UPPER LAYERS OF THE ATMOSPHERE: ARKADII DRAGOMOSHCHENKO ON ALEXEI PARSHCHIKOV

Something Yours Truly’s been meaning to post for a while (and better now than never): Arkadii Dragomoshchenko’s tribute to the late great Russian poet Alexei Parshchikov, in the anglophone Brazilian literary journal, Sibila: http://www.sibila.com.br/index.php/sibila-english/873-arkadii-dragomoshchenko.

There’s no one quite like Arkadii in the Russian poetry of the last several decades. He is a literary tradition unto himself, the pre-eminent minder and shaper, as it were, of the contemporary prosodic idiom, the most consequential and profound, in YT’s opinion, of the conduits through which the literary Russian languages flows, clear and unobstructed, constantly readjusting, rearranging, reinventing, regenerating itself, even while being in the ceaseless process of erasing its own traces, forever eliminating itself, as it rolls along, unfurling itself ad infinitum, like sea onto the old sandy shore of eternity.

He is also one of YT’s oldest and closest friends.

But this is not about Arkadii. This is about Alexei Parshchikov.

Alexei (Alyosha, or Lyosha, for everyone who knew him… and everyone who knew him loved him, for he was gentle, guileless and kind) Parshchikov died last year, of cancer, in Cologne, Germany, where he’d lived over the past decade — first by himself and then with his young wife and their little child — at the unconscionable age of 55.

Belying the mask of an uncomplicated guy he liked to don in public — a soft-voiced, awkward naif from the provinces, ever unsure of himself and prone to flattering displays of wide-eyed surprise in the face of  interlocutor’s unsurpassed wisdom — he was an erudite and a consummate student of life’s complexity, widely considered to be the most cerebral and keenly paradoxical among the Russian poets of his generation; someone who, while working formally within the general matrix of the canonical literary tradition, was capable of of reinterpreting and reinventing it constantly, filling it with subversive post-modernist context.

His greatness was self-evident, manifest. There could be no denying it. It hit you in the face like a mini-heat wave, right upon your very first contact with his work. It would be hard to overstate, too, the explosive effect that his texts, with their multi-layered complexity and intricately detailed diction, had on the literary-intelligentsia circles in Moscow and Leningrad, when he first burst on stage, as the saying would have it: a genuine, non-metaphoric (well, almost) breath of fresh air amid the Soviet early-80’s comprehensive morass.

 One day, someone (I seem to recall it was Arkadii) brought to Leningrad, to the literary-samizdat “Club-81” YT happened to belong to (it’s a whole separate story), the typed manuscript of book-length poem titled “I Lived on the Poltava Battlefield” — by this new, up-and-coming  meta-something-or-other-ist, Alexei Parchchikov, recent Literary Institute graduate, originally from the provinces, who at that point was all the talk of the town in Moscow, apparently; and soon enough, having taken turns reading it, everyone within YT’s immediate literary circle seemed to have fallen under the poem’s potent spell, now and then beginning all of a sudden to mumble under his breath some memorable lines or whole stanzas from it. It was chock-full of memorable, precise, uniquely well-wrought and turned out lines and stanzas. It was quite uncanny. The more you read it, the more there was to re-read and discover and interpret. Every line, every phrase felt necessary to the point of being utterly inavoidable. Everything shimmered and sang and glittered with alliterations. Every line, every phrase, every stanza contained a veritable infinity of ever-new, self-generating meanings and indirect, hidden connotations. Every point of entry in that shape-shifting mammoth of a text  seemed to open a passage into a whole new multitude of poems. The meta-poem, while perfectly self-contained in every single one of its constituent components, was effectively a vast field of hyper-dense rhymed language filled with meanings whose interpretation, and the very possibility thereof, depended largely on the angle at which you chose to cross it — and you had a sense, too, that you could keep crossing it forever, without ever coming close to completing the trek… The more you read it, there more there was to it. The more you thought about it, the more you thought of a whole host of other things, too. One of poetic text’s greatest strengths lies in the scope of possible interpretations of itself that it can offer. Judged by that yardstick, “I Lived on the Poltava Battlefield” — that early hypertext precursor — stands separate from any other work of poetry I’ve ever encountered; it’s wholly in a class of its own.

Later that summer, YT spent a couple of weeks trying (and failing; but failing well, he felt) to track and pin down to paper as many as possible of the poem’s meta- and mini-meanings, replete with their possible interpretations, in a lengthy (though necessarily incomplete) essay titled “Life on the Field” — up in the sweltering heat of his family’s Karelian lakefront dacha’s hayloft. YT remembers the massive writing desk with green felt top pushed against the small window which gave onto the lake, and the dizzying smell of overheated hay — he remembers the memory of it. YT misses that place, but is unlikely ever to see it again.

Parshchikov was just insanely talented, that’s all there’s to it: a veritable human vessel filled to capacity with bright talent.

It’s strange to think YT would never again hear the accelerated mumble of his speech, replete with the small uplilt of a question mark at the end of every other sentence, while walking down to the oceanfront along the hilly Hyde Street in San Francisco, or drinking red wine in YT minuscule rented Nob Hill apartment, or over tea in a coffeeshop off the Nevsky, in newly renamed St. Petersburg… strange, but not surprising. Life, like some strong-willed conceptual poem, keeps erasing its own traces as it moves along, to preclude us from trying to revisit the past that no longer belongs to us… A shame, of course, but them’s the breaks, one supposes.

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