The Language of Violence

I inaugurate my new stand-alone blog, on USAmerican National Coming Out Day, with a translation I did of Elena Kostyleva’s epochal poem, “The Language of Violence”, way back in 2014.

Those were some fucked up days, almost as bad as these ones. The Russian Empire was at open interventionist war in Ukraine after the Maidan Revolution, annexing Crimea and agitating counter-revolutionary fury in the Donbass. In St. Petersburg, we were all afraid the war was going to spread. Now it’s 2020, and worries about a coming war in the USAmerican Empire are just as intense (for me at least). And who knows what Putin and Lukashenko are cooking up for heroic Belarus. They could start using live rounds at any moment.

In other words, read this poem with today in mind. There have been some other politicians giving “Dada” press conferences — as Kostyleva puts it — and surreally fascist phone interviews recently, no?

“The Language of Violence” is super important among contemporary russophone poems. It immediately became part of the “canon” (cannon?) of queer-feminist poetry, once could say. The Village (where it was originally published) doesn’t seem to show page views anymore, but at one point the poem had at least 25,000 (!). The comments are very interesting, too. The poem was not just a text but an aktion, radically testing the limits of what can be considered “Russian literature.” One can say that all of Kostyleva’s texts do this in one way or another, and they always have. Study her work.

I also want to say openly, publicly, in case anyone doesn’t know, that I am the dildonic muse of this poem. I am the “anthropologist.” The circumcised cock in the poem is mine (and mandatory infant circumcision is NOT “culture” — it is barbarism). One day I will write a full commentary on “The Language of Violence,” unraveling all the ways it has entangled my body and words into its fabric. For now, what slogans does it offer?

#EmancipationIsViolent   #LoveChildren   #PutinIsACunt   #ShareYourFood  #StopRapingUs 

Joan Brooks, Queer-Mama Laments the Androgyne (2014/2020)

Text for a reading at the “Ambassadors of Poetry” evening on March 12, 2014 in the Turgenev Library and Reading Room. 

Elena Kostyleva 
The Language of Violence 

Putin and Merkel had a talk on the phone
discussing the situation in Crimea and the Ukraine
Putin agreed to let the OCSE observers in [1]
Kostya writes me from Khanty-Mansiisk: I always wonder—

how do they really talk to each other

How? I say, well
She says to him: Vova, have you fucking lost it, or what? [2]
Me, I’m an old cunt Vova and I’m telling you, you’ve fucking lost it
Maybe I want to fucking hit someone, too, Vova, but I control myself, don’t I

Stop it, Kostya says

And right away I hear three things

First: I speak to myself in low language
Second: I consider myself an old cunt
Third: I want to fucking hit somebody

Like me, perhaps? my analyst asks hopefully, maybe because
I’m not flying with you?
Ha, if only I was flying, with or without you
It’s because I’m not fucking flying that I want to hit you
It’s your job to make me fly

The session is over

I speak to myself in the language of violence — the same language Putin used during his dada press conference [3]
Putin and I understand each other quite well
The rest of the world loses its shit – what was that? Vova, wake up, you’re not in your living room, Angela tells him. (Aside) I’m not sure he’s in touch with reality. But Vova can’t wake up. This is his living room. Vova and I are right at home.

I don’t know who Putin’s analyst is, but lately it’s clear he’s been struggling.
I’m doing better: I know when violence became one of the basic conditions of life for me
Here’s an example: I need to leave while the children are with their nanny, but my mother-in-law is giving me a judgmental look — I ask her not to judge me, I tell her that if she judges me, I’ll just cry all the time

So, my analyst says, in other words, you’re talking the rapist out of raping you.
I correct her:
I didn’t talk him out of raping me. I talked him out of killing me. I traded violence for life.

The session is over

The deal is still good
The conditions remain the same

Children, tell us how violence became one of the basic conditions of life for you?


Souls – how do they really talk to each other?
You have such large breasts and such small legs, he says. It’s funny, such small legs, like a child’s, the combination…
You never know what the other sees.
You’re pure gold.
The softness of your second mouth is heaven.
I keep quiet. I am Angela Merkel.
I already want you again, he says.
I keep quiet.


Are you tired?
I’m scared
To wake to the screams of a child who doesn’t want to go to kindergarten
To be sleeping with a man, and you want him to cum as quickly as possible
American anthropologists have collected enough data to reach the conclusion: Russian women are overly concerned with the male orgasm
It’s like they want my death, says the anthropologist, who has just been lucky to escape his mortal repose in the embraces of a Russian girl

It’s a bit like violence
On both sides
And so we just drink tea


For example, pay close attention to the following story: the mother of two young children, in a complicated romantic situation, suddenly poisons herself with some herring from the fridge

whenever I looked, it was already there

I respectfully ask the court to qualify this as an attempted suicide

And anyway, the schema of “violence in exchange for life” — well, this is just some kind of roberto benigni

one’s inner auschwitz becoming clear


I dreamt that we took in a lion and a puma
And it was only when the lion tried to eat our cat that I realized we hadn’t fed them for two days
I look in the fridge again
What can I give these two large, free animals
We have some beans…
I make a thin soup, they’re eating it, but they aren’t satisfied

They want an other feed.


Let the merkel angels sing

Your loose belly your cuts from who knows where including from the bite of a vampire queer your large circumcised (culture!) cock and my queer motherhood with two young white heteronormative neurotypical girls, whose tears are worth more than the tears of an African child, dying from hunger along with 11 million others in Somalia in the 2010s, yet less than the tear of an American child, who was promised happiness

my intact, unclitorectomized clitoris, though I did have a few stitches after two Russian births (culture!) — you must have noticed them when I sat on your face yesterday — the sun was shining, and that’s the only thing you said at the start

Let’s get back to Pushkin.

What a shame I didn’t notice the main metaphor they share — the playing card and the monument both come to life. [4]


2014, March. City Children’s Hospital No. 5 in the city of Pripyat. They’ve stolen everything. Written on the headboard: I fuck your injections in the mouth. Written on the wall: KKKlan and Moschino Love.
At the very sight of the nurses the kids start howling like they’re being slaughtered.
There are two boys lying next to me in the ward.
After lights out, the older one, Pasha, asks the younger one: have you heard there’s going to be a war? What, don’t you watch the news? They say it’s going to be war.

They’re the children of state security men. Pasha likes the work of Dmitry Glukhovsky, he writes his own prose, too, and he asked me to read the first eighteen pages. It reminds me a little of Sorokin’s script for the film, “Target”: after an atomic bombardment the main character’s father is taking him, a little boy, on a secret government subway train to the Altai mountains: we will finish the enemy off from there.
Pasha’s ringtone is the Russian national anthem. Before bed Pasha listens to the Russian national anthem on headphones.

Will everyone please rise.


I still don’t believe there’s going to be war. In her “Blockade Diary”, Ginzburg says that they never shared bread with lovers. You brought your ration home to your family, to the people close to you institutionally, officially — your old mother, your dependents, but if you met for love, you kept your bread for yourself. This is a frightening metaphor for me — for the fact that love is a luxury, a whim, for the way war and hunger put us all in our place (I hate these places, there’s something biological, inhuman about them). You can’t give or take more than what is measured out for you.

Three days go by, and I no longer bring you your feed. It’s over between us. Then out of nowhere a shocking SMS comes to the children’s hospital, “how’s your sweet cunt?” When you get the reply, “tripped over Pushkin again,” you call back and ask me what I’m going through.

The boy Pasha dreams of a golden fish. First wish — a lot of money. Second — eternal rule. Third — three more wishes.

I’m a hypocrite, I tell the director that everything is covered in swear words here, and they need to renovate the ward. He nods politely. I know who stole the money.

Lena, my beloved mother-in-law says, I don’t understand why you’re such a softy I thought you had a difficult childhood


we are born into the world red wonderful screaming
and we are the same in love

each love is born with equal rights and merit

even if it is only a weak messianic event

play with it feed it that other feed

otherwise love will die from lack of love
forgetting speech after a few hours
its teeth won’t come in
it will die from total deprivation in a facility for the mentally ill
it has the right to housing and education
to sexual inviolability
and, up to a certain age, to be exempt from military conflicts

[1] Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe.  

[2] Vova is a diminutive/caressing form of the name Vladimir, one step more “common” (in the sense of “folksy”) than the more typical diminutive, Volodya. There is an even more diminutive/caressing form, Vovochka, which names the trickster-schoolboy hero of a popular genre of Soviet jokes. 

[3] Here is the original press conference.

[4] The texts referred to are Pushkin’s “Queen of Spades” and The Bronze Horseman, written nearly simultaneously in October 1833.

Published by velimirx

Joan Brooks (she/they, она/оно) is a writer, teacher, and translator as well as a transgender and neurodiversity rights activist based in Pittsburgh, PA and St. Petersburg, Russia. Brooks' bilingual, bicultural, perhaps even binative practice includes translations of leftist and queer-feminist poetry, autoethnographic essays, political actions, trans-pornography, and rock-operas. Brooks also maintains a non-institutional teaching practice, "Border Trouble," which offers performance-based seminars on literature, philosophy, and culture to students in the former Soviet Union and across the world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: