Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Curse of Father Nostalgia

(I do translations sometimes, you know.  Not often - it's on the edge of my abilities, if I'm being honest - but there is a lot of obscure, historically significant, untouched world literature out there which needs to be read, and half a job is sometimes better than none).  

I do not listen to the overtures of the
father of the past.
His rhythms rattle to many
from the distant horizon on
harsh metal drums,
but I have seen they are
mere pots and pans
beaten with wooden spoons.
I have no interest in such kitchen skiffle.
My tastes are more developed.

I do not dine at his banquet of history.
They sample his confectionary with
dulled taste buds and dewy eyes,
sick with the hayfever of nostalgia,
but I have seen him rub his scalp violently,
then proceed to tell you his
dandruff is icing sugar.
I will not eat such cakes!
This pastry is distasteful to my tongue!
I will drink my Coca-Cola.

I do not inflict the whims of the past on others.
With the passing years my
wife’s thighs grow fatter,
but I do not cut one off
as if it were a tree
looking for lines to record her past!
I will not leave lovers disabled,
victims of my cheap yearning!
Such behaviour belongs to barbarians!

I am deaf to pastsong.
I place both fingers in my ears.
There I stand, a petrol pump
to his dreary dirge of half-truth.

Petr Rabik (b. 4th April 1924 – d. ?) is a little-known poet of Russian origin who during Communism managed to get access to some of the more risqué American beat poetry works. These subsequently coloured his entire artistic approach. It is widely assumed that he obtained them through the post discreetly or through convoluted means via a sympathetic American correspondent, since the decadent and distinctly Western flavour of their work was frowned upon by the government of the time, and almost certainly would not have been stored in any state bookstores or libraries.
A particular favourite of his seems to be have been Frank O’Hara, his references to capitalist iconography such as Coca Cola and bright garish supermarkets being symbols to Rabik of a peculiar and distant Free West of which he wrote: “To me it speaks of colours I have not seen, metals I have yet to touch and sounds that seem as if they scream from the stars – and yet I cannot hear them! I live in a dome where such sounds are muffled, such scenes fogged by a polluting mist, and I cannot hear outside. However, I have my ear to the wall of the dome. To attempt to use this imagery from afar, that shall be my poetic mission. My art shall be what I am most removed from, I will describe the free highway that can and should forever be. The sounds I make will be Russian beat poetry, too far removed from Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs and their fellow travellers to be truly representative of American beat, but attempting to make sense of the muffled noises from a party I can only dream of attending”.
He disappeared in mysterious circumstances in September 1973 – some say he escaped to another country to begin a new life, but most believe (probably more realistically) that his continual attempts to describe a grand capitalist future to a Russian public through underground poetry events met with punishment by the government. It is highly unlikely he is still alive, though his family claim they received no record or knowledge of his death or imprisonment, and to this day they regard him as a missing person.
“The Curse of Father Nostalgia” is an interesting little piece which has caused some amusement in Western circles by highlighting Rabik’s naiveté of Western fashions. His disharmonious mention of ‘kitchen skiffle’ in the first stanza may stem from the fact that he believed skiffle was a poverty-induced British (and therefore inferior and bastardized) form of “American Rock n Roll Expression”. In reality, of course, skiffle had long since fallen out of fashion in Britain by 1964 when this poem was first read, and the Beatles now ruled the music world and not Elvis Presley as Rabik supposed. In “Ravensong”, an essay on Elvis he wrote around the same time, he elaborated on this topic: “Tommy Steele sings of ‘Any Old Iron’, the cry of British scrap merchants for metal they can recycle – an almost communist war cry of thrift which suits his common, nasal tones. Presley, on the other hand, sings of “Blue Suede Shoes”, sleek and desirable items that define who he is through their unique appearance, items that are not recycled or imposed upon him through lack of choice. While we look west for inspiration, we must be selective about which countries we look to, and I believe only America has the correct vision”.
In fairness, such dated inaccuracies should be forgiven when his distance from the West is taken into account, and his parallel beat universe is occasionally much more interesting and heart-warming than the harsh realities others have described. Rabik would never have written anything like “Scream” about America, only a soviet Russia.
His dislike of nostalgia was referenced in other poems such as “Statues of Bald Leaders” and “Military Melodies and Future Noise”. He wrote on the subject in his diary “Oh how they use nostalgia as a weapon! I grow weary of such tactics. The unified communist past is OUR past, so we are told – it is a foul trick to stir feelings of familiar family warmth through military band music and cloying state-approved literature when there has actually only been perpetual cold and bloodshed in our history, and a denial of the truth. Nostalgia, it is an evil tool, a despicable method of unification”.
Rabik’s poetry is sadly ignored in British study, where poets looking brightly towards a left wing (or at least liberal) society rather than what some have, in Rabik’s case, strangely dubbed a ‘capitalist utopia’ have always been more fashionable. However, his material has an historical merit which should never be undervalued, and he certainly has the somewhat unique statistic of being the only recorded “Russian Beat Poet”.

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