Canadian Slavonic Papeis/Revue canadienne des slavistes Vol. XLVIII, Nos 3-4, September-December 2006. Pp.423-425.Dmitrii Kuz'min, ed. Vozdukh, Zhurnal poezii.Vol 1,2006, Moscow. Proekt Argo. 160 pp. ISSN 1818-8486 (Price per volume varies.)
The newest undertaking of the effervescent young poet, critic and publisher Dmitrii Kuz'min is an excellent new poetry journal, Vozdukh,
published by Proekt Argo, part of Argo-Risk. Many readers will know Kuz'min from his extensive publishing activities, or perhaps through his important internet publishing activities, primarily in association with Vavilon.
The title and the inspiration for the journal's motifs is a passage from Mandelshtam: "Vse stikhi ia deliu na razreshennye i napisannye bez razresheniia Pervye Ц eto mraz, vtorye Ц vorovannyi vozdukh." ["I divide all poetry into permitted and written without permission. The first is drivel; the second is stolen air"] Kuz'min himself is motivated in practically everything he does by a deep and abiding love for poetry, so this also serves him well as a sort of extended metaphor for the organization of the contents of the journal as will become obvious below. This commences with the first section, "Kislorod: Ob'iasnenie v liubvi" ["Oxygen: A Declaration of Love"], which is a brief article by Stanislav L'vovskii dedicated to the one-of-a-kind poet and artist Gennadii Aigi. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, this article acquires even more value in view of the fact that Aigi died within days of when the article appeared.
The next five sections include three entitled "Dyshat"' ["Breathe"] alternating with two called "Perevesti dyshanie" ["Catch Your Breath"]. The three sections of "breathing" include selections by 17 poets of widely ranging ages, styles, origins and reputation. Examples selected at random include Viktor Krivulin, Anna Glazova, Linor Goralik, and Mikhail Aizenberg. The "Catch Your Breath" sections are described as "Proza na grani stikha" [Prose on the Border of Poetry"]. The first, by Marianna Geide, is entitled "Rusalki" ["Mermaids"] and the second, by Andrei Levkin, is entitled "Telologiia" ["Bodyology"]. Like so many of the authors included in this issue, they are both recipients of literary prizes, although he is 52, and she is barely 26. The next section, "Na odin vdokh" ["In One Breath"] is subtitled "Miniatures" and consists of eight haikus by Marina Hagen and eight even briefer "tanketki" ["Wedges"] by Aleksandr Koromyslov.
Keeping with the atmospheric motif, the next section is entitled "Otkuda poveialo" ["From Whence the Wind Blew"] or, as the subtitle clarifies, "Russian Poetic Regionalistics". Here Kuz'min has collected works by nine poets from Nizhnii Novgorod, all largely unknown, indeed several have only been published on the web, and at least one is here published for the very first time. Nevertheless, he has remained true to his stated position, that he will not publish anything he does not believe has poetic worth. Overall, these poets do not disappoint, and it could be argued that this gives a face to the challenges facing aspiring poetic talent from "the regions" in a "market" dominated by the centre (s).
The following section "Dal'nim vetrom" ["From Distant Winds"] expands the range of the journal in another direction. It consists of translations of poems by the American poet Julianna Baggott and the Ukrainian Andrii Bondar (Kuz'min himself has translated from both English and Ukrainian, but these translations are by other hands). There are only two relatively short pieces by Baggott, both at least tenuously tied to Russia, while there is a much larger presentation of Bondar's work.
On the opening page, Kuz'min has already noted that a "manifesto" might normally be anticipated there, but he declares that in this, the first issue, he will give precedence to poetry itself, and the love for it, and so leave the manifesto for later, which is where we have arrived at this point. This brief section he titles "Atmosfemyi front" ["Atmospheric Front"], and it consists of 4 very brief parts, shorter or longer statements, really. The first is called "In Place of a Manifesto", and here Kuz'min basically connects this undertaking with his previous work and refers to some polemics he has engaged in. The reader is constantly reminded that poetry in Russia is a vigorous and fully engaging activity, to say the least. This sets up the following sections in which he clarifies three things, deliberately employing the formal "we". First he sets out "How We Understand Poetry," elaborating a view of poetry which shows deep roots in the literary theories of Iurii Lotman and his school. Poetry is cognitive activity related to the production of meaning; meaning is produced not by arbitrary reading, but by a complex process of decoding what has been encoded, in other words it is part of a communicative process between author and reader, and he does not shy away from a cogent reference to secondary modelling systems. He goes on to clarify, in the spirit of the epigraph from Mandelshtam, that not everyone can claim to be either of those. A "poet" (author), Kuz'min argues, is someone who "has something to say", something to add to human culture, and a reader is someone who wants to become richer by however small or large a unit of meaning. In the process of reading, he or she becomes "sobrat poeta po intellektual'nomu i emotsional'nomu poisku, po tvorcheskoi rabote" ["a partner in the intellectual and emotional search, in the work of creation."] He distances himself from the kind of writing and reading which might be termed pedestrian or trivial (he refers to it as a kind of service industry), all the while stressing that poetry is an important and serious undertaking. That he is polemicizing with both commercialized literature and intellectually impoverished readers on the one hand, and with certain trends in contemporary literary theory which either diminish or deny the role of the author on the one hand, or emphasize "code" as opposed to message, on the other, is made forcefully clear.
As important as he considers that debate, it does not and will not lead to a problematic narrowing of the selection of poetry in the journal, as can be seen both by what is included in it as well as by the remainder of this article, beginning with the next section, entitled "How We Understand the Contemporary State of Poetry." Here he talks in very positive terms about the diversity and complexity of contemporary poetry, and stresses that all contributions to Poetry
are important as long as they are a contribution. Poetry cannot, he argues, consist only of the giants, and the richness depends on variety, range, breadth as well as depth. And this sets up the final section which sets out "How We Understand a Poetry Journal."
Here he emphasizes that he will make every effort not to limit Vozdukh
to one or another style, school, or direction. He wants it to be for Readers, and many of those readers, he expects, will be Poets. This extends his polemic, in a sense, while at the same time holding out an olive branch. Kuz'min, it is safe to say, realizes that any intellectual or artistic undertaking involves polemics and controversy. Here he makes some of that ground explicit, but at the same time, underlines that he wants to be as expansive and inclusive as possible and to facilitate a mutually beneficial dialectic.
Nam khotelos' by razdelit' s kollegami ponimanie sovremennoi poezii kak obshchego stroiashchegosia doma, gde u kazhdogo professionala Ц svoe delo, i stekol'shchiku ne rezon branit' parketchika za nedostatok prozrachnosti i vertikal'nosti. Tem, kto pridet v etot dom posle nas, vsiakii vlozhennyi v nego trud ne dolzhen pokazat'sia lishnim. [We would like to share with our colleagues an understanding of contemporary poetry as of a jointly constructed house, where each specialist attends to what is properly his, and the glazier has no reason to scold the flooring experts for insufficient transparency or verticality. And whoever enters this house after us should have no reason to view any of the work which went into it as superfluous.]
The next section "Ventiliator" ["Ventilator; fan"], will be devoted to extended surveys of practicing poets on compelling current topics. In this issue, which coincided with the 10th anniversary of Brodsky's death, 14 poets were asked three decidedly provocative and cleverly formulated questions about his legacy, influence, context, and changes in how he is read and evaluated, to paraphrase very roughly. The respondents represent a wide range of ages, styles, and literary orientations, including e.g., Iana Tokareva, Vadim Mesiats and Natal'ia Gorbanevskaia. The responses provide a great deal of material for serious reflection on the complexity of the Russian poetic scene given the centrality of Brodsky, and the remarkable range of responses. Whether boldly challenging or boldly upholding received notions, not only about Brodsky, but about what is important in Russian poetry, and not only today, but for the last half century, much of what we read here does not reflect standard scholarly treatments of these questions and even for that reason alone merits serious attention.
"Sostav vozdukha" ["What's in the Air"] consists of terse, precise and keenly perceptive reviews of over 50 volumes of poetry including collections by new and established poets, as well as a wide array of anthologies of various sorts, all published between Summer 2005 and February 2006. They are described as being "in annotations and quotations", but that does not do them justice. The objective is to be complete, although a note indicates that the overview excludes volumes published as components of the poetry series attached to this journal and that several other works Ц "for technical reasons" Ц have been excluded. First and foremost it bears noting that all 50-plus reviews are written by the remarkable young scholar, critic, and poet, Danila Davydov. His voracious reading and wide knowledge make these reviews worth the price of the journal, and provide an inimitable and invaluable look into very nearly the full complexion of Russian poetry for the period covered by the journal.
Finally, there is one more brief section, besides the very brief biographical information about each of the authors which closes the issue. It is called "Kto isportil vozdukh," ["Who spoiled the air"] and can best be described as elements of heated literary polemics on and around projects of the editor Kuz'min. There are colourful passages from three mainstream journals touching on what are clearly on-going debates, and this, too, adds flavor and value to this very worthwhile publication.
In addition to a substantial collection of works of poetry published and continuing to be published as an "extension" ["Prilozhenie"] of the journal, Volumes II and III have now also been published. Their contents can be viewed at http://www.vavilon.ru/order/contents2.html
respectively. Subscription or individual volumes can be obtained on this side of the Atlantic at http://esterum.com
Allan Reid, University of New Brunswick Links:Transcript of Radio Liberty roundtable about 'Vozdukh', 07/22/2007 (in Russian) Print version