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August 2014 Issue [Readings]

Each According to His Ability

From responses by Andrei Platonov (1899–1951) to authors who submitted manuscripts in 1920 to The Red Village, a newspaper that he edited. Platonov’s novels include Chevengur and The Foundation Pit; a collection of his letters was recently published by Redakziya Eleny Shubinoi, in Moscow. Translated from the Russian by Maya Dukmasova.

Comrade, if you want to be a poet — be yourself, that’s all. You puffed up, expanded outside yourself, and wrote filth, though perhaps you were guided by sincere feelings and honest thoughts.

Your poems “Spring” and “Autumn” don’t fit our newspaper. They are composed of old, chewed-up words and annoying, irrelevant subjects.

Your poem “To Laborers” is stronger and better than your previous work. Stay away from vulgar, pale expressions (“The enemy is broken and runs away in shame”). Keep working and send more.

“Call to Arms” is not a poem, it’s rhyming prose. This kind of prose is the same thing as salty candy. The poem is the highest form of literature; don’t mix it with anything.

The article “No Slowing Down” isn’t a fit. It’s too old-fashioned, beat-up, and full of words like “liquidate,” “territorial,” etc. Write simpler, responding to the demands and needs of the village.

The poem “Caprices of the Muse” is written to show that the Muse does not depend on the stomach. But if you’re a poet-proletarian, you shouldn’t depend on the Muse: she’s an old hag.

Every person should write — including you. Among what you sent there’s the good (“You turned your bitter jibe into jest”) and the bad (“Smother the scum of the running soul”). So far there’s more bad. Live harder — you’ll write better.

Even though you’re a proletarian, frankly the composition you’ve sent is bourgeois. It reveals the essence of a bygone time. Soon you and I will engage in the greatest of battles.

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