CONTEMPORARY POETRY AS A CHALLENGE TO CONTEMPORARY INTERPRETATION
The special issue of the New Literary Observer magazine is focused on one of the greatest paradoxes of the current cultural situation in Russia – a huge uprise of poetic activity in the last decade (often referred to as “Russian poetic renaissance”), the intensity and boldness of experiment in meter, genre, metaphor and language, on the one hand, and a total inability of contemporary scholarship to acknowledge and evaluate the phenomenon, on the other. The project is aimed to present a rich variety of poetical trends and individual practices in present-day Russia as well as to continue its efforts in modernizing the conceptual and instrumental basis of the discipline called “the history of literature”.
ON RENDEZ-VOUS WITH CONTEMPORANEITY
The authors participating in this section express their different views on the concept of contemporaneity viewing it as a milestone of comprehending or categorizing social and cultural processes.
A leading Russian scholar Mikhail Gasparov (Century as a Measure of Contemporaneity) analyzes a correlation of personal experience of “contemporaneity” with human life span. In Gasparov’s opinion, a century would be the most
appropriate measure of a period called “contemporaneity.” To support his thesis, Gasparov points out that this period usually embraces lives of three generations, during which the historical tradition is passed through personal communication. “Contemporaneity”, he concludes, is something that one does not learn at school.
In his article, Where Begins and Where Ends the Contemporary Russian Poetry, Yuri Orlitsky (Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow) attempts to define the very notion and meaning of the phrase “contemporary Russian poetry.” These words, suggests Orlitsky, have an emotional rather than analytical value. Nonetheless, the author tries to specify the term studying its origins and functioning in everyday speech.
Sergei Zavyalov (St. Petersburg) views the development of Russian poetry of the last century as a succession of various conflicting cultural paradigms. Dealing with such traditional categories as “Soviet” / “Non-Soviet,” the author underlines several basic tendencies: mythologization, reduction and rehabilitation of time. Zavyalov believes that a borderline between archaic and modernized consciousnesses in Russian culture lies not in the sphere of “Soviet” / “Non-Soviet,” but in another fundamental category related to concept of contemporaneity.
CONTOURS OF CURRENT TIME
Alexander Dmitriev’s (Institute of History of Science and Technology, St. Petersburg branch) essay, Modest Grandeur of Intention: A Challenge to Theory, studies the relationship between present-day literature (poetry) and contemporary humanities. Dmitriev asserts that a variety of major strategies, such as the modernist fascination with cultural inheritance and its own vanguard artistic self-description, are principally inadequate when applied to modern cultural theory. It is rather the primacy of experience and action (and not the context or cultural background) which brings poetry of “post-conceptualism” and contemporary theory together.
Michal Oklot’s (Northwestern University, Chicago) article On Contemporaneity of Contemporary Russian Poetry invites to a debate on the concept of “eluding reality” in recent Russian poetry. He points out that the notion of contemporaneity has been overshadowed by attributing this concept to the sequence of political and economical events, and by following the strong poetic tradition culminating in Brodsky. One of the strategies of unveiling the contemporaneity is a reflection on the concept of epoch, which always betrays the presence, and returning to the old critical formulations associating poetry with the idea of time. This particular logic of contemporaneity is illustrated through the analysis of two poems by Grigorii Dashevskii and Dmitrii Golynko-Vol’fson.
Maria Bondarenko (University of Russian Academy of Education, Moscow) presents the first part of her survey, “Current Literary Process” as an Object of Literary Studies. This article attempts to expand the domain of academic literary criticism by including into it the study of current literary process.
POETS AND THEIR COMMENTATORS:
Each text in this section represents a kind of a trilogy: a poem by a contemporary poet is accompanied by the poet’s self-commentary and then followed by an extensive analysis of that very poem by a modern scholar. NLO invited poets and literary critics of different generations to participate in the project with the provocative aim to juxtapose different sensibilities and “tools of trade” for testing their respective abilities in understanding and defining the modern poetry.
TEST ON TRADITION
Kirill Kobrin (“New Literary Observer” and Radio Liberty, Prague) in his paper Presentiment of Eternal Wake (Irish Prolegomena to Conversation on Russian Poetry), compares two great periods of “social and cultural modernization” in two distant European countries, Russia and Ireland. Kobrin draws the parallel between the fate of old Irish bards (also called “filids” in XVII—XVIII centuries) with the situation of the Russian poets after the fall of the Soviet Union. A new reality deprived both groups of high social status, political influence, and money. As far as Irish bards are concerned their response to the challenge of modernity resulted in seeking new strategies and new language which resulted, Kobrin insists, in the birth of the great modern Irish-English literature with “Finnegan’s Wake” as its peak. Is contemporary Russia pregnant with her own Joyce?
Ilya Vinitsky’s (University of Pennsylvania) essay A Peculiar Nature: Maria Stepanova’s Ballads explores Maria Stepanova’s balladic cycle “The Songs of the Northern Southerners” (2001) focusing on a generic experiment of Stepanova — her intentional estrangement of the old balladic form as a way of revitalizing the genre. The present experiment is embedded in the very nature of the genre (cf. Wordsworth’s “Lyrical Ballads”) and leads to a renewal of the genre in modern conditions.
Igor Vishnevetsky (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee). Invention of Tradition or The Grammar of New Russian Poetry. The perception of a poetic tradition as something which invents itself and has a life span of its own is quite established long ago. This, however, is not the case with present-day Russian poetry, which is still believed to be a continuation of efforts that started around the time of Peter the Great. Vishnevetsky argues that the period of “classical Russian verse” dominated by syllabotonic meters is effectively over. A major part of the article is dedicated to an analysis of the new Russian prosody. Author argues that the new poetry is not a “post-syllabotonic” one but rather represents a radical break with the previous model. It is a true innovation, as genuine and productive as the verse experiments of the first half of XVIII century were.
FOLDS OF INNOVATION
Slava Sergeev — Gennady Aigi. “Poetry like snow always exists¾” is a conversation between the prose writer, Slava Sergeev (Moscow), and Gennady Aigi (Moscow), the well-known poet. Aigi, who rarely touches political subjects in his poetry, this time meditates on the hot topics of modern Russian politics and the tragedy of September 11, 2001, in the United States.
In her article, Circles of Computer Paradise, Darja Sukhovey (St. Petersburg State University) considers the influence of slang, symbols and recent computer technologies on the poetic language of the younger generation. Sukhovey also shows the gradual shift of ideas concerning formal basics of verse in modern Russian poetry that lead to new creative opportunities and semantic compression in poetical language.
Danila Davydov’s (Moscow) article, entitled Unsystematic Element Among Mirrors and Electric Trains (Andrey Rodionov’s Oeuvre as Cultural Invention), observes the new cultural phenomena of the so called “new folklore” and “new roundelay” which basically follow the innovative strategies of rock music. Analysing texts by the Moscow poet and performer, Andrey Rodionov, the author studies the problems of both overt and hidden quotations from the poets of the Russian Silver age and “Lianozovo School.”
The publication of the revised poem by a renowned poet Elizaveta Mnatsakanova (Vienna) “An Autumn in the Innocent Sisters’ Field Hospital. Requiem in seven parts,”, is followed by Gerald Janechek’s (University of Kentucky, Lexington) afterword, Elizaveta Mnatsakanova’s “Requiem.” In his concluding remarks Janechek notes Mnatsakanova’s use of musical keys in the poem’s structure.
FROM THE HISTORY OF CONTEMPORARY POETRY
Vladimir Erl’ (St. Petersburg). Drawings By Russian Writers. “Undying Heritage”: Helenukts. This article gives a brief information about a poetic group, Helenukts, that was active in Leningrad / St. Petersburg during the 1960—1970s. The former founder of the Helenukt movement, the poet and critic Vladimir Erl’, talks about the group’s members and goals.
The article by Dmitry Golynko-Wolfson (Institute of History of Arts,
St. Petersburg), From an Emptiness of Reality to Ñompleteness of Metaphor, traces the intellectual metamorphoses of the term “meta-realism” during the 1980—1990s. The “meta-realist” poets (A. Parshchikov, I. Zhdanov, A. Eremenko) together with “Moscow conceptualist” group (to which they has been traditionally juxtaposed by critics) represented a very important movement of the time, “linguistic universalism.” This movement not only played with ideological codes of every-day Soviet speech, but also experimented with various verbal registers as well as metaphorical and rhetorical constructions. “Meta-realists,” concludes the scholar, “totalized” a metaphor which held for them truth and ideology, narrative and authorial order, religion and social critique.
ON MODERN LYRICISM
Mikhail Aizenberg’s (Moscow) essay, A Blank Sheet, poses the question: why Russian poetry of the 1990s presents such a complicated task for modern scholarship? Aizenberg believes that the true understanding and appreciation of the poetic message is possible only by regarding it as an event.
Elena Fanajlova’s (Moscow) X-ray Metaphysics is devoted to Mikhail Gronas’ recent poetry book “Dear orphans,” (Ìoscow, 2001). According to Fanailova, Gronas’ poetry renovates traditional lyricism, mixing European form and Russian content. Gronas creates the new optics catching things that usually escape general attention.
Anna Glazova (Chicago). On Voice and Logos of Modern Poetry. Contemporary poetry tends to move away from Logos while being pulled toward chaos. This tendency is present in text as its implicit theme and intention. Moreover this very quality can be viewed as a criterion for its contemporaneousness. The obvious point of departure for the poetry’s “journey” away from Logos is the Scripture. The author defines texts written by contemporary poets as examples of “guideposts along this uncertain path.”
Maria Maiofis (“New Literary Observer”, Moscow) in her paper “Don’t Cease to Practice in Tenderheartedness”: Notes on Political Subjectivity in Contemporary Russian Poetry disputes that political sphere looses its autonomy in the poetry by the “generation of the 1990s,” since different realities are acquiring primal significance. Reaction in contemporary poetry toward political events is an indispensable part of a wider lyrical reaction of author/hero who seeks for complicity and participation in global events.
FIGURES OF RESEMBLANCE — A FOREIGN CONTEXT
The article by Stanislav Lvovsky (Moscow), Journey from Illinois to Los-Angeles: Intermediate Landing in Moscow, introduces Vytautas Pliura, a contemporary American poet, to Russian audience. Lvovsky discusses the relevance of Pliura’s first book “Tenderness in Hell” to the modern Russian cultural context. Among the book’s most vibrant things is its controversial reflection of American way of life. In addition the book represents a genuine example of poetical innovation, self-esteem and of pure magic. Lvovsky compares Vytautas Pliura’s works with the gay poetic tradition in Russia (Evgeniy Kharitonov, Yaroslav Mogutin), as well as with poetry written by female authors (Vera Pavlova, Elena Kostyleva). The article is followed by four poems by Vytautas Pliura in Russian translation.
Shota Iatashvili (Tbilisi), “The Rose of Gaphiz I Cautiously Put Into [Sully-] Prudhomme’s Vase”: (On the Change of Cultural Directions in Georgian Poetry). The paper analyses innovative trends in Georgian poetry from 1960s until the present day. The highest achievements in modern Georgian poetry, claims Iatashvili, stem from the synthesis of aesthetic ideas of Western poetry of the XX century (starting with Hans Arp to Sylvia Platt) with the indigenous cultural traditions of Georgia. Furthermore, the self-consciousness of Georgian poetry becomes gradually “westernized” — a fact that allows contemporary writers an essentially new perception of Eastern poetry (Arabic, Persian, Japanese). As it turns out modern Georgian poetry deals with the same challenges that currently occupy European literature — feminism, ecology, new communicational milieu, and experiments with pop-art.
Artem Magun’s (Smolny College of Fine Arts and European Institute, St. Petersburg) essay, I Hear Clearly, is devoted to the autobiographical long poem “Phrase” by the French philosopher, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. Magun reads and comments on the poem by establishing the associative analogies between Lacoue-Labarthe’s “Phrase” and Osip Mandelstam’s poem “January 10, 1934” (“I’m hunted by two-three incidental phrases¾”).
Vera Kliashtorina (Institute for Eastern Cultures of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow) contributes her article, The Steps of Noiseless Water: Two Waves of Westernization in the Iranian Poetry of the Second Half of the XX century. The westernization of Persian poetry in the 1950—1970s came as a result of the sheikh Reza Pekhlevi’s policy of cultural openness. The new tendencies in literature, however, did not meet public support: the prominent Iranian poets of that period remained isolated. After the Islam revolution of 1979, the literature of Iran was pervaded for many years with an ideology that propagated a sacrificial service to state and xenophobia. The “soft” westernization of contemporary Iranian poetry in progress rests upon traditions of culturally universal (e.g. Westernized) literature that have existed in this country prior to 1979 (primarily, the writings of Forug Farrohzad and Sohrab Sepekhri).
POETRY AS A SOCIAL INSTITUTION
A famous poet, writer, and artist Dmitry A. Prigov (Moscow) in his essay Are We Satisfied with this Understanding? focuses on the social and cultural problems of contemporary poetry, and on its current state and status providing a look ahead for possible future scenarios in its further development.
Evgeny Bunimovich (Moscow City Council) is an organizer of the Moscow international poetic biennale which is conducted this year for the third time. In his article, Parallax of Spaces, Manifestations of Universes, and Other Essential Issues, he discusses the relevance of international poetic festivals to the new understanding of place of poetry in society. In the present world festivals of poetry became the conjunction where an equitable dialogue of different verbal cultures and forms of poetical thinking takes place.
Alexander I. Privalov, On Libretto and Production (The Festival “Poetic Opera in May,” Moscow, 2003). The festival “Poetic Opera in May” has been initiated as a demonstration of principles of the “projective thinking” in literary process. The realization of this plan took the shape of attractive literary action with participation of a number of prominent authors. At the same time, Privalov regrets that the festival organizers broke the conceptual frame of the project. A juxtaposition of the intention with its actual realization shows that the culture of literary undertakings is not yet fully adopted in Russia.
Svetlana Koroleva and Alexei Levinson (Federal Russian Center for Public Opinion Research, Moscow). The Experience of Literary Marketing (Project “Poems to People”): a Report and Accompanying Considerations. This article is based on the results of a sociological survey aimed at learning students’ attitudes toward contemporary poetry. The results of this poll demonstrate that students generally regard the contemporary poetic discourse as odd and often unpleasant, marginal to their emotional experience and too complicated. How then can one make Russian poetry more attractive to young readers? The sociologists discuss a variety of possible means of promoting and “selling” good literature to the new generation of readers.
The issue also presents an extensive book review on the latest collections of poetry, as well as its critical evaluation. It also contains the chronicles of the recent cultural events (poetical festivals, roundtables, seminars, conferences etc.).