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Leningrad Poetry 1953–1975

The Thaw Generation


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 3 Officially Published Poetry and Aleksandr Kushner 133


Chapter 3 Officially Published Poetry and Aleksandr Kushner Much of the poetry officially published in Leningrad was written with the aim of satisfying politically-motivated criteria. Although, as a consequence, it often has little literary merit,1 this body of work is nonetheless impor- tant historically because it was the background against which the young poets described in the preceding chapters developed. It set the standard and model that was expected of them: some conformed to it, while others chose to flout its conventions. In order to understand the ways that certain individuals responded to the norms of Socialist Realism, we must first have a picture of the standard poems published month after month in the thick journals: of their typical forms, subjects, and language. This chapter begins with a description of the norms Soviet published poetry at the beginning of the 1960s and the 1970s, illustrated by poems chosen from various pub- lications.2 Having established these norms, it goes on to examine the work of one poet who wrote genuine literature within the constraints of official publishing, Aleksandr Kushner. Kushner is the most famous of the several poets who worked within the Soviet system in Leningrad. His work is tes- tament to the fact that although Socialist Realism distorted the literary process grotesquely – and excluded to a greater or lesser degree the work of major poets such as Sosnora, Bobyshev and Brodsky – for some writers it was still possible to work within its boundaries. 1 In explaining the nature of...

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