Ivan Lanzhev poetry and Prose


It’s brittle like in January,


tip tectonic plates.

Even the vestige of memory

has been packed away.

The clock falters on the first stroke.


The aims and purposes are old.

Taking steps is just folly before the end.

The felon

alone from the tumult knows

that days are measured in cigarettes.


I also know: to step out is a mistake.

Isn’t the asphalt

under my feet right?

With my breath only

I make the air sickly,

So just imagine my writing something.

Translator Christopher Buxton 2012


Portrait of the wife


She does smile, it’s true, but one

should not place faith in adverts.


Her chin is imperiously sharp.

The steep slope of pretension

leads all the way to the neck,

so as to reach the breasts which

now are thrilled to no effect.

All too soon they will suffer

the deepest insult:

aesthetics will become ethics,

beauty – function

and along with the baby

the mother is born.


The lover will die.

Even with effort, it won’t be her.


Did it occur to her when young, as she

coyly adorned and perfected

her signature, that one day she would place it

lined up with his (engineer’s signature)

in a dusty hall, whence even a sun’s

ray struggled to leave and woodworm

sought leave of absence.


All those invited were complicit:

Her mistake was that she stayed true.

She does smile, it is true.

And she secretly pretends,

that there are secrets still,

but I looked beyond the glass

of her eyes. There it was clear.

The wardrobe, the makeup and

the jaunts won’t help.


She is a married woman.

Like Nietzsche’s thundering titles:

she’s the birth of tragedy,

the twilight of the Gods,

she forsook gay science long ago

Nor is she the dawn.

She is for everyone and no-one.

But mostly for no-one.

Translator Christopher Buxton 2012



Please excuse me, for wasting your valuable time this way (still

what else can be done with valuable time except to waste it).


Please excuse me, but did you manage to see it?  Did you notice

the Mariana trench between us and

these three gigantic dots spanning it –

a rope bridge that neither I will cross, nor you.


For whatever happened, I’m sure it has a name.

Some precise expert on everything would express it thus:

how “something has fractured”, how unexpectedly

we’ve “spoken different languages”, you and I.


But we haven’t. It’s simpler.

Language spoke with me

the whole of that valuable time.

And guess what, we didn’t mention you.

Translator Christopher Buxton 2012 

Shipwreck blues


“Look, stranger, at this island now” (W.H.Auden)


Black and sodden

she is

my pond,

she is

a lonely island

amid the surrounding

dry land.


(How I long to be someone

better than me)


From morning to morning

here I am

and waiting

I am a beach

for her,

I’m a leach

to her body.


(driftwood mistake

in the beautiful whole)


I set out long ago, Mother and ,

I didn’t even take shoes.

I didn’t drown on land

but my heels hurt in steep water.


Around me everything, still submerged,

beneath some level plane

Dances, reels, sinks alone.

No bottle in a letter will emerge.

 Translator Christopher Buxton 2012



Can you imagine

the ugliest thing? The ugliest thing

in all the world.  Something.  For example

hunger. Or an underpass. A room in a cheap hotel

and the song of the rats under the floor,

tails beating out time.

Fat, scaly whips

which hurt.


Even uglier.  like

a 63 year old hooker .

Or even a drained old lady,

bent like a letter that’s hard to write.

A faceless Granny who

imagines she’s selling flowers,

but in her hand (freckled all over)

there’s nothing.


Enough already!

That’s not the ugliest thing.

That’s nothing

compared to the other.


The Remorse

Which Precedes the Act!


Imagine it stopping

by your floor, having scorned an entire

Spring, it’s waiting for you alone.

Have you double locked?


It makes no odds.

The Remorse

Which Precedes the Act,


Through the letter box,

through the slit, through the balcony.

You don’t have so many keys, you

don’t have directions or tickets

for elsewhere.


The Remorse is clear

that you’re tasting it. There it is

sitting in the spacious lounge

of your apartment. That’s that.


Exhalation is stopped

in your nostrils.  It’s already next to you,

really close.  It hangs over

your crumbly poet’s head,

slowly opens its mouth and asks you:


have you got a cigarette?

Translator Christopher Buxton 2012

Friday 13th

Not much later

A black cat

Crossed my path


I recognized it.

It came from a banal

Set of verses.


It boded ill, I told myself

A black cat crossing your path

A second time


What could it mean

On this very day –

Just this:


The cat and I

Are bound for different



In connection with the club


Outside it rains, humdrum, but it suits the story. Just one guy is not bothered by the rain drops; he stands on the balcony, smokes and ponders. This is Rag the writer.  He has an idea for a new book and longs to share it with some colleague (you know an idea shared is an idea half realised).  With this in mind he phones his friend Tag the writer and begins breathlessly to tell him. Ideas splash on to his head one after the other, strong as the Sofia rain.  It’s hard for Rag to contain his enthusiasm – the book will be entertaining, bold, unpredictable, there’ll be a quest in it, a search for treasure. And it will be called “The eleven chairs”.

Tag hastens to praise the idea, particularly its originality. He even suggests they write it together. Not even three minutes have passed, and he’s already grasped how to develop the theme – for example, the treasure could be some diamonds hidden in the chairs.  And wouldn’t “The Thirteen chairs” be a better title, it sounds more sinister. Tag talks up a storm and Rag agrees that it’s a phenomenal idea. With cult-potential.

After they’ve reached agreement on their mutual indubitable genius. Rag and Tag happily throw down their phones and begin to feverishly think about what brand names they can introduce into their joint book. OK, the brand of telephone will certainly figure, but that wouldn’t be enough. Both experienced writers are clear that in a book there’s a lot to think through – for example the location of the presentation and what kind of visuals will roll out behind them as background to the reading. Would it be in black and white, or better somehow in colour…

Now some envious sod would say that “The thirteen chairs” has some passing similarity with “The twelve chairs”, a book written by another famous pair of writers, but I see no point here in talking about banal, endlessly dubious characters. When you write something good, spiteful people will always pop up to spit at it. Doesn’t it occur to them that coincidences are precisely coincidences – because they happen by chance. It will be good for sceptics to keep in mind that Rag and Tag, are not at all talentless, and they have the necessary qualification to prove it. They are entirely legitimate contemporary writers, members of the Union of the Association of the League of Organised Writers, they pay taxes, they’ve got clean. criminal records and Category B driving licenses. They’ve both got girlfriends, second year journalism students.

Rag and Tag are bold brassy rebels, who fight against linguistic boundaries and defend freedom of self expression.  They are really cooking up a language revolution. Just in Tag’s last work, the adjective, “fucking” is used 1638 times. Not at all bad for a children’s book.

The five star reviews of Rag and Tag’s books are written by established critics like Tic, Tac and Toe (Toe is Tag’s cousin, several times removed) But at the end of the day neither the critics nor I can convince you of the worth of these writers better than their books can do. The titles speak for themselves and there’s no way they’ll be unfamiliar to you. Rag is author of bestsellers like “Catcher in the Oats”, the chilling dystopian “1985”, the virtuoso popular “Three men in a motor boat”.  but perhaps the most memorable in this illustrious list is his immortal novel “The Apprentice and Margarita”. And Tag has written such novels as “My  Surname is Red”, “South American Psycho”, “99½ Years of Solitude, “Catch 23” and “Punishment and Crime”. The crystal clarity of his style is impressive in the novella “The Pensioner and the Sea” which cannot be found in bookshops for a long time as it’s run out. Unlike Rag and Tag. These people cannot be run out. Talent has no day of rest.

Two days before the Friday premier of “The Thirteen Chairs” in the elite (but not quite so elite) club, Tag, who apart from everything else is a poet, writes a new anthology.  For a long time he dithers in two artistic minds, over how to fashion his most recent prose, but on Wednesday he suddenly sees the light: he narrows the Word file’s margins, centres the text…and now poetry bursts from the screen.  With prize winning potential.  Tag sends it to his publishers with a plea to hurry, because he wants to present his anthology on the same evening as the premier. The editor responsible is a responsible soul, he understands what’s what, and that he has no time to read – he prints 1000 copies directly with on average 3.5 typos per page.  Mistakes also count as rebellion – against the ossified system, as well as against literacy.

It’s Friday evening.  In the elite (but not quite so elite) club the curtains are heavy. The whole second year of the Faculty of Journalism is there along with the twelve schoolgirls who next year will be first years – Journalism or Literature.  The critics Tic, Tac and Toe are grinning at the bar-girl and looking crammed with goodwill. A famous media guru presents the book and warms up the atmosphere with some jokes that are even better known than him, but are skilfully woven into deserved plaudits for the two authors.  And now they give out autographs. On the back cover of “The Thirteen Chairs” it’s written next to the Rag’s photo that he is our most successful contemporary young writer.  Next to Tag’s photo on the right, it’s written that he is our most successful contemporary young writer. Rag and Tag are over 45.

Rag and Tag have connections. And they create connections.  Every connection between people is dubious by definition. A person can get tied up in all kinds of danger – with pure cocaine, with a femme fatale, with Islamic extremism, with the Russian Mafia. Or with local literary circles. In this elite (but not quite so elite) club, everything is connected and tied up. Like in the past. Like guts.

I came a little late,  just missed the premier, but still I came in – Didn’t I really want to. They bade me “Welcome”.

Translator Christopher Buxton 2012