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This review is taken from PN Review 76, Volume 17 Number 2, November - December 1990.

SKETCHES IN THE MARGINS Daniil Kharms, The Plummeting Old Women, translated by Neil Cornwell (Lilliput Press) £5.95 pb;
Ice Around Our Lips: Finland Swedish Poetry, translated and edited by David McDuff (Bloodaxe) £7.95 pb;
Elisabeth Borchers, Fish Magic, translated by Anneliese Wagner (Anvil) £5.95 pb

Given the relative poverty of such biographical information as has survived, Daniil Kharms seems a prime candidate for imaginative reconstruction in the manner of Guy Davenport's fantasias on Robert Walser and Erik Satie (Da Vinci's Bicycle) as another miniaturist difficult to accommodate within the actualities of fact. Yet no-one would wish to re-invent so eccentric a figure without incorporating at least some of the authenticated anecdotes that have attached themselves to Kharms's memory. Vladimir Glotser's homage in the September 1988 issue of Moscow News, beguilingly but extravagantly revisionist in its attempt to make Kharms a universal figure, contains the piquant detail of how the janitor in Kharms's apartment block was flabbergasted to find a new name on the door of his flat every day, not being apprised of its occupant's conviction that misfortune was inevitable if one behaved otherwise. In protecting Kharms from the thought police (he was arrested and exiled in 1931, suffered a second arrest in 1937 and was terminally abducted into the gulag in 1942) this was obviously no more successful a strategy than impersonating a non-existent brother, or sporting the false moustache that he considered essential in dressing for the theatre. In its way, however, it helps to explain why he delivered poetry readings from the top of a wardrobe and, on one priceless occasion guaranteed to bring him to the attention of the authorities, walked out on to the cornice of the fifth floor of the office building (the House of Books on Nevsky ...


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