Boris Dralyuk has a fine World Literature Today piece on a forgotten figure, “A Poet of the Outskirts: Yevgeny Kropivnitsky (1893–1979).” Here’s a sample:
Toward the end of his life, in 1975, Kropivnitsky described the task he had set for himself as a poet and the reaction his work aroused: “When the poet begins to read his poems, the people listening expect to hear about him. Imagine their confusion when, instead of hearing the author read about himself, they suddenly hear poems about them. They start to fidget in their chairs, their faces grow puzzled, dark . . .” The poet, Kropivnitsky goes on, is interested in the “flesh and blood of existence. He shows you to yourselves, laymen, to the best of his ability.”
So how do we appear in Kropivnitsky’s looking glass? As denizens of an unsympathetic universe, subject to the arbitrary cruelty of our fellow man, ourselves capable of great cruelty, awaiting death and, beyond it, a “Half-erased Epitaph” (1947):
Here lies . . . (for a while –
the cemetery’s being razed).
He left us in his prime . . .
(Then, I imagine, dates.)
(And then, in capitals, an) OV
(Likely another Ivanóv.)
This devastating verse is as cool to the touch and devoid of particulars as the object it describes, which is, in turn, as impersonal—or rather, as depersonalized—as what lies beneath it. The speaker’s insertions only underscore the lacunae. The name “Ivanov”—the Russian equivalent of “Smith,” say—not only fails to narrow down the possibilities but accomplishes the very opposite: it reduces the hope of recovering the deceased’s identity to an absurd joke. Who is this “OV,” this Russian John Doe? Dear reader, find the nearest mirror. In fact, you need look no farther than the poem itself: a verbal headstone polished to a reflective sheen. The poet “shows you to yourselves . . . to the best of his ability.” Nettlesome indeed.
(The poet’s surname is from a word meaning “nettle.”) I’m going to have to investigate Kropivnitsky further, and I encourage all such attempts to resurrect long-gone writers.