Poetry and Russian politics

by Melissa Marroncelli | 11/15/93 6:00am

Leading Russian poet and essayist Alexander Kushner said it is difficult to separate politics from poetry in today's Russia.

"Now we, in Russia, are living through very difficult times when we see the breakaway of mentality," Kushner told a predominantly Russian-speaking audience in the faculty lounge of the Hopkins Center Thursday night. "We used to live in a real big country and now it is cut down in size by nearly twice. This is more difficult for poetry. These changes are telling upon the words we say."

Kushner presented his speech called "Poetry and Politics" in Russian with Russian Professor Barry Scherr helping with some parts of the translation. The event was part of a three-day conference called"The Future of Russian Democracy," that ran Wednesday through Friday.

Although political affairs is an integral part of Kushner's poetry, he said it was still better if Russian poets did not substitute their poetry for political writing because poets who directly address political ideas in their poetry are often defeated by the statesmen.

Kushner gave an example of how he was once unable to publish in St. Petersburg for two years because of an official who said, "if he doesn't like it, he should leave," Kushner recounted.

During his speech, Kushner also read several poems from his collection, "Apollo in the Snow," during his presentation.

In a poem called "Hoffman" he describes a character who "creeps along in a bureaucracy's machine."

In another poem, Kushner described the simplicity in living for Russians. "If you sleep and your warm shoulder isn't abruptly jarred," then the Russian can be expected to be happy, Kushner said. The poem expresses the desire for simple comforts that most people would take for granted.

At the conclusion of the poem Kushner said, "Is there something more? For us [Russians] there isn't."

The last poem Kushner read was "Apollo in the Snow," the namesake of his collection, which he wrote after seeing"an Apollo in the snow on a cold winter's day."

Here he speaks of the statue as a symbol of courage: "The ice and twilight have locked in its cracks ..., here is courage," the poem reads.

He said his poems apply to anyone because they deal with real life situations, such as life, death, and suicide.

"The twentieth century has taught us to value simple things," said Kushner, whose poems touch on such ideas as the history, the values and the "terrible experience" of the Russian people.

The conference was sponsored by the Dickey Endowment for International Understanding at the College.

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