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Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry

 | 
Katharine Hodgson
, 
Joanne Shelton
, 
Alexandra Smith

9. Boris Slutskii: A Poet, his Time, and the Canon

Katharine Hodgson

Texte intégral

  • 1 Daniil Danin, ‘Khorosho ushel — ne oglianulsia’, Voprosy literatury, 5 (2006), 168–79 (p. 168).

1Boris Slutskii lived his entire life (1919–1986) in the Soviet era. Many of the significant events of Soviet history played an important role in his life and creative development, especially his experiences as a soldier between 1941 and 1945, his rise to fame as a poet of the post-Stalin Thaw, and his efforts to understand the phenomenon that was Stalinism. Slutskii was intimately bound up with his times. His role as a chronicler of the Soviet experience was underlined by the publication of many previously unknown poems from his archive in the final years of the Soviet Union’s existence. Gorbachev’s glasnost′ policy prompted a confrontation with uncomfortable aspects of the past: the poetry by Slutskii that appeared for the first time in the late 1980s spoke about Stalinism, guilt, anti-semitism, the brutal cost of victory. Daniil Danin wrote in 1990 that: ‘Boris Slutskii was organically — to the core of his being and poetic gift — made for an era which he did not live to see’.1

2This mass of previously unpublished work meant that earlier assessments of Slutskii needed to be revisited. On the basis of what was available in 1978, Deming Brown described him as someone who:

  • 2 Deming Brown, Soviet Russian Literature Since Stalin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979) (...)

seems a model of what the Soviet poet is expected to be — patriotic, affirmative, down to earth, fully committed to the Revolution, and one who stresses the moral value of hard work, self-sacrifice, and social dedication. At the same time he manages to preserve an air of wary independence, of striving to expand the limits of orthodoxy, which places him unmistakably in the liberal camp.2

  • 3 Ibid., p. 89.

3In the poetry which emerged from Slutskii’s archive there was ample confirmation of the inner tensions that Brown had detected earlier: the ‘discontent of a strongly frustrated moral sense’ and fears about ‘the destructive effects of rigid institutions on the human soul’.3 The circumstances in which the poet’s unknown work came to light made it inevitable that the post-Soviet reception of Slutskii was dominated by his role as a chronicler of his times. G. S. Smith wrote that:

  • 4 G. S. Smith, ‘Soldier of Misfortune’, in Boris Slutsky, Things That Happened, edited and translate (...)

his work stands indisputably as the most valuable body of individual poetic testimony to the experience of the Russians under Soviet rule, comparable in importance to that of Solzhenitsyn and Grossman in prose. He was the best poet it was possible for him to be in his place and time.4

  • 5 Evgenii Evtushenko, ‘Obiazatelnost′ pered istoriei’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennik (...)
  • 6 Stanislav Kuniaev, Poeziia, Sudba, Rossiia, 2 vols. (Mosow: Nash sovremennik, 1991), I, 231.

4In his appreciation of Slutskii, Evgenii Evtushenko claims that ‘a great poet embodies his epoch’, and Irina Plekhanova describes Slutskii as ‘one of the most vivid poets of the Soviet epoch’.5 The identification of Slutskii with the Soviet era, which has a strong foundation in the poet’s work, can, however, be seen as a limitation. For Stanislav Kuniaev, as for Evtushenko, Slutskii was ‘a poet of his epoch’, but his significance is diminished as a result: ‘I never considered him a great poet, for a great poet is always higher, more profound, more significant than his time’.6

  • 7 Marat Grinberg, ‘I Am to Be Read not from Left to Right, But in Jewish, from Right to Left’: The P (...)
  • 8 For representative versions of Slutskii’s condemnation of Pasternak, see David Samoilov, ‘Drug i s (...)
  • 9 Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, p. 15, pp. 27–31.
  • 10 Oleg Chukhontsev, ‘V storonu Slutskogo’, Znamia, 1 (2012), 130–50 (p. 149).

5The version of Slutskii that has been canonised by repetition is one that, as Marat Grinberg puts it, privileges ‘the Soviet variable in his poetic equation’.7 Viewing Slutskii, a member of the Communist Party from 1943, through the prism of political ideology reveals a poet who was undoubtedly shaped by his times, a would-be commissar who fell prey to disillusion. For some commentators, the most prominent illustration of Slutskii’s political loyalties is his contribution to the public condemnation of Boris Pasternak in 1957, an act that, some argue, left him irreparably compromised.8 Nevertheless, other variables have come into play which make it possible to explore Slutskii’s relationship to his times in ways that were not feasible during the Soviet period. One is his Jewish identity, the subject of many poems from Slutskii’s archive, significant numbers of which were left out of his 1991 collected works. Grinberg’s study of Slutskii’s writing as a project of self-canonisation as a writer of scripture in the Judaic tradition situates the poet as an artist who was bound not just to his time but also to eternity.9 The times in which Slutskii lived made Jewish identity a matter of pressing and immediate personal significance: he lived through the post-war ‘anticosmopolitan’ campaign, and lost relatives to the Holocaust. In the Soviet Union, where the Holocaust was not acknowledged as a campaign directed towards the annihilation of the Jews, and home-grown antisemitism became a taboo topic, Slutskii wrote about both. The other variable that has contributed to an evolving post-Soviet understanding of Slutskii is the question of his poetics, always at odds with the Soviet ‘grand style’ (bol′ shoi stil′), now seen in the context of a poetic canon that has expanded to admit underground poets such as Ian Satunovskii and others associated with the Lianozovo group, with whom Slutskii was acquainted. This shifting context offers a different perspective on a poet whose frame of reference extends well beyond the norms of socialist realism, back to the early twentieth-century avant-garde, and whose influence on others stretches to the poetry of the late-and post-Soviet era. Oleg Chukhontsev sees Slutskii as the essential link between Vladimir Maiakovskii and Iosif Brodskii, the three of them making up the trio of avant-garde classics of the twentieth century.10 This chapter will explore Slutskii in relation to all three of these variables: the poet’s relationship with the Soviet system, his Jewish identity, and his poetics. It will assess the extent to which the most prominent interpretation of Slutskii, as the author of poetic testimony to the upheavals of the times in which he lived, has been challenged, or at least supplemented by the view of Slutskii as the link between the early twentieth-century avant-garde and the Soviet underground.

  • 11 Igor′Shaitanov, ‘Boris Slutskii: povod vspomnit′’, Arion, 3 (2000), para. 17, http://magazines.rus (...)
  • 12 G. S. Smith, ‘Boris Slutskii’, Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 359, Russian Poets of the So (...)
  • 13 G. S. Smith, ‘Soldier of Misfortune’, in Boris Slutsky, Things That Happened, p. 8.

6Slutskii’s position in the post-Soviet canon is still evolving. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that, as Igor′ Shaitanov remarked in 2000, Slutskii has simply not been read.11 An overwhelming proportion of what Slutskii wrote was unpublished and largely unknown during his lifetime. Gerald Smith estimates that up to 60% of his work remained unpublished at the time of his death in 1986.12 Even when vast quantities of his poetry emerged from the archives after his death, thanks to the efforts of Iurii Boldyrev to whom Slutskii entrusted his literary legacy, Slutskii’s work reached the reading public as part of a deluge of literature from underground and émigré authors. This, combined with a growing unwillingness to go back over the Soviet past, and a tendency to sideline writers who had been regularly published during the Soviet period, meant that there was little appetite for a sustained engagement with Slutskii’s poetry. Furthermore, as Smith points out, ‘Slutsky was denied the widow and heirs whose efforts have helped to secure other men’s reputations’.13 He remains a figure who is invariably included in literary histories and textbooks, but his reputation is based on a relatively small range of texts. In addition to the 1991 collected works, and subsequent collections of both his prose and poetry, the main efforts to secure Slutskii’s position in the canon consist of accounts by people who knew him. As a result, the picture that emerges is shaped to a large degree by his biography, so that his poetry has been discussed principally as an expression of his complex relationship with the Soviet system, and with the Soviet literary world.

  • 14 Lev Ozerov, ‘Rezkaia liniia’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 327–46 (p. 331).
  • 15 See, for example, Samoilov, ‘Drug i sopernik’, p. 81, for Slutskii’s interest in how others ranked (...)
  • 16 Slutskii’s ‘Table of Ranks’ for Writers’Union members is recalled by Lazar′Lazarev, ‘S nadezhdoi, (...)
  • 17 For Slutskii’s assessment of his own importance as a poet in the late 1950s, see Samoilov, ‘Drug i (...)
  • 18 Lazarev, ‘S nadezhdoi, pravdoi i dobrom…’, p. 200.

7Memoir accounts reveal that Slutskii was deeply concerned by the question of canons and literary hierarchies, and his own position within them. According to Lev Ozerov: ‘he was interested by literary reputations. How they were formed, how they changed, how they disappeared’.14 Several accounts recall his habit of questioning friends and acquaintances to hear their views on who the best nineteenth-century and the best contemporary poets were; according one account, he annotated a 1947 collection of young writers’ poetry, ranking contributors (while leaving some unplaced).15 He is said to have found considerable amusement in devising, with friends, a ‘Table of Ranks’ for members of the Writers’ Union, with associated rules about the impermissibility of a junior member criticising a more senior one, for example, a ‘lieutenant of criticism’ doing anything except praising a ‘marshall of prose’.16 Such a playful approach was not always evident when it came to Slutskii’s assessment of his own status in the literary world. In the late 1950s, it seems, he confidently placed himself second among contemporary poets (behind Leonid Martynov).17 According to Lazar′ Lazarev, however, Slutskii was not always so certain about his position, wondering whether his work would in fact still be read after his death; Lazarev interprets Slutskii’s concern for helping ‘second-rate’ poets to mean that he may, at times, have considered himself one.18 Slutskii made this realistic assessment of his position in the Soviet canon at some point between the early 1960s and the early 1970s:

  • 19 Boris Slutskii, ‘Ia slishkom znamenitym ne byval’, Sobranie sochinenii, compiled by Iurii Boldyrev (...)

Я слишком знаменитым не бывал,
Но в перечнях меня перечисляли,
В обоймах, правда, вовсе не в начале,
К концу поближе — часто пребывал.19

I was never all that famous,
but I was included in lists,
admittedly, not as the first named in a group,
most often somewhere towards the end.

  • 20 Semen Lipkin, ‘Sila sovesti’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 212–18 (pp. 212– (...)
  • 21 Gorelik, Petr, ‘Drug iunosti i vsei zhizni’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 2 (...)
  • 22 V. A Zaitsev, Lektsii po istorii russkoi poezii XX veka (1940–2000) (Moscow: Izdatel′stvo moskovsk (...)

8Slutskii’s position in the post-Soviet canon, to judge by a selection of literary histories and anthologies, has not changed significantly since this poem was written. He is often placed alongside other poets who were Party members and war veterans, and who were able to publish their work regularly. Yet Slutskii’s own literary horizons went far beyond what was available in libraries and bookshops during his lifetime. He was a voracious reader and book-collector from his youth. According to Semen Lipkin, Slutskii was familiar with the work of Khlebnikov, Tsvetaeva, Belyi, Kuzmin, Khodasevich, and Bunin.20 Petr Gorelik, who knew Slutskii when both were still at school in Khar′kov, remembered Slutskii owning a copy of the 1925 anthology compiled by Ezhov and Shamurin, and knew that Slutskii had taken the opportunity presented to him as a Soviet officer in Eastern Europe during the closing stages of the war to collect any poems he could find in émigré publications.21 The canon in which Slutskii tends to be located, however, is usually restricted to the poets who were published through the 1950s to the 1970s. He stands alongside other war veterans, such as Aleksandr Mezhirov, Sergei Narovchatov, Sergei Orlov, Konstantin Vanshenkin, and Evgenii Vinokurov, and is associated with poets of an older generation such as Nikolai Aseev, Leonid Martynov, Iaroslav Smeliakov, and Pavel Antokol′skii.22

Life and Times: The ‘Soviet Variable’

  • 23 Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, pp. 14–15.
  • 24 Zaitsev, Lektsii po istorii russkoi poezii XX veka, p. 112.
  • 25 The first critical article on Slutskii to appear was written by Il′ia Erenburg. See Il′ia Erenburg (...)

9In his 2011 study of Slutskii’s work, Grinberg sets out the key features of what he sees as the post-Soviet consensus on Slutskii, and the standard account of his career.23 This account, repeated in textbooks, literary histories, memoirs, or as a preface to selections of his poems in anthologies, foregrounds his relationship with the time in which he lived, and categorises him primarily as a Soviet poet whose writing can be interpreted as: ‘a kind of poetic chronicle of the war and the post-war period’.24 Slutskii is closely identified with the hopes of the Thaw, but also with the disillusion of the Brezhnev years. His death, after nine years of silence, came when the Soviet Union itself was close to disintegration, but before Gorbachev’s reforms gained momentum. Yet although Slutskii is widely seen as a poet of his times, and a loyal Party member, his career does not entirely correspond to what might be expected of a successful official Soviet writer. The sense of belatedness mentioned above in connection with the impact of Slutskii’s previously unpublished poetry in the late 1980s and early 1990s is something that was present from the start of his moderately successful career as a published Soviet poet. His debut was significantly delayed, his first collection appearing only in 1957. In the post-war years his poems were known only to those who read them in manuscript, circulated unofficially. Many of these poems would not appear in print for decades. In the 1960s Slutskii was eclipsed by a younger generation of poets whose readings drew huge audiences, and he became, in Il′ia Falikov’s words, ‘something like a backdrop or piece of scenery on the set of their never-ending performances’.25

10Most accounts of Slutskii’s life focus on two particular episodes: his participation in the public condemnation of Boris Pasternak in 1958 over the publication abroad of Doktor Zhivago (Doctor Zhivago), and his mental breakdown following the death of his wife in 1977. The latter is seen as a personal tragedy and the principal cause of the poet’s long silence in the final years of his life. The former is commonly treated as the moment when Slutskii’s conscience lost its battle with his political loyalties. Although other poets who, like Slutskii, were not functionaries in the apparatus of cultural control also spoke against Pasternak, it is Slutskii who is singled out for his actions. The reasons for Slutskii’s apparent scapegoating are discussed by Omri Ronen, who finds that Slutskii’s membership of progressive literary circles meant that his actions were deemed, in those circles, to be all the more abhorrent.26 It is Ronen’s view that the significance of Slutskii’s speech condemning Pasternak has been exaggerated in accounts that interpret his long silence as a self-imposed act of penance.

  • 27 Plekhanova, ‘Igra v imperativnom soznanii: lirika Boris Slutskogo v dialoge s vremenem’, p. 48.

11Slutskii’s own view of his role as a poet seems to have been shaped by a sense of obligation in relation to the time in which he lived. Irina Plekhanova states that he saw it as his duty to inform his time with meaning.27 Discussions about what that meaning actually was are inevitably influenced by questions of Slutskii’s ideological point of view, with the poetry itself relegated to second place. Because a majority of accounts emphasise his biography, his poetry is often presented as an illustration of his experiences of, and reflections on, contemporary Soviet reality. As Oleg Dark comments:

  • 28 Oleg Dark, ‘V storonu mertvykh (mezhdu Smeliakovym i Sapgirom)’, Russkii zhurnal, 14 July 2003, pa (...)

It’s hard to imagine an article about him that did not quote ‘I believed all the slogans completely’ (‘Vsem lozungam ia veril do kontsa…’), a poem in which Slutskii reflects on his previous ideological certainty and accepts his share of the blame, should the whole edifice he has helped to build collapse.28

  • 29 See Vladislav Zubok, Zhivago’s Children: The Last Russian Intelligentsia (Cambridge, MA and London (...)
  • 30 Samoilov argues that this was the case: ‘Drug i sopernik’, p. 96.

12Along with many on active service in wartime, Slutskii joined the Communist Party in 1943, and remained a member for the rest of his life, though he was increasingly disillusioned and became explicitly anti-Stalinist in his views. Slutskii was not one of the writers who chose to pursue careers as literary functionaries, or to churn out work that was utterly conventional, both ideologically and formally. Yet his political loyalties remain a problem for his post-Soviet interpreters. The fact that he is strongly identified as a spokesman of the Thaw means that in the post-Soviet period he has been criticised as one of the would-be reformers who could only allow themselves to express half-truths and were incapable of viewing the world outside the framework of socialist ideas.29 It has been argued that his speech against Pasternak was motivated by his fear that the Thaw might be endangered if officials came to think that liberalisation had been allowed to go too far.30 The question of the poet’s Party loyalties reinforces the view of Slutskii as a poet of, and for a particular time, a time that has now passed. Most of the poets now accorded a prominent place in the evolving post-Soviet canon can be portrayed either as victims of the Party, or resolutely independent of it. Slutskii does not fit easily into either category.

  • 31 Stanislav Rassadin, Samoubiitsy: povest′ o tom, kak my zhili i chto chitali (Moscow: Tekst, 2007), (...)
  • 32 Samoilov, ‘Drug i sopernik’, p. 93; Dmitrii Sukharev, ‘Skrytopis′ Borisa Slutskogo’, Voprosy liter (...)
  • 33 Danin, ‘Khorosho ushel. Ne oglianulsia…’, p. 179; Iosif Brodskii’s comment attributed to him by Ni (...)
  • 34 Stanislav Kuniaev, Poeziia, Sud′ba, Rossiia, I, 241.

13Interpretations of Slutskii’s ideological standpoint do, however, vary considerably. He is depicted by Stanislav Rassadin as someone who was unchanging in his Communist convictions, by Valerii Shubinskii and Stanislav Kuniaev as someone who continued to identify himself with the Soviet state even after he had become fully aware of the true nature of that state, and by Il′ia Falikov as someone who left ideology behind in his later life.31 David Samoilov believed that Slutskii remained true to his ideals, although he did eventually become disillusioned with both politics and reality. Dmitrii Sukharev declares that he never revised his fundamental values of social justice, internationalism, and sympathy for the unfortunate.32 Danin sees him as a victim of his times; others, for example Iosif Brodskii and Falikov, see him as a victim of his assumed role of ‘commissar’.33 Kuniaev proffers the opinion that Slutskii’s ideological drama was only resolved by his mental breakdown, which came about when he realised that his ideal of social justice was unattainable.34

  • 35 For examples of Slutskii’s poems on censorship, see ‘Lakiruiu deistvitel′nost′…’, Sobranie sochine (...)
  • 36 Boris Paramonov, ‘Russkii evropeets Boris Slutskii’, October 2007, para. 9, http://www.svobodanews (...)
  • 37 Ibid.
  • 38 Ibid., para. 2.

14A good deal of what has been published about Slutskii over the last couple of decades consists of personal accounts by friends, keen to champion his cause, to attempt to explain the pressures that may have led him to speak against Pasternak, and to see his remorse over this incident as one of the main causes of his eventual lapse into profound depression. In their defence of the poet they are concerned to explain Slutskii’s complex involvement with the Communist Party, to show that he was not a careerist party hack and sloganiser. His work does show the inner drama of disillusion, the mismatch between the poet’s sense of pity for the unfortunate and the system’s neglect or ill-treatment of them, and his struggle with censorship.35 Yet the post-Soviet relationship to that time does not make it easy for Slutskii to be assessed objectively. The Soviet epoch has still to be transformed into a piece of the past which demands neither to be rejected nor uncritically celebrated. Boris Paramonov stated in 2007 that it would take some time before this epoch receded into the past sufficiently to allow Slutskii to be seen as a classic author.36 In the meantime, as Paramonov points out, Slutskii satisfies neither the pensioners who carry portraits of Stalin to demonstrations, nor the aesthetes who see him as a commissar. Slutskii is a poet ‘not for veterans, but for Brodskii’, in other words, he does not offer simply-expressed and comforting ideological formulas, but something altogether more complex and ambivalent, both in terms of ideas and aesthetics.37 Paramonov acknowledges Slutskii’s connection with his times, but suggests that this connection is rather more complex than often imagined: ‘[…] his link to his epoch is not so direct and, most importantly, it is not ideological in nature’. He continues, citing the ideas of Viktor Shklovskii: ‘It has been known for a long time that one should not take an artist’ s ideology at face value. For an artist ideology is just a pretext, the motivation [ motirovka] for an artistic construction’.38 Paramonov draws on Shklovskii’s view that works of art become classics when their ideological content becomes politically harmless, and claims that

  • 39 Ibid., para. 3.

communist ideology was significant to him [Slutskii] principally, if not solely, precisely as the justification for his artistic structures. He gave aesthetic expression to communist ideas. But he only succeeded in doing this because at the point of his arrival on the literary scene — after Stalin, in the Khrushchev Thaw — these ideas were no longer current. Communism was set at a certain temporal distance, it had ceased to be part of the present. It had already become in part a museum piece — and, like everything that belongs to the past, had begun to evoke nostalgia.39

15The claim that Slutskii’s aesthetic, rather than ideological attachment to Communism rests on the assumption that the poet’s political attitudes were shaped at the time his first collection appeared, rather than in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Paramonov’s interpretation has not offered a serious challenge to the widely accepted account of the poet’s drama of genuine idealism and disillusion.

  • 40 Ibid., para. 16.
  • 41 Ibid., para. 35.
  • 42 Ibid., para. 18.

16A more convincing alternative reading of Slutskii’s relationship with ideology is offered by Oleg Dark. In his interpretation, Slutskii was torn between hopes for greater democracy following on from the Thaw and the evidence of his own experience, which gave no grounds for any such hopes. This led him to realise that there were no firm foundations on which to base any kind of judgement.40 Dark argues that Slutskii’s awareness of the arbitrary nature of existence has been obscured by the way in which he is usually presented to the reading public: ‘To allow the public to take Slutskii on board [chtoby obshchestvennost′ usvoila Slutskogo] he had to be distorted, using the peaceable idea of political opposition’.41 In fact Dark even suggests that Slutskii may have turned with some relief to writing political poetry, finding in his disillusion with the system a reassuring explanation for his idiosyncratic and painful vision of the world.42 It, however, is not political disillusion that characterises Slutskii, argues Dark, it is his existential anxiety in the face of the disturbing truth about how things actually are that finds expression in his poetics. Dark is not alone in linking Slutskii’s aesthetics to the poet’s confrontation with extreme experiences:

  • 43 Falikov, ‘Krasnorechie po-Slutski’, p. 75. The reference to ‘the pit at Cologne’ alludes to Slutsk (...)

Slutskii’s aesthetics emerge from the beauty of life-creation in its most extreme manifestations. Death looks out from the pit at Cologne, but the poet looks death in the face. […] horror, turned into the subject of poetry. That is where the eloquence of overcoming non-existence originates.43

  • 44 Shubinskii, ‘Semeinyi al′bom: zametki o sovetskoi poezii klassicheskogo perioda’, p. 167.

17For Shubinskii, Slutskii’s outlook, confronting and accepting the loss of all illusions, sits close alongside that of one of the favourite poets of his youth, Vladislav Khodasevich, yet his aesthetics are closer to those of the futurist tradition.44 The role played by Slutskii’s poetics in his post-Soviet canonisation will be explored in the second section of this chapter.

  • 45 David Shraer-Petrov, ‘Ierusalimskii kazak’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 45 (...)
  • 46 Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, p. 191.
  • 47 Ronen, ‘Grust′’, Zvezda, 9 (2012), para. 13. Ronen also points out (para. 7) that Slutskii’s edito (...)

18While there is a broad consensus about the importance of political ideology for Slutskii, the poet’s Jewish identity is something that presents a problem for the authors of many post-Soviet accounts. Few writing inside Russia deal with the topic in explicit terms, perhaps anticipating a hostile reaction from anti-semitic nationalist critics who might question Slutskii’s right to a place in the Russian literary canon. Slutskii’s Jewish identity is treated tentatively by most memoirists. In the 2005 volume of contemporaries’accounts of Slutskii, only David Shraer-Petrov foregrounds the poet’s Jewishness.45 A similar reticence can be seen in some of the editorial decisions made by Boldyrev in compiling Slutskii’s collected works in 1991. Grinberg explains that Boldyrev published many of Slutskii’s poems with Jewish themes in ‘specifically Jewish periodicals or collections’, but did not include them in the collected works.46 Ronen regrets Boldyrev’s editorial decisions which left many of Slutskii’s ‘paired’ poems in the collected works without their Jewish partner (for example ‘Sel′skoe kladbishche’ (‘The Village Cemetery’) without ‘Piatikonechnaia zvezda s shestikonechnoi’ (‘The Five-pointed and Six-pointed Stars’).47 While the three volumes compiled by Boldyrev show a good deal about Slutskii’s response to his time, they are less forthcoming about the poet’s response to events and attitudes that had a bearing on his sense of identity as a Jew.

  • 48 Poeziia, Sud′ba, Rossiia, I, 236–37.
  • 49 See Petr Gorelik and Nikita Eliseev, ‘“Ia vse eto slyshal s detstva”: k 90-letiiu so dnia rozhdeni (...)
  • 50 Harriet Murav, Music from a Speeding Train, pp. 203–06; Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, pa (...)
  • 51 Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, p. 23.

19What is striking is that many accounts which define Slutskii as a poet of his epoch fail to consider his poetic response to being Jewish in that particular time. Those that see Slutskii’s close connection to his times as a factor that limits his significance as a poet are assuming that Jewish culture and tradition did not, or could not offer Slutskii a frame of reference that might take him beyond the confines of his age. The nationalist critic Kuniaev gives an account of Slutskii in which the poet is doubly marginalised, first by his political idealism, then by his Jewish identity. Kuniaev claims that Slutskii was not interested in ‘the Russian-Jewish question’ during the first half of his life, but became increasingly preoccupied with it once he realised that his internationalist dreams of complete assimilation would never be fulfilled.48 The claim that Slutskii had no interest in Jewish matters until later in life ignores the poetry Slutskii wrote on the Holocaust, and, indeed, his 1940–1941 cycle Stikhi o evreiakh i tatarakh (Verses about Jews and Tatars), including ‘Rasskaz emigranta’ (‘An Emigrant’s Tale’), a poem written in response to the Nazi persecution of the Jews before the mass killings began.49 Slutskii’s poetry records Soviet anti-semitism too. While Kuniaev interprets Slutskii’s interest in his Jewish identity as a dead end, it has been convincingly argued, by Grinberg, and by Harriet Murav, that Slutskii’s poetry drew fruitfully on Jewish tradition, reaching back to the distant past of biblical tradition, juxtaposed with details of the present day, so as to find ways of expressing the absolute loss of the Holocaust.50 Slutskii’s breadth of reading, as Grinberg repeatedly argues in his study, included a knowledge of Yiddish literature (his home town Kharkov was a centre of publishing in Yiddish in the 1920s) and the Hebrew bible.51

  • 52 Kuniaev’s contribution to the ‘Klassika i my’ debate of December 1977 has been interpreted as evid (...)
  • 53 Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, p. 191.
  • 54 Ibid., p. 252.
  • 55 English translations of poems by Slutskii can be found in An Anthology of Jewish-Russian Literatur (...)

20The downplaying or avoidance of Slutskii’s Jewish identity suggests anxieties about the place in the Russian literary canon of a Jewish poet writing in Russian. As far back as 1977 Kuniaev had hinted that it was ethnicity that decided whether a writer should be considered a Russian writer.52 Orthodox believer Boldyrev was motivated, suggests Grinberg, to remove from the collected works poems where the Jewish theme was too evident, so that his selection of Slutskii’s work would present the poet as a ‘child of his time, who at the end of his journey came to repentance’.53 There is no evidence, however, that Slutskii made any attempt at converting to Orthodox Christianity. Kuniaev laments Slutskii’s stubborn atheism, and his failure to follow other poets such as Pasternak, Zabolotskii and Akhmatova towards the Orthodox faith. His view that Slutskii would never be able to transcend the limitations of being a poet of his times to achieve greater profundity seems to bear out a trend in Russian thinking that Grinberg sees as entrenched: ‘a major Russian poet must be a Christian; the only legitimate sense of religiosity is a Christian one’.54 Nevertheless, Slutskii’s contribution as a Russian Jewish poet has received growing recognition, particularly outside Russia, with the publication of Grinberg’s study, but also, for instance, in Maxim D. Shrayer’s anthology of Jewish-Russian literature.55

21The exploration of Slutskii’s relationship with Communist ideology and with his Jewish identity has shown a poet whose involvement with his times was intense and disturbing. In post-Soviet Russia, however, a Jewish Communist poet risks being seen as irrelevant or peripheral, too closely linked with divisive questions of politics and ethnicity. When the focus is switched to questions of poetics, as will be shown below, Slutskii’s role in the canon becomes that of a figure who bridges the Stalin era to connect different generations, as well as official and underground poetry.

Slutskii’s Poetics: Between Maiakovskii and Brodskii

  • 56 Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, pp. 14–15.

22Having considered the ways in which the ‘Soviet variable’ is dealt with in accounts of Slutskii’s life and career, the remainder of this chapter will address the question of his poetics. Grinberg summarises the post-Soviet consensus on this subject, saying that Slutskii is now recognised as a major poet, perhaps the major poet of post-war Soviet poetry, whose work influenced the sound of Russian prosody and was a major influence on Iosif Brodskii’s early development as a poet. Slutskii’s poetics were inspired by the futurists, constructivists, and early Soviet avant-garde.56 This focus on poetics places Slutskii in a rather different relationship with his times, setting him in a context that includes, but goes beyond, mainstream Soviet culture. Slutskii’s distinctive diction links his work with the kind of formal experimentation that was largely suppressed during the 1920s, but which later re-emerged in the Soviet literary underground. Slutskii’s poetry shows few of the formal characteristics that might be expected from the work of a Soviet socialist realist poet: a smoothly melodic style, regular rhythm, unobtrusively conventional rhyme, and a tendency towards poetic rather than everyday vocabulary. Read alongside the published work of his contemporaries, Slutskii’s poetry looks closer to prose than poetry. Its rhythms are irregular, it lacks metaphor and melody, it uses language which is often colloquial, sometimes employing non-standard variants from everyday speech.

23Lazar′ Lazarev highlights both the artful and deliberate construction of Slutskii’s verse, and its studied avoidance of easy harmoniousness:

  • 57 Lazar′ Lazarev, ‘S nadezhdoi, pravdoi i dobrom…’, p. 195.

the awkwardness and unfinished quality of Slutskii’s poetry are deceptive — he is one of those poets who place a great emphasis on form, ‘technique’, instrumentation — this is not the result of carelessness but of the desire to destroy, explode smoothness and slickness.57

  • 58 Igor′ Shkliarevskii, ‘On ne zaigryval s nebom’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp (...)

24Igor′ Shkliarevskii’s notes that Slutskii made significant, and largely successful efforts to suppress the melodic qualities of his writing.58 Slutskii’s avoidance of obvious ornament goes together with an emphasis on reasoned reflection rather than emotional effusiveness. In a poem of 1973 Ian Satunovskii, a writer belonging to the unofficial Lianozovo group, recognised Slutskii’s sober rationality, declaring:

  • 59 Ian Satunovskii, ‘Liubliu stikhi Borisa Slutskogo’, Khochu li ia posmertnoi slavy: izbrannye stikh (...)

Люблю стихи Бориса Слуцкого–
толковые суждения
прямого харьковского хлопца,
как говорит Овсей;
веские доказательства
недоказуемого.59

I love Boris Slutskii’s poems —
sensible opinions of a plain
Khar′kov lad,
as Ovsei says;
weighty proofs of something
that cannot be proved.

  • 60 Oleg Dark, ‘V storony mertvykh: mezhdu Smeliakovym i Sapgirom’, Russkii zhurnal, 14 July 2003, par (...)
  • 61 Ibid., para. 11.

25Compared with the work of most of the mainstream Soviet poets with whom Slutskii is usually associated in literary histories, his work might well be described as ‘not-quite poetry’ (‘nedopoeziia’), the word Oleg Dark uses to describe the perception of Slutskii’s work as anomalous.60 Yet while it cannot reasonably be claimed that Slutskii’s position in the poetry canon has changed significantly since 1991, even though readers have access to a much wider range of his work, it is nevertheless fair to say that the canon has changed around him, making it possible to view Slutskii in a new context. By placing emphasis on his poetics, Slutskii can be read beyond the confines of the Soviet/anti-Soviet binary. The poets associated with the Lianozovo school such as Satunovskii, Evgenii Kropivnitskii, Sapgir, and Igor′ Kholin, who are gradually and tentatively being included in the canon, adopted minimalist aesthetics which resemble Slutskii’s own. By tracing Slutskii’s connections with such poets of the Soviet underground along the axis of poetic form, it becomes easier to recover him first and foremost as a poet. This point is well made by Dark, who reminds readers that a poet’s work may seem very different when viewed in a new context. Slutskii set alongside canonical Soviet poets Iaroslav Smeliakov, Konstantin Simonov, and David Samoilov is one thing, but next to Satunovskii and the émigré Georgii Ivanov, whose work existed outside that canon, he has the potential to appear as something quite different.61

  • 62 Benedikt Sarnov, ‘Zanimatel′naia dialektika’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. (...)
  • 63 These names are among the poets listed by Semen Lipkin in his recollections of Slutskii, ‘Sila sov (...)
  • 64 Falikov notes that the young IFLI poets were also influenced by the work of Nikolai Gumilev, which (...)
  • 65 Vladimir Ognev, ‘Moi drug Boris Slutskii’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 274 (...)
  • 66 Petr Miturich, Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 546–47. Slutskii’s poem, ‘Perepokh (...)

26In his anti-normative poetics Slutskii shows himself to be a poet following in the footsteps of the writers of the Russian avant-garde of the early twentieth century, including the futurists and the constructivists of the 1920s. Benedikt Sarnov refers to him as ‘the last lawful heir of Maiakovskii’.62 Slutskii’s personal library included the work of many avant-garde poets which became difficult to get hold of during the 1930s.63 He made contact with some prominent representatives of the avant-garde while studying in Moscow in the late 1930s. At the Literary Institute in 1939 he enrolled in Il′ia Sel′vinskii’s poetic seminar, choosing a leading figure of the constructivist movement as his teacher. The young poets with whom he studied at IFLI (the Institute of Philosophy, Literature and History) including Pavel Kogan and Mikhail Kul′chitskii, a close friend from Khar′kov, shared an admiration for the work of Maiakovskii and Khlebnikov.64 Slutskii also attended a poetry seminar run by Osip Brik, and made the acquaintance of Lili Brik who, according to Vladimir Ognev, presented him with a bed that had belonged to Maiakovskii.65 He would later serve for a time as the chair of the commission handling Khlebnikov’s legacy.66

  • 67 Shubinskii, ‘Semeinyi al′bom: zametki o sovetskoi poezii klassicheskogo perioda’, p. 167.

27When it comes to situating Slutskii in relation to his poetic descendants, it is striking that his influence extends to poets active in the literary underground as well as published poets. Shubinskii claims Slutskii, with his emphasis on poetic language as a medium which does not permit the superfluous, as a precursor of conceptualism, without whom Vsevolod Nekrasov and Lev Rubinshtein might not have become poets at all, or would have been very different; Brodskii, he adds, would not have been the same without Slutskii.67 It is Brodskii who made one of the most important, and frequently quoted canonising statements on Slutskii. Brodskii foregrounds Slutskii’s poetics, identifying the disparate elements that contribute to the poet’s distinctive style:

  • 68 Joseph Brodsky, ‘Literature and War: A Symposium’, TLS, 17 May 1985, 11–12 (p. 12).

It is Slutzky who has almost single-handedly changed the diction of post-war Russian poetry. His verse is a conglomeration of bureaucratese, military lingo, colloquialisms and sloganeering, and it employs with equal ease assonance, dactylic and visual rhymes, sprung rhythms and vernacular cadences.68

  • 69 See David MacFadyen, Joseph Brodsky and the Soviet Muse (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press (...)
  • 70 Falikov, ‘Krasnorechie po-Slutski’, p. 104.
  • 71 See Sovremennye russkie poety (Moscow: Nauchno-prakticheskii tsentr Megatron, 1998), compiled by V (...)
  • 72 Stanislav Kuniaev, Poeziia, Sud′ba, Rossiia, II, 227–28. Vladimir Kornilov, however, states that S (...)

28Brodskii acknowledged Slutskii’s influence on his own early development; his creative dialogue with Slutskii is discussed in some detail by David MacFadyen.69 Falikov claims that the list of poets who had read Slutskii ‘productively’ is too long to ennumerate.70 Nevertheless, various critics have named the following as in some way shaped by Slutskii: Evgenii Vinokurov, Nikolai Panchenko, Vladimir Kornilov, Aleksandr Mezhirov, Mikhail Aizenberg, together with later poets who emerged at roughly the same time as many of Slutskii’s works found their way out of his archive into print.71 He was certainly known as a generous mentor of young poets, and taught at the Literary Institute for many years. His generous moral and financial support for younger colleagues was well known and is mentioned by many memoirists, though Kuniaev, a former protégé, suggests that Slutskii’s generosity was motivated principally by his wish to establish a group of loyal disciples, and claims that those who did not agree with him were marginalised.72

  • 73 Barry P. Scherr, ‘Martynov, Slutskii and the Politics of Rhythm’, Paragraph, 33: 2 (2010), 246–59 (...)
  • 74 Tat′iana Bek, ‘Rasshifruite moi tetradi…’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 255 (...)
  • 75 Ibid., p. 258.

29The reach of Slutskii’s influence across a wide range of poets must be ascribed primarily to his poetics, which he had formed under the influence of the early twentieth-century avant-garde. At a time when the legacy of this movement had been largely suppressed, Slutskii was one of the few published poets who continued with formal experimentation and so helped to link two generations separated by socialist realism. Certainly Maiakovskii’s style left its traces in Slutskii’s rhythm. Barry P. Scherr sees a similar use of variable and mixed meters, particularly the frequent insertion of trochaic lines into poems that are predominantly iambic.73 Other features of Slutskii’s poetics that align him with the tradition of futurist poetry include his use of word-play; Tat′iana Bek sees his fondness for bringing together words which are etymologically related by having the same root as a feature that links him with the futurists.74 In the area of rhyme, too, Slutskii shows his connection with futurist word-play by using homonym rhyme, in which the rhyming words sound the same but have different meanings, and repetend rhyme, in which the words in a rhyming pair are identical in both sound and meaning. Bek sees Slutskii very much as continuing along the path laid down by the futurists, and describes his work as a rewriting of Russian classics ‘in the language handed to him by his times (passing his unique experience through the intermediate filters of Khlebnikov and other Futurists)’.75 Oleg Khlebnikov finds echoes of earlier predecessors in Slutskii’s ‘not-quite-poetry’:

  • 76 Oleg Khlebnikov, ‘Vysokaia bolezn′ Borisa Slutskogo’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennik (...)

When reading Slutskii’s poetry you need to remember that as well as Pushkinian harmony there exists in our poetry the harmony of Derzhavin and Maiakovskii, and if you tune your ear accordingly the accusations of Slutskii’s ‘inelegance’ vanish all by themselves.76

  • 77 Mikhail Gasparov, quoted in Marat Grinberg, ‘Vychityvaia Slutskogo: Boris Slutskii v dialoge s sov (...)

30Mikhail Gasparov, meanwhile, sees a connection between Slutskii and another formally innovative twentieth-century poet whose work is distinguished by an intensely emotional pitch, Marina Tsvetaeva. The similarity with Slutskii lies elsewhere: ‘If you set aside Tsvetaeva’ s hyperbolism and passion, while retaining the same precision with which phrases are formulated, as well as the emphasis on the way words echo one another, you get Slutskii’s poetics’.77

  • 78 Vladimir Bondarenko, Poslednie poety imperii: ocherki literaturnykh sudeb (Moscow: Molodaia gvardi (...)
  • 79 Lev Anninskii, ‘Ia rodilsia v zheleznom obshchestve’, Druzhba narodov, 2 (2006), para. 60, http:// (...)
  • 80 Dmitrii Sukharev, ‘“Skrytopis” Borisa Slutskogo’, pp. 31–32.

31In its apparent simplicity Slutskii’s poetry clearly echoes, too, the concerns of the Literary Centre of Constructivists, who wanted writers to produce work which would be simply formulated so as to be intelligible to the masses. It draws on what the constructivists termed the ‘local method’, which meant that every level of a literary work (such as sound, imagery, lexicon) should be selected so as to form an integral part of its meaning. Sel′vinskii had led the way in using slang and regional expressions when the theme of a poem called for it. Slutskii’s own early years were spent in Khar′kov, a city where Russian, Ukrainian and Yiddish co-existed. His childhood home, right next to the city’s main market, exposed the poet to a mixture of languages, colloquial and substandard forms of expression, which he later found their way into his work. Simplicity is a word that needs to be used in relation to Slutskii’s poetry with caution, however, as Slutskii’s simplicity is plainly not of the same variety as that of Dem′ian Bednyi or Vasilii Lebedev-Kumach. Kuniaev, for a while one of Slutskii’s poetic protégés, seems to have been influenced in his decision to part company with his mentor because of what he describes as the ‘refined atmosphere’ around his work.78 In the view of Lev Anninskii, the simplicity of Slutskii’s work conceals its subtleties: ‘this simplicity is aimed at a conoisseur who is far from simple’.79 Dmitrii Sukharev finds it appropriate to describe Slutskii’s poetics as ‘cryptographic’; the deceptive simplicity of his style directs attention away from complex sound patterning which generates associations and layers of meaning.80 Lev Mochalov also sees hidden depths in Slutskii’s poetry:

  • 81 Lev Mochalov, ‘V znake starinnoi druzhby’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 392 (...)

its secret explosive power lay in its anti-normative, disruptive qualities of rough, unworked stone or rusty metal; its rhythmical breaks are there to give the living intonation of conversation, its incorrect usage provides expressiveness.81

  • 82 G. S. Smith, Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 359, p. 258.
  • 83 Dmitrii Sukharev, ‘Dlia ponimaniia Slutskogo nuzhny miagkie nravy i eshche kakoi-nikakoi professio (...)

32A significant element that contributes towards the impression of simplicity produced by Slutskii’s poetry is what G. S. Smith describes as its ‘a low-pitched conversational tone’.82 Slutskii’s conversational tone of voice when reading his own work clearly stood out from the reading style of his contemporaries. One memoirist recalls hearing Slutskii read his famous ‘Loshadi v okeane’ (‘Horses in the Ocean’, 1956) at a seminar for young writers in the late 1950s; his tone of voice did not change as he began to recite his poem, remaining matter-of-fact throughout, much to the puzzlement of at least some of his audience.83

  • 84 Vladimir Kornilov notes that Slutskii used the same tone of voice for normal conversation and for (...)
  • 85 Scherr, Russian Poetry, pp. 137–78.
  • 86 According to Marina Krasnova, ‘Slutskii’ s poetry did not produce any quotations’. See Marina Kras (...)
  • 87 ‘Fiziki i liriki’, Sobranie sochinenii, I, 351.

33The tone of Slutskii’s poetry does not rely merely on its avoidance of declamation and adoption of colloquial language. It is, as Scherr points out, built in through his use of variable meters, mixing binary and ternary feet, and the varying length of his lines.84 The fact that it is hard to make out a predictable pattern reinforces the impression that Slutskii’s poetry is just one remove from everyday speech. Scherr’s analysis of Slutskii’s use of the four-foot dolnik shows that he avoids regular rhythms, in a deliberate departure from nineteenth-century norms, and demonstrates the highest degree of rhythmical experimentation in poems which deal with the subject of poetry.85 It is perhaps because of the close affinity between Slutskii’s poetics and everyday speech that little of what he wrote seems to have been taken up as phrases in common usage, although Bek recalls her parents often using phrases from Slutskii’s poems as part of their everyday conversations.86 Slutskii’s pairing of fiziki i liriki (physicists and lyric poets) established itself firmly from the late 1950s, but the phrase was often used by people who were not aware of its origins.87 Perhaps Slutskii’s conversational tone made his poetry resistant to memorisation; in contrast to the sonorous and predictably-patterned verse of the Stalinist ‘grand style’, it was simply too close to the texture of everyday speech to take root in it.

  • 88 Evgenii Rein, ‘Samyi krupnyi poet pozdnego sovetizma’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremenni (...)
  • 89 Ibid., p. 388.
  • 90 Aleksei Smirnov, ‘Blizhnee ekho’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 461–67 (pp. (...)

34Even though Slutskii’s poetics point towards his association with artistic currents of the twentieth century which did not originate in official Soviet culture and were generally at odds with that culture, the identification of Slutskii with the ideology of the era in which he lived still features in discussions of the formal characteristics of his works. The poet Evgenii Rein describes Slutskii’s poetry as ‘a phenomenon of rhythm, poetics, sound, and it is this sound in Slutskii’ s work that most corresponds to the peculiar Soviet era’.88 Rein pursues his point by restating the close relationship between Bolshevik ideology and avant-garde culture, describing Slutskii’s closeness to ‘the avant-garde as a movement and project connected to the Soviet utopia, Stalinism’.89 Aleksei Smirnov also hears echoes of Slutskii’s times in the sound of his poetry, claiming that Slutskii’s work is ‘a pure echo of his epoch’, but gives his opinion that the disharmony to be found in his work originates in the times and not in the poet himself.90

35An exploration of Slutskii’s poetics makes it possible to see him in a relation to a canon that is not constructed according to binary concepts such as Soviet/anti-Soviet, but which foregrounds poetic form and language in a tradition that connects him with Derzhavin, the post-war underground poets, Maiakovskii and Brodskii.

Conclusion

36The case of Slutskii shows that the position of an individual poet within the literary canon may begin to shift not so much as a result of any new discoveries of that poet’s texts, or of attempts by advocates of that poet to transform readers’ perceptions, but by a process of gradual canonical change which alters the context in which the poet is viewed. In the late-Soviet version of literary history, Slutskii was firmly embedded alongside his contemporaries, war veterans and party members, a chronicler of wartime heroism and duty. This picture was disrupted in the final years of the Soviet Union’s existence by the publication of poems which revealed Slutskii’s struggle with censorship and anti-semitism, the complex, often dramatic relationship between the poet and his times. When those times came to a sudden end, the legacy of a poet seen as intimately bound up with the Soviet experience lost much of its immediate interest. Through the 1990s and 2000s the history of twentieth-century poetry has gradually been assembled from its apparently disparate elements. This has enabled Slutskii to emerge in the company of other poets from outside the Soviet-era canon. The familiar narrative of the poet and his times remains in place, and Slutskii can still be compared with poets such as Ol′ga Berggol′ts and Aleksandr Tvardovskii, who, like him, tried to reconcile party loyalties with poetic integrity. The changing canon, however, reveals Slutskii as a figure who demonstrates the inadequacy of simplistic divisions between official and unofficial poetry as a way of understanding twentieth-century Russian poetry, and the power of poetic innovation.

Notes

1 Daniil Danin, ‘Khorosho ushel — ne oglianulsia’, Voprosy literatury, 5 (2006), 168–79 (p. 168).

2 Deming Brown, Soviet Russian Literature Since Stalin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 88.

3 Ibid., p. 89.

4 G. S. Smith, ‘Soldier of Misfortune’, in Boris Slutsky, Things That Happened, edited and translated and with an introduction and commentaries by G. S. Smith (Moscow and Birmingham: Glas, 1999), pp. 1–23 (p. 23).

5 Evgenii Evtushenko, ‘Obiazatelnost′ pered istoriei’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, compiled by Petr Gorelik (St Petersburg: Zhurnal Neva, 2005), pp. 377–83 (p. 379); I. Plekhanova, ‘Igra v imperativnom soznanii: lirika Boris Slutskogo v dialoge s vremenem’, Voprosy literatury, 1 (2003), 46–72 (p. 47).

6 Stanislav Kuniaev, Poeziia, Sudba, Rossiia, 2 vols. (Mosow: Nash sovremennik, 1991), I, 231.

7 Marat Grinberg, ‘I Am to Be Read not from Left to Right, But in Jewish, from Right to Left’: The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, Borderlines: Russian and East European-Jewish Studies (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2011), p. 16.

8 For representative versions of Slutskii’s condemnation of Pasternak, see David Samoilov, ‘Drug i sopernik’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 77–105 (pp. 96–97) and Aleksandr Matskin, ‘Boris Slutskii, ego poeziia, ego okruzhenie’, ibid., pp. 307–23 (pp. 310–11).

9 Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, p. 15, pp. 27–31.

10 Oleg Chukhontsev, ‘V storonu Slutskogo’, Znamia, 1 (2012), 130–50 (p. 149).

11 Igor′Shaitanov, ‘Boris Slutskii: povod vspomnit′’, Arion, 3 (2000), para. 17, http://magazines.russ.ru/arion/2000/3/shaitan.html

12 G. S. Smith, ‘Boris Slutskii’, Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 359, Russian Poets of the Soviet Era, edited by Karen Rosneck (Detroit: Gale, 2011), pp. 255–64 (p. 261).

13 G. S. Smith, ‘Soldier of Misfortune’, in Boris Slutsky, Things That Happened, p. 8.

14 Lev Ozerov, ‘Rezkaia liniia’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 327–46 (p. 331).

15 See, for example, Samoilov, ‘Drug i sopernik’, p. 81, for Slutskii’s interest in how others ranked contemporary poets, Russian poets, world poets; also Viktor Maklin, ‘Boris Slutskii, kak ia ego pomniu’, Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 496–504 (p. 499). According to Gorelik, the anthology Slutskii annotated was Molodaia Moskva (Moscow: Moskovskii rabochii, 1947). See Gorelik’s footnote to Nina Koroleva, ‘Poeziia tochnogo slova’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 401–14 (p. 411).

16 Slutskii’s ‘Table of Ranks’ for Writers’Union members is recalled by Lazar′Lazarev, ‘S nadezhdoi, pravdoi i dobrom…’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 169–201 (p. 183).

17 For Slutskii’s assessment of his own importance as a poet in the late 1950s, see Samoilov, ‘Drug i sopernik’, p. 96.

18 Lazarev, ‘S nadezhdoi, pravdoi i dobrom…’, p. 200.

19 Boris Slutskii, ‘Ia slishkom znamenitym ne byval’, Sobranie sochinenii, compiled by Iurii Boldyrev, 3 vols. (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1991), II, 374. Reproduced with permission.

20 Semen Lipkin, ‘Sila sovesti’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 212–18 (pp. 212–13).

21 Gorelik, Petr, ‘Drug iunosti i vsei zhizni’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 26–66 (p. 28, p. 47).

22 V. A Zaitsev, Lektsii po istorii russkoi poezii XX veka (1940–2000) (Moscow: Izdatel′stvo moskovskogo universiteta, 2009), p. 109.

23 Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, pp. 14–15.

24 Zaitsev, Lektsii po istorii russkoi poezii XX veka, p. 112.

25 The first critical article on Slutskii to appear was written by Il′ia Erenburg. See Il′ia Erenburg, ‘O stikhakh Borisa Slutskogo’, Literaturnaia gazeta, 28 July 1956; and Il′ia Falikov, ‘Krasnorechie po-Slutski’, Voprosy literatury, 2 (2000), 62–110 (p. 84).

26 Omri Ronen, ‘Grust′’, Zvezda, 9 (2012), para. 49, http://magazines.russ.ru/zvezda/2012/9/rq9.html, Ronen quotes from the Russian Wikipedia entry on Slutskii: ‘Борис Слуцкий имеет неоднозначную репутацию в литературных кругах’ (Boris Slutskii has an ambiguous reputation in literary circles), and points out that the adjective ‘неоднозначный’ (ambiguous), as currently used, hints at something unfavourable, but non-specific. The Wikipedia article on Slutskii can be found at para. 6, http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Слуцкий_Борис_Абрамович

27 Plekhanova, ‘Igra v imperativnom soznanii: lirika Boris Slutskogo v dialoge s vremenem’, p. 48.

28 Oleg Dark, ‘V storonu mertvykh (mezhdu Smeliakovym i Sapgirom)’, Russkii zhurnal, 14 July 2003, para. 6, http://old.russ.ru/krug/20030714_od.html; ‘Vsem lozungam ia veril do kontsa’, Sobranie sochinenii, I, 172.

29 See Vladislav Zubok, Zhivago’s Children: The Last Russian Intelligentsia (Cambridge, MA and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), pp. 356–62, for post-Soviet views of the Thaw generation. Ronen points out that Slutskii’s view of the Thaw was not in fact as uncritically naive as has been claimed; ‘Grust ′’, Zvezda, 9 (2012), and goes on to say: ‘There is no need to apologise for Slutskii’ (para. 22).

30 Samoilov argues that this was the case: ‘Drug i sopernik’, p. 96.

31 Stanislav Rassadin, Samoubiitsy: povest′ o tom, kak my zhili i chto chitali (Moscow: Tekst, 2007), p. 427; Valerii Shubinskii, ‘Semeinyi al′bom: zametki o sovetskoi poezii klassicheskogo perioda’, Oktiabr ′, 8 (2000), 150–68 (p. 167); Stanislav Kuniaev, Poeziia. Sud′ba. Rossiia., I, 234; Falikov, ‘Krasnorechie po-Slutski’, p. 83.

32 Samoilov, ‘Drug i sopernik’, p. 93; Dmitrii Sukharev, ‘Skrytopis′ Borisa Slutskogo’, Voprosy literatury, 1 (2003), 22–45 (pp. 24–25).

33 Danin, ‘Khorosho ushel. Ne oglianulsia…’, p. 179; Iosif Brodskii’s comment attributed to him by Nikita Eliseev. See Nikita Eliseev, ‘Boris Slutskii i voina’, Neva, 5 (2010), para. 49, http://magazines.russ.ru/neva/2010/5/el20.html; Falikov, ‘Krasnorechie po-Slutski’, p. 108.

34 Stanislav Kuniaev, Poeziia, Sud′ba, Rossiia, I, 241.

35 For examples of Slutskii’s poems on censorship, see ‘Lakiruiu deistvitel′nost′…’, Sobranie sochinenii, I, 247; ‘Byl pechal′nyi, a stal pechatnyi’, I, 245; ‘Zapakh lzhi, pochti neusledimyi’, III, 151. Poems demonstrating Slutskii’s sympathy for the unfortunate include ‘Okazyvaetsia, voina’, III, 47; ‘Bessplatnaia snezhnaia baba’, I, 286, and ‘Pesnia’, I, 375.

36 Boris Paramonov, ‘Russkii evropeets Boris Slutskii’, October 2007, para. 9, http://www.svobodanews.ru/content/article/419149.html

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid., para. 2.

39 Ibid., para. 3.

40 Ibid., para. 16.

41 Ibid., para. 35.

42 Ibid., para. 18.

43 Falikov, ‘Krasnorechie po-Slutski’, p. 75. The reference to ‘the pit at Cologne’ alludes to Slutskii’s poem ‘The Pit at Cologne’ (‘Kel′nskaia iama’, Sobranie sochinenii, I, 85–86), relating the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war by their German captors.

44 Shubinskii, ‘Semeinyi al′bom: zametki o sovetskoi poezii klassicheskogo perioda’, p. 167.

45 David Shraer-Petrov, ‘Ierusalimskii kazak’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 456–60. Vladimir Kornilov does give some consideration to the Jewish theme in Slutskii’s poetry in ‘Pokuda nad stikhami plachut…’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 106–20 (pp. 114–15).

46 Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, p. 191.

47 Ronen, ‘Grust′’, Zvezda, 9 (2012), para. 13. Ronen also points out (para. 7) that Slutskii’s editorship of the first Soviet anthology of Israeli poetry Poety Izrailia (Moscow: Inostrannaia literatura, 1963) is seldom mentioned.

48 Poeziia, Sud′ba, Rossiia, I, 236–37.

49 See Petr Gorelik and Nikita Eliseev, ‘“Ia vse eto slyshal s detstva”: k 90-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia Borisa Slutskogo’, Evreiskoe slovo, 15 (2009), http://www.e-slovo.ru/433/10pol1.htm, for a discussion of the Jewish theme in Slutskii’s poetry, including his pre-1941 poems on German anti-semitic persecution. Grinberg offers a detailed analysis of Slutskii’s Holocaust poems, pp. 154–73, and compares them to Holocaust poems by Il′ia Sel′vinskii, pp. 330–46.

50 Harriet Murav, Music from a Speeding Train, pp. 203–06; Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, particularly p. 158 on the poem ‘Rodstvenniki Khrista’, and pp. 160–08 on ‘Ia osvobozhdal Ukrainu’.

51 Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, p. 23.

52 Kuniaev’s contribution to the ‘Klassika i my’ debate of December 1977 has been interpreted as evidence of his views on ethnicity and canonicity. For a transcript of proceedings, see Moskva, 1–3 (1990); Kuniaev’s contribution can be found on pp. 190–93 of no. 1.

53 Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, p. 191.

54 Ibid., p. 252.

55 English translations of poems by Slutskii can be found in An Anthology of Jewish-Russian Literature: Two Centuries of Dual Identity in Prose and Poetry, edited by Maxim D. Shrayer, 2 vols. (Armonk, NY and London: M. E. Sharpe, 2007), II, 639–47 and 795–96. A volume of Slutskii’s writing on Jewish themes has appeared in Russia: B. A. Slutskii, ‘Teper Osventsim chasto snitsia mne’, compiled by P. Gorelik (St Petersburg: Zhurnala Neva, 1999).

56 Grinberg, The Poetics of Boris Slutsky, pp. 14–15.

57 Lazar′ Lazarev, ‘S nadezhdoi, pravdoi i dobrom…’, p. 195.

58 Igor′ Shkliarevskii, ‘On ne zaigryval s nebom’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 390–91 (p. 391).

59 Ian Satunovskii, ‘Liubliu stikhi Borisa Slutskogo’, Khochu li ia posmertnoi slavy: izbrannye stikhi, compiled by I. Akhmet′ev and P. Satunovskii (Moscow: Biblioteka al′manakha ‘Vesy’, 1992), http://www.vavilon.ru/texts/satunovsky1-3.html. The reference to ‘Ovsei’ is likely to be to the poet Ovsei Driz, who wrote in Yiddish, and was translated into Russian by, among others, Genrikh Sapgir and Slutskii. A poem by Slutskii, ‘Optimisticheskie pokhorony’ (‘An optimistic funeral’) on Driz’s funeral in 1968 is included in Lev Frukhtman’s memoir of Driz, ‘Zhil-byl skazochnik’, http://velelens.livejournal.com/879503.html

60 Oleg Dark, ‘V storony mertvykh: mezhdu Smeliakovym i Sapgirom’, Russkii zhurnal, 14 July 2003, para. 9, http://old.russ.ru/krug/20030714_od.html

61 Ibid., para. 11.

62 Benedikt Sarnov, ‘Zanimatel′naia dialektika’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 236–54 (p. 247).

63 These names are among the poets listed by Semen Lipkin in his recollections of Slutskii, ‘Sila sovesti’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 212–18 (pp. 212–13).

64 Falikov notes that the young IFLI poets were also influenced by the work of Nikolai Gumilev, which was excluded from the published canon until the late 1980s; ‘Pust′budet’, Voprosy literatury, 5 (2006), 180–201 (p. 183).

65 Vladimir Ognev, ‘Moi drug Boris Slutskii’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 274–89 (p. 280). Lili Brik’s gift of Maiakovskii’s bed must have been made considerably later, as Slutskii was without a secure base in Moscow for many years after the war, and lived in a succession of rented rooms.

66 Petr Miturich, Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 546–47. Slutskii’s poem, ‘Perepokhorony Khlebnikov’, Sobranie sochinenii, II, 286–87, refers to the reburial of Khlebnikov’s remains in 1960.

67 Shubinskii, ‘Semeinyi al′bom: zametki o sovetskoi poezii klassicheskogo perioda’, p. 167.

68 Joseph Brodsky, ‘Literature and War: A Symposium’, TLS, 17 May 1985, 11–12 (p. 12).

69 See David MacFadyen, Joseph Brodsky and the Soviet Muse (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000), pp. 55–75.

70 Falikov, ‘Krasnorechie po-Slutski’, p. 104.

71 See Sovremennye russkie poety (Moscow: Nauchno-prakticheskii tsentr Megatron, 1998), compiled by V. Agenosov, K. Ankudinov, pp. 296–303 (pp. 296–97).

72 Stanislav Kuniaev, Poeziia, Sud′ba, Rossiia, II, 227–28. Vladimir Kornilov, however, states that Slutskii had no interest in being part of a literary clique. See Kornilov, ‘Pokuda nad stikhami plachut…’, p. 113.

73 Barry P. Scherr, ‘Martynov, Slutskii and the Politics of Rhythm’, Paragraph, 33: 2 (2010), 246–59 (p. 257), and Russian Poetry: Meter, Rhythm, and Rhyme (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 107–08.

74 Tat′iana Bek, ‘Rasshifruite moi tetradi…’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 255–66 (p. 256).

75 Ibid., p. 258.

76 Oleg Khlebnikov, ‘Vysokaia bolezn′ Borisa Slutskogo’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 202–11 (p. 211).

77 Mikhail Gasparov, quoted in Marat Grinberg, ‘Vychityvaia Slutskogo: Boris Slutskii v dialoge s sovremennikami’, Kreshchatik, 3, 2008, para. 39, http://magazines.russ.ru/kreschatik/2008/3/gr23.html

78 Vladimir Bondarenko, Poslednie poety imperii: ocherki literaturnykh sudeb (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 2005), p. 138.

79 Lev Anninskii, ‘Ia rodilsia v zheleznom obshchestve’, Druzhba narodov, 2 (2006), para. 60, http://magazines.russ.ru/druzhba/2006/2/an16.html

80 Dmitrii Sukharev, ‘“Skrytopis” Borisa Slutskogo’, pp. 31–32.

81 Lev Mochalov, ‘V znake starinnoi druzhby’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 392–400 (p. 394).

82 G. S. Smith, Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 359, p. 258.

83 Dmitrii Sukharev, ‘Dlia ponimaniia Slutskogo nuzhny miagkie nravy i eshche kakoi-nikakoi professionalizm’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 267–73 (p. 271).

84 Vladimir Kornilov notes that Slutskii used the same tone of voice for normal conversation and for reciting his poetry. See Vladimir Kornilov, ‘Pokuda nad stikhami plachut…’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 106–20 (p. 106). See also Scherr, Russian Poetry: Meter, Rhythm, and Rhyme, pp. 107–08.

85 Scherr, Russian Poetry, pp. 137–78.

86 According to Marina Krasnova, ‘Slutskii’ s poetry did not produce any quotations’. See Marina Krasnova, ‘Vladelets shestisot istorii’, Novyi mir, 8 (2006), 177–82 (p. 181). Bek, ‘Rasshifruite moi tetradi…’, p. 264.

87 ‘Fiziki i liriki’, Sobranie sochinenii, I, 351.

88 Evgenii Rein, ‘Samyi krupnyi poet pozdnego sovetizma’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 387–89 (pp. 388–89).

89 Ibid., p. 388.

90 Aleksei Smirnov, ‘Blizhnee ekho’, in Boris Slutskii: vospominaniia sovremennikov, pp. 461–67 (pp. 464–65).

Auteur

Research focuses on twentieth-century Russian poetry, particularly the complexities faced by writers during the Soviet period, and how attitudes towards the cultural legacy of the USSR have evolved since 1991. Katharine has published extensively on the topic, including with Alexandra Smith, The Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry Canon and Post-Soviet National Identity (2017) and Voicing the Soviet Experience: the Poetry of Ol´ga Berggol´ts (2003). Between 2010 and 2013 Katharine led a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), ‘Reconfiguring the Canon of Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry, 1991–2008’ (http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/modernlanguages/russian/research/russianpoetrycanon), which has enabled her to examine how the twentieth-century poetry canon has been revised in recent years. This book is the fruit of this productive collaboration. Email:

K.M.Hodgson@exeter.ac.uk

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