Offcourse Literary Journal
ISSN 1556-4975 

Letters from Alex Cigale:


Dear Ricardo,

You and OffCourse are most certainly a godsend: the opportunity to have these all in one place is not likely to arise anywhere else. I have begun work on Kruchenykh so that at least he and the Futurists might be represented and our number rounded off to ten Silver Age poets. If anything I would expand by another 3-4 so as to more fully cover my subject here (perhaps Chorny, Severyanin, Sologub, Akhmatova). Will be in touch early March with a progress report.

Yours, AC.

P.S. Just to clarify; these are of course miniatures rather than minimalist, and I am seeking the roots of post-WW II post-modernism in the earlier modernist examples.



Greetings, Ricardo!

Am attaching the table of contents (20 poets) so that we can make some decisions on layout and inclusion of links.  The pages of the "big" names are left blank not for lack but abundance, which requires some thought toward a selection. I now see themes emerging and have begun an introduction. These ideas seem coterminous with developments in philosophy: Existentialism, Nihilism, Phenomenology, Transcendentalism, Theosophy, Semiotics, Structuralism, Absurdism, and Deconstruction – and form a sort of exhaustion and renewal of the word. The working title is something like:

of Russian Minimalist
& Miniature Poems;
Part I, the Silver Age

Re: dates: many of the poets were meticulous about dates of composition. Lacking that, wherever possible, I have included dates of first publication or dates of composition established by scholarship in "<>".  One inconsistency that remains is regarding initial capitals. I've mostly followed the author's preferences but in final analysis also tried to reflect the spirit of the final English version, that is, the inconsistency is purposeful.... I have now made selections from Akhmatova, Mandelstam and Tsvetayeva, and completed the Futurist and Zaum or "transrational" poems of Kruchenykh, Burlyuk, Kamensky, and Gnedov: based as most of them are in Sound Poetry, on naive, folky, childlike language, much of it is untranslatable.  Lastly, I have added the two glaring omissions, Mayakovsky and Pasternak. Now I can begin to write an introduction.



Thank you yet again, Ricardo!

Regarding the five major major poets you mention (Akhmatova, Pasternak, Mandelstam, Tsvetayeva, Mayakovsky,) it is also quite amazing to me, viewed from a historical perspective, that the clustering and symmetry of their birth years seems to really suggest some sort of a golden age: each was born in one of the successive years from 1889-1893 and this is not likely a coincidence. I do believe that an artist is One Step Ahead of the age, often one step only, that we are shaped by, respond to or react against, the milieu, Zeitgeist, habitus, or what have you.  While trans-cultural parallels are not entirely accurate (vis-a-vis transmission of developments on the continent,) it is instructive to consider the same generation of American Modernists.  Frost (b.1874) while corresponding in age to the Symbolist Bryusov, is closer in temperament to the older Symbolist Sologub, not surprisingly closer in spirit and origins to the so-called Village Poets (among them Sergei Esenin in the following generation, along with the Symbolist Alexander Blok, one major poet I felt could not be represented by miniatures.) Gertrude Stein (also 1874,) perhaps due to her early expatriation to Paris in 1903, is in a category all by herself (Frost went to the more conservative London in 1912; Pound goes to Venice in 1908 and then to London and serves as secretary and worships at the feet of Yeats). Pound and Williams (1883-84) correspond to the Futurist generation (Burlyuk, Kamensky, Kruchenykh, Severyanin; 1882-1887,) which makes perfect sense in Pound's case but Williams' development, perhaps again a matter of the related issues of delay and temperament, seemed to follow a different course.  The Russian poets who felt the greatest sense of influence of the East, Bely (1880) and Khlebnikov (1885,) like Williams and Pound seem to have also felt an epic impulse.  Lastly, Eliot (1888) and Cummings (1894) exactly bracket the Russian Five!

How do you like that for a coincidence!  



The essay itself is progressing slowly.  I hope you will be able to accommodate the following additions: Khodasevich (b. 1886,) a truly major poet and a precursor to post-modernist aesthetic, though this is difficult to illustrate with three miniatures.  Finally, I have now filled out the representatives of the generation of the mid-19th C. whom the Silver Age embraced as their own. Tyutchev was the living link to the Golden Age.  His and Annensky's late development, again for reasons of temperament, economics, and position outside literary institutions, lead them to be published only late in life, and this isolation in a way made for styles and subject matter that are at least models for the generation of the Moderns.  Turgenev turned to poetry after largely abandoning the Novel in the last twenty years of his life, for similar reasons of mis-reception as Thomas Hardy, a "transitional figure" of the following generation.  He belongs here if for no other reason than for taking Gogol's claim of the poetry of prose seriously and for being central in the epic struggle between the Slavophiles and the Westernizers.  If time permits, the only major poet of that generation left undone is Afanasy Fet (1820-1892) whom I'll English tonight. Though as a "Village Poet" he stands well outside Modernism, his immense popularity and essential optimism offer an instructive contrast to the age's crisis of faith.  Even in his pastoral mode, Fet illustrates much of the shift from Romanticism to Modernism: in addition to animistic pathetic fallacy and folk primitivism, there is a definite turn from the ethereal to the concrete.



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