I’ve been alerted by a reader who works there to an online magazine about contemporary Russian culture, The Calvert Journal, and having finally had the leisure to check out the links, I’m impressed enough to pass them on and add the journal to my blogroll. A very topical piece by Uilleam Blacker is called “Blurred lines: Russian literature and cultural diversity in Ukraine“; it starts off [with a passage I’m deleting because it appears to be flamebait — you can of course read it at the link — and] goes on to discuss the complexities of Ukrainian literature, both past and present:
Despite their nationalised, politicised images, both Gogol and Shevchenko span the Russian-Ukrainian linguistic and cultural divide. This tradition continues today: across contemporary Ukraine, there are dozens of writers, from sci-fi novelists to prize-winning poets, who operate across the two languages. Andrei Kurkov, a Russian-language writer from Kiev, has probably sold more books in translation than any other contemporary Russian-language author. He writes his fiction in Russian, but often includes un-translated Ukrainian dialogue, while some of his children’s books and media articles come out only in Ukrainian. There are bilingual literary journals, like the Kiev-based Sho (its title means “what”, not in Ukrainian or Russian, but in surzhyk, the hybrid dialect spoken by many across the country), and one can buy anthologies of new and classic literature on Kiev or Kharkiv with texts in both languages (all of them original works: translation is not needed).
Kevin M. F. Platt writes about Latvia in “Multiple voices: Latvia’s Russophone poets embrace the power of difference“; he starts by describing the fraught history of Baltic Russians, then goes on to “the Riga-based poetry and multimedia collective Orbita, which has made a name for itself in over the past decade or so”:
Against this backdrop, the poets of Orbita stand out in sharp relief. This is a loose organisation comprised of the five poets who created the group in 1999: Timofejev, Semyon Khanin, Zhorzh Uallik, Artur Punte and Vladimir Svetlov. In addition, the group includes a large number of affiliates active in literature, visual art, music and so forth. Orbita is a hotbed of activity: a web portal, exhibitions, happenings and group appearances at festivals in Latvia, Europe, Russia, and publications of various sorts, poetic, artistic and critical. Although the poets of Orbita write in Russian, the group’s publications — including the poetic almanac, Orbita, multimedia DVDs, and a variety of other projects — are bilingual Russian–Latvian editions, produced in exquisitely designed and inventively laid-out volumes. Much of Orbita’s activity takes the form of poetic performance in collaboration with ethnic Latvian musicians, composers, artists, and poets in multimedia happenings involving recitals, music (either live or DJ), and projected video art with subtitles in Latvian and at times in English. Bilingualism is a distinctive feature of Orbita, and it reflects the group’s highly self-conscious location on the border between Russia and Latvia, or between Eurasia and Europe.
And a piece from last fall by Owen Hatherley describes “a lost generation of Yiddish writers”:
With the demise of Yiddish, due both to the Holocaust and the state of Israel’s preference for Hebrew, the poets, novelists and critics who wrote in this language have become obscure. Sherman’s anthology restores their importance. Yet the material in this book will be familiar to readers of those Russian Jewish writers who wrote in Russian, especially Isaac Babel and Vasily Grossman. The pivotal experiences are the same: revolution, a civil war accompanied by the ferocious pogroms of the White Armies, the “building of socialism”, Stalinism and the Holocaust. But the focus is different: we see a deeply local and specific commitment to internationalism and modernism, claiming both on their own terms, not as impositions from outside.
The poetry resembles German Expressionism in its intensity and angularity, appropriate to the often horrific subject matter. Leyb Kvitko’s 1923 cycle of poems 1919, for instance, about the pogroms of the Russian Civil War, are expressions of horror and helplessness from the perspective of the massacred in the shtetl: “We are small, very small / Terror drags us to the ground / A kin to its own dust” (Day and Night).
Each of the pieces is full of quotes and illustrations, and I’m looking forward to exploring the journal more thoroughly. Thanks, Jamie!