Friday, September 21, 2012

Pussy Riot at Kitzel’s


Pussy Riot Olympia performing at Kitzel’s (September 14, 2012)

Last Friday, at Kitzel’s Crazy Delicious Delicatessen in downtown Olympia, my colleague at Saint Martin’s University and deli co-owner Irina Gendelman organized and hosted a mishmash of an evening celebrating the art and activism of Pussy Riot. The women who formed the group in Russia, as many have pointed out, found inspiration in the riot grrrl scene that has its roots in Olympia. So what better place to hold an event to honor them than here?

Everyone who came had a blast. Irina has a knack for cultivating a carnivalesque mood, and this time was no exception. The show featured a number of activists and performers, including local songwriter Mary Water, Seattle theater group Pasajer@s, and Pussy Riot Olympia, the anonymous collective that was formed earlier this year in solidarity with their Russian counterpart. Tobi Vail, the former drummer for riot grrrl band Bikini Kill, was also on hand to rouse the room with her punk spirit. And besides taking in the performances, the crowd joined in for sing-alongs of Vladimir Vysotsky’s “Wolf Hunt” (“Охота на волков”) and the Italian anti-fascist folk anthem “Bella Ciao.” No one’s political conscience was left unfired!


My own contribution to the gathering was what I called the “boring textual part of the evening,” where I laid out for the English-speaking audience just what the fearless members of Pussy Riot said in the lyrics to the infamous “Punk Prayer” (“Панк-молебен”) and in their closing statements at the trial in Moscow. Really, what I did was celebrate the work of other translators, and I was happy to let them shine.

First, I read Carol Rumens’ translation of “Punk Prayer,” which was published in The Guardian last month, with its chorus that she wisely chose to ground in the English of the King James Bible:

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin, banish Putin,
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish him, we pray thee!

(Богородица, Дево, Путина прогони / Путина прогони, Путина прогони)

The archaic language (“banish,” “pray thee”) is just enough to give the flavor of the liturgical Russian in the text of the chorus, which contrasts with the verses’ more idiomatic contemporary usages. Rumens, who has translated Yevgeny Rein and Irina Ratushinskaya, is no newcomer to Russian poetry, and she manages the shift in registers well. She also keeps up the tetrameter rhythms and rhyming couplets of the verses, as in this stanza:

KGB’s chief saint descends
To guide the punks to prison vans.
Don’t upset His Saintship, ladies,
Stick to making love and babies.

(Глава КГБ, их главный святой / Ведет протестующих в СИЗО под конвой / Чтобы Святейшего не оскорбить / Женщинам нужно рожать и любить)

That final couplet, especially, captures both the traditional form and sarcastic tone of the song in a way that I find completely satisfying.

After Rumens’ translation, I moved on to excerpts from the closing statements at the Pussy Riot trial, which had been quickly and collaboratively translated into English by a team of translators for n+1. (I should note that Susan Bernofsky already wrote about those translations at a much more timely moment. What can I say? I’m poky.) What the three women had to say was thoughtful and often moving, and it was a pleasure to share their sentiments with the raucous audience at Kitzel’s:

Yekaterina Samutsevich: “Our sudden musical appearance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior with the song ‘Mother of God, Drive Putin Out’ violated the integrity of the media image that the authorities had spent such a long time generating and maintaining, and revealed its falsity. In our performance we dared, without the Patriarch’s blessing, to unite the visual imagery of Orthodox culture with that of protest culture, thus suggesting that Orthodox culture belongs not only to the Russian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch, and Putin, but that it could also ally itself with civic rebellion and the spirit of protest in Russia.” (Translated by Chto Delat News)

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: “What was behind our performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and the subsequent trial? Nothing other than the autocratic political system. Pussy Riot’s performances can either be called dissident art or political action that engages art forms. Either way, our performances are a kind of civic activity amidst the repressions of a corporate political system that directs its power against basic human rights and civil and political liberties. The young people who have been flayed by the systematic eradication of freedoms perpetrated through the aughts have now risen against the state. We were searching for real sincerity and simplicity, and we found these qualities in the yurodstvo [the holy foolishness] of punk.” (Translated by Maria Corrigan and Elena Glazov-Corrigan)

Maria Alyokhina: “…for me this trial is a ‘so-called’ trial. And I am not afraid of you. I am not afraid of falsehood and fictitiousness, of sloppily disguised deception, in the verdict of the so-called court. Because all you can deprive me of is ‘so-called’ freedom. This is the only kind that exists in Russia. But nobody can take away my inner freedom. It lives in the word, it will go on living thanks to openness [glasnost], when this will be read and heard by thousands of people. This freedom goes on living with every person who is not indifferent, who hears us in this country. With everyone who found shards of the trial in themselves, like in previous times they found them in Franz Kafka and Guy Debord. I believe that I have honesty and openness, I thirst for the truth; and these things will make all of us just a little bit more free. We will see this yet.” (Translated by Marijeta Bozovic, Maksim Hanukai, and Sasha Senderovich)

Once I had made a few passing comments about the verdict of the trial, with its repeated and absurd claim that Pussy Riot sought to express “religious hatred and enmity” (“религиозная ненависть и вражда”) during its action in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, I closed with one of my own translations: Irina Yevsa’s “Don’t Whine, Just Eat Your Soup.” I had recited the poem at another reading recently, and I was struck then by how its last six lines seemed to give voice to the anger that one also hears from Pussy Riot and others in the Russian opposition. So I couldn’t resist reading it again at Kitzel’s, not to mention giving the last word to Yevsa now:

What if we all decided, within our holes,
to crawl out into the light, a ragtag group,
swelling like yeasted dough, bursting eardrums,
fed up with the lies of the imperial jester,
since (as one rebellious spirit asked us)
what else does a hell-dweller have to fear?

(Что, ежели на свет — всяк из своей дыры — / мы выползти решим расхлябанной колонной, / растя, как на дрожжах, терзая гулом слух, / насытившись брехнёй верховного паяца, — / поскольку (как сказал один мятежный дух) / живущему в аду чего ещё бояться?)

1 comment:

  1. Tsvetaeva / Translation (kind-of) / Pussy Riot
    I hope this is interesting--
    With love & best wishes!


    http://www.englishpen.org/poems-for-pussy-riot-i-love-the-rich-by-tim-atkins/
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLSh7fTcerE
    http://www.englishpen.org/tag/poems-for-pussy-riot/

    ReplyDelete