Matvei Yankelevich ’95 is the author of Alpha Donut: The Selected Shorter Works of Matvei Yankelevich (United Artists Books), which brings together poems and prose texts written over the course of the first 11 years of the millennium. The volume contains a pastiche of works from the writer’s several serial projects (such as Writing in the Margin or The Bar Poems) and stand-alone poems. Many of these pieces have appeared previously in progressive literary journals and little magazines.
Yankelevich comments: “Alpha Donut‘s title comes from an old-school coffee shop in Queens, near my first NYC apartment. I used to write poems there, listen to regulars, and hang out with a few close friends over cheap coffee. This didn’t happen all that often, actually, but it was a type of atmosphere — and, one might even say, ethic — that is reflected in this pastiche of a book, which culls from my notebooks and published poems from the around the time I moved to New York (late 1990s) to the present.
“I attempted not to give too much weight to any one type of poem, to keep the book moving between funny and serious, melancholy and exuberant, one-liners and meditations. I wanted the pages to be visually dynamic, too, looking for subtle shifts that would play out on the whole open spread, emphasizing the book’s physical space. The series and stand alone poems are all mixed together, thwarting (I hope) the preciousness I feared would creep in to what is in essence a ‘selected’ of a long span of work. There are motifs that only make themselves known through this kind of weaving: the city, friendship, jackets, bars, and all of it, I think, is a particular kind of writing about writing, even when it doesn’t seem to be — about the writer’s position in space, in language, outside of things, absent from work.”
A review in Publishers Weekly says: “The most unsparing poets who live and write in New York absorb the city into their work, and Yankelevich stands in this tradition of the fast-talking, wry, and welcoming metropolitan poet. … Though his unsparing generosity might not always be pretty, it’s certainly as honest as they come in New York.”
And in his review of the book at Tillalala Chronicles, poet John Olson writes: “Yankelevich excels at the deceptively simple, the casual, off-hand sentence that carries a potent charge. The writing is, in fact, quite precise. Its strict attention to economy of statement is masked by a congenial sense of the comic.”
Yankelevich was born in 1973 in Moscow, USSR, from where his family emigrated to the Boston area in the late 1970s. He is also the author of a novella in fragments, Boris by the Sea, and several chapbooks: Writing in the Margin, The Present Work , The Nature Poetry of Matvei Yankelevich , and Bending at the Elbow. He is a widely published translator of Russian poetry; his translations of the eccentric early 20th-century writer Daniil Kharms have appeared in many journals, including Harper’s, The New Yorker, and New American Writing, and were collected in Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms. He is a member of the volunteer editorial collective of Ugly Duckling Presse, a nonprofit publisher based in Brooklyn, New York.