I first met Viktor “The Mole” Bagrov in May 2017 in the palace-city of Peterhof. The Chto Delat School was holding its end-of-year festival at the lovely QuartaRiata art residency, and Bagrov was always there in the courtyard, just hanging out. Bagrov wasn’t in the school, he just came for the party. He doesn’t remember meeting me, since he was hammered most of the time.
This past summer, I started reading the razor-soft poems Bagrov regularly posts on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/krot.junior. These days he’s back in his home town, Kondopoga, Karelia, living with his father and a kitten named Etienne. These lonely missives from the sleepy north-west borderlands of the Russian Federation felt familiar to me, like they were addressed to me as much as anyone else, like I was the “you” they kept naming, so insistently, sending love and longing. I was longing for love myself.
After the first thumbs up I sent to Bagrov, he wrote to me directly, almost immediately, asking for money. I fell in love.
For some reason, even though I was throwing away money like a drunken sailor at the time, I decided that Bagrov needed a more lasting form of affirmation and attention. The gift of a reader, an interlocutor, and ultimately a translator. Because translation is the most loving gift I can give to anyone. (Don’t worry, though, I gave him a nice honorarium for this piece.)
In the subsequent months, Bagrov and I became close and talked a lot. Like me, he’s living in gloomy, provincial isolation, cut off from the teeming energies of the capital. Like me, he is a sexual “minority,” one of the few openly gay people in his town. We had a lot to share and talk about, and these talks got me through some very tough times.
So, here are four poems. Each is dated — positioned precisely in Bagrov’s forever unfurling Facebook mood-chronicle. In between the poems I share some of the more striking details from Bagrov’s radical life along with some of his Instagram photos of Kondopoga (https://www.instagram.com/krot4998/) and stills from our video chats.
Please love and support the Mole. His is the spirit of history, if there ever was one.
*** публикуй эту боль на частях вкратце: боль вне затылка твоя/моя/им… дубликат пусть будет напоминанием и если можно всему открытым материком пусть будет 09092020
*** publish this pain on parts in brief: pain beyond the nape your/my/them… duplicate let it be a reminder and if possible a mainland open to all let it be 09092020
Bagrov hasn’t had his own computer since 2017, when he passed out in a taxi in St. Petersburg, and the driver robbed him. He posts his poems from his phone. His conditions in Kondopoga are pretty desperate. Everyone knows him in town, especially the cops, as he’s been arrested for shoplifting, drunk and disorderly conduct, and even resisting arrest. He’s currently serving a one-year suspended sentence for punching a cop. Bagrov isn’t an activist, but he has no tolerance for injustice. The Kondopoga holding cells didn’t have mattresses until Bagrov wrote a letter to the police. Now they do. He’s been feeling more and more isolated recently. He wants to find a place where he can live and work, a place that will love and embrace him, forgiving his youthful transgressions. It’s not like he was the only one wasted at the party. He was just the most hardcore. Now, remarkably, despite the ever-encroaching gloom, he’s been off the sauce for six months.
*** какой ты? чуть позднее я расскажу обязательно никогда стану большим или вновь ещё маленьким буду когда? толкать или прятать бумагу потом и в когда буду нанизывать на иглу свои и твои усмиренные капельки пота кот. когда-нибудь украдут или нет может так: занесут в пригвожденную книгу и в ней уже, проступая, я обязатель но извещу в снова, снова даже если мне алые буквы предположим утомлённые будут кричать: "помолчи" . "растекаемся". "все еще". мы. "виноватые" в том же 19072020 *** what are you like? I’ll explain a bit later for sure never I’ll get big or small again I’ll when? push away or hide the paper then and into when I will thread my and your quelled droplets of sweat that /cat/ someday they’ll steal or not maybe like this: they’ll put it away in a nailed down book and in it, showing through, I will sure ly /but/ give notice into again, again even if scarlet letters let’s suppose cry out to me exhausted: “be quiet”. “we’re dispersing”. “still”. we. “guilty” of the same 19072020
Bagrov was born in Kondopoga in 1992. His parents were workers, and his grandparents were peasants. Several of them were repressed by the state. In the 1990s, Bagrov’s father — who served for a time as a border guard — was recruited by the local mafia to work as a hit-man. He nobly declined, eking it out in a factory instead. Bagrov doesn’t remember having a particularly deprived childhood. He says he had everything his parents could provide. But he was always in trouble at school. He had his first run-in with the cops when he was thirteen, after he wrote a sweary poem about a classmate, whose father was police chief. He got sent to a psychiatrist by another teacher who didn’t like his tunnel earrings — homemade from chopped up magic markers.
*** … так хочу: вот желание длиться да жить спеть на ясной твоей может быть коже внутри: говорить, говорить только в тебе и тебе: шёпотом не мешать другим слышать /и узнавать/ нас. двоих. ту же пустошь всю в прогалинах ритма. в игле в подсердечном лишь так, только тебе обещал бы по памяти: ждать, дать, ждать а пока только лагерь влаги. час рта по часам: мой мой мой. бесконечно 16072020
*** … I so want: the desire to last and to live to sing on your clear maybe skin inside: to speak, to speak only into you and to you: in a whisper not to stop others from hearing /and recognizing/ the two. of us. the same wasteland all in the glades of rhythm. in a needle below the heart only so, just you I’d promise from memory: to wait, to give, to wait but for now only a damp camp. the hour of the mouth by the hour: my my my. without end 16072020
Bagrov entered the contemporary poetry scene in 2012-13. He had trouble from day one. Invited to Moscow to participate in a festival of young poets, he got thrown off the train for being drunk. A lot of people tried to help him, but it often seemed like they just wanted to put the Karelian hooligan on a leash. In the next five years, Bagrov lived a nomadic life — moving from place to place, squat to squat, booted time and again, invariably having his things tossed out the window. For a while he lived in a sex-banya in the Kupchino neighborhood of St. Petersburg. The place was called “Rus,” but it was frequented mostly by Central Asian migrants. Bagrov says he’s only had sex for money or lodging a couple of times in his life, but he found the sex-workers in the banya great conversation partners.
*** вот я ещё вспоминаю – ты. ты. ты. (трОп), ки. ст(рОк,) а исключенная. бирюза. Вся (минус) - та! Стойте! Ты! Vо дА! только не в завтра, к другому в пока в оттиск(- е). всюду-всюду. In, ые: начала и примеч. а ни я точно… простые же? 16072020
*** and I also remember – you. you. you. (pAth), ways. f(Ate,) stroke excluded. turquoise. All (minus) – that! Stop! You! Wow tEr! just not into tomorrow, to another into while in(-to) an impression. every-everywhere. In, other: beginnings and comment. a /but/ r /not/ y /i/ precisely… aren’t we simple? 16072020
I don’t judge drunks, as long as they don’t get violent. Drunks are my people — I was as sloppy as they come for many many years. Now that I know Bagrov well, I see the same dialectic that always haunted my soul — between shy sobriety and the radical openness of intoxication. He’s only 28 — and he’s cleaned up his act. I hope the poetry scene starts loving him again, inviting him in. I hope he’ll get some new readers here. To be honest, I think the Mole is one of the most radical humans I’ve ever met. One might even call him the last Leningrad actionist — an actionist not just in art but in life.
Remember the wife-beater Petr Pavlensky’s action, Separation, when he sliced off his earlobe to protest punitive psychiatry in the Russian Federation? I always thought there was something so pompous about the Van Gogh reference in that action, especially considering Pavlensky’s well-known hatred of sex-workers (Van Gogh famously gave his ear to a prostitute). I remember seeing Pavlensky a few days before the action with a bandaid over his ear — he always prepared his “wounds” carefully in advance to avoid excessive pain.
The Mole is also missing an earlobe, but his story is way more intense, passionate, and run-of-the-mill all at once. He was waiting in line to see the dentist, and they weren’t going to let him in, so Bagrov took a knife into the bathroom, cut off his earlobe and handed it contemptuously to the dentist. The cops were immediately called. As Bagrov said in reply to my awe over this story: “I am a meat-cleaver in my poems, and in my life.”
And yet — this cleaving cuts two ways. I don’t remember another poet for whom the pronoun “you” (really “thou” — the informal “tu”) is more important. Bagrov’s poems cleave to the other, not as an object of desire but as a sacred addressee. Read his poems with Martin Buber. Then get the word “you” tattooed above your left eye. You. You. You.
*Special thanks to Ivan Sokolov for advising on the translations.