Everyone Has Their Own Names in Poetry

Meet Mikhail Shaposhnikov, Head of the Museum of the Silver Age (« Bryusov’s House »), department of the Museum of the History of Russian Literature. Mikhail discusses contemporary poetry with Art&signatures’s Irina Vernichenko:

Mikhail Shaposhnikov, Head of the Museum of the Silver Age

Irina Vernichenko: What are the names in modern Russian poetry?
Mikhail Shaposhnikov: Everyone has their own names. And modern poetry is so diverse, so, I would even say, unpredictable now, so many different opinions… Modern poets often gather in our museum. There are, of course, names that have been heard for already quite some time. For example, Andrey Chemodanov… Elena Semenova, who recently passed away… These are, for instance, those whom I like. Also, Grigory Petukhov, who is unfortunately, now in Germany, a very bright poet, who is in many ways a «disciple» of Evgeniy Rein, Brodsky’s friend. Not a disciple in a literal sense, but in some ways a spiritual follower. Grigory Petukhov is a poet with a very serious talent.

And if we talk about the very young people, we can name the poet Lydia Krasnoshchekova. She recently published her book ˝Illidium˝ at the ˝Steklograf˝ Publishing house. Lydia and «Illidium». She writes in different genres, and also prose.

And I can also name another poet, with a distinct name: Asilda Bobrova. She lives in Penza. It happened so that more than a year ago I was on the jury of the young poet’s competition «Mtsyri». There were poets there up to the age of 27. On the final jury, where there were 25 people, the jury viewed it one way, and I look at it differently: I liked completely different poets. It was there that I first saw Asilda Bobrova and Lydia Krasnoshchekova. And I also liked Yana Yashmina from St. Petersburg and Anya Batyrkhanova from Ufa, I even gave her a prize «For mysticism in poetry.»

I V: Do you positively rate mysticism in poetry?
M S: I am in charge of the Valery Bryusov’s Museum and the Silver Age is my profession. Valery Bryusov, whose poems to this day sound modern, gave a large share of his poetic attention to mysticism.

I V: To Christian mysticism?
M S: How would I say it .. and pagan too. That is, an attempt to penetrate into some secrets of the universe.

I V: You talked about the unpredictability of modern Russian poetry: is there a contradiction
between continuity, which you often mention, and unpredictability?

M S: Succession is a very complex concept. In some modern poets, I see the continuity of their work from the Silver Age.

But there is a large cohort of poets, this applies in part to Grigory Petukhov and Andrei Chemodanov, who can be said to a lesser extent that they are formalists. Rather, they are the heirs of various avant-garde experiments of the Silver Age era. It was a searching poetry, and in Soviet times it existed. I can name Kirsanov, Lugovsky. Also we can mention Brodsky, Rein, and Kushner as Soviet poets in some sense. These are still people who were looking for new forms, new harmonies, new possibilities of verse from the technical side. This passion was very common in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and it even led to the fact that some poets began to claim that the rhyme has been exhausted and only the vers libre remains. This is, of course, a controversial issue. I believe that only great poets such as Khodasevich and Blok created the true vers libre. Sometimes Akhmatova. In my opinion, in the modern situation, a blank verse is an attempt to hide inability or lack of true poetic skill.

Museum of the Silver Age, « Bryusov’s House »

But with Asilda Bobrova, I saw a completely new understanding of rhyme, the search for rhyme. I was even amazed in a sense, because Lydia Krasnoshchekova also shows this very strongly.

She does not continue, for example, Tsvetaeva from the point of view of the formalism of her search, she continue her psychologically: it is a view of the world that does not reflect the world photographically, but sees hidden meanings through the «rough crust of matter». Inexplicably, she manages to do this.

I V: What are the social aspects of the life of poets in our time?
M S: Poets, as always, as everywhere, are divided into, say, different categories in the sense of the social component. The majority do not think about money and live and meet each other. Sometimes they publish magazines, create publishing houses. For example, Dana Kurskaya’s «Steklograph». Dana Kurskaya is a fairly well–known modern poetess. In my opinion, literally every day, she writes better and better.

But this does not raise marginal poets even to the level of the middle class in terms of income. Those who are slightly younger are following the path of gaining a wide audience through the internet, performing for money. For example, Vera Polozkova, a fairly well-known modern poetess, and Dmitry Kravchenko.
There are those who gather large audiences and receive profit for concerts and performances. And there are those (and these are the young ones) who try to work in business and at the same time write poetry. This is the different generation.

I V: Are there poet’s contests, grants, bonuses ?
M S: There are contests: a youth festival «Tavrida», festival «School of poets in Sochi». There are contests and poetry festivals, but even winning them doesn’t pay dividends, only some kind of fame. If you mantain it, then it will be with you.

I V: What is the reason for the popularity of poetry in Russia?
M S: I wouldn’t say that poetry is incredibly popular right now. You know, in our museum there is a poster: «Evening of Poetry, December 29, 1920». And there is a rare neighborhood of Blok and Gumilev, Mikhail Kuzmin, early Georgy Ivanov. It is also written «the room is heated»… And I imagine… on December 29, 1920, the city of Petrograd, war communism, hunger, cold, one can imagine how it happens on December 29 in St.Petersburg. And these people are walking across the wide Neva River in the wind, at dusk, wrapped in some fur coats left over from pre-revolutionary times. There are shootings from the doorways.. They are hungry, cold, they are going somewhere this evening. What for? Listen to poetry.
This is the result, 1920 is the result of the Silver Age.

For more than 30 years, Bryusov, Balmont, and Merezhkovsky have been in poetry. Then Gumilev and the Acmeists followed, then the Futurists. People were used that poets say something that needs to be known and heard. We also have a poster of a debate in 1919 ( a year after Blok wrote the poem «The Twelve») : «The Twelve» was discussed in Rostov-on-Don, the white army was there then. That’s what the influence of poetry was at that time.

Then, for example, Valery Bryusov, he began to organise poetry performances at the Polytechnic Museum, where all poetry schools and groups gathered (the Polytechnic’s conference center is large). Then it continued into the 1960s. We all remember that Yevtushenko, Voznesensky, Akhmadulina, others recited poetry there. It was also important to the listener of that time what these poets would recite there or at the monument to Mayakovsky, even in the 1980s … I still remember some poetic reactions to «perestroika», even «the fight against drunkenness and alcoholism».

Then, in the 1990s, it was a completely different time.

I V: Has poetry influenced music?
M S: In many ways, it has. Rappers are very interesting now, though this style is not very close to me. In fact, as they say «everything new is well forgotten old» — in the same Silver Age in the 1920s, there were «nichevoki», «nothing-ers», poets who stood on stage, sometimes silently, saying nothing, and sometimes impromptu beginning to speak in verse. It didn’t exactly sound like modern rap, because it was presented differently then. But they were the «rappers». They believed that it was not necessary to sit at a table and compose poetry, correcting it. No, you walk down the street, inspiration comes, and you start talking
poetry. The same way on stage.

Another question of modern poetry: the presentation of poetic texts. Asilda Bobrova, Lidia Krasnoshchekova, Anya Batyrkhanova do performances, not just poetry readings. Some poets will bury their faces in the phone and read something in a monotonous voice. Audience is shouting: «I can’t hear it.» And they say: «we are not actors.» It is important to present poetry to the public artistically, for example, Lydia Krasnoshchekova often recites to music. Asilda Bobrova accompanies her texts with movements and she is dressed accordingly, always all in black. This comes from the Silver Age, where reciting poetry was a theatrical act.

I V: There are rhyme dictionaries, that can be used...
M S: They can be used., but a real poet, even using a rhyme dictionary, will remain a real poet. It’s not about rhyme.

It is just given .. You express your soul through poetic material. You think in verse and convert thoughts into words. If it’s only interesting to you, that’s one thing. A real poet, as it was, for example, with Akhmatova, is somehow inspired to create her works in such a way that everyone who reads suddenly understands: it’s as if he himself thinks and feels the same way.
It is an intonation. And especially a precise statement, which many take as their own statement.

Even Vertinsky, despite his incredible aestheticism, is still in demand. He wrote truthfully about little people: a clown, some kind of ballerina, actors, and shabby theaters. This was also succeeded by Joseph Brodsky, the «Romance of Columbine», if you remember. There is a poet or a poetess talking about herself. Speaking of themselves, they speak for everyone.

Mikhail Kuzmin, the poet of the Silver Age, described this surprisingly sharply in the poem «My Ancestors»: ( his ancestors were the Russians, the French) «You are all shouting with hundreds of voices, in me, the last one, poor, but having a tongue for you.»

The secret of creativity: suddenly, for some reason, someone begins to speak poetry, think and write it down. Maybe it’s all those unspoken thoughts, speeches, the genetic memory.

I V: What if we look at our modern life through the lens of modern poets? How does the world look like? Are they criticizing life?

M S: No, on the contrary. Some criticize, but usually it’s those from the older generation. Everything new and interesting like multimedia, etc. is welcomed as new opportunities.

I V: Why poets are not perceived as prophets now? Their voices are not heard…

M S: the audience is not ready for that. Unfortunately, the culture of perception of poetic speech has been lost, just as for example the culture of visiting museums has been lost.

I V: But I don’t agree with that. There are huge queues of visitors at the entrances of museums.

M S: Queues are certainly there. But people want interactive games. You see, this is all not really… the museum. The museum is a temple of the muses. I do not know which of the muses played interactive games. Well, maybe only the muse of the theater.

I V. What are the images of modern poetry? Are realistic images emerging?

M S: It is a combination of everything. Sometimes by mentioning things ( as in Akhmatova’s, Brodsky’s , Rein‘s poems) , naming some everyday onjects evokes a certain mystical attitude towards them. When, for example, you are in the clothing market , then there is the same kind of mystical feeling, a chaos, which is perceived in a special way.

I V: And now poetry is in full span in Russia. Can you explain it?

M S: there are many young people and famouse authors who continue to look for new style in poetry , and in general, there are a lot of poets now. Another thing is that not all of them can be called poets in the true sense of the word.

I would say that the span of the Russian poetry is the whole 20th century and in the 21st century it continues. In Soviet times you can find many first-class poets, as well as in the 1st, 2nd, and even 3rd waves of emigration.

I V: V. Sklovsky said that poetry could be compared with a speech that was intentially made difficult for understanding to avoid «automatisation» of impressions. it’s a difficult art.

M S: V. Majakovsky said : «Poetry is radium mining».

Mikhail Shaposhnikov,
Head of the Museum of the Silver Age, « Bryusov’s House »