Edited by : Giorgia Pavlidou
Reading Message-Door: An Anthology of Contemporary Surrealist Poetry from Russia, I
find myself in a hospital. Only there are not patients in the beds, but patient-poems, translated
into English by a physician-poet named Anatoly Kudryavitsky.
The first patient-poem I encounter tells me: “A fisherman searches for worms in a
dunghill / but finds diamonds, a whole pile of them.” Could this patient be telling me a fish-tale,
one it learned from Dmitry Grigoriev, while shoveling dung? Or perhaps shoveling excreted
words? The poem refuses to tell me anything other than I should listen carefully to it rather than
my own medical speculations. And consult Dmitry Grigoriev for further details.
Then another patient-poem calls me, this one rather small in body, yet the face looks
rather familiar. It tells me: “screwed in / shifted / inside the monogram of reproach / amid the
noise / a concealed / message-door.” Now I know why this patient-poem seems familiar. It had
donated its last line for the title of this anthology. What a gracious sacrifice. When I ask the
poem what could be lurking behind this “message-door,” besides the anthology, it tells me to
consult Yuri Milorava.
Uncertain of why I remain in this unfriendly hospital, where I might catch this surrealist
virus and become a patient myself, I hear something called“A Tune for Theremin Vox,” and
having a fondness for the theremin, I follow the scent of the song. “Modigliani is not dead / he is
sculpting in Africa,” the patient-poet sings. I don’t hear a theremin, but the tune holds me fast.
“His fingers have shaped numerous heads / that all talk at the same time,” it continues. Could
this Modigliani be God? Or possess a God complex? The patient says I should listen more
carefully and continues: “God praises simplicity / although the Universe changes shape / with
every breath he takes.” “So I was right! Modigliani is God, and God is Modigliani.” The
patient sighs and tells me to consult Anatoly Kudryavitsky. I sigh in return.
The virus that possesses these patient-poets—is it contagious? Is it life-threatening?
Have I encountered it before? I ask Dr. Kudryavitsky about it and he says the virus contains
traces of Futurism, which had seized Velimir Khlebnikov. I wonder if he could be hiding under
one of the beds. The doc also finds traces of Dada and French Surrealism. One of the patient-
poets even displays evidence of Zen, a virus I’m rather fond of. And yet there’s something
unique about this Russian strain of the virus. It emits a sweet vapor, one that seeps into the body
and says, “Bring me a smoke leopard / place me among guarded gardenias.” Or so the good doc
Then “Afterlife” calls me. How could I not attend to a patient-poet promising to reveal
the secrets of the afterlife? Perhaps it can inform me what I might find there—should I be so
lucky—or do I mean unlucky? At any rate this patient-poet speaks like a raconteur, beginning:
“After being killed, I ascended to heaven and landed on Cloud Seven.” “Wait a minute,” I
interrupt. “Don’t you mean Cloud Nine?” “Shut up and listen,” it tells me, and continues: “I
positioned myself comfortable atop the cloud, took out a microscope, and began to examine the
Earth.” “You mean a telescope, surely?” I say. It utterly ignores me. “Dirty bearded men were
chasing after some other dirty bearded men. A few of them fell and remained lying on the
Earth.” I can hear the dramatist Danil Kharms laughing hysterically, though I don’t see him in
any of the beds. “Is that it? That’s how you end the tale of the afterlife, with some dirty bearded
men flopping about on the ground?” No reply, other than the poet-patient saying, “Consult
So much consulting awaits me! I leave the hospital, and yet I am not sure if the patient-
poets are pulling upon one or both of my legs with this consulting business. Once outside, I
quickly douse my body with an anti-bacterial disinfectant, but I can still hear the viral voices
behind the message-door calling me back for another round of visitations. But first I must be
tested in all my parts. To quote patient-poet “April-Dove,” I feel as if I’m “floating by
insensibly on a little / ice flow of the Sun.” I must consult Tatyana Grauz about the construction
of such an ice flow.
I thank Anatoly Kudryavitsky for my tour of the hospital, and suggest you tour it for
yourself, provided you don’t mind the risk of vertigo, theremin loss, and the rapid shrinking and
swelling of your sidereal tentacles.