Nationality: Russia

Potets (The Sweater) by Alexander Vvedensky

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This masterful animation by Alexander Fedulov is of the Russian Absurdist Alexander Vvedensky’s poem “Potets,” “The Sweater” or, rather, a neologism for “He Who Sweats,” referring to “death’s dew.” I had previously translated Vvedensky’s powerful prison prose (which stands up well, I think, in comparison to Kafka and Camus) as well as a different long poem, “The Meaning of the Sea” (as yet unpublished). I suggest reading the former to get a sense of the proto-existential themes particular to all of Vvedensky’s work (“I’m dying…. I’m dying.”) From his late 20s, Vvedensky (1904-1941) faced repeated arrest, perishing in transport to one of Stalin’s Gulag concentration camps. His insistent trochees of course represent a sense of the absurdity and powerlessness before such impersonal forces of doom.

Fedulov’s work here is a prime example of Russian animation’s long and honored tradition. His imagery, inspired by Vvedensky’s other poems, such as “The Meaning of the Sea,” speaks well for the work as a whole and I will only offer my translation of a few of the beginning verses (through minute 3:00 of film) as a way into the poem; its insistent driving rhythms, what Frost had called “sound sense,” say most of what can be said about life’s irrevocability.

“The sons cease their dancing — you can’t have fun forever, and quieting down sit silently by the father’s extinguished bedside. They look into his fading eyes. They want to repeat everything. The father expires. He becomes engorged like a cluster of grapes. We are afraid to keep looking at what is called his face. The sons covertly and silently enter each into his own superstitious wall.” So ends Part 1 (of 3) at minute 7:00 with the following message slowly revealed in materializing letters: “The Sweat is the cold perspiration that is produced on the forehead of a dying man. It is the dew of death; that is the meaning of The Sweat.”

And here is the beginning of Part 1:

The sons stood by the wall, their feet sparkling
shod in spurs. They turned joyful and intoned:

Divulge to us, oh dearest father,
What is the meaning of a Sweater.

The father, sparkling with his eyes, replied:

My sons I say, do not confuse
Day’s end with daughter of spring.
The Sweat is terrible, grey and blue.
I’m your father, angel, and saint.
I’m acquainted with his cruelty,
My own death is drawing near,
On my head can be seen gaping
Tufts of hair, bald spots, melancholy.
And if life continues then soon enough
None of the following will remain,
Neither falcon nor a single hair.
Just to know that death is nigh,
Knowledge, sight is woe and blight.

The sons, having rung the church bells,
Began to thunder into their tongues.
We’re asking about something else entirely!
We are wearing out our thoughts like imps.
Will you just tell us already father,
What is the meaning of a Sweater.

And the father exclaimed: the Prologue!
In the Prologue, the main thing is God.
Now my sons you must go to sleep
So that your answer comes in dreams….

The verse sections alternate with scenario-like prose paragraphs in the manner of a play (which are acted out as interludes in the animated film without being sounded). An example from the beginning of part 2: “The father hovers over the writing table, but do not think that he’s a spirit.” And a bit later: “The father ceases to speak in verses and lights up a candle, holding it in his teeth like a flute. At the same time he slides into the armchair like a pillow.” And so forth; until the final words: “But of course, we knew all this from the beginning.”

See the complete text of “Potets” in Russian. For full credits on the film, see the notes at Vimeo. For more on Vvedensky, in addition to Alex’s translation of his prison prose mentioned above, see also “Vvedensky in Love” by Thomas Epstein and Eugene Ostashevsky’s translation of “The Demise of the Sea.” And for more on Alexander Fedulov, see the Russian-language blog maintained by his son, Kirill Fedulov.

Sveta by Sergey Timofeyev

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Diana Palijchuk is the animator, and Arthur Punte did the montage. I found a Facebook page for the author, and he is indeed Latvian — the first to be included on Moving Poems — though, I presume, an ethnic Russian (his poems are in Russian).

Velimir Khlebnikov: Children of the Otter

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Contemporary Russian composer Vladimir Martynov discusses his suite, Children of the Otter, which incorporates Tuvan music and throat-singing, and is based upon the “supersaga” of the same title (also translated as “Otter’s Children”) by the early 20th-century Russian futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov. The interview was conducted shortly before the premiere of the work in the city of Perm, near the Ural mountains, last September. The Vimeo page describes the background of the piece in considerable detail.

The story of “Children of the Otter” began in the summer of 2008 when producers Vladimir Oboronko and Alexander Cheparukhin, long-time friends and GreenWave Music partners, approached a renowned Russian contemporary composer Vladimir Martynov.

The idea was very simple: create a composition that would blend ancient sound of Tuvan folk music with the sound of contemporary chamber orchestra.

The Tuvan side of the music would be represented by Huun Huur Tu, the foremost Tuvan band, with which Cheparukhin had been working since the early 1990s and Oboronko joined him in 2005. The contemporary side of the music would be represented by Vladimir Martynov’s composing and Moscow chamber orchestra Opus Posth’s performing.

Vladimir Martynov agreed to work on the project during the first meeting. He knew Huun Huur Tu’s music, saw them live, and was excited about using contemporary composing techniques to blend the ancient Tuvan sound with avant-garde sensibilities of Opus Posth.

He wrote a composition for Huun Huur Tu, Opus Posth, and choir, and also incorporated poetry of Velimir Khlebnikov, famous Russian futurist poet of early 20th century. The composition was named “Children of the Otter” after the name of one of Khlebnikov’s poems.

Excerpts from the 75-minute composition. Again, see the video description for full details. A DVD of the performance is slated for release this month.

“Falling ill…” by Anna Akhmatova

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A 1922 poem by Akhmatova turned into an art song by Russian-Israeli composer Zlata Razdolina, who is also the singer and videographer. According to her website, “Most of her repertoire of more than six hundred romances and songs is composed of the famous Russian classical poets, A. Akhmatova, N.Gumilyov, O. Mandelstam, M. Tsvetayeva, A. Blok, I. Severyanin, S.Yesenin and others.”

The English translation used for the subtitles is by Judith Hemschemeyer.