Anti-thaw

Allow me the pleasure of introducing you to Andrei Voznesenskii. Just look at this badass:

Image

Voznesenskii was an internationally renowned young Soviet poet. Here is his poem Anti-Worlds published in 1962:

The clerk Bukashkin is our neighbor.
His face is gray as blotting paper.

But like balloons of blue or red,
Bright Antiworlds
float over his head!
On them reposes, prestidigitous,
Ruling the cosmos, demon-magician,
Anti-Bukashkin the Academician,
Lapped in the arms of Lollobrigidas.

But Anti-Bukashkin’s dreams are the color
Of blotting paper, and couldn’t be duller.

Long live Antiworlds ! They rebut
With dreams the rat race and the rut.
For some to be clever, some must be boring.
No deserts? No oases, then.

There are no women-
just anti-men.
In the forests, anti-machines are roaring.
There’s the dirt of the earth, as well as the salt.
If the earth broke down, the sun would halt.

Ah, my critics; how I love them.
Upon the neck of the keenest of them,
Fragrant and bald as fresh-baked bread,
There shines a perfect anti-head…

…I sleep with windows open wide;
Somewhere a falling star invites,
And skyscrapers
like stalactites
Hang from the planet’s underside.

There, upside down,
below me far,
Stuck like a fork into the earth,
Or perching like a carefree moth,
My little Antiworld,
there you are!

In the middle of the night, why is it
That Antiworlds are moved to visit?

Why do they sit together, gawking
At the television, and never talking?

Between them, not one word has passed.
Their first strange meeting is their last.

Neither can manage the least bon ton.
Oh, how they’ll blush for it, later on !

Their ears are burning like a pair
Of crimson butterflies, hovering there…

A distinguished lecturer lately told me,
‘Antiworlds are a total loss.’

Still, my apartment-cell won’t hold me.
I thrash in my sleep, I turn and toss.

And, radio-like, my cat lies curled
With his green eye tuned in to the world.

FAIR WARNING: I read a lot of things before writing this, so my thoughts may be a little jumbled, but even if you just skim this you should absolutely 100% definitely click on the hyperlink relating to Khrushchev’s speech in the second paragraph).

I thought this was an awesome poem, it resounded with me immediately, in part because of the imagery, the snarky comment about his “critics” aka Khrushchev, and because of the mysterious and fantastic hopefulness of anti-worlds. I had to look up who the Bukashkin and Lollobrigida that Voznesenskii referenced in order to understand better the tone of the poem, so for your convenience: Bukashkin was known simply to Soviet citizens as “Old Man Bukashkin” and was a scrappy looking Soviet poet-artist who lived a bohemian lifestyle, self-titled himself the “Peoples’ Street Sweeper of Russia” in mocking of the State’s “Peoples’ Artist” title, and he just sort of meandered around Russia leaving his verses and art on random city fences and garages. Gina Lollobrigida was a very famous and sexy Italian actress, and although I couldn’t really figure out the significance of her presence in this poem, there is a popular photo of her shaking hands with Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut, a Soviet.

After reading this poem I began researching information about Voznesenskii, and found that a ton of extremely interesting information about his life during the period of the late 50’s through the 60’s. He was influenced greatly by Boris Pasternak (Dr. Zhivago), and he was not only a darling in Western media for his unique prose and political criticisms, but he was also extremely popular among the Soviet youth. In 1962 he would perform recitations of his poetry for an hour or two from memory in soccer stadiums to accommodate the 14,000 Soviets that would crowd together, straining to hear, and following along in the copy of his book they purchased and brought along. However, popularity of this magnitude, coupled with the liberal themes of his poetry inevitably met with resistance from the State Party and elder generation. In 1963, Khrushchev effectively ended the decade- long cultural thaw with a violent speech during the “Meeting of Writers and Artists with Government and Party Leaders”  (March 7, 1963) aimed at reining in modern, liberal artists and writers, and focused vehemently on young Voznesenskii himself. This blog post will be unbearably long if I go into the details of the speech, but let me just say that Khrushchev refused to allow Voznesenskii to defend his work or make his speech, effectively exiled Voznesenkii, perhaps unknowingly quoted Hitler in chastising Voznesenskii, and finished off the tirade by dismissing Vozneseskii from the audience. Sounds exciting, no? I would definitely recommend coming here and reading an excerpt of the meeting that encompasses Khrushchev’s tirade against Voznesenskii along with insightful and humorously dry commentary from Mikhail Romm, a Russian film director and screen writer who attended this fateful meeting; Khrushchev truly comes off as startlingly immature and out-of-control, the transcript is downright hilarious.

Anyway, this meeting spelled the end of the period of State-sanctioned cultural thaw and liberalization, and forced Voznesenskii into hiding throughout various parts of Russia for a year until the scandal (following this meeting and for a long time after Voznesensky had difficulty getting his work published because of the very vocal disapproval of the State) died down (during which time he wrote

“Beware, my darling. Hush. Not a sound,

While I charge noisily

From place to place around Russia,

As a bird diverts the hunters from its nest”

an excerpt from  My Achilles Heart, as well as the poem Someone is Beating a Woman about his time in exile). Fortunately for the arts and for Andrei, the Party’s attempt to humiliate, disgrace, and therefore crush, the rising tide of liberal expression proved unsuccessful though certainly wounding to thaw-poets and to the Soviet public.

So far as my sources go, you mostly got hyperlinks this time because I figured out how to use them, woo! But I did snag some ideas to jump off of from Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Also the picture at the top came from here . This site has a lot of cool photos of Andrei (including a great one on the second page of Khrushchev screaming at a scared and uncomfortable looking Voznesenskii, where you also get to see Khrushchev’s “fragrant and bald as fresh baked bread anti-head”). I would have loved to use these but when you click on them there’s a bothersome watermark.

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2 comments on “Anti-thaw

  1. First off, I just want to say how awesome the combination of that poem and that picture is. Just perfection. From your post, I am able to get a real sense of how sarcastic and snide Voznesenskii was in his writing. Your post was particularly interesting to me because it touched on the same topic that mine did. When I first read about the thaw, I expected that it would be much more fruitful than it turned out to be. From both the document you cited and one similar to it that I used in my post, it is obvious to see how openly critical Khrushchev was to art and literature that wasn’t in his desired socialist realist style. I think this post is great because it shows how flawed thaw policies were in practice, and in addition to this it emphasizes how budding artists, writers, and the Soviet population as a whole were hurt as a result.

  2. A. Nelson says:

    I don’t know where to start listing all the things that excite me about this post. The choice of images and texts is excellent. Your tone (a bit snarky!) is perfectly suited to the subject matter, and you do a terrific job of directing your reader in various ways – toward the best “nuggets” (if they are really rushed), toward the real gems (Khrushchev’s speech – if they appreciate a good tip), and toward some of Voznesenky’s most accessible and memorable poems. Awesome!

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