Lev Rubinstein is the true heir of the OBERIU artists of the late 1920s. Like his most illustrious predecessor, Daniil Kharms, Rubinstein creates deadly serious, devastatingly funny comedy that incorporates a broad range of literary forms


Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties


Lev Rubinstein, Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties, Trans. by Philip Metres, Tatiana Tulchinsky, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014.


"An engaging translation of a major work of contemporary Russian poetry." — Charles Bernstein


Almost ten years ago UDP published Catalogue of Comedic Novelties, a representative selection of Lev Rubinstein's "note-card poems," a seminal body of work from one of the major figures of Moscow Conceptualism and the unofficial Soviet art scene of the 1970s and 1980s. These texts form what Rubinstein called a "hybrid genre": "at times like a realistic novel, at times like a dramatic play, at times like a lyric poem, etc., that is, it slides along the edges of genres and, like a small mirror, fleetingly reflects each of them, without identifying with any of them." As American scholar Gerald Janecek has noted, the texts are made up of "language ready-mades (commonplace expressions, overheard statements, sentence fragments)" and organized "in such a way that we seem to be observing the creation of a poem from raw material."
This new edition collects for the first time all of Rubinstein "note-card poems" and includes a preface by American poet Catherine Wagner, an introduction by translator Philip Metres, and a short essay by the author.
Some of These texts have previously been translated into German, French, Swedish, and Polish; now Rubinstein's complete card-catalog of "comedic novelties" has been re-opened—in a precise and sensitive translation—to the English reader.


Lev Rubinstein's note-card poems, here transcribed for the page and imaginatively translated by Philip Metres and Tatiana Tulchinsky, are an eye-opener! Their particular brand of conceptualism has affinities with our own Language poetry as well as with the French Oulipo, but its inflections are purely those of contemporary Russia—a country struggling to make sense to itself after decades of repression...We can literally read between the lines and construct a world of great pathos, humor—and a resigned disillusionment that will strike a resonant chord among American readers.Marjorie Perloff

Lev Rubinstein's Catalogue of Comedic Novelties is a poetry of changing parts that ensnares the evanescent uncanniness of the everyday. By means of rhythmically foregrounding a central device—the basic unit of work is the index card—Rubinstein continuously makes actual a flickering now time that is both intimate and strange. Metres and Tulchinsky have created an engaging translation of a major work of contemporary Russian poetry. In the process, they have created a poem 'in the American' and in the tradition of seriality associated with Charles Reznikoff and Robert Grenier.Charles Bernstein

Rubinstein's "texts" can be compared with computer hyper-texts, where each message conceals a larger context and where you unavoidably leave certain files unopened on each page as you go on… His poetics can be described as that of fatally missed opportunities and in this sense he brings to mind Chekhov, a fact that has been noted by many critics. Ekaterina Degot

Lev Rubinstein is the true heir of the OBERIU artists of the late 1920s. Like his most illustrious predecessor, Daniil Kharms, Rubinstein creates deadly serious, devastatingly funny comedy that incorporates a broad range of literary forms. In the precise translations of Philip Metres and Tatiana Tulchinsky, this witty and elegant work is available to an English-language public in its full glory for the first time.Andrew Wachtel

At the end of the prose tract Democratic Vistas, Walt Whitman calls for a kind of book that is written 'on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half sleep, but, in the highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast's struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem.' Lev Rubinstein's Catalogue of Comedic Novelties is exactly this kind of book. It is interactive, engaging, and sometimes exhausting as a good workout should be. The reader is constantly implicated in the meaning making process of the poem, invited to fill in the blanks, to recreate the context from a series of intriguing and mysterious clues. Reading Rubinstein indeed strengthens one's imaginative muscles, but it is importantly a ludic as well as calisthenic activity. His poems are funny, utterly playful, 'comedic' to use his own description, yet not without pathos.Michael Leong

Rubinstein’s work … drives a wedge between cultural production and the culturally produced. I’m not expected to do anything or buy anything, I’m flickering between emotion and ironic awareness; that is, I’m learning about the way I work when I encounter language...Rubinstein lets me acknowledge both my human emotion and its quoted, cultural ground.Catherine Wagner


Lev Rubinstein, Thirty-five New Pages, Trans. by Philip Metres, Tatiana Tulchinsky, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014.



Translators Metres and Tulchinsky team up again to bring us Thirty-five New Pages, one of Lev Rubinstein's note-card poems, written in 1981. Does it tell a story? Is it a reflection on the form of the book? Is it there at all? This classic minimalist/conceptualist text from the "postmodern Chekhov" summons Genesis and Zen, Tractatus and guided meditation, with whip-smart wit and considerable elan, presented here on 35 library-style cards in a handsome letterpressed box. (This poem is not included in Rubinstein's other UDP collection, Catalogue of Comedic Novelties.) "Here, in fact, something could happen."
Many of us recall the careful little Emperor from Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus”, who encountering a baffling scene in Mozart’s operatic rehearsal, tactfully inquires “Is it modern?” That no one today asks the question testifies to the success (and also the failure) of the great modernist project. In an age of reactionary finance and Tweety Bird attention spans, who, aside from aesthetic antiquarians, academic row-hoers and the tabula rasa’d young, takes Picasso, Stravinsky, Joyce or Le Corbusier seriously, however much we admire their energy, wit and nerve? (The Villa Sovoye is a very clever structure but you wouldn’t want to live there. Almost no one has.)
But if these great monuments of modernism stand as carefully preserved barely ruined choirs, there is the still active and vital, like nibbling mice, other modernist motif of refusal, obliquity and off-beat critique, a movement whose particles continue to proliferate along the cyclotron of the long 20th century, its taxonomy extending at least from Dada to Zaha  (and includes Radical Randomists, Found Objectivists, Rushing Constructivists, Situationalists, Saturationalist,  Atmanic Confabulists,  Fruit Oulipoists and Branch Derridians (a term I co-invented back in 1984 when it was already old).
Lev Rubinstein’s (the librarian and artist) Thirty-Five New Pages is placed somewhere in that spectrum. This device for reading consists of thirty-five 3x5 inch cards (with a colophon card) of the type:
The major integerial presentation, with the modification of a mathematical or editorial super- scripture conveys a kind of lexical authority, belied by the subordination of the rather gnomic (Gnostic?) text in red ink. These elusive/allusive propositions, proposals of what should appear, are linked / generated via a loose bell change effect, a not quite continuity of phrases that suggests but doesn’t constitute a continuum. Card 35 (which we won’t spoil) is a surprise ending-or is that a beginning? So what does this rosary for reading do, apart from looking nice and feeling good in the fingers? Well, it would violate the spirit of Rubenstein’s project to tell you what. (But questions come readily to hand : what is reading? Narrative? The frame of art?) Suffice it to say, after reading a hundred conventional chapbooks—“man passing misery to man” (Sophocles or was that Larkin?) Thirty-Five New Pages comes on like a crisp cracker after predictably acrid wine. And some credit, surely, to the translators who midwife us to the humanity and clarity of Rubinstein’s desiderata.
The folks at Ugly Duckling Presse are always turning out hard to pigeon hole objects that make you think.  I recommend their work (and website) for its interest and stimulation Theirs is a risky enterprise; they are surely more aware than me how the radical object can easily transmute, via reverse alchemy, into just another bit of conceptual bric- a-brac. - P. Nelson

I am drawn to books of poetry on cards, and I didn't realize it until today. Robert Grenier's Sentences. Susan Howe's Poems Found in a Pioneer Museum. bpNichol's still water. The many many works of poetry that Márton Koppánny has produced on cards. To that list, I will now add Lev Rubinstein's Thirty-Five New Pages, recently published by Ugly Duckling Presse.
This is a book to manipulate, a tactile book, haptic. It gains value by forcing us to deal with the pieces of it. But it comes at us, as you can see above disguised as a codex, bearing even its title on its spine, which you could slip between two other tiny books and not recognize, without close inspection, that the book is a box.

These thirty-five cards work through a process of repetition, the slow working out of a thought with few words. Each card is a page numbered, the number appearing at the top of the page as a title. And every title has a small superscript number bearing the same number as the page. And each of these superscript numbers directs you to a footnote, and each of those footnotes tells you what should be on the page, not what is there, but what should be.

As we might guess, the first card should be blank, a blank flyleaf before the title page, and then the numbers pull you into the book that is nothing but a deck of stiff cards in our hands. Rubinstein plays games with you as thoughts slowly and indefinitely arise from the sturdy pages in your hands. "Here," you read in the fourteenth footnote, which appears on Page 14, "something should be written," and you realize it has been. These are conceptual games, but serious, and satisfying. I smiled broadly near the end of the book, filled with a kind of joy at the beautiful rendition of the book's own genius in my head.

I am reminded most, in these cards, of the work of Márton Koppánny, which is also conceptual in this playful way (though also much more visual in intention), and that is a good thing. This text is clean, emotionless, without subject, because it is all subject, because it is about us, about the act of reading, and about the expectations we bring to any process of reading. The book may be a bit pricey given its size, but the joy of reading it doesn't diminish with time.
I'll end, though, with two quibbles: the box itself is far too thin. It needed to have been much sturdier. Books in boxes usually have much stronger boxes, and this one even shows some creasing from merely being assembled by hand. Second, the translation is really not perfect. Maybe this was intentional, but a number of times near the end of the book the text simply isn't idiomatic English. Read Page 30, "is currently read" should be "is currently being read" and "constantly reminding of the Author" should be "constantly reminding one [or you or us] of the Author." I can't imagine a need for this clumsy English.
Still I love the book. It was the first I read this year and the first I reviewed, and it's from Ugly Duckling Presse, and it has a number in its title, and I'm sure it will be one of my favorites of the year even by the end. Just as last year the first book I read and reviewed was a book from Ugly Duckling Presse that had a number in its title: Sarah Riggs' 60 Textos
I see a pattern, and that is what this book is about: the patterns of reading, the patterns of being, the patterns of expectation. - dbqp.blogspot.com/2012/01/pick-card.html






Born in 1947, Lev Rubinstein was a major figure of Moscow Conceptualism and the unofficial Soviet art scene of the 1970s and 1980s. While working as a librarian, he began using catalogue cards to write sequential texts. He described his “note-card poems,” as a “hybrid genre” that “slides along the edges of genres and, like a small mirror, fleetingly reflects each of them, without identifying with any of them.” His work was circulated through samizdat and underground readings in the “unofficial” art scene of the sixties and seventies, finding wide publication only after the late 1980s. Now among Russia’s most well-known living poets, Rubinstein lives in Moscow and writes cultural criticism for the independent media. His books in English translation include Here I Am (Glas, 2001), Catalogue of Comedic Novelties (UDP, 2004), and Thirty-Five New Pages (UDP, 2011). In Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties (UDP, 2014), his note-card poems appear in their entirety for the first time.

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