Kulakov, Vladislav

Schwartz, Marion (translator)

WHAT'S NEEDED IS LYRICISM

Poetry of the "New Wave"

Relapse of the stage?

Apparently it has been considered in good taste until now to speak of a crisis in poetry, a lack of vivid new names, a decline in reader interest, and so on. Alive in the memory are the sensations of the 1960s, which overflowed with stadiums, disputes at the Polytechnic, and a fantastic demand for poetry anthologies. Nowadays one longs for new sensations. But there aren't any. Does this mean there is a crisis?

Now we have this new era outside - perestroika, revival. Just as in the 1950s and 1960s. Where is the enthusiasm, the noble impulses, the discoveries? Enthusiasm is nowhere to be seen, for some reason. The shestidesiatniki, the sixties generation, believed in revival. You would not catch the eighties generation with the chaff. It is clear to everyone that what we have today cannot be revived. As it turns out, we have nothing to be proud of. At times the romantic impulses of the "theatrical" shestidesiatniki can even be embarrassing. No, in a human way you can understand them: they sincerely believed. Despite being pure of heart, though, they did sometimes falsify, and this art cannot forgive. More than anything, the eighties generation fears falsifying, pricking themselves again that is why the enthusiasm isn't catching.

Nonetheless, the "thaw" was perestroika's precursor, and a great deal is indeed recurring. You would have to be blind not to notice the mounting poetic activity. And there are genuine sensations - Dmitrii Aleksandrovich Prigov, for example. True, he isn't young, and the poems creating the furor are ten and even twenty years old, but who cares? We're reading them only today, so for us they're a discovery. It would be nice to make another discovery after this one: to really read, for example, I. Kholin, G. Sapgir, and Vs. Nekrasov, who hack during the "thaw" did the same thing as Prigov and long before Prigov himself. But the sensation mechanism works differently, and not everyone works for that effect.

Be that as it may, the poetry (and not only the poetry) of the eighties generation has gone through its period of wild demand. They never did assemble stadium audiences - they scurried back and forth between sanctioned and unsanctioned meetings. Still. . . . The public went to the first free exhibit (the seventeenth youth exhihit, on Kuznetskii Bridge), as they did a little later to Kashpirskii. There was the poetry evening at the Dukat plant's House of Culture in the summer of 1987: delicate poetry lovers stormed the club's back door and windows, like rock fanatics at the concert of a touring idol. Nowadays not only avant-garde exhibits and poetry performances but also rock concerts play to half-empty halls. For a couple of years, though, the situation was quite "theatrical" - the eighties generation met the social demand.

These kinds of successes, I think, are a dubious matter for poetry, and it is no accident that the stormy activities of the Moscow club Poetry irritated many people. "What's going on?" inquired Moscow journalist A. Semenov in his report about one evening at the club. "Is this a comedy night, a TV broadcast of 'Around Laughter'?"

Arkadii Semenov himself, by the way, is a poet and doubts that this kind of comedic noise can have anything to do with poetry. Rightly so, probably: noise is contraindicated for poetry. Humor and irony, however, by no means. The very phenomenon of the new ironists, of course, is not that extraordinary from the esthetic standpoint. There is a longstanding literary tradition, which for some reason was poorly recognized for some time but has proved relevant in the present-day situation.

Irony is, of course, not a genre or a style. The tendency to irony is more a character trait. Brodsky and Voznesenskii (to say nothing of Pushkin and Mandel'shtam) are ironical, but for some reason they are not called ironists. The genre "ironic poetry", cultivated under the headings of satire and humor, as a rule has nothing to do with poetry. And although first the Oberiuty [members of the Association for Real Art - Ed.] find themselves surrounded by parodist humorists, and then the Lianozovite Ian Satunovskii flies unexpectedly into the "Green Portfolio" of Iunost' magazine, these are all exceptions to the rule, attesting mostly to editorial incompetence.

Irony, play - all this plainly adds up to postmodernist trends. But ironists are not interested in the post-avant-garde problematic in and of itself. For them something else is more important:

In the fifties - born,
In the sixties - in love,
In the seventies - big talkers,
In the eighties - useless.

(E. Bunimovich)

Not a cultural reflex but a social drama - our shared national drama, and even more concretely, the drama of a generation - becomes the basis for their creativity and provides the initial poetic impulse. One more lost generation, the children of stagnation, gazing with revulsion at its Pioneer-Komsomol past, tortuously sobering:

Dmitrii was knifed. The warehouse is closed.
A gloomy morning on St. George's Day.
The Russian people, no better off than before,
fight to the death, cursing me.

(V. Korkia)

The poetry of the ironists is the poetry of the hangover, the poetry of "no better off than before."

"Where they cry, we've been laughing through their tears for a long time," Korkia once said. And the "Russian people" in the person of L. Baranova-Gonchenko (and she has never doubted that she had the right to speak in the name of the Russian people) immediately "cursed" the poet: "We never did notice the tears, actually, but we're fed up with mocking laughter".

It is sad dealing with people who don't know how to laugh. We're fed up with poetic sobbing, too. You won't help grief with tears. Still, as far as deep genuine pain goes, without which there is no poetry, then all this is, of course, in the laughter of the "ironists," not very merry laughter, we must say. Who are we laughing at? We know - ourselves:

I got off the Moscow assembly line,
instead of my heart - a fiery motor,
And this instead of my head...
Pardon -
     natural selection.
I'm a "Moskvich"...
     How tiresome - not a ZIL!
Not enough horsepower.
Limp design... Tedious excess weight...
Pardon me,
Mercedes, sweetheart...

(E. Bunimovich)

Esthetic nihilism, that special cruelness, is only a consequence of the surrounding absurdity. Pathos like in a Govokhin film (long before the film itself): "You can't live like that!" But we don't know how to live any other way. And we aren't going to learn - not us, in any event, those of us "in the fifties born." A bloody abyss of lies and insanity opened up once to the poet, and alongside that all the abysses and heights of the soul and culture lose their meaning:

How fine at the brink of an abyss
to stretch out stiff on the brink of the abyss,
dying a minute at a time
in a stupid, insignificant battle.

(A. Eremenko)

This is already beyond laughter. Because this "battle" is the real thing and far from stupid. It is for spiritual survival and has, of course, strategic importance not only for the poet, not even only for poetry.

So that the laughter is far from mocking. This is the laughter that, unlike tears, can quite realistically help us all. Help us survive the hangover and sober up. Generally speaking, all talk about the total nihilism of the new ironists is nothing more than another myth. What we have here above all is lyric poetry, authorial monologue, which, I will point out, is by no means necessarily completely ironical-sarcastic:

Forgive me,
      in your stroller, sleeping son,
that it was your lot to be born in this house,
maybe, though, all the power of our kindred aspens
is that they are kindred,
      and there's a stinging
in your eyes,
      when you come here alone
and see your own parallelepiped...

(E. Bunimovich)

Ironists' verse is emphatically aphoristic; they make broad use of word play, puns: their favorite activity is playing out widely used linguistic metaphors, "materializing" idioms: "In the snowdrifts of nuclear winter, in the dump of the golden age" (V. Korkia), "a dust storm in a cut glass" (E. Bunimovich), and so on. The "strange" word is activated in the broadest sense: from direct quotations (especially characteristic for A. Eremenko) to the introduction into the text of various ideological, bureaucratic cliches:

THE USSR MINISTRY OF HEALTH
WARNS:
All has passed, and youth is gone...

(E. Bunimovich)

Still, what we have here is traditional monologue poetry, direct authorial utterance. Therefore, in vain do people mention the Oberiuty in the same breath with the ironists, in the same breath with the likes of Eremenko or Bunimovich. The Oberiuty did directly determine a great deal in modern poetry: both in the poetry of the conceptualists and in the samizdat poetry of the 1960s - the Lianozovite group, the Leningraders - V. Gavril'chik, V. Ufliand, O. Grigor'ev... We are talking here, though, not about some direct legacy of Oberiuty poetics: conceptualism picked up the unclaimed mail and few have properly evaluated the Oberiuty discoveries in the sphere of playful esthetics, and the art of organizing the artistic milieu and context of conceptualism (and postmodernism in general) is by definition not a monologue art. Other poets usually counted in with the general ironist heap are proving close to the conceptualist line - poets like I. Irten'ev and V. Druk. Irten'ev's travesty poetry has the ring of the mythmaking of D. Prigov, the same socialist art (sots-art):

Woman in see-through dress of white
and wearing high-heeled shoes,
Why do you sell your body
So far away from the big deal?

True, Irten'ev is much less interested in conceptual problematics than is Prigov. Irten'ev uses parody according to its direct designation, for satiric purposes. Nonetheless, his verse cannot in any way be fitted into the usual framework of "satire and humor," reminding us frequently of the clarity of speech of N. Oleinikov and the "sculptural" expressiveness of I. Kholin's verse. Not that it is a matter of apprenticeship.

The influence of the shestidesiatniki - the Lianozovites above all - can be felt in the poems of Vladimir Druk:

...shiite - antishiite,
sunnite - antisunnite,
semite - antisemite,
kalmyk - antikalmyk
biscuit - antibiscuit
e-l-e-c-t-r-o-l-y-t-e!
as a common
     memorial
          to them,
built in battle,
be this...
     Oh!

THEATER OF FRIENDSHIP
     AMONG NATIONS!
where all of us are actors . . .

("Monuments" [Pamiatniki])

It is not even that back in 1960 Vsevolod Nekrasov wrote "Anti-Verse" [Anti-stikh]: "There is a proton and an anti-proton, a nucleus and an antinucleus, a cycle and an anti-Cycle... and so on." It is perfectly possible that Druk did not know that particular poem of Nekrasov's, especially since it has yet to be published. What is significant is that for some time Druk, who began in a characteristic ironist manner, has begun to make active use of purely playful means, and not without success.

Another variation on playful poetics is demonstrated for us by A. Levin, known until recently more as a bard, a guitarist of outstanding mastery. Evidently he draws no particular distinction between songs and poems as such; this seems to be the case when song texts in their printed form, without their melody, are perceived as self-sufficient. Levin's grotesque imagery and virtuosic creation of words are close to the poetics of several books by G. Sapgir (especially "The Terze Rime of Genrikha Bufarev" [Tertsikhi Genrikha Bufareva]) and I don't think Levin yields to him at all in inventiveness or feel for language:

A racketer-mouse, rustling in the floor.
A drone-a-phone a bit in the corner.
I sit, thoughtful, like the earth's thane.
watch the sunset - virtual sun net.
Unsunlet.
A bunboy buzzed out the window,
Sizzling and crunching like a crust, -
fell. But I'm sitting attentively
and didn't fall. I'm king of the universe.

("Model of a Thinker by a Window"
[Model' myslitelia u okna])

Nonetheless, neither Levin, Druk, nor Irten'ev could be counted among the conceptualists with full reason, as could, say, Prigov. Rubinshtein and Sukhotin aren't ironists at all. The graphic means can be almost the same, but their goals, their artistic tasks, are different. Conceptualism is truly an avant-garde phenomenon, an art, an immediate involvement with the problems of art itself, with investigation into the possibility of an artistic utterance. For the "ironists," as I have already noted, the center of gravity lies in a different problem field, reflection moves to the periphery, and the conceptualist experiment itself becomes more a ready means. The most important thing in the ironists, though, is the lyrical, civic determinacy of the utterance. Hence the political acuity and the stage success. . . . All this calls to mind the theatrical nature of the shestidesiatniki, although I think the civic maturity of the new ironists is deeper, just as perestroika is deeper than the thaw. (You have to be cautious with comparisons because the thaw was after Stalin, not "stagnation," and these are substantially different things: the contrast of the "thaw" may be even sharper than the contrast of today compared to, say, 1985.) Be that as it may, the excesses of theatricality - a certain tendency to slogans, excessive politicization, journalism at the expense of artistry - all this frequently makes itself felt. The failures are forgotten, however, and the poems remain - and a good deal already has remained and been remembered.

Gosizdat and samizdat

Of the literature that used to take up nine-tenths of the magazine space with its optimistic historical-revolutionary epos and joyfully heroic epic poems, a great deal has already been said. Today it is happily receding into nothingness. But the state put out other literature, too, real literature, and it would be a mistake to relegate it to oblivion. Samizdat veteran Vsevolod Nekrasov noted somewhere that the forces of gosizdat and samizdat seem just about equal. Of the ten thousand members of the Writers' Union, a few dozen true talents could be scraped together. Thanks to them, some life was nurtured in state publishing, and something happened in poetry: sometimes something even very important happened: Slutskii, Samoilov, Chukhontsev. . . . According to the familiar scenario, events developed for a new generation as well. Among the untalented chorus of "young voices" being published in the early 1980s, names worthy of attention did turn up.

Soviet postwar poetry manifested itself above all in the desire to be rid of the grating pseudoheroic rhetoric of Stalin-era poetry, which took its source in the later work of Mayakovsky and the militarized Komsomol romanticism of the 1920s and 1930s. By the close of the Stalinist era, this esthetic had completely lost any sign of real life. On this backdrop the trench truth, the harsh realism of the poets of the front generation and those who followed them, rose up and was heard. The eighties generation, of course, was no longer distinguished by this kind of "harshness." Representatives of the first poetic generation appeared to grow up relatively well off, even with a certain level of comfort. They did grow up, of course, in "Khrushchev's slums," but that still meant a separate apartment, not a communal one, not one on top of another. Why is this important? Because it was daily life that inspired the new poets, what had surrounded them since childhood, and it was through everyday realia that they expressed their lyrical attitude toward the world. One of them - Oleg Khlebnikov - even called himself the "annalist of existence."

In 1986, Andrei Mal'gin quite accurately characterized this poetic generation in his essay "We Are the New Arbat Generation" [My - pokolenie Novogo Arbata] (Novyi mir, 1986, no. 4) as a new wave of urban poetry (which gave our "back-to-the-soil" adherents grounds to unleash a strange and highly unproductive polemic around this essay for the purpose of proving that there isn't and could never be any such thing as urban poetry). Compared to their predecessors, the new "urbanites" even looked "warm and fuzzy," quite unheroic. But this was important as well: in a country of incessant and compulsory heroism and endless artificially created social cataclysms, to start talking about ordinary human things, about what is around you - without revolutionary pathos. Civic poetry, accustomed to epic canvases and mass scenes, suddenly felt the uniqueness of each human life and expressed interest in this uniqueness. Hence the desire for objectiveness, concreteness, even "chronicleness." Daily life becomes esthetically significant-the shameful daily life that only got underfoot, the triumphant march toward an inspired, nonmaterial future idea, a daily life you have to fight against. No, now daily life is inspired, valuable for the uniqueness of one's own and the other human destinies reflected in it.

Then, in the mid-1980s, in his essay "Primarily About Thirty-Year-Olds" [Preimushchestvenno o tridtsatiletnikh] (Voprosy literatury, 1986, no. 5), I. Shaitanov complained about the "passion for reminiscing" that had appeared among the young. This was inevitable, however, given the scant attention of our urban lyricists to their own lyric "I" and the persistence of the staring at the outside world. Here is what is curious: in these reminiscences what proves paramount is the details, not the generalities; memory itself is presented as something deeply material:

So, well, here, I say, is memory -
     it's not a luxurious
pewter reflection distorted,
but a patched-up, soiled
     bast-mat
coverlet, ripped in spots
     and burned.

(M. Pozdniaev)

The new annalists, it seems, have done a good job of mastering the effect of documentaries: what roms out to be most interesting in them are not the "historic moments" for the sake of which the filming began but what falls into the frame by accident: some little sign in the background or a pack of cigarettes the tobacco industry hasn't made in a long time. That kind of detail can sometimes "glue together" the whole poem: "...the era of the satellite, soccer, debate in mid-avenue, the era of the word 'gramophone,' the time of glory - 'Che Guevara,' dolls (still German), tablecloths (still Chinese), children's cameras and ladies bicycles" (O. Khlebnikov). At the same time, the "urban" poets, as a rule, are not very tender toward life or ingratiating to their heroes. They always express themselves concretely, often ironically, sometimes mercilessly. Soviet daily life in general provides no grounds for tenderness, and the aftertaste of its absurdity is constant in the poems, materializing from time to time in characteristic Soviet details such as monuments to "the swine and swineherd" (O. Khlebnikov) or "to the bugler with horn upraised" (V. Salimon). But this is merely the inanimate backdrop because still "the star jingles, the star burns and pours light on Goskomtrud, Gossnab, Glavlit, Glavatom, Vtorchermet" (V. Salimon). So that always behind the irony, behind the intentional down-to-earthness, the antiestheticness, "the star jingles," the "star" of lyricism, and you sense the intense feeling of the fullness of existence that arises out of profound isolation from the surrounding world not the Soviet absurd, of course, but people living despite this absurd (although this point - "despite" - is not accentuated and may not even be conscious), living in their own way unrepeatably, in Russia in the second half of the twentieth century:

And I did see it, when I froze on the threshold
of the huge hall, in a cloud of pine needles
     and snow -
like in the middle of an unspeakably
     wide road,
before me stretched the boundary
     of half a century...
And - a fluffy seed that survived the crush,
I came to love this century. And in an embrace
     with everyone
I crossed over into its second half.

(M. Pozdniaev)

Slutskii, Chukhontsev, and also, if you like, Glazkov - with his irony, play, and eccentricity - are immediate reference points for the new "urbans" (especially notable is Glazkov's influence in the poems of V. Salimon). In the same essay, Shaitanov remarked that in this rank the young yield strongly to their elders. Of course, the everyday texture in Chukhontsev is much more emotionally saturated than are the endless object series of the new poets. After all, though, Chukhontsev is by no means involved in the estheticization, the lyricization of daily life. Rather, he mythologizes daily life, dissolves it in a general intense spiritual space. It would never occur to anyone to call him an "annalist of existence." But the "urbans" are taken up with the opposite: materializing spirit in daily life, and here some pile-ups are probably inevitable.

Had blessed glasnost' not ensued, the discussion about the poetry of the eighties generation would probably have to close with these considerations. Because no ironists, underground, or avant-garde, I don't think, would have existed for official criticism. The discussion about "complicated" poets became famous in the early 1980s, but it was utterly impossible to understand anything: people did debate some, but for some reason they scarcely printed any poems. This continued: M. Epshtein tried to explain the new poetry and everything got completely mixed up because the talented essayist was explaining not literature so much as his own esthetic and metaphysical views. The point is that it is impossible to sort out the "new" literature outside the context of the whole history of the development of "unofficial" art, and this is precisely what Epshtein attempted to do.

What is characteristic of unofficial art? Where is that esthetic dominant to which the censors reacted with such invariable vigilance? I am talking here not about dissident poetry (which also, by the way, yielded quite a few vivid talents), which appeared in samizdat for obvious political reasons. I am talking about another line of unofficial literature, that in which, actually, all the postmodernist artistic ideas that are so relevant today first formed. The point here is not just "avant-gardeness" (although, of course, any degree of esthetic risk raised suspicions first and foremost). For the postmodern, the customary opposition "avant-garde - un-avant-garde" loses its significance. Attesting to this in particular is the compatibility of what would seem utterly dissimilar authors under the same cover as, say, in the collection Monday.' Seven Samizdat Poets [Ponedel'nik. Sem' poetov samizdata] (Prometei Publishers, 1990), or even within the framework of the single poetic group Almanakh, to which A. Zorin devoted his essay "The Muse of Language and Seven Poets" [Muza iazyka i semero poetov] (Druzhba narodov, 1990, no. 4).

But the "muse of language," that is, the special esthetic attitude toward the "living language of the socium," is merely a consequence of a more general artistic arrangement. Quoting D. Samoilov, Zorin contrasts two approaches to language: Almanakh's and the Soviet traditionalists' - "Let poetry lag behind common speech." This thought can be developed further. Here is the "poet's position" as formulated by Samoilov:

Not by blood and not by decay
I judged our era.
All that happened - happened to me,
And crumbs were left the rest!

I judged by the people, the souls,
By truth as well as upraised hand.
We wanted things to be better,
Which is why we knew no fear.

True, he is talking about war, but not only that. To judge "not by blood and not by decay" but "by the people, the souls, by truth as well as upraised hand" - was probably the poet's only chance of surviving both the war and the years of terror, physical and ideological. To remain a lyric poet, occupying the traditional position of judge and prophet, was possible only in this way - judging "not by blood and not by decay." This has been so since time immemorial: as if the lyrical arrangement - "for sounds sweet and prayers" - were traditional. Too much of that blood has been shed in the last seven decades. Too much for art as well. The samizdat poets would be the last to want to judge, to clarify their relations with the epoch. Epoch-making is not their province. They are striving for a different lyric quality.

What kind of quality this is can be traced against the backdrop of the creative work of those "urbans" who continued Samoilov in this sense. Recall V. Salimon's "star," which "pours light on Goskomtrud, Gossnab, etc." Lifeless freaks, awkward, but harmless, sweet even, like the plaster luxe of a park of culture and recreation or an economic achievement exhibit. Here are the lines of conceptualist M. Sukhotin:

At the bottom of the ravine
SPETsGOELRO there
POTREBGULAGA,

There GOSPRIRODA
     in CHELOVEK-CHAS'E
comes out as sweat,
     for now from the dirt
not coming out sideways
ZHILTRESTPROMSCHAST'E . . .[a]

We're not talking about a "star" here, to say nothing of a five-pointed plaster one. But the plaster comes to life - not sweet freaks but awful monsters advance on us along with the "sweat" and "dirt"; "blood and decay": the poet lyricist cannot separate himself from the terrible socium mixed in so thoroughly with the blood.

The new poetry's sensation of the Soviet socium as a nightmare is directly related to the dissident movement, to the ideology of human rights. No idea (including the idea of human rights) can become the justification for a single ruined fate, a single drop of blood shed. Timur Kibirov bares this sense of nightmare to the limit, to the point of physical pain:

Hey bitch, what're you waiting for, what're you
     looking at, whore, what're you
smiling at, fool?
Here's a fig, take a bite, and get
     the hell out,
don't breathe on me, please! ...

So why're you waiting, you washed
     the floor
and, cutting snowflakes like a pro
(how wonderful they are, how clean
     and white),
glued them to the window thick.

But directness of utterance is only outward appearance. The task is to create one's own poetic language.

Rejecting the prophetic position, the new poetry rejects lyrical inertia and routine. Lyricism at the present time is not what is given but what demands to be proven. The author appeals more to the outward than the inward and strives to be as obvious as possible. Let speech, the word, speak for themselves. That is why you often hear an "alienated" word, perhaps even an "alien" word - all the way up to ideological linguistic abracadabra, as in sots-art. We used to know "what kind of dust poems grow out of," too. Now it turns out, though, that this very dust can be not only the soil, the fertilizer, but also the building material.

Hence the "music of language" not only of conceptualism but apparently of the traditional monologue lyricism of S. Gandlevskii, M. Aizenberg, and E. Saburov. Understandably, the social orientation of this poetry is in many ways close to the ironists; here you will discover similar "generational" motifs:

They frighten us, but we're not afraid
They curse us, but we don't care
Stab, but it doesn't hurt
Hound, but we feel free
What kind of people are we?
What kind of quails?
We should scream and fall
Our teeth should chatter
And in the creeping void
Dig in just in case.

(M. Aizenberg)

The differences are fundamental, though. Different emphases. Postmodernist emphases. The ironist's characteristic emphasis here is impossible: compare the candidly direct speech of Bunimovich ("in the fifties - born") and the complete "closedness" of Aizenberg's poem on the same theme quoted above. A kind of esthetic minimalism is professed whose roots are in the concrete poetry of the 1950s and 1960s.

There is an opposing line - the maximalist line, the "complicated" poetry about which people once debated so hotly. The task of creating one's own poetic language is also basic for the "maximalists," but they approach the problem differently: they put the stress on the authorial word, on the profoundly personal and, as a rule, extrasocial lyrical mythology. Hence, actually, the notorious "complexity." There is no such thing as a "metametaphor," of course, but there is another attempt to create an esoteric, sacral poetic speech, a "high" style. Actually, various tendencies are visible here. The poems of I. Zhdanov and O. Sedakova, with their personal, maximally subjective mythology, is one thing; the more analytical poetry of the St. Petersburg poets E. Shvarts and V. Krivulin, with their pull toward play and stylization, is quite another. One more tendency of primarily "intellectual" poetry can be distinguished. Its representatives - A. Dragomoshchenko, A. Parshchikov, and N. Baitov - are not striving for musical expressiveness. They are investigators, and their verse is transformed into a rather cumbersome analytical apparatus. In principle, all this is also an expression of general postmodernist thought with respect to the possibility of direct utterance. The problem of the "sign" and the "significance" becomes yet again the constant motif of the lyrical reflex, for instance, in this poem by Nikolai Baitov:

The point is that signs are regular only on
the limited space of meanings, and if - ...
then, of course - as you catch the radio music
in the slippery closeness and the flickering of whistles,
where at every turn in the hazy holes
of the garbage pile - and everywhere it's tight and full.
There's nowhere to look, and only in invented forms
is there any grounding. However
the fear remains, especially in the asters - in the shaggy
many-armed webs, reigned dead.

Words "remember" their nature as signs, and the desire to break out of the sphere of "invented forms" leads to the necessity of "extrapolating" as large a number of linguistic projections and "planes" as possible, in the hope that quantity will turn into quality and "invented forms" into spontaneous lyric experience. I think Baitov succeeds at this much more often than, for example, A. Parshchikov (although, of course, it is impossible to agree entirely with I. Rodnianskaia, who declared Parshchikov an inveterate imitator for all to hear). In general, naturally, the programmatic purpose of creating one's own poetic language is one thing; the result, what comes of that, is another. And various things come of it in the new poets: better in some, worse in others. Naturally, though, the work of each author must be approached individually.

Samizdat poetry is too broad and sparsely researched by our criticism. In these hurried comments I have touched only on that which bears direct relation to the poetry of the 1980s. There still won't be any need to write the history of unofficial poetry and publish texts from the twenty-to-thirty-year "hold back" if we are really interested in our letters not being "official" and "unofficial," "Soviet" and "anti-Soviet," and have not undergone the administrative-territorial division of superior organs but simply were what they always were - an organic part of Russian literature.

From ironists to "patriots"

It would not be a great exaggeration to say that it is ironism and nihilism that in many ways have determined the face of today's poetry. This is a perfectly natural reaction to the esthetic hypocrisy of previous decades, testimony to the deep changes in the public consciousness, the emancipation of spiritual life. The emancipation is proceeding with its share of lashings, its share of cruelty and pornography, but there is nothing you can do about that. Most of all, you don't have to do anything, you don't have to fight it; enough of fighting and supervisory instructions. Culture is a self-organizing system, and it will take care of itself.

In general, it is not a matter of ironism as such; what is important is the commonality of worldviews, the motifs of the "lost generation," which are expressed to a certain extent in the characteristic admixture of esthetic nihilism, that laughter through tears. Apart from those who have already been discussed in this essay, quite a few other relatively well-known poets could be mentioned, such as lu. Arabov, N. Iskrenko, T. Shcherbina, V. Stepantsov, A. Turkin, and the less spoiled by the press and television and in my opinion no less and at times even more interesting V. Strochkov, V. Tuchkov, A. Vulykh, and V. Dmitriev. In its extreme forms, this esthetic leads to the desire to openly epater (as in A. Turkin). Before, they used to epater la bourgeoisie, the philistine, now a new figure has appeared - the sovok - another philistine, but this time Soviet. The sovok is Homo sovieticus, a specific human type and a phenomenon, a certain mentality thanks to which the entire incredible structure of Soviet life proved itself viable. The "anti-sovok" pathos is the basic moving force of the ironists.

Drawn to the ironist "pole" are A. Lavrin, S. Zolotusskii, L. Zhukov, and M. Laptev. True, a strengthening of the lyric reflex of poetry's personality is notable in them. Most interesting on this level, in my opinion, is the poetry of D. Vedeniapin, D. Novikov, V. Sanchuk, and S. Samoilenko. Preserving ironical sharpness both in their intonation and their linguistic texture, their poems acquire the qualities of lyric suggestiveness at the expense of bold, although harmonious verbal moves.

Even in our conventional "esthetic spectrum," there is already a pure, unadulterated "literary" lyricism, a poetry of"self-expression" of which, as at all times, there is more than enough in the overall poetic current. Here, though, one can cite rather vivid authors: S. Belorusets, Nina Gabrielian, Ian Shanlii. . . . Noticeable, by the way, is the arrival in literature of the second "wave" of "urban" poets, such as I. Bolychev, E. Stepanov, A. Purin, S. Nadeev, and others.

The avant-garde (with the prefix "post," naturally) is represented primarily by conceptualism (there have also been attempts at neofuturism, but their prospects are dim). In general, conceptualism is a phenomenon of the 1970s, with deep links to samizdat (A. Monastyrskii, Vs. Nekrasov, D. Prigov, and L. Rubinshtein); they came into fashion only in the 1980s and, as the saying goes, have "retired from the scene" in many ways. But the link with the eighties generation here is the most direct, in any case, in the work of such poets as T. Kibirov and M. Sukhotin, who "took shape" in the lap of samizdat. Close to conceptualism is Ivan Akhmet'ev, who even to this day has virtually no publications in his homeland (a small book came out recently with V. Kazak Publishers in West Germany). The oral, spoken verse of Ia. Satunovskii and Vs. Nekrasov is reflected directly in the esthetics of this oral fragment by Akhmet'ev:

there were attempts
that
underwent no development
and turned into events

Akhmet'ev is one of the most vivid representatives of the "minimalist" line discussed above. Hence, from the present-day work of Nekrasov, Rubinshtein, and Akhmet'ev, poets who, in essence, are very close to one another, certain important force lines diverge that determine a great deal in the modem self-perception of poetic language.

Akhmet'ev writes primarily free verse, but his vers libre (like that of Nekrasov) is special and falls somewhat out of the general vers libre movement that has made itself so clearly felt in recent years. This "movement" has its masters - V. Burich and V. Kupriianov - and collections and anthologies of free verse have already come out - White Square [Belyi kvadrat], X Time [Vremia iks], and the monumental Anthology of Russian Vers Libres [Antologiia russkogo verlibra]. Among the most interesting vers librists of the eighties one could name K. Dzhangirov (compiler of X Time and the Anthology), A. Tiurin, and A. Makarov-Krotkov. Here the mark of the genre is not the excerpt or the fragment, as in Akhmet'ev, but the lyric or sententious miniature, which sometimes attains the expressiveness of aphorism:

in this country all we know how to do is speak our own language

(A. Makarov-Krotkov)

The only thing that seems odd is the vers librists' desire to distinguish themselves from all other poetry, as if free verse were not actually a literary genre. After all, no one is organizing movements of iambists or trocheeists!

The conceptualists, "ironists," and vers librists are the left wing. Next comes the strong center, and after that, as one would expect, the equally strong (in any event, in the quantitative respect) right wing. Esthetic conservativism here combines happily with ideological conservativism. Previously, you recall, people spoke about "village" poetry, there was even a polemic on the theme of which is better, the "village" or "urban" writers (as if both could not possibly be equally good). Now there is no longer any necessity to conceal the fact that it is not a matter of the countryside, or rather, not so much the countryside as the "Russian idea." It is service of this idea that explains the enigmatic selectiveness of vision of the critics of the "patriotic" orientation and their often maddening incompetence. However, "not to be too smart but painfully literate" is, as Nekrasov noted, "the honorable obligation of a Russian patriot." First the idea, then the art later. Like any art obsessed with ideology, the poetry of the "patriots" runs into serious problems.

I will make the proviso, though, that I am not talking about patriots but about "patriots" in quotes. A patriot is not someone who shouts about patriotism; professional patriotism is a doubtful thing. Because "Russian is not a profession or a confession." This most accurate line occurs in the joint poem (as it turned out) of the two Russian poets Akhmet'ev and Nekrasov.

However broad the "esthetic spectrum" of the new poetry, you can hear vital poetic voices in any of its parts. As ever, there are only a few major, important poetic events (it would probably be strange if it were otherwise), but the atmosphere itself, the cultural milieu, I think, is quite viable. Literature has ceased to be an affair of state, but it has not ceased to be an affair of society. I repeat: lyricism is what demands to be proven, and the representatives of the new poetry are not deluding themselves. Lyricism, though, is also what is simply required, required for us all, and so it appears.

Note

a. The capitalized words are sardonic parodies of the monstrous acronyms that dominated bureaucratic jargon in the Soviet period.


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