Intro to Lev Rubinstein's "Thirty Five New Pages"
by Philip Metres

from Catalogue (by Philip Metres and Tatiana Tulchinsky)

Lev Rubinstein—an ex-librarian whose obsession with books is apparent—might be described as a symphonic director or an archivist; he catalogues, on his library cards, the shreds of our speech in all its fragmentariness, wonder, and degradation. Rubinstein’s place in the Russian literary tradition is thus built upon a contradiction: a postmodernist in his method, he is a modernist in his results. In his heavy reliance on citation, he is a postmodernist par excellence.

All of his poetry is one unceasing quotation or, more precisely, an arrangement of quotations, with sources ranging from the eighteenth century to the present; from actual literary works to imaginary discourses; and from belles lettres to street talk. But the fruit of Rubinstein’s efforts differs from his fellow postmodernists. Rubinstein imposes patterns on the debris, rhyming bits and pieces of waste, turning belches and grunts into units of meter, cataloguing the chaos where each object now has its assigned place. He aims at order and harmony, and in that sense he is a true disciple of the modernist tradition, in Anna Akhmatova’s “classicist” line. Her words, “If you could only see what useless waste/Gives rise to verse” would make a good epigraph to his work.

Performative rather than monumental, playful rather than dour, Rubinstein’s work is both vividly futurist and yet haunted by ghosts.We should ask nothing less from poetry.

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