cover image Red Shifting

Red Shifting

Aleksandr Skidan. Ugly Duckling Presse, $15 (120pp) ISBN 978-1-933254-33-3

Russian postmodern and avant-garde poetry has been in full flower since the 1980s, but its fruits have only recently begun to show up here. Skidan's wild (sometimes too wild) multi-page sequences and journal-like prose poems draw on the modern giants of his homeland, but American readers who appreciate its vigor will recognize its goals: Skidan's drive to disrupt normal channels of communication, to celebrate sexuality and to take apart the norms of the workaday world draws on Surrealism and on hefty thinkers, living (Giorgio Agamben) and dead (Walter Benjamin). An important translator from English into Russian (of Paul Bowles, Slavoj Zizek and Charles Olson), Skidan lets his readers choose whether to revel in the bizarrie of his images, or whether instead to trace intellectual roots: ""bodies without organs in the sarcophagus,/ of the Peugeot, the soapy aftertase/ of an unpronounceable vocable"" simultaneously depicts a car accident and rewrites a catchphrase from the postmodern theorists Deleuze and Guattari. Another sequence proposes ""An archaic encounter on the operating table/ (the interface) of alethia,/ and-stitching shut its mouth rouged/ by the philosopher-// the sewing/ machine of syntax""; a prose piece celebrates the moment what Skidan ""finally received something like leave from the prison house of language."" These enthusiastic, fast-paced experiments-rendered vividly into English-may not suit everyone. Yet readers with a taste for verbal disruption and a yen for Modernist ambition should enjoy this rightly influential midcareer poet, in whose work one never knows what will come next.