July 5, 2010

Eugene Ostashevsky

Eugene Ostashevsky [b. USSR/USA]

Eugene Ostashevsky was born in Leningrad, USSR, in the explosive year of 1968. When he was ten, his family immigrated to the United States on a political refugee visa, and settled in Brooklyn, New York. Although most of the poetry he read as a teenager was in Russian, when he himself started writing in high school, he did so in English. His long and. inconclusive studies terminated with a Ph.D dissertation in Comparative Literature at Stanford on the concept of zero in the Renaissance; he is now teaching Core Curriculum courses at NYU.

In the late 1990s, Ostashevsky was constantly doing poetry readings in San Francisco as member of both 9X9 Industries and Vainglorious. His work from the period came out in a series of chapbooks in collaboration with the Russian-Israeli-American artist Eugene Timerman. His subsequent publications include the full-length collection Iterature and the chapbook Infinite Recursor or The Bride of DJ Spinoza, the last again with Timerman. He has also appeared in Best American Poetry and was the recipient of a Poetry Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Like other Russian-American poets associated with Ugly Duckling Presse, Ostashevsky is a devoted translator of twentieth-century Russian literature. OBERIU: An Anthology of Russian Absurdism (Northwestern UP, 2006), which he edited and which includes his translations of Alexander Vvedensky, Daniil Kharms, Nikolai Zabolotsky, Nikolai Oleinikov, Leonid Lipavsky, and Yakov Druskin.

“The Premises of Grass” is part of a book-length project entitled The Life and Opinions of DJ Spinoza, which is about the shortcomings of axiomatic systems, and of rationalism in general. The poem was inspired by the smell of his sister when she was breastfeeding and by the circular thought that Descartes could not have had a dog or a cat, because if he had had one, Western philosophy would have turned out very differently.


The Off-Centaur (New York: Germ, 2002); Iterature (New York: Ugly Duckling, 2005); Infinite Recursor or The Bride of DJ Spinoza (New York: StudioRADIA / Ugly Duckling, 2006)

Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English

The Premises of Grass

The Laughing Philosopher has entered
the Witless Relocation Program
Outside his window there’s a rooster
that looks like a toaster
In the field there’s a cow
on whose rump sits a crow
The crow snaps its wings, caws erratically
but the cow only smiles enigmatically
The Laughing Philosopher thinks,
Ah Nature
nonexistent daughter
of the rhetoric of cognition
We cannot reach you
But there are your representatives
speechless, the animals
conscious machines
of self-replicating nucleic acids
What is life Nature
How does it appear
by accident
How does it stand
on its own four feet
What does it see
out of the moist convexity of its eye

Reprinted from Boston Review, no. 30 (April/May 2005). Copyright ©2005 by Eugene Ostaschevsky.

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