Conversations in Exile: Russian Writers Abroad

Conversations in Exile: Russian Writers Abroad

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An entire generation of Russian writers have been living in exile from their homeland. Although today's glasnost has special meaning for many of these banished writers, it does not dissolve their experience of forced separation from their country of origin. In Conversations in Exile, John Glad brings together interviews with fourteen prominent Russian writers in exile, all of whom currently live in the United States, France, or Germany. Conducted between 1978 and 1989, these frank and captivating interviews provide a rich and complex portrait of a national literature in exile.
Glad's introduction situates the three distinct waves of westward emigration in their historical and political framework. Organized by genre, the book begins with discussions with the older generation of writers and then moves on to more recent arrivals: the makers of fantasy and humor, the aesthetes, the moralists, and the realists. Each voice is compelling for its invaluable testimony--some reveal startling insights into the persecution of dissidents under Soviet rule while others address the relationship between creativity, writing, and conditions of exile. Taken together these interviews reveal the range of modern Russian writing and document the personalities and positions that have made Russian writers in emigration so diverse, experimental, and controversial.

The Writers: Vasily Aksyonov, Joseph Brodsky, Igor Chinnov, Natalya Goranevskaya, Frifrikh Gorensetin, Roman Goul, Yury Ivask, Boris Khazanov, Edward Liminov, Vladimir Makisimov, Andrei Siniavsky and Maria Rozanova, Sasha Sokolov, Vladimir Voinovich, Aleksandr Zinoviev

John Glad: You're a Russian poet but an American essayist. Does that bring on any measure of split personality? Do you think you are becoming less and less Russian?
Joseph Brodsky (recipient of 1987 Nobel Prize for Literature): That's not for me to say. As far as I'm concerned, in my inner self, inside, it feels quite natural. I think being a Russian poet and an American essayist is an ideal situation. It's all a matter of whether you have (a) the heart and (b) the brains to be able to do both. Sometimes I think I do. Sometimes I think I don't. Sometimes I think that one interferes with the other.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822396444
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 06/01/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 3 MB

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Conversations in Exile

Russian Writers Abroad

By John Glad, Richard Robin, Joanna Robin

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1993 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-9644-4


The Older Generation

Igor Chinnov

Poet and essayist (b. 1909). Chinnov was born in Riga, Latvia, where he was trained as a lawyer. In 1944 he fled to Germany. He moved to Paris in 1947, returned in 1953 to Germany, and eventually moved to the United States in 1962. There he was a professor of Russian literature at the University of Kansas and Vanderbilt University. In 1989 a selection of his verse was published in the chief Soviet literary journal Novy mir (The New World), no. 9.

Verse collections: Monolog (Monologue) (Paris, 1950); Linii (lines) (Paris, 1960); Metafory (Metaphors) (New York, 1968); Partitura (New York, 1970); Kompozitsia (Compositions) (Paris, 1972); Pastorali (Pastorales) (Paris, 1976); Antiteza (Antithesis) (College Park, Md., 1979); and Autograf (Autograph) (Holyoke, Mass., 1984).

English translations: Three poems, trans. Theodore Weiss and L. P. Izborsky, TriQuarterly, no. 28 (1973): 433-434; R. H. Morrison, ed. and trans., America's Russian Poets (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1975); five poems in Russian Poetry: The Modern Period, ed. John Glad and Daniel Weissbort (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1978).

College Park, Maryland, 1978

JG Igor Vladimirovich, when did you begin writing poetry?

IC I began writing poetry while still a law student. After I graduated I took up Slavic literatures and languages in Paris. But my first collection wasn't published until 1950, by Rifma Publishers, which was run by Sergei Makovsky. In former days Makovsky had edited the famous St. Petersburg literary review Apollon. When my first collection came out—it was called Monologue —the Paris Federation of Russian Writers and Poets set up a discussion panel on the book. There were numerous speakers, including Georgy Adamovich, a friend and follower of Gumilyov and a member of the Poets' Guild, as well as Georgy Ivanov. Sergei Konstantinovich Makovsky himself was there, and after the conference he published a report on it in the premiere issue of his New York review Opyty (Experiments). The journal no longer exists. But I do remember a Pushkin anniversary dinner one evening in Paris, where I read a poem on Pushkin composed just for the occasion. The speakers there were Ivan Alekseevich Bunin, Aleksei Mikhailovich Remizov, and Boris Konstantinovich Zaitsev, who would later host another dinner, this one in my honor upon my arrival in Paris eighteen years later.

My dinner was in 1970. Gregory Adamovich and Vladimir Veidle came and gave talks on my poetry. Veidle was another Silver Age man, and I imagine that there are still people around in Leningrad who remember him. Irina Odoevtseva, Gumilyov's disciple and a member of the Poets' Guild, and Yury Konstantinovich Terapiano, who always reviewed my books in Russkaya mysl' in Paris, were also there. Those are the two evenings I remember. A year later, in 1971, after my return to Paris, I learned, to my sadness, that both Adamovich and Zaitsev had passed on. I lived in Paris for about ten years. I also lived in Germany. But Paris is still like a hometown to me.

JG Then you would say you're a postwar poet.

IC Yes, my prewar poetry is of hardly any significance. I published a few things in a Paris-based avant-garde review called Chisla (Numbers). What happened was this. While I was living in Riga, I was discovered by Georgy Ivanov, who took a liking to my poetry and to an article I had written. He had it all published in Chisla. But it was only with the publication of my first book Monologue that the real Chinnov appeared. At that time I wrote in the style of the Parisian Note, a movement headed by Adamovich himself. Its hallmark was simplicity—a limited vocabulary, pared down to only the most essential words. We were so eager to replace the specific with the generalized that sea gulls, larks, and nightingales were all reduced to "birds," while birches, oaks, and weeping willows became "trees." We all believed that we should write as if there would be no more poetry after us, that what we wrote in exile would be the last Russian poetry, and that we should add no ornamentation, nothing superfluous. We strove for the most Spartan word stock, without ornamentation and without frills. Our vocabulary included only what was rudimentary and indispensable.

JG You say that you are a representative of the Parisian Note, and yet you began writing poetry only after World War II. One usually thinks of the Parisian Note as a prewar phenomenon.

IC Absolutely. I am something of a hanger-on.

The Parisian Note took acmeism and developed it further. As Vladimir Veidle once wrote, I probably went farther than anyone else. He was convinced that I had reached the limits of that style, that the simplest of the simple poetry had now been written, and that nothing was left but repetition. He claimed that I'd come to a dead end and that I was heading off in a new direction.

The poetry in my first book Monologue as well as in Lines is unembellished. There is no ornamentation. But in my seventh book, Antithesis, I began writing free verse. Some of the poems, while neither iambic nor trochaic, are quite rhythmical. I have always striven for musicality and wanted my poetry to be pleasant to the ear. Not everybody agreed with this. The poetry of Anatoly Steiger—also of the Parisian Note and a fine poet—has a drier sound to it than mine. He used musical orchestration and ornamentation, but his poems are more bitter than mine, with the exception of one of my later books, Partitura, which includes some very sad pieces as well as poems in the grotesque.

In my first three books, I do not use elements of the grotesque. These books contain some free verse and a certain amount of vocabulary enrichment. In other words, I have strayed from the notion that we must limit ourselves to the most basic, indispensable language, and I have begun to write more freely, if you will. It's something I had to do. I could no longer restrict myself; I could not remain static. Metaphors, my third book, contains some enrichment of language. However, I am not that fond of those first three books of mine. I like the others better, Partitura in particular. That book has a great deal of the grotesque in it.

JG Do you consider yourself a cosmopolitan writer?

IC I most certainly do. The Russian titles of all my books are single words with Latin or Greek roots—Monologue, Partitura, Kompozistia. My intention here was to emphasize the importance of cultural tradition, particularly the Greco-Roman European tradition. I attach a great deal of meaning to that. I am a Russian poet, and I love Russia, but I also love our European civilization and culture as a whole.

JG Much of what you're saying reminds me of Mandelstam's manifesto, The Dawn of Acmeism, which contains those very thoughts. Of course, as you say, acmeism is considered to be the precursor to the Parisian Note.

IC Even though I have turned away now from the style of the Parisian Note, I am practically its last living representative. The most typical was Steiger. There were several others, including Yury Terapiano, a good but underrated poet. But I am the only remaining one in America. I gave up that style because one can't go on repeating oneself. I decided to expand the vocabulary I used. Now I no longer strive for lexical simplicity and poverty, but rather for its opposite. I try to include words which have never been used in poetry before. My seventh book is called Antithesis, as you know, since you were the publisher. It serves as a counterpoint to the book preceding it, Pastorales. There is none of the grotesque in Pastorales. There is only the beauty of the world coupled with a bitter sense of doom and the brevity of our life on earth. There is nothing to suggest what is to follow in Composition or Antithesis, both of which abound with foreign words, and feature a return to a grotesque, satirical, and even sardonic style. That is absent from Pastorales.

I am to a certain extent an imagist. I use a great many images and figures. Mine is a very tangible poetry. For instance, we always think of the minotaur as having the head of a bull. In Pastorales, however, I rework the image into one of a cow with the head of a minotaur. Or another example from the same poem: everyone knows that fossilized beetles were sacred to the ancient Egyptians. These were real live azure-colored scarabs. The Egyptians considered them sacred. So I have the scarab's "malachite brother buzzing about in the grass, reflecting its sky blue."

The critics were absolutely correct in noting the vivid color of my poetry and its abundant images. But I have other poems which are practically devoid of images. My first book Monologue is written in the style of the Parisian Note—where I kept the number of words to a minimum: sky, snow, wind, light, dark, ray, sunset, maybe sea or tree (without saying whether it was an oak or a birch or something else).

Then, gradually, I added individual features—as opposed to general ones. I abandoned the general for the specific.

JG Which non-Russian poets have influenced you?

IC I'm not sure that anyone has influenced me, but I do favor certain less well-loved poets. Of my favorite poets I would mention the later work of Gottfried Benn, also Rainer Maria Rilke, Eduard Mörike, to name a Romanticist, even Karl Krolow. I'm not very fond of the German modernists because their poetry is unmusical and rather unpleasant sounding. Of the French I very much like Jules Laforgue with all his poems on stars and moonlight. In some ways he resembles Guillaume Apollinaire. Apollinaire and Jules Laforgue are among my favorites. Of the modern poets I like Jules Supervielle and a few others.

I never felt much for the surrealists, not because of their strange imagery; no, I like that immensely. But because of a certain amount of disorder, sound disorder. They seem to forget that each poem is also a structure of sound.

JG Of the poets living in Russia today, whom do you find particularly noteworthy, and who in your opinion is undeserving of his reputation?

IC To get a book from Russia is a major event for me. There are a number of very talented poets there. I like Novella Matveeva. I like Bella Akhmadulina, of course. I find Leonid Martynov interesting. He doesn't write in my style, but he's so inventive, particularly in sound, and his imagery is so rich. I'd also mention Yevgeny Vinokurov. One of his poems, by the way, was clearly influenced by Georgy Adamovich and another by Anatoly Steiger. In other words, you can see the influence of the Parisian Note in both cases.

JG Does he make mention of them?

IC No, but it's clear that he's read them. Russian poetry is fettered by its lack of contact with foreign poetry. This phenomenon has occurred before. Russian poets of the 1970s, for example, sat stewing in their own soup. And I fear that poets in Russia now not only have no access to émigré poetry, but they're cut off from world poetry as well.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko is a very good poet, but he writes quickly and carelessly. Poems such as "Babi Yar," "Stalin's Heirs," and before that "Winter Station" helped in gaining fame for him, but they bear no relation to true poetic quality.

Andrei Voznesensky also did himself some good by writing his collection of poems They Use Formalism to Frighten Me. He justified his innovations by citing Lenin's revolutionary style, although Lenin would, of course, have indignantly rejected Voznesensky as a poet. That's obvious on the face of it. Voznesensky borrowed a lot from Marina Tsvetaeva and was right to do so. Even Pushkin said: "I take whatever I find." That's how Andrei Voznesensky came by his fame. I'm not so sure that the quality of his poetry justifies his fame and glory. There are other minions of fortune, but I do not envy them. I realize that my life has been totally different from theirs. Furthermore, I am not a popular stage performer (estradnik).

JG Whom of the émigré poets would you mention?

IC I have always, always loved Georgy Ivanov, even his early Petersburg poetry from the days of the Poets' Guild and the Apollon literary review. It was aesthetic poetry. Georgy Ivanov was a snob and an aesthete, and I see nothing wrong in that. There is intelligent snobbery and imbecilic snobbery. Georgy Ivanov's writing was not what you would call effeminate, but it was never very masculine either. His were marvelous poems, not truly decadent and without anything like the homosexual you find in some of Mikhail Kuzmin's poetry. Ivanov's poetry is very moving, very elegant. You could feel that the poet had made up his mind to write beautiful poetry.

There's nothing bad about that. Today, of course, the word "beauty" has been compromised and is avoided. Everyone tries to sidestep it by continually redefining its essence. In reality beauty is that which we always think about when writing poetry or which inspires us in one way or another. Georgy Ivanov was one of my favorite poets and remains so to this day.

When I first met him, I gave him some poems and the articles I had written. He read the articles and said, "This is mush, but it's creative mush." He then arranged for their publication in Chisla, which was run by Nikolai Otsup, a follower of Gumilyov's and also a member of the Poets' Guild. That was the beginning of my creative existence.

JG You're are not a young man, but your manner continues to develop. What do you think of the criticism written about your verse?

IC I'm very happy to have been written about as much as I have, but it would seem that many critics have failed to take note of the most important thing, that is, my attempts to find intonation which is musical but at the same time not out of the ordinary.

JG Russian émigré poets don't generally have a lot of readers. How do you feel about that?

IC I could answer your question like this. I wrote a poem about my trip to Colombia, to Bogota and Cartagena. The Gold Museum in Bogota is a wondrous collection of native Mexican pre-Columbian art. In the poem I talk about how the masters who produced those marvelous Mexican figurines of pure gold remain anonymous. That is followed by these lines:

You also are a goldsmith, a master of feelings and rhymes,
Of sounds and images.
And though we have writing ...

I go on to say that either there was no native Mexican writing system or if there was, it was inadequate, and so

And though we have writing,
Our country does not know our names.

The last lines go:

We do not compete with idols in eternity
But indulge ourselves in Russian poems.

What are we without an audience in our homeland? We write poetry in Russian in the hope that it will reach Russia. There is nothing anticommunist in my poetry, nothing so terribly decadent. In fact, my poetry could be allowed, and so I hope for some amount of liberalization, for the realization that émigré poetry is a part of Russian poetry and that we should not—and in fact cannot—be summarily excluded from Russian poetry. I feel that I speak for an eternal Russia, even if I am deprived of any influence over her.

Yury Ivask

Poet, scholar, essayist (1907-86). Ivask was born in Moscow, but his family moved to Estonia in 1920, where he graduated from law school at Tartu University. In 1944 he fled to Germany and studied Slavistics in Hamburg after the war. In 1949 he moved to the United States, received his doctorate in Slavistics from Harvard University, and was appointed professor of Russian literature at the University of Massachusetts.

Verse collections: Seventy bereg (Northern Shore) (Warsaw, 1938); Tsarskaya osen' (Imperial Autumn) (Paris, 1953); Khvala (Praise) (Washington, 1967); and Zolushka (Cinderella) (New York, 1970).

English translations: R. H. Morrison, ed. and trans., America's Russian Poets (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1975), pp. 45-51; selection of poems in Russian Poetry: The Modern Period, ed. John Glad and Daniel Weissbort (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1978), pp. 286-88.

Amherst, Massachusetts, March 13, 1986

Just two weeks before I was scheduled to interview him and give a lecture on Russian émigré literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he was professor emeritus, Yury Ivask suffered a heart attack and died. Following are excerpts from a letter written to me by Professor Ivask at the beginning of March. The headings are my own.—Ed.

Family Background

My great-grandfather on my father's side was an Estonian miller. My grandfather, an agronomist, married a German woman, and we spoke German at home. While still a young man, my father left Estonia to settle in Moscow and consequently became totally Russified. My mother's maiden name was Frolov. She was the daughter of a Moscow jeweler who was a member of the respected Zhivago merchants, the real Zhivagos, that is.

Our family would never have left Russia had it not been for the famine, cold, and terror. I was thirteen when we moved back to Estonia, where I spent over twenty years.

Cultural Belonging

A thirteen-year-old boy is a tabula rasa. But even as a youth I knew that I was Russian, and Russian alone. I had almost no contact with Estonians. And while I may never set foot on Russian soil again, I feel her soil in her language. The Russian language, Russian culture, and Russian Orthodoxy are ingrained in my soul.

At the same time I feel an inseparable bond with Western Europe. I have dedicated poems to all the nations of Europe. At one time I fell madly in love with Portugal, of which Russians know very little. But my greatest love is Italy. On October 1, 1980, I was fortunate enough to be presented to the pope in St. Peter's Square. I gave him the Russian poems I had dedicated to him. Although I remain Russian Orthodox, I nevertheless love Catholicism.


Excerpted from Conversations in Exile by John Glad, Richard Robin, Joanna Robin. Copyright © 1993 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1. The Older Generation

Igor Chinnov 31

Yury Ivask 39

Roman Goul 50

2. Makers of Fantasy and Humor

Vasily Aksyonov 69

Vladimir Voinovich 85

3. The Aesthetes

Joseph Brodsky 101

Boris Khazanov 114

Andrei Siniavsky and Maria Razanova 141

Sasha Sokolov 174

4. The Moralists

Fridrikh Gorenstein 189

Aleksandr Zinoviev 204

Natalya Gorbanevskaya 222

5. The Realists

Vladimir Maksimov 239

Edward Limonov 258

A Chronology 271

Glossary of Names 295

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