Ilya Semenenko-Basin   

“You are not Alone” – Collage


Ilya Semenenko-Basin was born in 1966 in Moscow. He graduated from Moscow State University and has a Ph.D. in History and Religious Studies. He is currently a professor at the Center of Religious Studies at the University of Humanities and a prominent scholar in the field of history of the Russian Orthodox Church. He began writing poetry very early in his adolescent years, but his first book of poetry, By the Streams of Silver, was published only in 2012. It was shortlisted for the Russian Gulliver’s Poetry Prize in 2014. His book of micro-prose, Nachalo Veka, was published in Moscow in 2015. It describes the particular circumstances of the beginning of the 21st century in Russia and other countries, but with attention to the past.

Semenenko-Basin’s poetry is often laconic, but full of philosophical insight. His verses are characterized by short, sometimes one-phrase lines, almost like maxims. It is always a thought clothed in the verse form, sometimes a sketch of the world around him – momentary and concise, a miniature in itself. The poet’s immersion into his inner world projects dramatic events from the Russian past on the contemporary world around him.

Semenenko-Basin defined his new book The Lire for the Wild Animals (Lira dlya dikih zverey. Moscow: 2016) with the words of Andrei Bely; he “wrote what the air uttered to consciousness.” And indeed, with the clear view of the scholar, he sees the spiritual dissociation of society as one of the central problems in the post-modern world. His poetic talent, however, suggests his own vision of the way out of human alienation, where the poetic voice is like an “Orpheum lire,” which influences the depths of human consciousness. As a hundred years before, poetry could help the individual to overcome desolation and connect to the world. Paraphrasing Joseph Brodsky’s famous words, if it could not change the world to be a better, happier, and sunnier place, it “could still save the individual”.

Several translated poems from The Lire for the Wild Animals open a window into the poet’s vision of the world around him and also appeal to the reader’s imagination. These verses bring with them the sharp austerity of the 21st century minimalist poetry and its refined psychological messages.

  *       *      *

there’s  a point on the horizon,

that I’m interested in

or rather, it’s interested in me

and perhaps I’m not the center of the universe

and maybe the center is not here, where I’m standing

but at this point on the horizon

in that hardly visible dot

is the center that attracts me

  *       *       *

where were we  going?

  *       *       *

Morning coffee

in the one thousand nine hundred thirty ninth year

my grandfather wrote to his relatives

“With great satisfaction I now drink my morning coffee

every day since I received that one small tin of condensed coffee in the mail.”

the letter was sent from the nine hundred fourth kilometer

of the Northern railroad

the first sector

fourth division

of the Onega gulag

  *        *       *

“Our grandfathers heard: the war has begun,

They quit their jobs, got ready for battle… “

Old wartime song

In the steppe, armored vehicles are moving

uniformly alternated.

they move

like thoughts, gripping the three-dimensional air.

In the ole’ ancestors’ song the brave man

raised his right hand like a hero:

the undefeated


  *         *        *

In the twilight we were walking on the bridge

in the village where the old ladies swear like sailors

all the babushkas there swear

but not your grandmother

not your granny, Zhenya,

the decrepit bridge did not collapse behind us

you glanced behind you

to see it was still there

  *         *         *

I listen and watch

Linguists  proclaim:

God is sound and the word of God is hiding

Dikt rampages like a round street light

it burns behind the apple grove

on its heels it crouches in the snow

  *         *         *

the sun

curled up on your ring like a snake

the moon watched

giving away days and months and ages

how well you were saying the sound er

                                                          *          *         *

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