punk scene and Walter Kaufmann's translation of Notes hit me like a prose rendering of the music I was listening to. I suddenly realized that punk's angry sense of dissatisfaction was not some isolated, transient reaction to a specific set of historical and social circumstances, but rather a valid response to the human predicament. I understood for the first time that I and my ilk had ancestors. We had a geneology stretching back through the ages. In short, I had found my way back home to a place I'd never been, and the freedom of movement that that notion allowed was exhilarating and life-affirming.
Much later, when I found Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces, I realized my world-changing epiphany was not original to me, which only served to confirm its validity.
Whenever I read the Russians I feel a (no doubt undeserved) kinship with them that I only seldom feel with poets of my own country. In the Russians I see a real sense of desperation grown from the country's particular historical, cultural and political realities, and this desperation translates to an uncannily clear-eyed, hard-edged approach to poetics. It is as if poetry is not a chosen response to human suffering (both on the macro and micro scales), but rather the only response.
Below is an extremely truncated list of Russian Poets who can be found in Harris County Public Library's collections
Anna Akhmatova: Selected Poems and Poems
Joseph Brodsky: The Collected Poems in English
Ilya Kaminsky: Legitimate Dangers (anthology) and Dancing in Odessa
Yevgeny Yevtushenko: The Collected Poems: 1952-1990