Letter from the Editor
The idea for this theme emerged from a place of optimism—
we had an eye towards potential shifts and changes in our sociality, and curiosity as to whether the lessons from the pandemic would endure after a vaccine became widely available. We were curious about whether this batch of submissions would reflect that. But instead, our contributors sent us some truly dark stuff. In that, I recognize our hubris was the same as those booking fall tour dates despite an uptick of Delta cases—we reached too eagerly towards a rebound without sitting with the true weight of loss.
As Virginia do Carmo writes, via the frank devastation of Richard Simas’ translation, “We are still not safe…There is neither coast nor lighthouse / and we are too fragile for so much sea.”
So be it.
“The sky presses down on everyone,” writes Maria Borio in “Shelter,” via Danielle Pieratti’s translation. But that weight is not distributed equally, and its ability to unite us is often insufficient. In Stanislav Lvovsky’s poem, translated by Jacob A. Sackett-Sanders, a woman who runs around all day on business looks contemptuously at the beggars by the train station and tries to convince herself, through a fantasy of exceptionalism, that she will never have to be in such a precarious position.
There are many kinds of distance here: the distance of class, of time, of space. When we try to traverse it, as in Borio’s “Limits,” we “lose intimacy,” detach in order to pursue further attachment. A similar dissociation appears in “Rivals,” by José Alcántara Almánzar, translated by Luis Guzmán Valerio: a doubling, produced in isolation. “Our Birdsong is Near,” by Dennis Andrew S. Aguinaldo, is equally concerned with distance and whether it is possible to reach across it. “The dried leaf in our journal is now in smithereens,” he writes, via Reya Mari S. Veloso’s translation. “A bird sings between us / However broken or off-key.” Birds represent hope and this feels like a fitting sort of hope for the moment—fragile, but alive. Alive, but a nagging reminder of all the ways our attempts come up short. “These faces are not content except in the sun,” writes Yiannis Ritsos in Catherine Nina Evarkiou’s translation of “Romiosini,” “These hearts are not content except in justice.” But the road towards justice is long, and bitter, and dry, and those we lose along it are left fallen, in the care of a cold moon.
We look towards the variously fallen in an excerpt from Eight Days of Revolution: A Documentary Journal from Minsk, Artur Klinau’s book about the Belarusian Revolution-in-progress. As the narrator accompanies his own daughter to her trial in the “postmodern dictatorship” of contemporary Belarus, he meditates on the work of Franz Kafka. Despite the decades between Kafka’s writing and the present moment in the courtroom, Klinau experiences a similar situation: “A permanent monotonous catastrophe,” in which “new meanings begin to appear and coexist with the old ones, not in harmony and not even in discord, but in an absurd coexistence,” and “the disaster [is] made permanent.” Through Sasha Razor’s skilled translation, we bear witness to the nausea of the proceedings, performed by people who have become as inhuman as the machine they serve. This sense of unreality is conveyed as well in Vsevolod Nekrasov’s formally minimal yet gutting poems, as translated by Molly Dwyer & Victoria Juharyan: “they believed // after all / they were ordered to.”
We continue to honor those we’ve lost in Donna Pucciani’s autotranslated “Letter to Tonino,” whose gut-punching line “You ran out of breath / last week in another country” rings all too familiar to those of us who have lost loved ones during a pandemic that prevents us from the catharsis of shared grief.
It can’t all be doom though—Anya Ezhevskaya’s translation of Gregory Khasin’s “Thyx” embodies the metamorphosis inherent to translation with a playfulness and sense of delight, in its portrait of an imaginary creature. Luna Rail’s “Ghosts” series contains this sense of playfulness as well, conveying a Dickensian haunting with whimsy and abstract corporeality. Viola Arduini’s gorgeous “Bisnonna” series, featured as our cover image, alerts us to the chimeric connectivity of bodies: contagion as connection, not just across the present population but between eras and species. And finally, blown away by the volume of visual art you’ve been sending us, we have paired art by Sebastin Bascoban, Irina Novikova, and Aurelija Pestene with several written works throughout the issue, to allow for unexpected connections.
I am excited to share this issue with you.
I want to extend special thanks to poet and Vavilon / ARGO-RISK publisher Dmitry Kuzmin, who has sent us several student translations of work by contemporary Russian poets (including the Lvovsky and Nekrasov translations), and I am excited to expand this issue as well as the next issue to feature some of these pieces.
As always, I want to thank Alissa Tu, Reem Taşyakan, Lucian Herzog and Kevin Jang for being such a thoughtful editorial team, with special thanks to Kevin for this gorgeous website redesign you see before you; faculty advisor Amelia Glaser; our featured writers and artists; and everyone who submits work, shares our calls for submissions, and reads this journal.
Take good care,
Neon Mashurov is a writer from Brooklyn and the post-Soviet diaspora, pursuing their creative writing MFA at UCSD’s cross-genre writing program. Their research interests include collectivist utopia and its discontents, Soviet and post-Soviet affect, and queer/trans collective care in nightlife and other precarious spaces. Their music writing has been published in Pitchfork, Stereogum, IMPOSE Magazine, and elsewhere. Their poetry, as NM Esc, has been published in We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics, The Recluse, the Poetry Project’s House Party series, The Felt, Peach Magazine, Ghost City Press’s summer microchap series, and multiple chapzines. Find them at neon-hq.com and @neonsigh.
Aurelija Pestene is a Lithuanian artist currently living in Denmark. She graduated from Vilnius Collage of Design with a degree in Applied Photography. Afterwards she worked a lot of different, non-creative, jobs until she moved to Denmark where, after not having touched her camera for more than two years, one day something changed and creativity struck again, which was the start of the ongoing project “On the Dot.”
The “On the Dot” series itself is about time, about how fast it can fly, how everything can change or become a blur in just a second and all that is left are memories: the tiny colorful dots in all that time change. And what do we leave after ourselves—is it just a grey abstract mess, or is it something that catches the eye, something bright and colorful, something that binds everything together?