Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Kiev, Ukraine. My family moved to America in 1989 seeking a better life. Also, I was about to be drafted to the Soviet Army which was waging bloody war in Afghanistan. In 1991, I went to Brooklyn College first majoring in Film Production, then Philosophy, Russian language and literature, and ending up with a BFA in Creative Writing. In the early 90’s, Brooklyn College was a place to be for aspiring poets. Allan Ginsberg and John Ashbery were both teaching there. I changed many jobs after graduation in 1996, lived in the Midwest, Moscow and now back to New York, working as a social worker. Also, I do little film acting on the side. That’s briefly my life. I still write in Russian and my friends help me to translate it into English.
At what age did you start writing? Who/what first inspired you to start writing?
I started writing early, like 8 years old. My first poem was sort of a remake of Soviet propaganda stuff rhymed because my child brain kept hearing that propaganda from all the radio and TV outlets. I stopped around the age of 17-18, right before emigration and thought I will never came back to it. Luckily, when I was around 20-21, I started hanging out with Russian-American wrtiers, poets, and artists taking classes at Brooklyn College. There was this great poet-artist, Igor Satanovskiy, who created a very bohemian Russian-American literary circle. Soon, short stories in English just started coming out of me. After falling in love with James Joyce, I realized that I would never be able to play with English the same way that I can in my first language, and I came back to it. Luckily, there is no money in literature and it comes down to what gives you more pleasure and freedom.
Have you always written poetry?
I restarted with poetry when I was around 29-30 and living in Montgomery, Alabama. I lived in a cheap suburban hotel, just off the highway and worked in the center of Montgomery. That’s when the poetry in Russian started coming back. Also, some say that I am much better at prose. My poetry is too extreme and edgy, but my prose is more traditional and mainstream. My short and absurd stories about life in America are published in major Russian newspapers. I think it is only logical that poetry should be more extreme. As a poet, I deal too much with sexuality, politics, and other subjects which are off limits in modern Russia.
Who are your favorite poets?
Charles Bukowski and Constantine P. Cavafy.
How do you first start writing a poem? Does it come to you out of the blue, or do you have a set time where you meet with your Muse each day and let the words just … come? Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poetry?
A poem starts with the idea or emotion that strikes me. What about if I mix a bold revolutionary of the 1960’s Che Guevara along with the modern fascination of losing weight? Or it could be anything. Relationships, history books, newspaper arcticles, an intriguing conversation with a friend. I am, rarely, home. Lately, I have been writing on my iphone on the train. 70% of the time, I post it on FB right away and get feedback momentarily. That’s a great feeling; If the piece is over 20 lines, I put it away and polish it over the upcoming weekend when I am home. Often, I can’t finish it because the right mood is gone or the poem doesn’t fire me up anymore. When I visited my native Kiev last June, after 26 years in America, I wrote like 20 poems in the following two months. I haven’t written a single poem since. I am perfectly OK if I don’t write another poem in my life. But, of course, I know it is in my blood and it will grab me and won’t let go until I put it down.
Well, there are two views on literature, especially poetry. First, it has to be very democratic for the people such as is the case with Walt Whitman and Allan Ginsberg. Dostoevsky would read drafts to his servants and if the maid didn’t understand certain words or concepts, he would rewrite it. Then, there is the elitist approach. Writing for a few is what Pound and James Joyce did. Pound went even further. He thought that to express certain feelings, one had to know ancient Chinese or Japanese. I bounce between those two approaches. Also, what camp is Shakespeare or Mayakovsky? Are they for everybody or few? Strive not to please but to lead! Throughout the years, I have moved from left-leaning Mayakovsky toward anarchist Bukovsky and neoclassicist Cavafis. Also, I am the son of two cultures. I write poetry that would make sense for Russians and Americans alike. So, there is very little play with sounds or rhymes which is impossible to translate.
Are you on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media? Does that fit into your writing life, and if so, how?
Well, Facebook drives me nuts. Up until 5 years ago, I had only one in Russian. Then, I got tired of bickering by my American friends who didn’t understand my Russian posts and vice versa. So, I now have an English FB and a Russian one. Double headache! But what do I do with my friends who understand both? I don’t post a lot on my English one but I like to know what my American friends are up to!
Do you have a writing group or community of writers you share your work with? Who are they?
There is a small group of Russian poets in New York circled around the Russian language magazine “Novaya Kozha (New Skin)”. It is being edited by my old buddy Igor Satanovsky. We have like 5 readings per year and I read like 5 times at other places in English. Every summer, I spend like a month in the Old World. Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Germany, UK (until they threw me out). I have like 10 readings while I am on the road. Thanks to the internet, I get momentary feedback from Russia and around the world. My friends who don’t understand Russian will have to wait until I get around to do another bilingual book. Self-publishing a bilingual book is a lot of work.
What are you reading right now?
The Old Testament. I tried to read it when I was younger and got bored. At 45, I finally matured enough for it. I hope to get back to Tolstoy. When I read it in middle and high school in Russia, I wasn’t ready for it.
What words of encouragement can you offer other poets who are trying to get their work noticed?
I thought for a while over that question. No matter what I say, the opposite would be true as well. That proves that poetry is related to metaphysics. Here is my poetic answer:
Travel all over the world or never leave your house!
Read everything you can get your hands on or stop reading altogether!
Stay sober or drink in excess!
Hang out with other poets and editors or avoid them at any cost!
Send your poems to all the poetry magazines or don’t show it to anybody!