Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Arjen Duinker's reading from the underground

Perhaps this is the way we should deliver the poems from this project:

Arjen did a version of this performance on an elevator in the shopping centre in Durres, where the shortness of the ride meant he could read the sequence from Sailors Home, doing a poem on the way up, then another on the way down. He maintained this for the ten part sequence, to the delight, bewilderment and, yes, elevation of many passersby.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Slava Laika!

To celebrate a new era in the history of this blog, ie I am back from my holidays and will attempt to post some entries, here is an image of Spacedog Laika encountered at Nicolai Tesla Airport in Belgrade.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Andy's holiday reading: the notes

Jerome K. Jerome, Sketches in Lavender Blue and Green (1897)
Short-stories, mildly amusing

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel (1990)
Very funny – though not as funny as Three Men on a Boat. Some useful lines: ‘We have been much interested, and often a little tired. But on the whole we have had a pleasant time, and arte sorry when ‘tis over.’ ‘I wish no-one to read this book under a misapprehension. There will be no useful information in this book.’ ‘In this book there will be no scenery. This is not laziness n my part; it is self-control.’ ‘few foreigners care to listen to their own irregular verbs recited by a young Englishman.’ ‘I am haunted by the suspicion you might skip all this.’

Jerome K. Jerome, Idle Ideas in 1905 (1905)
Essays, mostly humorous, including the one about Russia

Yevgeny Yevtushenko, A Precocious Autobiography (1963)
Wonderful stuff, although tragically dated. Contains the line, ‘Unfortunately justice is the train that’s nearly always late’. Also, ‘There are times when I am very sorry I did not become a footballer. The thud of the bouncing leather ball was, to me, the most intoxicating of all sounds. To outflank the defences of the other side by feinting and dribbling and then to land a dead shot into the net past the helplessly spreadeagled goal-keeper, this seemed to me, as it still does now, something very like poetry.’

Venedict Erofeev, Moskva-Petushki (‘Moscow to the End of the Line’ or ‘Moscow Circles’)
Samizdat novel about a drunken nightmare train journey to the suburbs. Starts at the Kursk station.

Martin Cruz Smith, Red Square (1992)
Plodding third Renko novel.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground (1864).
I didn’t like this at all, but there are a couple of lines we might be able to use : ‘The final end, gentlemen: better to do nothing! Better conscious inertia! And so, long live the underground!’ and ‘I longed to be left alone in the underground’

Martin Cruz Smith, Stalin’s Ghost (2007)
Dreadful fifth novel in the Renko series, re-using all the main elements of the earlier books. Stalin’s ghost is seen on the platform at Christye Prudy station. A body turns up in Izmailovo Park. And this: ‘For the workers who burned with ambition, for soldiers slack-jawed from hash, for those to old and too poor to wave down a car, for revellers going home with a split lip and broken glass in their hair, for lovers who held hands even wearing gloves, and for the souls who had simply lost track of
time, the illuminated red M of the Park Kultury Metro was a beacon on the night.’

Vladimir Mayakovsky, The Complete Plays of Mayakovsky (Vladimir Mayakovsky: A Tragedy, Mystery-Bouffe, The Bedbug and The Bathhouse)
Fantastic. Just brilliant. Also completely bonkers. The Bedbug and The Bathhouse are time-travelling comedies, (influenced by the ideas of Nikolai Fyodorov about science and nature) in which the future is used as a stick with which to beat the failings of the present. Very slapstick. Mad scientists. There is no mention of a bathhouse in The Bathhouse, although when the play was attacked by critics, Mayakovsky erected a huge banner in the theatre: ‘It’s hard to get rid of / The swarms of bureaucrats: / Not enough bathhouses, / Not enough soap.’ In The Bathhouse the Phosphorescent Woman says, ‘You and we came toward each other like two crews of workmen digging a tunnel, until we met – today.’

Andrei Platonov Moskva Chestnova (‘Happy Moscow’) (written in the 1920s but not published until 1999)
Very interesting novel, part allegory, part satire – also influenced by Fyodorov. The heroine, who was orphaned during the Revolution is called Moscow. And she is always happy (hence the title). More crazy scientists. Moscow helps build the Metro:
‘Her life was still long, what stretched out ahead of her was almost immortality. Nothing frightened her heart, and somewhere in the distance, ready to defend her youth and her freedom, cannons were dozing, the way a thunderstorm sleeps in the clouds during winter. Moscow looked to the sky; the wind was moving about like a living being, stirring the murky mist that humanity has breathed up during the night. // On Kanchevskaya Square, behind the plank fence surrounding the excavations, the compressors of the metropolitan railway were snorting away. A placard hung by the workers’ entrance: KOMSOMOLETS, KOMSOMOLKA! HELP BUILD THE METRO! YOUR FUTURE WORLD NEEDS A GREAT RAILWAY! // Moscow Chestnova believed, and went in through the gates; she wanted to take part in everything and she was filled by that indeterminacy of life which is just as happy as its definitive resolution.’

Mikhail Bulgakov, The Heart of a Dog (written 1925, not published until 1987)
Almost perfect. More mad scientists inspired by Fyodorov. They transplant the pituitary gland and testicles of a man into a dog. The dog Sharik becomes Comrade Sharikov, a talking bi-ped and an easy joke about the limitations of science and progress (he still behaves like a dog, chasing cats and stealing sausages).

Sergei Lukanenko, The Night Watch (1998)
Daft and pedestrian supernatural thriller about the forces of Light and Dark that keep watch over Moscow. First in a trilogy. Some of the action takes place on the Metro (because Dark Magic doesn’t work so well underground). Occasional lines like: ‘I love the metro at night, but I don’t know why. There’s nothing to look at except the same old dreary adverts and the same old tired human auras, the rumble of the engine, the gusts of air coming in through the half-open windows, the jolting over the rails. The numb wait for your own station. // But I love it anyway.’

Viktor Pelevin, The Sacred Book of the Werewolf (2004)
My favourite Pelevin so far. The usual Bulgakov tricks of people becoming animals. The Russian FSB is run by werewolves. Russian prostitutes are were-foxes. Good satire, missed with the usual chunks of Buddhism. The were-fox telling the story does not appear to care for ‘metaphysical blockbusters in which good allows evil to feed, because evil allows good to feed, and so on’ - ie Lykyanenko. Best of all is the suggestion that the first dog into space was a were-dog – the Cheka agent Sharikov! (this is why the MS of Bulgakov’s story was suppressed for so long)

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

You say 'bradyashki', we say 'brodyagi'

As the song says 'potaeto, potahto, tomaeto, tomahto/ let's retitle this blog'. A Russian friend has pointed out that our previous title, 'Tri Bradyashki na Metro' was barely Russian -- 'brodyazhka' a diminutive for 'brodyaga' often refers to female vagrants, while 'na Metro' is more of a Ukrainian construction. So our title actually implied 'Three big girls' blouses who might as well be on the Kiev metro for all they know'. This, whilst being more accurate than we realised, clearly will not do. But I'd still like to keep a distinction between the name of this site, now firmly both Muscovite and masculine, and the title of the impending book, which remains 'Troye v metro' -- Three Men on the Metro.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

List-eria OR stantsia-spotting for the compulsive

A first draft at the stantsias visited by our tri intrepid pisateliy roughly in the order they were visited (all lists will be subject to revision, correction and expansion -- it is hoped the last action will actually make this entry interesting). With the intention of inducing mind-numbing stultification in the casual visitor, I've indicated stations that straddle two lines or are linked by points of intersection to other stations. One must be Completely Accurate.



Kurskaya (circle and radial)-Chekalovskaya



Ploshchad Revolutsiy-Teatralnaya-Okhotni Ryad

Shosse Entusiastov

Marksistskaya-Taganskaya (circle and radial)

Park Kulturiy (circle and radial)


Belorusskaya (circle and radial)

Kitai-Gorod (two lines)





Komsomolskaya (circle and radial)


Borovitskaya-Biblioteka Imeny Lenina-Aleksandorvskiy Sad-Arbatskaya

Vorb'evy Gory


Turgenevskaya-Chistye Prudy-Sretenskiy Bulvar


Tretyakovskya (two lines)-Novokuznetskaya







Prospekt Mira (circle and radial)


Leninski Prospekt





Arbatskaya (other line)


Rechnoy Vokzal

Myetro Lending Library

Here's a first, analphabete, bibliographically incoherent stab at listing some of the books etc that fed and continue to feed into the project. During the war the Metro stations were impromptu concert halls, meeting areas and, in one case at least, a library. These works line the shelves of our underground reading room.


Mayakovsky poem ‘A Bit of Utopia’
Brecht, ‘The Moscow Metro Workers Take Possession of the Great Metro on April 27, 1935’
Valery Syutkin, ‘42 Minutes’ (song)
E Dolmatovsky, ‘Komsomol Volunteers’ (Комсомольцы-добровольцы)
Semion Kirsanov, ‘M’ (not found yet)
Demyan Bedny ‘Moscow’ (includes section about building the Metro ; not found yet)


Alexander Khaletski, Metro (1985)
Andrei Platonov, Happy Moscow (posthumously published, 1991)
Martin Cruz Smith, Gorky Park, Pole Star, Red Square, and Stalin’s Ghost
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground and The Double, translated with intro by Jessie Coulson (Penguin Classics)
Sergei Lukyanenko, The Night Watch (UK publication, 2007)
Venedikt Erofeev Moscow Stations (1969)
Bela Illes story ‘Fire in the Metro’ (not found yet)
Il’f and Petrov kids story about the Metro (not found yet)
E Tarakhovskaya, M (1935) children’s book (not found yet)
Lev Kassil, Miracle Beneath Moscow (19??) (not found yet)
H.G.Wells, The Time Machine, intro by Marina Warner (Penguin Classics)
Pushkin, Fairy Tales, translated by Jacob Krup and Oliver Elton, edited by Elena Shabalova (P-2 Art Publishers, St Petersburg)
Moscow Metro Travel Guide, translated by Kate Cook, ed. Elena Krishtof (Knigi WAM)
Vladimir Nabokov, Nabokov's Dozen
Michael Frayn, The Russian Interpreter
Viktor Pelevin, The Blue Lantern
Mikhail Aizenberg, Say Thank You
Lev Rubinstein, Here I Am
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat and Three Men on the Bummel, into by Jeremy Lewis (Penguin Classics)


Komsomol Volunteers (Комсомольцы-добровольцы) (1957)
Metropolis (Fritz Laing, 1927)
Hammer and Sickle (Sergei Livnev, 1994)
Scientific Section of Pilots (Andrei E, 1996) serial killer on the metro
MMM (Eisenstein, never finished)
Pokrovvskie Vorota (1982)
Ironiya Sudbiy, Ili c Legkim Parom! (1975)
Troye v Lodke
Ballad of a Soldier, dir. Grigory Chukhrai (1959)


Jack Lindsay, A World Ahead
Alan Sillitoe, Road to Volgograd


Metro-2 (based on an attempt on Stalin's life by the NKVD)
Metro-2: Death of the Leader (sequel)

Friday, 23 May 2008

Timetravel by Myetro

Morlockian reverberations continue to disturb the space-time continuum (AKA my head):

Monday, 12 May 2008

Tri linkniks

The lovely WAM book we picked up at Ismailovsky Market on routes around the Metro is mentioned here:

Tatanya Federova, who was a construction worker on the Metro and delivered a speech commended by Stalin, is interviewed here (where there's also a realplayer recording of her speech):

Thirdly, the Metro completes its Biblical span with an anniversary celebrated here:

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Tri coincidentals

Everyone knows creativity warps the space-time continuum or at least makes you pay attention to coincidences in a slightly more obsessive way than usual. Everyone, even dogs. When you're very focussed on a project, quite often little reinforcements will show up suggesting you're on the right track (excuse gratuitous rail-based punning), and this project has been no exception. Here are the three surviving members of The Coincidences, a super-smooth soul combo you may remember from 70s TOTP.

1. Three Men on a Boat: one of our initial impulses was to echo the famous comic novel, not just because we were going to bumble (or 'bummel' as J would put it) around in a vagon much as they did on a lodka, but also because we knew that this particular novel was translated into Russian because of its innocuous content, and well read during the Soviet period.

Therefore we were delighted, in our search through the underpass booths of Moscow for Soviet musicals and film versions of Bulgakov's novels, to happen upon, in the booth by Ploshchad Revolutsii, a Russian adaptation of the JKJ book which was also a musical. We were, however, a little disturbed when Andy switched on his TV that very evening and found the same film just happened to be playing. Unless they show it every night, freaky.

2. One of the analogies we'd been playing with since our arrival was the Morlock/Eloi dichotomy in Wells' Time Machine, not just to describe the underground/overground bumbling free aspect of our trip, but, as Wells intended, to replay the sharp division of industrialised society into mob and aristos, unter- and ubermensch, workers and bosses, that the Metro subverts and inverts with its buried palaces for the people.

Therefore I was a little astonished, on arriving at Sheremetevo Airport for the return flight, to wander into the DVD shop and find, not only was The Time Machine playing (unfortunately the Guy Pierce rather than the Rod Taylor version), but it was conveniently at that point in the movie when the Elois were raided by the Morlocks. Even more appropriately, I'd been the one having Morlock dreams. Freaky and deaky.

3. One of the recurrent fascinations of our trip was the story of Metro 2, the shadowy second system that served the Politburo and the KGB and, it was rumoured, was still in use and still being extended. I remember ten years ago being told a line ran from the Party bosses' dachas by Sparrow Hills, straight to the Kremlin. We'd grilled a few enthusiasts about this, scanned the fan site, and discovered there was a computer game called Metro 2.

Therefore we were delighted to discover through further 'research', that Metro 2 the game features a plot to assassinate Stalin which is supposed to take place around... where else but where we had ended up staying, quite by chance of course: Ismailovo. Freaky, deaky and their younger brother, Zekey.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Interim Report

We have just returned from Moscow where we spent 10 days exploring the city and its underground railway network. We visited over a third of the 176 stations on the Moscow Metro, went to the Moscow Metro Museum, interviewed the Director of the Museum and the grandson of one of the original Metro architects.

We watched the Communist Party demonstration in Revolution Square on May Day, supporters at a football game (Lokomotiv Moscow nil, Spartak Nalchik nil), worshippers celebrating Orthodox Easter, old men in a Banya (bath-house) and boat trippers on the Moscow River. We also visited the Bulgakov Museum, the Patriarch Ponds, Tsaritsino Park, Red Square, the VDNK Park, the Vernissage, the Gagarin Monument, the Sparrow Hills and the OGI collective. We met with artists Dima Topolsky and Aleksandra Paperno, with Tanya Ilyina from the British Council, and with the publisher and editor Tom Birchenough.

We have returned with copious notes and books, hundreds of photographs and many hours of audio recording. The next stage is to write the poems over the next six months. Even if we only write half what we have planned, we are confident that it is going to be a very strong book indeed.


Boiling squirrel links:

Squirrels have bitten to death a stray dog which was barking at them in a Russian park:

A red squirrel tsar has been appointed by Scottish Natural Heritage to help increase numbers:

As the man from American Inventor says, another breakthrough in the war between mankind and squirrels:


This year (2008), from St George's Day (April 23rd) through the Orthodox Easter(April 28th), May Day and up to the election of Putin's successor (May 3rd), three British poets went on a short trip round and round the underground. This blog charts the results: notes, photos, sounds, drafts, links and factoids.


The Moscow Metro offers a singular perspective on the Russian psyche. Constructed over thirty years, largely during the Stalinist period, to provide transport, shelter, warmth, and a peculiarly Soviet grandeur, these 'People's Palaces' are at once stunning feats of architecture - packed with the minutiae of period iconography to the point of kitsch - and fascinating temples to the quotidian, where all Muscovite life rushes before you.

Its stations are named after the central principles and events of Russian society; they are named after its great writers, artists and scientists. They are constructed using marbles and materials from all over the vast hinterland of Mother Russia. The Metro is at once a microcosm of Russia itself, and a symbol of the infernal and purgatorial circles through which the Russian people have passed.

In the year of yet another significant transition in Russian life, when Putin officially hands over the reins of power to his successor, Medvedov, this project by three British poets will attempt to circumnavigate not just Moscow, but the cycles of cultural history which the Metro represents and continues to evoke.

This is a project which, like the Metro itself, combines multiple levels and appeals to a broad audience. The structural principle of the journey allows for both individual vignette and continuing narrative. The successive layers of the Metro, floor beneath floor, is echoed in the transition between forms - history, non-fiction, drama and poetry are all represented.

Andy Croft, Bill Herbert and Paul Summers variously write, edit and translate poetry ; they make films and public art; they are reviewers and anthologists, critics and cultural historians. They are also completely out of their depth, idealists abroad, babes in the abyss. Like their predecessors in that boat on the Thames (Jerome K Jerome’s novel is known as трое в лодке in Russia), these three Brits are adrift in a very foreign medium, and their collective response - poetic, comic, political, dramatic - will offer a unique insight into a culture poised between retrenchment and convulsive change.