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Leningrad Poetry 1953–1975

The Thaw Generation

Series:

Emily Lygo

This is the first book-length study of the outstanding generation of Leningrad poets whose careers began during the Khrushchev Thaw. The text brings together memoirs, interviews, and archival research to construct an account of the world of poetry in Leningrad, in which many now-famous figures began writing. The author describes the institutions, official events, unofficial groups, and informal activities that were attended by many young poets, including the pre-eminent poet of this generation, Iosif Brodsky. Alongside a detailed study of Brodsky’s work from the early 1970s are close readings of two other major poets from this generation whose work has often been overlooked, Viktor Sosnora and Dmitry Bobyshev.

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Chapter 1 The Post-Stalin Thaw 1953–1964 13

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Chapter 1 The Post-Stalin Thaw 1953–1964 The Return of Lyric Poetry to the Soviet Canon By the end of the Stalin period, Soviet poetry had become restricted to a very narrow range of subject, tone and form, and much of it was repetitious and uninteresting. This impoverishment in the post-war period occurred because the Party waged war against lyric poetry – which it characterised as overly subjective and individualistic – to such a degree that it practically disappeared from published literature. The campaign began in 1946, when lyric poetry suffered a fierce attack in the form of Zhdanov’s public criti- cism of Akhmatova and, in connection with this, the closing of the journal Leningrad.1 The ensuing period of ‘Zhdanovshchina’ in the 1940s aimed at dismantling Leningrad’s literary heritage and prestige. In Leningrad, as in Moscow, fear of denunciation and arrest cowed writers into producing hack-work for journals, and keeping any genuine literary production in the desk drawer for posterity. When Stalin died in March 1953, the extreme control that had been exercised over literature, as over many aspects of life, was to some degree lifted, and the liberal ‘Thaw’ associated with the figure of Khrushchev began. Members of the liberal wing of the Writers’ Union saw an oppor- tunity to broaden the range of poetry in print,2 and they tried to effect 1 The whole ‘Leningrad affair’ is described in T. M. Goryaeva, Isklyuchit' vsyakie upomi- naniya: Dokumenty i kommentarii (Moscow: Rosspen, 1997), pp. 164–82. 2 In this context,...

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