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Talking With The Taxman About Poetry - Vladimir Ma

[Translated from the Russian by Peter Tempest]


Sorry to bother you,

Citizen taxman!

No thanks...

Don't worry...

I'd rather stand.

I've come to see you

on a delicate matter;

the place

of the poet

in a worker's land.

Along with


and land users

I'm taxable too,

and am bound by the law.

Your demand

for the half-year

is 500 roubles,

and for not filling forms - 25 more.

My labour's

no different

from any other labour.

Examine these figures

of loss and gain,

the production


I have been facing,

the raw material

I had to obtain.

With the notion of "rhyme"

you're acquainted, of course?

When a line of ours

ends with a word

like "plum"

in the next line but one

we repeat

the syllable

with some other word

that goes


A rhyme

is an IOU,

as you'd put it.

"Pay two lines later"

is the regulation.

So you seek

the small charge of inflexion,suffix

in the depleted till

of declensions,


You shove

a word

into a line of poetry

but it just won't go -

you push it and it snaps.

Upon my honour,

Citizen taxman,


cost poets a pretty penny in cash.

As we poets see it,

a barrel

the rhyme is,

a barrel of dynamite,

the fuse is

each line.

The line starts smoking,

exploding the line is,

and the stanza


a city


Where to find rhymes,

in what tariff list,

that hit the bull's eye

with never a failure?


a handful of them

still exist

faraway somewhere

in Venezuela.

I have to scour


and tropical climes.

I flounder in debt,

I get advance payments.

My travel expenses

bear in mind.

Poetry -

all poetry -

is an exploration.


is just like mining radium.

To gain just a gram

you must labour a year.

Tons of lexicon ore


all for the sake of one precious word,


how searing

the heat of this word is


the smouldering

heap of waste.

There are the words

that go rousing,stirring

millions of hearts

from age to age.

Of course,

there are different brands of poet.

Famed for sleight of hand

are quite a few.

Verses they pull,

like a conjuror,


out of their own mouths -

and others' too.

What can one say

of the poetry eunuchs?

They write

stolen lines in -

not turning a hair.


like that

is nothing unusual

in a country

where thieves are enough and to spare.



odes ans verses

which with rapt ovations

audiences greet

will go down

in history

as overhead charges

for the achievements

of a few of us -

two or three.

It takes

quite a time,

to get to know people,

smoke many a packets of cigarettes

till you raise

that wonderful word

you're needing

from the deep artesian

folk wells.


the rate of tax

grows less.


that wheel-zero

of the total due.

I pay one rouble 90

for a hundred cigarettes

and one rouble 60

for the salt I consume.

I see your form

there's a host of questions:

"travelled abroad?

Or spent all the time here?"

What if

I've run down

a dozen Pegasuses

in the course of


fifteen years?!

You want to know

how many servants

I'm keeping,

what houses?

My special casee please observe:


do I stand

if I lead people

and simultaneously

the people serve?

The class


with the words we utter

and we


push the pen.

The soul-machine

wears out,

begins to splutter.

They tell us:

"Your place


is on the shelf."

There's ever less love,

less bold innovation,


strikes my forhead

a running blow.

There comes

the most terrifying depreciation,

the depreciation

of heart and soul,


one day this sun

shall like a fattened hog in

a land rid of beggars

and cripples


dead by the fence


have long

been rotting

along with

ten or so

colleagues of mine.

Drae up

my posthumous balance-sheet!

I tell you -

upon this I'm ready to bet -


all the dealers and climbers

you see

I'll be

a unique case -

hopelessly in debt.

Our duty is

to roar

like brass-throated sirens

in philistine fog

and in stormy weather.


fines in cash

and high interest

on sorrow,

the poet

is always

the Universe's debtor.

And I

owe a debt

to the lights of Broadway,

a debt to you also,

Bagadady skies,

to the Red Army

and to Japan's cherry blossom -

to all

about which

I had no time to write.


did I undertake

this burden?

With rhyme to shoot,

with metre anger to spark?

Your resurrection

the poet's word is,

your immortality,

Citizen clerk.

Read any line

a hundred years after

and it brings back the past,

as fast as a wink,

all will come back -

this day

with the taxman

with a glint of magic

and the reek of ink.

Come,you smug dweller in the present era,

buy your rail ticket

to Eternity



the impact of verse

and distribute

all that I earn

over three hundred years!

Not only in this

lies the power of a poet,

that it's you

future generations

will think about.

Oh no!

Today too

are the rhymes of a poet

a caress,

a slogan,

a bayonet,

a knout.

Five -

not five hundred -

roubles I'll pay

you,Citizen taxman!

Delete every nought!

As of right


demanding a place

with workers

and peasants

of the poorest sort.

But if

you think

all I do is just press

words other people use

into my service


come here,

let me give you my pen

and you

can yourselves

write your own verses!


transcription:Rami Zakh (danh@vms.huji.ac.il)

Билли Брэгг

Talking With The Taxman About Poetry - Vladimir Ma / Билли Брэгг

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