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Two Poems by Ilya Kutik

Translated from the Russian by Kutik and Reginald Gibbons.



(Theme and Variations)

If only I knew what new
Keats Time has so intently
fixed in its gaze, licking
its lips with the tongue of its

Pendulum—sharp double-edged plait on the peruke
of Time. Time!—in the reign of which Frederick
or Paul did you stiffen so?—you’re much slower than a hissing fuse
yet as dire and sword-keen as the order to “Fire!”

Oh Son of our Father, deliver me please
from the battlefield of Time!  Even Greek
hoplites at war, each one beating time on his shield,
can’t cut more deeply than his scythe. 

Eye that blade: oh don’t swing it at me, Time!
Yes—like the ghost horseman people sing of in a ballad,
and no matter how fiercely your clock-face may gallop,
I could have tucked toes in stirrups and ridden your pendulum.

I don’t, like Faust, bounce away on a horse’s rump.
I’m no Baron Munchausen soaring on a cannon ball.
The same way proud flesh on a bullet-hole scar will heal,
let’s face it, the face of a clock swells up—convex, meaty—

for in all respects, every thing that’s palpable
grows dense with its corporeal qualities, its feel;
our ideas—like prostheses—fill absence in;
and thus we make the real unknowables (Time; God) unreal.

So no: Leave me my civil right to this metaphysical field
of battle!  I can’t lift an emptiness with no physical weight
or meaning beyond itself!—such as the dumbbell framed
in the safety razor blade!  For the Void that gapes
in the world is as old as the world, and around it,
on it, grows the shape of the world…

Cannon-ball Time—rips flesh from all that’s body.
The empty space that’s left—God. 


Hell & Paradise

Into this midnight, this dark moment,
we have been locked as if into a long matchbox.
In us, Hell and Paradise mingle
like air and smoke in a smoker’s lungs.

Surely they are not poles,
but placed, I assume: Hell next
to Hell, Paradise next to Paradise,
according to the principle and appearance of that box.

But this darkness steps down into the world
and gratuitously an angel of Paradise flies
by and suddenly scratches the sulfur of Hell
so that we can light our cigarettes off its wing.



Ilya Kutik was born in Lviv (Ukraine) and moved to Moscow in 1977. His poetic mentor was the poet Arsenii Tarkovsky (father of the filmmaker, Andrey). In 1990, Kutik was brought to the USA by Allen Ginsberg for his first reading tour here and was supported by Joseph Brodsky for a professorship at Northwestern University (1993), where he is a professor of Russian poetry and film. Ilya Kutik’s poems have been translated into 19 languages (including volumes published in Danish, Swedish, German, English, and Japanese) and are included in the major Russian and translated anthologies of Russian poetry of the 20th century. He is one of the founders of the Russian Metarealist group/school of poets. With audacity and wit and allusiveness, the Metarealists have explored a variety of metaphor that defies reality yet can be understood and even visualized—such as “it’s not the driver’s eyes, but rather the car’s headlights that see the road at night.” (For a brief account, see… https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metarealism) Kutik is the author of seven full-length collections of poetry in Russian; titles, translated into English, are: Pentathlon of the Senses (Moscow: Moskovskii Rabochii, 1990); Swedish Poets: Translations and Variations (Moscow: Mir Kultury, MP Fortuna LTD, 1992); Odysseus’ Bow (St. Petersburg: Sovetskii Pisatel, 1993); Ode on Visiting the Belosaraisk Spit on the Sea of Azov (bilingual edition, New York: Alef, 1995); Death of Tragedy, in 2 volumes: Persian Letters (vol. 1) and Civil Wars (vol. 2) (Moscow: Kommentarii, 2003); and Epos (Moscow: Russkii Gulliver, 2011). He also published three collections of essays in English (The Ode and the Odic: Essays on Mandelstam, Pasternak, Tsvetaeva, and Mayakovsky (Stockholm, Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1994); Hieroglyphs of Another World: On Poetry, Swedenborg, and Other Matters (2000) and Writing as Exorcism: The Personal Codes of Pushkin, Lermontov, and Gogol (2004; both books published by Northwestern University Press); and a monograph on the contemporary Russian artist duo Igor & Marina (Skira, 2016).

Reginald Gibbons has published 11 books of poems, most recently Renditions (Four Way Books, 2021). With Ilya Kutik, he has translated selected poems volumes of Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Kutik’s own selected poems, The Wasp of Time. Kutik and Gibbons are also preparing a large anthology of contemporary Russian poets of the “Metarealist” group.

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