I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writing of Daniil Kharms
ed & tr Matvei Yaklevich
Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press
Daniil Kharms, the key figure of second-wave Russian radical modernism, extends, distorts, and renews the achievements of Khlebnikov, Mayakovsky, and Blok, not to say Gogol, in tales, verse, journals, and poet’s theater. Kharms’s black comedies of disappearance and metamorphosis are both mystical and majestic, Dadaist and dazzling. Matvei Yankelevich has done an heroic job with his translations, selection, and introduction, bringing this supreme poet of everyday life into English.
This is a mockery, through and through! Good for nothing! Bravo!
two work by Kharms, presented with
the permission of the editor
On the roof of a certain building two draughtsmen sat eating
Suddenly one of the draughtsmen shrieked with joy and took a long handkerchief out of his pocket. He had a brilliant idea—he would tie a twenty-kopeck coin into one end of the handkerchief and toss the whole thing off the roof down into the street and see what would come of it.
The second draughtsman quickly caught on to the first one's idea. He finished his buckwheat kasha, blew his nose and, having licked his fingers, got ready to watch the first draughtsman.
As it happened, both draughtsmen were distracted from the experiment with the handkerchief and twenty-kopeck coin. On the roof where both draughtsmen sat an event occurred which could not have gone unnoticed.
The janitor Ibrahim was hammering a long stick with a faded flag into a chimney.
The draughtsmen asked Ibrahim what it meant, to which Ibrahim answered: "This means that there's a holiday in the city."
"And what holiday would that be, Ibrahim?" asked the draughtsmen.
"It's a holiday because our favorite poet composed a new poem," said Ibrahim.
And the draughtsmen, shamed by their ignorance, dissolved into the air.
(January 9, 1935)
[translated by Matvei Yankelevich]
Something About Pushkin
It’s hard to say something about Pushkin to a person who doesn’t know anything about him. Pushkin is a great poet. Napoleon is not as great as Pushkin. Bismarck compared to Pushkin is a nobody. And the Alexanders, First, Second and Third, are just little kids compared to Pushkin. In fact, compared to Pushkin, all people are little kids, except Gogol. Compared to him, Pushkin is is a little kid.
And so, instead of writing about Pushkin, I would rather write about Gogol.
Although, Gogol is so great that not a thing can be written about him, so I'll write about Pushkin after all.
Yet, after Gogol, it’s a shame to have to write about Pushkin. But you can’t write anything about Gogol. So I’d rather not write anything about anyone.
December 15, 1936
[Translated by Eugene Ostashevsky and Matvei Yankelevich]