April 2002

What an amazing evening! The Lit Kicks Spring Peace Poetry Happening was thrown together at the last minute when Bob Holman suddenly got the go-ahead from NY city officials, in early April, to open his great new Bowery Poetry Club, which is going to be a really major new part of the East Village scene now that Bob has finally got the place off the ground. If you're in NY City and you haven't been there, do check it out -- it's right across the street from CBGB's at the corner of Bowery and Bleecker (already one of the coolest corners in the east village). There's something fun going on there virtually every night, and you can always find the legendary Bob Holman behind the bar, on stage or in the crowd telling the performers what he thinks of them.

So I only got the go-ahead to do this show in early April, and called in Brian Hassett to help me arrange -- the last show he and I did together was the excellent but overwhelming 5th Anniversary show in 1999, and Brian and I both agreed that we wanted this one to be less totally insane then that one. The world-peace theme called for a different mood, and the evening began with a few songs by the Chess Shop Divas (Deb Reul & Amy Coplan on guitar, keyboards and harmonies), followed by Nicole Blackman, who read a beautiful and sad account of her work as a volunteer at Ground Zero last fall.

Next up was Sharon Groth with a poem about love and war and rocketships, followed by Eliot Katz, the rabble-rousing New Jersey poet who had co-edited Allen Ginsberg's last book of political poetry ("Poems for the Nation").

Eliot was followed by the one single person from the LitKicks message boards who had bravely volunteered to try her stuff onstage, the always-charming Lucy Torres (aka Gothic-Hippie-Chic). She read a poem by litnrod11 as well as a few of her own.

Next up was Sander Hicks, who talked about George Bush for a little while before giving us a powerful reading from Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass", which was appropriate because Holman had just installed the first decoration in the club, a huge Lite-Brite portrait of Walt Whitman (yes, Lite-Brite).

Sander was followed by one of the highlights of the evening, a few minutes of African melodies and singing by the cora master and griot Papa Susso, whose performance totally brought down the house. Bob Holman joined him for a second piece, a West Africa/New York storytelling collaboration, and I followed this with the poem I'd written for the evening, my "ode to aggression" titled "Fight".

Todd Colby, author of Riot in the Charm Factory followed with a few sardonic and unique pieces, and was followed by Living Theatre veteran/performance artist Pat Russell ("Views of Life from the Seat of a Bike: A New York Story").

We took a short break, and then Stephan Smith took the stage. If you haven't heard of Stephan, I hope you will soon. He's one of the best new folk/protest singers around, and has been performing with folks like Pete Seeger. He's hoping to do some good stuff of his own at Bob Holman's club -- stay tuned for more on that front later.

Walter Raubicheck followed with an excellent reading from Dylan Thomas, and after then Brian Hassett began the long sequence he'd been planning for the second half of the night, a stream of unstopping poetry and music which he'd been calling "The Wheel" as the idea was to wheel in one performer after another without pausing for introductions or polite clapping or any of that other stuff you always get at one poetry reading after another. Brian's Wheel included more songs by Deb & Amy and poetry by George Wallace, Angela P., Bob Holman and Brian himself, and music by Will Hodgson, Geoff B. and several others. At one point during this joyful stream, a bassist playing a standup bass even seemed to have materialized out of nowhere (I know we didn't have a standup bass in our plans) and there were many other magical moments.

I had hoped to join this myself and read some poems that had been posted to LitKicks after Sept 11, but we were way overtime and there was no way to do it. After the "Wheel" we totally changed the mood and closed the night with a killer set by a punk band I really like, White Collar Crime, led by Sander Hicks. This is a very unusual band -- they have no guitars (this seems to be part of their political mandate somehow), they play really loud, and I just like them a lot. Check them out if you can.

It was all over around 1:30 a.m. How can I sum up the night? I am still in a daze, and it is dinner time the next day. We were there to make some kind of a point, to the world and to ourselves. I think we made the point.

Here's the poster if you missed it.

And here are some pics (thanks to Tony & Stacy Leotta):

Deb Reul and Amy Coplan

Nicole Blackman

Sharon Groth

Lucy Torres

Eliot Katz

Bob Holman and Papa Susso

Levi Asher

Todd Colby

Pat Russell

Sander Hicks and White Collar Crime

The Walt Whitman LiteBrite

Lit Kicks Spring Peace Poetry Happening
Levi Asher
Tuesday, April 30, 2002 05:00 pm
Gregory Corso's poem "Marriage" is an expression of the poet's disgust with the concept of marriage as a (predominantly middle class) institution. It also displays how the poet's battles between conforming and subverting the entire process. And yet beyond this, his intention is serious: he is searching for some ideal which will allow him the happiness that a conventional marriage would not.

John Clellon Holmes wrote in the early 50's:

"for today's young people there is not a single external pivot around which they can, as a generation, group their observations and their aspirations. There is no single philosophy, no single party, no single attitude. The failure of most orthodox moral and social concepts to reflect fully the life they have known is probably the reason for this."

The Beat Generation lost faith in the structures of ordered American society. As a postwar generation, they believed that these organizations had failed in both preventing the confusion and upheaval of war, but had also not been able to adapt to a world enormously affected by the conflict. In "Marriage", published in 1959, Corso launches an attack on the convention of marriage. He does so by looking at wedlock through three different perspectives: from that of the working, middle and upper class.

The two extremes of wealth (the immigrant family and the sophisticates) are cleverly juxtaposed. Both groups live in apartments in New York City, but they experience the city entirely differently. For the immigrant family it is "hot smelly tight New York City / seven flights up roaches and rats in the walls" and the wealthy "lived high up in a penthouse with a huge window / from which we could see all of New York and farther on clearer days". Even the speaker's wives are compared. The immigrant wife is enormous and fertile with the violence, noise and strong will one associates with the image of "a fat Reichian wife screeching over potatoes", whereas her counterpart is "beautiful sophisticated / tall and pale". Unlike the first wife, she has no children; there is an air of sterility and coldness to her. What unites these two images are two factors; firstly, they are both caricatures of immigrant life and high society. Secondly, and more importantly, neither portrayal of marriage is deemed satisfactory. In the first case the poet says that it is "impossible to lie back and dream" and the other is a "pleasant prison dream". Marriage does not fulfill him in a spiritual sense.

Corso focuses his greatest energies on the middle class. He meticulously describes each stage of a young couple's life together to illustrate to what extent marriage is ritualised and subordinate to the bourgeois need for appearing respectable. During courtship they limit their behaviour to the boundaries imposed by society, "and she going just so far and I understanding why", when he meets her parents they make cliched comments, "we're losing a daughter / but we're gaining a son", the priest's words, "Do you take this woman as your lawful wedded wife?" underline the sense of tradition and the importance of it being lawful or socially acceptable. Even the honeymoon is taken at a conventional spot: Niagara Falls (34) is a favoured site for honeymooners in America. Moving on to early married life, his wife stays at home while he goes out to work and desires nothing more than to be the mother of his children. This paternalist attitude towards woman (as helpless beings whose sole aim in life should be to please their husbands) was typical of conservative middle class America.

How nice it'd be to come home to her
and sit by the fireplace and she in the kitchen
aproned young and lovely wanting my baby
and so happy about me she burns the roast beef
and comes crying to me and I get up from my big papa chair

Finally, their first child is born. They, in a sense, satisfy the demands of their society: they are married and now they have a family.

However, throughout this journey, it is clear that the speaker is dissatisfied. Through his embarrassment (such as when he cannot ask to go to the bathroom (13)), his anger or irritation at the behaviour of the people at Niagara Falls,

The lobby zombies they knowing what
The whistling elevator man he knowing
The winking bellboy knowing
Everybody knowing! I'd be almost inclined not to do anything!
Stay up all night! Stare that hotel clerk in the eye!
Screaming: I deny honeymoon! I deny honeymoon!
and his absurd fantasies about upsetting middle tradition,

running rampant into those almost climactic suites
yelling Radio belly! Cat shovel!
O I'd live in Niagara forever! in a dark cave beneath the Falls
I'd sit there the Mad Honeymooner
devising ways to break up marriages, a scourge of bigamy
a saint of divorce"

the speaker implies that he cannot accept this conventionalized form of marriage. These devices show up how ridiculous this ritual is: there is not spontaneity because all actions have been predetermined and there is no love, as love is forced to conform to what is socially allowed.

What is also very effective is the poet's references to symbols of American life: the "velvet suit and faustus hood", cemeteries, werewolves and zombies bring to mind the B-grade horror movies so popular during the 1950s and 1960s; Flash Gordon and Batman were popular comic book heroes; the golf clubs, lawnmower, picket fence and Community Chest are synonymous with suburban life and Blue Cross Gas & Columbus were suppliers of gas and appliances for household use. The implication created by these concepts is that marriage is rather like a pre-packaged commodity; like tickets to a film, comic books, a house in the suburbs or furniture it is an experience that one buys into and does not create. It is so much part of middle class society that it no longer exists as an expression of love or devotion. Thus, as an institution, the speaker is entirely disillusioned with marriage.

Holmes admits that "it is certainly a generation of extremes". He goes on to say that with this disenchantment with society and the desire to reform it, the Beat Generation were challenged by the tension existing between finding comfort and security in conformity or in excess. In Corso's work, according to Carolyn Gaiser, "one finds the recurring embodiment of the Dionysian force of emotion and spontaneity, as opposed to the Apollonian powers of order, clarity and moderation.

This Nietzschian conflict is present in "Marriage". The speaker repeatedly asserts that he "should" marry. Even though the dictionary meaning of "should" is that the word is "used to indicate obligation, duty or correctness", in context, "should" is a suggestion, rather than an order (as in "must"), it carries no real obligation. This ambivalence introduces conflict. The speaker feels that it is better to marry and, hence, to be "good", but he has no real compulsion to do so, in which case, he is at liberty to play with the norms and conventions of marriage.

For example, in the first stanza, Corso mixes conformity (the rituals of courtship) with excess (the horror genre). In the first few lines, conventional courtship is alluded to with the girl next door (the archetypical, suitable middle class girl) and "take her to the movies" (the usual destination for courting couples). Subverting this are "velvet suit and faustus hood" (these items are unconventional or bohemian and would be considered inappropriate in conservative thinking) and "cemeteries" (an extremely unorthodox spot for a courting couple). In a way, the other references to death and fantasy (the werewolf and tombstone) evoke the darker side of bourgeois society (the werewolf is an apt metaphor: man by day, monster by night). Due to the fact that they have been suppressed and effectively pushed out of the ritual that marriage has become, passion and "desire" are part of this hidden aspect of mid dle class being. Hence, the speaker is feels that he should conform to convention when courting, but he is pulled into the direction of what the establishment labels "excess": passion, desire, sex, uncontrollable emotion and love.

Another example is,

So much to do! like sneaking into Mr Jones' house late at night
and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books
Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on the lawnmower
like pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence
like when Mrs Kindhead comes to collect for the Community Chest
grab her and tell her There are unfavourable omens in the sky!
And when the mayor comes to get my vote tell him
When are you going to stop people killing whales!
And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle
Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust

In a series of fantasies, the speaker takes a metaphor for middle class life and subverts it. Firstly, "Mr. Jones" is the archetypal suburban neighbor who would not approve of someone "sneaking into [his] house late at night" to perform mischief. His golf clubs and lawnmower are also symbols of suburbia, whereas the "1920 Norwegian books" and portrait of Rimbaud would be more in place in the home of an academic or intellectual -- someone whom Mr Jones may consider to be a threat to his way of thinking. The stamps from Tannu Tuva on the picket fence (once again, a symbol of the American middle class dream) indicate the limitations of bourgeois thinking: they never think beyond their picket fences; their thought is parochial. The stamps challenge this confinement; they suggest what is beyond these self-imposed borders. These first few acts of subversion highlight the narrow boundaries of the middle class life; the books, portrait and stamps represent not only that which lies beyond those boundaries, but they confront and also subvert these limits. Dionysus dares Apollo.

This is further dealt with in the second section of the stanza. Here, the middle classes are represented by "Mrs Kindhead collect[ing] for the Community Chest", "the mayor com[ing] to get [his] vote" and "the milkman". The Community Chest, mayor and milkman are all illustrative of traditional social structures: the Community Chest is a charity organisation who distributes money given by (mainly) middle class people to the poor, the mayor is symbolic of the political organisation of society and the milkman is a common aspect of suburban dwelling. In subverting these elements, the speaker descends into what would be considered "mad" behavior: his actions are not appropriate to the circumstances. Again Dionysus comes face to face with Apollo, but because this subversion is not done secretively, by sneaking into a neighbor's house, they have more of a feeling of the "excess" so assiduously avoided by the bourgeois. The tension between conformity and excess continues, whether quietly or out in the open. This Beat Generation issue is brought into the poem; as a member of the Generation, the speaker is torn between either having the appearance of conforming and in a clandestine manner upsetting middle class life or blatantly and loudly challenging it.

However, as Holmes writes,

For beneath the excess and the conformity, There are the stirrings of a quest. What the [Beat Generation] is looking for is a feeling of somewhereness what [it] wants is a stable position from which to operate. [They] have had enough of homelessness, valuelessness, faithlessness.

Without a base of secure values to work from, the Beat Generation developed a need to create or to find something to believe in. As Kerouac explained, "I was waiting for God to show his face". Only once faith is found can this disillusionment and tension be resolved. Corso introduces this idea of a quest in the eleventh stanza with, "O but what about love? I forget love". At once, the poem is serious. Love is offered as hope; the ideal for which he can strive. It is the answer to his disgust of the marriage institution, but it is not easily found.

I never wanted to marry a girl who was like my mother
And Ingrid Bergman was always impossible
And there's maybe a girl now but she's already married
And I don't like men

There is a true sense of rising panic and worry with his repetition of "And" at the beginning of lines 103, 104 and 105. It reaches a climax with:

but there's got to be somebody!
Because what if I'm 60 years old and not married,
all alone in a furnished room with pee stains on my underwear
and everybody else is married! All the universe married but me!

The speaker envisages a lonely and rather pathetic future as the reality of his situation becomes clear to him. Only by finding love (the ideal) will his happiness be secured.

All this discussion is an exploration of Corso and his generation's question (with a nod to Holmes): is this marriage? From his original rejection of the conventions of marriage, its ritualised nature and its inability to satisfy him spiritually and accommodate his views, attitudes and thinking, the speaker moves to having to balance his desire to conform whilst still wanting to subvert the system. Yet, beyond all this, he realises that the solution for his disillusionment (the faith he needs to believe in) is love and love must be sought. There is a definite and determined progression in this process: the speaker does not remain mired in cynicism or devilish fantasising. As Holmes concludes,

But [the Beat Generation's] ability to keep its eyes open, and yet avoid cynicism; its ever-increasing conviction that the problem of modern life is essentially a spiritual problem; and that capacity for sudden wisdom are assets and bear watching.
(par. 17)

This thought proved prophetic. The Beat poets and writers have become a respected and popular inclusion in the canon of western literature. Indeed, Corso's "Marriage" is one such example. Despite effectively embodying the tenets and spirit of the Beat Movement, the poem has another side to it which places it (somewhat ironically) beyond the limits of Beat literature. I feel that it is possibly this that has ensured the work's continuing popularity, as compared to other Beat poetry which is best understood within its context. This "something else" is Corso's characteristic, almost childlike, sense of fun. In 1961, Carolyn Gaiser wrote, "The mask that is most distinctly Gregory Corso's [is] that of the sophisticated child". This comes across best at the end of the poem where the speaker, seriously anxious about his future, switches from serious contemplation to the child's fantasy of a beautiful woman waiting for her rescuer. This turnabout rescues the poem from becoming oppressively heavy or oppressive. It allows it a timelessness; the humour appeals to people living forty years after the poem's publication.

In 1996, just five years before the poet's death, Iain Sinclair wrote an article about an aging Corso for The London Review of Books. He begins the article with: "There may be only two writers, currently at work in America, who can bring themselves, unblushing, to use the phrase 'drinky poo.'" Of course, Gregory Corso is one of them. This ability to use speak childlike nonsense whilst being fully aware of one's enormous poetic talent is what imbues "Marriage" with its capacity to translate to a wide, and varied, audience, regardless of the poem's Beat Generation context.
This is Marriage? The Beat Generation and Gregory Corso’s ‘Marriage’
Sarah Duff
Monday, April 22, 2002 07:03 am
Among the top poets in Chinese history resides Li Po.

In pre-modern times, he raised poetry to levels of expressiveness and impact never before reached. Unlike other great Chinese poets such as Tu Fu, Li Po's work gained immediate attention. The main reason for this is that Li Po was not an innovator; he took the classic form, the form that was familiar, and raised it another level with an unparalleled grace and eloquence.

The main themes or characteristics of Li Po's large body of work include playfulness, hyberbole, nature, and, something for which he is proverbial wine.

Born in Szechwan, Li Po spent his life constantly on the move. No one knows the reason why. He traveled extensively through eastern and central China. Despite his wanderlust, his poetry reveals little about the inner-workings of the poet himself. Around 742 he was appointed to a government office in the service of literature. A few years later, amidst slanderous gossip, he was exiled. Later, around 755, he came into the service of a prince, who was later accused of treason. This caused Li Po to be exiled for a second time. He was eventually pardoned and then continued on with his life of wandering.

What's amazing is that throughout his tortuous life, Li Po's poetry is free of anger, despair and bitterness. It presents itself as hopeful and calm. And it came from Li Po's artistic vision, not so much his day-to-day life, of a continuous search for spiritual freedom and communion with nature.


At Autumn Cove, so many white monkeys,
bounding, leaping up like snowflakes in flight!
They coax and pull their young ones down from the branches
to drink and frolic with the water-borne moon.


My old friend takes leave of the west at Yellow Crane Tower,
in misty third-month blossoms goes downstream to Yang-chou.
The far-off shape of his lone sail disappears in the blue-green void,
and all I see is the long river flowing to the edge of the sky.


Dousing clean a thousand old cares,
sticking it out through a hundred pots of wine,
a good night needing the best conversation,
a brilliant moon that will not let us sleep
drunk we lie down in empty hills,
heaven and earth our quilt and pillow.
Chinese Poetry: Li Po (701-762)
Kevin Kizer
Sunday, April 21, 2002 09:40 pm

Believed to be compiled by Confucius, Shih ching or "Book of Odes" is a collection of 305 poems, dating from 1000 to 600 BC. These are believed to be the oldest existing examples of Chinese poetry.

The collection includes refined folk songs, ritualistic poems, dynastic legends and hymns for ancestral temples. All were intended to be sung, although the musical accompaniments are long lost. The subject matter centers on daily activities such as farming, gathering plants, farming, courting, feasting and going to war. The imagery is concrete and the poems themselves focus on youth, beauty and vigor. The tone is wide, from festive and lighthearted to bitter and satirical. Children and old age are largely ignored.

The construction of the poems is very consistent. Each line contained four characters (note: a Chinese character is not equivalent to an English word; Chinese characters often encompass an entire phrase or idea). The lines are arranged in stanzas of four, six or eight lines. Rhyming occurs infrequently.

Economy of expression is predominant. Most begin with an image of nature, which oftentimes leads to a parallel in human life, or, just as often, a contrast.

"Book of Odes" is considered one of the Five Confucian Classics and became a basic text in Chinese education. For many centuries, the Chinese have studied the text for its wisdom relative to history, philosophy, ethics and politics.

No. 1
(a wedding song for the royal family)

Gwan! gwan! cry the fish hawks
on sandbars in the river:
a mild-mannered good girl,
fine match for the gentleman.

A ragged fringe is the floating-heart,
left and right we trail it:
that mild-mannered good girl,
awake, asleep, I search for her.

I search but cannot find her,
awake, asleep, thinking of her,
endlessly, endlessly,
turning, tossing from side to side.

A ragged fringe is the floating-heart,
left and right we pick it:
the mild-mannered good girl,
harp and lute make friends with her.

A ragged fringe is the floating-heart,
left and right we sort it:
the mild-mannered good girl,
bell and drum delight her.

No. 192

How is the night?
The night's not yet ended.
Courtyard torches are lit;
our lord is coming,
his bridle-bells make tinkling sounds.

How is the night?
The night's not yet over.
Courtyard torches shimmer and shine:
our lord is coming,
his bridle-bells make jangling sounds.

How is the night?
The night gives way to dawn.
Courtyard torches are glimmering:
our lord is coming,
I can see his banners!

Chinese Poetry: Book of Odes
Kevin Kizer
Sunday, April 21, 2002 09:36 pm
In the life and history of the Chinese people, nothing is more tightly woven into their culture than poetry.

Composed by emperors and scholar-officials as well as peasants and farmers, poetry was the means by which they expressed their happiness and sadness, political anger and courtship.

Chinese poetry dates back to the Hsia dynasty (2205 BC), however the first known anthology of Chinese poetry date back to 600 BC. Chinese poetry, much like Japanese poetry, has gained wider popularity in the West over the recent years. There are several reasons, with the major one being accessibility. Chinese poetry is amazingly humanistic and commonsensical. Whereas European poetry tends towards flights of fancy, wordplay and the supernatural, Chinese poetry is firmly entrenched in the terra of life.

Introduction to Chinese Poetry (300BC-1100AD)
Kevin Kizer
Sunday, April 21, 2002 09:32 pm
Wives be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He the head of the church, He Himself being the savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

The book Ephesians in the Christian bible makes it quite clear that women are subservient to men. Being a feminist I found this a little hard to swallow during my three years at The Master's College (a private Christian college). I found myself continually questioning things that seemed unfair or geared towards a different era and culture. I always felt awkward walking among women who agreed with the inequality in a male/female Christian relationship.

Once I stopped conforming to the conventional picture of femininity I finally started to enjoy being a woman. I realized that my dreams do not consist wholly of getting married and having children. Although many Asian cultures practice the traditional family roles, I found it quite inspiring that one of the seven main elements of Buddhism was Egalitarianism. Meaning, women are just as capable of enlightenment as men are. I believe that if we took Buddhism and put its elements into practice in today's society we would only be benefiting our children and ourselves.

Looking to Buddha and his teachings seemed odd to me as a white American female. I found it difficult to open my mind to eastern thought and I kept wanting to argue Buddha's logic with Christianity. However, once I sat down and finally began to really think about what he was saying, it all fell into place. It starts with following the Four Noble Truths:

1) All life is suffering (dukka)

2) Suffering is caused by desire (tanha)

3) Suffering can only cease if desire ceases

4) Follow the Eight-Fold Path

Overcoming dukka and tanha through the eight-fold path:

1) Right thought

2) Right conduct

3) Right speech

4) Right livelihood

5) Right effort

6) Right mindfulness

7) Right concentration

8) Right understanding

And using it as a map to direct our lives, we can only make things better for ourselves. "The 8-fold path can be grouped into 3 groups. The first is "Morality". The idea here is to live a life where one tries to constantly practice kindness and love, and to live life such that one's conscience is clear. That comes from our practice of Perfect Thougths, Perfect Actions, Perfect Speech and Perfect Livelihood. Basically, we live life to the best that we can.

The 2nd group is "Concentration". With a clear conscience cultivated with "morality", we cultivate our minds so that it'll be calm, peaceful and concentrated. This comes from our practice of Perfect Effort and Perfect Concentration.

The 3rd group is "Insight". With a very strong, calm, concentrated and peaceful mind, we learn to work with ourselves, to gain insight into ourselves, to eventually overcome all our problems and all the unsatisfactoriness in our lives. This comes from our practice of Perfect Mindfulness and Perfect Understanding. " (http://www.serve.com/cmtan/buddhism/fournt.html)

When I first looked at the eight-fold path I thought that it was practically impossible to carry out, however, many of the things on there are things that we do everyday anyway. Right conduct involves no stealing, no killing, no intoxicants, and no immoral sexual acts. Some of these may be very easy, and others extremely difficult. I believe that religion cannot all be done for you. There must be some sacrifice and work on the believers part or it is not actually pertaining to your life. How can you say you truly practice something if you aren't doing anything different?

Buddha asks us to focus on ourselves and have continuous self-examinations, and awareness, he asks us to act out of love and have a steady effort. He preaches self-discipline and no slander, which leads us to be kind to one another and ourselves. This is what I want for myself. This is what I want for my children: A society that doesn't long for genetic engineering but a society that continues to better itself through its actions toward one another. It starts with controlling our road rage and being nice to the person who cuts in line at the gas station. It starts with less "one night stands" and more meditation. It starts with what I need to work on not with something I find wrong with my neighbor.

It is possible to integrate this into our society. I believe it is. I believe by offering yoga classes and a class such as Asian thought at the local junior college is a pretty good start. Buddhism should not be dead to America, it should be offered as an alternative to our tired and overworked religions such as Catholicism or Christianity. We should delve in and seek to understand what has not been placed in front of us. We cannot simply accept one religion as truth when we have not studied or put into practice other religions.

I believe that as a woman and as an American we need to search for different views on society and do all that we can to better ourselves. If enlightenment is possible, then we should overcome our ignorance and strive to understand what holds us back.



O Adorable Lord of Mercy and Love !
Salutations and prostrations unto Thee.
Thou art Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient.
Thou art Existence-Consciousness-Bliss Absolute.
Thou art the Indweller of all beings.

Grant us an understanding heart,
Equal vision, balanced mind,
Faith, devotion and wisdom.
Grant us inner spiritual strength
To resist temptation and to control the mind.
Free us from egoism, lust, greed, hatred, anger and jealousy.
Fill our hearts with divine virtues.

Let us behold Thee in all these names and forms.
Let us serve Thee in all these names and forms.
Let us ever remember Thee.
Let us ever sing Thy glories.
Let Thy Name be ever on our lips.
Let us abide in Thee for ever and ever.

Practicing Buddhism as a Feminist Christian
Jolee Moffett
Friday, April 12, 2002 03:26 pm

I'll sit down on a very white horse
During a yellow-green sunset in Fall . . .
Quietly touch on the new fallen snow,
Write to me in West, I'll be happier there.

Slowly I'll ride through the Ural mountains,
Gallop through the Volga,
Splash through the Don.
I'll gallop through Poland,
Gravely and sternly.
I'll turn to the South
Where they painted Madonnas.

Like a brave hidalgo in a mindless joy
I'll whistle on top of a windmill in La Mancha.
In Marseilles the hotels will gleam with carousels.
In Germany I'll weep to the songs of the gypsies.

I'll see a tower, and very sharp roofs,
I'll remember a quite ancient chanson.
And I'll ride slowly on the left side of Paris,
Let the Parisians watch their morning dream.

. . . And the horse will get tired of all of this rhythm,
I'll fall on my back in a forest of pine . . . .
And start looking up at the heavens like Whitman,
I'll carry his cosmos away with me.

Through the blinding colors of Los Angeles,
Through the Hollywood yellow from golden stars.
I'm galloping there,
To the openness of Alaska,
And in fear the bison
Run like small rabbits away . . .

- Alexander Dolsky,
Around the World Adventure

Exhaustive as the list seems, by the 1980s there was a true movement with a true foundation. It had started in the fifties as a student movement in the cities, the kitchens, and the universities. Now it was a mass movement, it had left its mark on the youth and become a part of the national spirit, the national language, a part of nature itself, and as naturally Russian as possible.

The death of Vysotsky had a tremendously devastating effect on the whole movement. It had seemed that the system, the government, which had wanted to destroy this close group of writers had finally struck them in their most sacred place. the heart of their movement: Vysotsky. However famous the bards got, the 80s were perhaps the slowest and hardest time for the bards. It was a time when Dolsky looked at the future and saw absolutely nothing, not the slightest hope of ever being published or recognized as a poet; Okudzhava had almost stopped writing and performing. Kim remembered Okudzhava saying, I'm dying. I'm stagnating and dying.

Alexander Bashlachev wrote

Today doesn't change anything.
We're balding real quickly.
And drinking real slowly.
Today on the street it horribly stenches,
Reeks from somewhere something that's rotting.

We'll take off our pants, but remain in our hats,
Turn off the lights, but put out the fire.
On the street there's a harsh stifling scent.
Tell me where is this stench coming from?

It seems, to me, that somewhere a big egg has went rotten . . . .

Of what we can imagine is completely absurd,
And yet we allowed each other to dream.
We waited for the appearance of a magical bird,
Which was able to fly fast and beautifully.

It seemed, that a fantasy was becoming the past,
And the rest was funny and old,
That the bird would unfold its glorious wings,
And drop one of its feathers perhaps.

The whole world would be amazed by this birdly marvel,
The whole world in awe would lift up its face. . .
And now this stench is almost everywhere now,
No . . . this stench is definitely everywhere.
It seems that somewhere a giant egg has gone rotten.

Bashlachev was born on the 27 of May in 1960 in Chernopovts. He lived for most of his life there, except for the last two years of his life which were spent in Moscow, Sverdlovsk, and Saint Petersburg. He was known as SashBash, and his story is short and amazing.

He is considered a bard by the scholars and experts, but his independence was beyond those of the bards. Growing up in Chernopovts he fell in love with the works of Vysotsky and others. Poetry fascinated him as well. From 1978 to 1983 he attended a university to become a journalist in Sverdlovsk. He visited Chernopovts frequently and wrote lyrics for the rock band Rock-September. One time during a party at one of his friends apartments he met with a young man, Artem Troitsky, with whom he shared his poetry. Artem invited him to come to Moscow. From 1984 he began an almost countless amount of home-concerts in Moscow, Petersburg, Novosibirsk, and Sverdlovsk. Home-concerts were simply concerts given in the homes of his friends, to which many youths attended -- it was less space then a concert-hall with less censorship.

(Alexander Bashlachev with his guitar in the 1980s)

Sashbash was probably the first Russian who tied the painful nerve of rock with Russian poetry, the first who understood rock's meaning and temperament and its natural association with the painfully sad poetry that rang from his generation. His fascination with the "word" and the art of breathing allowed his talent to expand beyond the bounds created by the bards of what a song/poem should be. His poetry has a true originality and youthful indifference shown usually in the poets that represent Russia's youth. However, I don't think that Sashbash wanted to stand for anything and represent anyone -- he was an individual, whose dangerous experiments with words, music, and life led to damaging his psychological state. From 1984 onwards he suffered from great depression and in 1988 he committed suicide. Andrei Burlaka, for the Musical Gazette wrote of him, "He left just like he sang, impetuously and irrevocably."

His poem "Today Doesn't Change Anything", captured the mood of the 80s, it was a time after Brezhnev's death when people realized that there could not be a Soviet Union anymore. Times were changing, the world was changing, the only way out was some other way. and not through the old Communist Party regime. In 1988 Yevtushenko wrote

We Can't Go On

When the country almost went off the rails,
We brabbed her wheels with our teeth,
And understood,
As we tried to apply the brakes:
We can't go on this way!
How did he make his way to power
through party cells,
through the whole cadre network
their cadre
not some other?!
We can't go on this way!
- was the guide
gnawing at his whole conscience.
There is a peak to the shame of moral venality.
Icons cannot be hung in a bordello.
Was able to on only,
With a huge
We can't go on this way!

(Albert C. Todd translation)

Hope was being lost. Artistically it was not a time to be worried, there were greater problems -- there was no food in the stores, people began losing their jobs, anger towards the government that had pressed them for so long was building nervously in the new generation, the generation whose fathers marched to the battlefields. It was time for them to fight for their freedom, much like their fathers and grand-fathers had for their future, for themselves as human beings. Vladimir Frumkin, the author and translator of the Okudzhava's song in the West wrote:

"The new quality in Okudzhava's poetry of the 80s can also be sensed in its overall tone -- the colors became darker, and in the poet's typical soft sadness the light hues became fewer. His humor became more bitter, his irony more caustic, his emotional contrasts more sharp:

Smiles and embraces are flouring there outside nothing but sadness and loss can be found in my cave.

. . . Hope. Until recently, this word used to be one of the most important words in the poetic world of Bulat Okudzhava. In the reader's consciousness it was associated with the indisputable good and the few things that help one to endure and go on living. "Don't aband on hope, maestro", the poet either implored or evoked, addressing Mozart himself, and his generation.

The word "hope" almost disappeared from Okudzhava's poetry of the 1980s. In addition, in one the poems it turned out that our hopes were not, in fact, our own. They, as well as everything in us and around us- our fates, souls, and motherland "were formed by the unkind hands of the omnipresent Kremlin mustached one":

For many days he works without end
Creating me, my hopes and my friends,
Our motherland . . . and we stand ready.

What can I say? Thus I stood ready too.
. . . My evil age has almost burned me through.

It was easy to see that the Soviet world was living a made-up lie -- lies everywhere, lies about the history, culture, news, etc. Who was creating the future? Who was creating the past? Lies stunk up the system -- lies where the rotten egg. Even the optimist Dolsky, whose poetry and songs were always in the glow of peace and gentleness, sounded darker and evoked a sense of warning:

For a long time I listened attentively,
And from lies I'm barely alive.
A deadly dangerous falsity
Has accumulated
And sometimes the liars scream out
"Happily lie!"
Try to say something true
and they shut you up.

Parents lie to their children.
Children lie to their parents.
Husbands to their wives,
and a friend will easily swindle
his friend.

. . . Big falsehood and small, hungry and horrible,
private and social all do a great deal of work.
And they settle down in our homes,
Where a one-sided truth lives,
And like the elements of comfort
They create a family-like coziness.

But to that small number, that extremely low number,
Who wish to unravel the truth?
Are considered insane in the end . . . .

The politics of the country were beginning to be mixed up with one another. Grigori Medvedev, author of No Breathing Room, wrote in his introduction: "This was an era of superficial greatness for the Soviet Union". Its economy was aptly described by a Western scholar as that of a first-world military power with a third-world economy. A highly centralized state, the Soviet Union could dispatch unmanned capsules into space yet, since the Khrushchev period, had been unable to harness its vast resources to feed its own people or to provide them with basic goods. . . . .There was, of course, some opposition to this state of affairs. It consisted of what Georgii Arbatov once referred to as a few hundred troublemakers who refused to participate in the Soviet system. Dissidents. In almost all cases, it was alleged, such troublemakers were operating at the behest of foreign powers. As long as they did not break the law, they were left alone. However, most of them were being encouraged by Western news agencies and soon took actions that contravened the criminal code. How else could the KGB react but by taking action to protect innocent citizens from these recalcitrants? Many of the dissidents were declared to be insane. They opposed the party, which represented the Soviet people, and were thus clearly unbalanced. Former war heroes among them General Petro Grigorenko, were dispatched to insane asylums. The fact that these dissidents embraced a wide spectrum of Soviet society was studiously ignored. There were Marxist-Leninists (Roy Medvedev, Petro Grigorenko), Ukrainians (Vyacheslav Chornovil), Jews (Anatolii Schransky), Russians (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn), writers (Aleksandr Tvardovsky), and prominent scientists (Andrei Sakharov). People whose names would become household words in Gorbachev's Soviet Union were regarded as parasites under the Brezhnev regime.

In 1983, Okudzhava explained his reasons for not writing, "I stopped writing poetry for a long time because somehow I couldn't. I couldn't produce anything. Of course, I do not mean this literally because, after all, I am a professional and I could have written five poems a day. Bad poems. But why? In my soul, I regretted my inability to write good poetry and -- although I worked intensely on my novels -- I felt a need to write poetry. Finally, last year something inside of me awoke and poems began to materialize again. This made me very happy because when I complete a poem I take my guitar and, although I don't play it very well (in my life I have only learned five chords), I make up a melody. That's how a song appears. These past few years, I've often picked up the guitar but nothing came to me -- nothing, just nothing. Well maybe now it will be easier."

Even though it was a stagnating time Okudzhava had four big records produced and distributed in the U.S.S.R. by the largest record company Melodia. One in 1981, simply titled "Songs by Bulat Okudzhava", another in 1985, "Songs and Poems About the War", performed by Bulat Okudzhava. Finally, in 1986 a completely new record with completely new songs called simply "New Songs". This 1986 recording included Okudzhava singing with the accompaniment of his guitar and a violin, the tracks sounded beautifully and sadly. Two of the songs on that record were dedicated to Vladimir Vysotsky.

In the late 80s Vysotsky's image began to reappear and people finally understood what a phenomena this was. Melodia began to produce a large series of records called, "At the Concerts of Vladimir Vysotsky" which were the recordings made at many of his concerts from the 1960s to the 1980s.

In the 1980s many records came out by the bards, produced nicely by Melodia. Egorov had a record, Dolina, Gorodnitsky, the bards overall had a collection that was very rich. Although Vysotsky was still highly preffered by the youths, many people began paying closer attention to the Nikitiny, a bard/singer Aleksandr Berkovsky, and the bard Aleksandr Rozenbaum.

Rozenbaum was born in September 1951 in Leningrad, Stalin still had two years of power. He attended a musical school, and then graduated from the university of Leningrad and worked for some years as an emergency nurse. While still a little kid living in Leningrad he began playing guitar, immediately got a hold of Vysotsky's and Okudzhava's illegal recordings and began playing them to his friends. By the 1980s he had written some of his own songs. In 1981 his first recording came out under the title "Home Concert", it contained songs of his early writing. His songs were fresh, different from the freshness of Dolsky, Rozenbaums songs had the wave of the new generation, the generation that grew into adulthood in the late sixties and seventies. Throughout the years he came out with over 30 records, with songs that have shaped a new generations understanding of what bard music is. His classic "Boston Waltz" for example:

On a carpet of yellow leafs,
In a simple little dress,
Out of a wind given as a gift of crepe de Chine ,
Autumn danced in the gateway the Boston Waltz.
The warm day would fly away,
And the saxophone quietly played.

And from all walks of life people came to us,
And from all the neighbors roofs birds would fly to us,
The dancer flapped his golden wings . . .
How long ago, how long ago there was music there.

How often I see this dream,
This wonderful dream,
Where autumn is dancing the Boston Waltz.

There leafs fall down,
The players spins the records,
"don't go way, be with me, my caprice" . . .

In the 80s he became one of the most popular bards, mainly because of his open compassion for the Soviet soldiers entering Afganistan and the Afgans themselves. His belief in the need for all humans to be one, and wars are useless. This is perhaps why he didn't change his Jewish last name, Rozenbaum, as the Jewish-Russian bard Alexander Ginsberg changed his to Galich. In 1987 Melodia came out with a wonderful record of Rozenbaum's songs, entitled "Alexander Rozenbaum: My Yards", on which "The Boston Waltz" wa s the first song. In the introduction to the record Mikhail Zhvanetsky wrote, "He didn't hurry to change his last name, cause we're all the same. Well no, we're different: Russians, Georgians, Jews. But we live in the same country and with our stories, last names, songs we not only help each other live, but so often help each other survive in this hard life. He is a real man. And if there's something missing in our land, it's real men."

Musically speaking the composition of his songs are not on the highest level, and even Vysotsky, whose melodies lacked musically overall, had some better melodies. His singing style also seems to have taken much from Vysotsky, for many times he performs his songs with a deep gruff yell, which was the style that Vysotsky had developed and was recognized for. Nevertheless his popularity had soared to great heights, and Rozenbaum came into the last few years of the Soviet Union's existence as perhaps the final true "bard" of the USSR's movement.

Conclusion of the Bard Generation

When the USSR crumbled in the early 1990s, life changed completely for the bards. Many minor bards, or friends of bards emigrated -- either as Jewish emigrants to Isreal, or illegal aliens to Western nations. Many of the real bards such as Gorodnitsky, Kim, Okudzhava, Dolina and Dolsky remained in Russia.

Okudzhava remained active as a poet/bard in the new Russia. In 1991 he was awarded the Governmental Prize by the USSR. From the 1990s Okudzhava published five books of song and poetry and four of prose. Two CDs came out, one in 1994, and one in 1997. In the 1990s Okudzhava performed several times, but rarely due to severe health. He traveled through Europe and performed in New York City to a large audience. In 1997 in Paris Okudzhava died of heart failure. This was the end of the Bard Generation. 1998 the Russian Federation established the Presidential Prize of Bulat Okudzhava. Alexander Gorodnitsky was the first to be awarded this prize by Boris Yeltsin. Receiving the award Gorodnitsky donated it the following day to the museum of Bulat Okudzhava in Peredelkino. In a 2002 Russian Magazine interview Gorodnitsky recalled: "I told the President [Yeltsin], Boris Nickalaevich, thank you, that this kind of award has become possible. Because of course you know that Galich, Vysotsky, and Okudzhava received nothing but trouble in their life. And because this first prize has been awarded to me I understand that it isn't for me, but for my face -- for those who didn't live to see this. And he answered me, "Right".

Gorodnitsky continues to travel extensively, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union he visited every major place on earth, writing about his experiences in poems and publishing them. Several CDs began to come out with the collected works of Gorodnitsky, and he started writing songs for plays and theater productions in both Moscow and Leningrad. Today Gorodnitsky spends his time traveling and writing, and not so much time on expeditions for the lack of money and funds. He still performs quite often, giving tours in Europe and in 2000 and 2002 he gave a tour of America, stopping in New York's Brighton Beach, Cleveland, Ohio, New Jersey, Chicago, Milwaukee, and cities in California -- all American cities with a large Russian population and following. In 2002 he came back to America, he was asked if since his last visit he has created anything new. "Of course there are new songs. I recorded several records, and a new book of my memoirs has just come out. I perform very often in Russia and outside of Russia. Sometimes I am amazed that I still have strength for all this never ending travels, airplanes, countless concerts in different cities and countries. For example only in Germany I gave 28 concerts. But I cannot do it otherwise."

Kim also traveled widely and spent lots of time in Israel, produced several records and gave many concerts in Europe, Russia, and America. Dolina performed in France, and still performs in Russia, and has performed in Canada. In the spring of 2002 she made a US tour of New York, Illinois, Utah, and California. Many of her CDs have come out, including a French cd, in which she performs some of her best-known songs in French.

Alexander Dolsky, the poet who never fit in among the bards, continues to work, and his popularity has grown. "There was a time in the 80s," he said at a concert, "when I thought that I would never, never be published." Today his poetry is being taught in the Russian schools, as well as German, British, and American university. Writers and historians have cited Dolsky in their works. Today the Pushkin Society publishes his books of poetry. He translates from American and French. He paints for a hobby, and has published a book of poetry with his own illustrations. His three sons Petr, Aleksandr, and Pavel, whom he sang about in the late 80s, are growing up and Dolsky among with the rest of the bards is aging and falling deep into Russia's rich cultural literary history.

There has always been a question circulating among this society, which follows and believes in the ideas of the bards: is the movement dead, has it done all it had to do, or is there just no good talent left? Personally I believe the bard movement is dead or is on the verge of death, much like many literary movements come and go and the remaining few attach themselves to some talented young, and the talented young attach themselves to nobody and the movement dies. As for talent, there will definitely be no one in comparison to Vysotsky, Okudzhava, and Dolsky/ I am speaking only of the sheer power of their musical and poetical performance. Dolina, Gorodnitsky, Kim, Egorov, etc., would not have received fame if it were not for these great artists.

Personally, I think that the movement came out of the repression of the Soviet regime, such songs and poems and ideology can only be born out a state of fear, and a need for freedom. The poetry and song of the bards is still widely sung, is played on the radio every day, in theaters, in films, and all over the world. The style and genre is fading into a much larger form of society -- it has ceased to be underground and exclusive, it has entered the mainstream and lost its individuality, its personality of rebellion. The bards rose out of repression, loss, humiliation, stagnation, and stood for only one cause: freedom. As Vysotsky said, "Yesterday they gave me freedom, what am I going to do with it now?"

Give some meat to the dogs
Maybe they'll fight.
Give the drunks some kvass
Perhaps they'll fight each other.
So that the crows don't get fatter
Place a much larger scarecrow.
But so that the lovers love each other
Give them seclusion.
Throw seeds in the earth
Maybe you'll see some growth.
Fine! I'll be obedient
But then give me freedom!
They gave pieces of meat to the dogs
But the dogs didn't fight!
They gave kvass to the drunks
But they refused it.
People scare the crows
But the crows aren't scared.
People try to unite pairs,
But they would rather be single.
They poured water onto the ground,
But there was no growth -- amazing!
Yesterday they gave me freedom
What I am I going to do with it now?
Soviet Underground - Part 3
Alex Malina
Monday, April 1, 2002 05:49 pm

Maria the Nurse

What did I say to Maria the nurse
when I was hugging her?
"You know that officer's daughters
don't look on us soldiers."

And the field of clovers was beneath us
quite like the river.
And the waves of the clovers became higher
and we swayed upon them.

And Maria, opening her arms,
swam down the river.
And black and eternal
were her light-blue eyes.

And when sunrise arrived
I told Maria
"No, imagine that officer's daughters
don't wish to look at us."

- 1950s Bulat Okudzhava

1924 was a terrible year for Russia and the Soviet Union. Famine was close, the revolution was just over and the Civil War ended not long ago as well. People were starving and everything was destroyed. Communism was still an ideal held dear to many of the nationalities within the borders of the USSR. That year the god of Russian Communism died - Lenin. The world was in grief and sorrow. And in 1924 in post-revolutionary Moscow where Esenin and Mayakovsky still walked the streets, Bulat Okudzhava was born. By heritage he was most definitely not a Russian - his father was Georgian and his mother Armenian. Nevertheless he was brought up with the language, the culture, and the ideals of a Russian youth. His father was a high Party member. But as Stalin came to power and the great purge began in 1937 his father was falsely accused, arrested, tried and then ultimately shot as a German/Japanese spy. This was of course one of the many insane accusations of the Stalin regime. Okudzhava's mother was arrested as well, and from 1937 to 1955 she was imprisoned in the Gulag. After the dramatic year of 1937 Okudzhava moved to live with his paternal grandmother, but in 1939 moved to Tbilisi, Georgia. With all that was going on, first living a life of privilege then considered an outlaw Okudzhava faced an unknown future, and in 1941 at the age of seventeen, perhaps to show his patriotism, he volunteered for the army. He described himself as a small kid, whose feet were crooked, and who marched out of step. But nevertheless he joined the Red Army and fought in the infantry, being wounded several times. In the war he fought proudly and bravely, and once later in his life admitted that he and some of his friends had actually thought about escaping from the front and going to fight in the Spanish Civil War against fascism, but this was never realized. In 1950 he graduated from the University of Tbilisi, and in 1955 his mother was released from the Gulag, and Okudzhava settled in Moscow with his mother.

The war's impact on Okudzhava was tremendous, almost all his early songs are about war and its horror. He had been writing poetry since he was little - he didn't care if it wasn't published because to be published you had to write what the government wanted you to write, not what your soul told you. Some very unorthodox poems exist in Okudzhava's work, for example "The Black Cat" which is most definitely speaking of Stalin, was written in the 50s, when one could be shot for such poetry:

In the courtyard there's a famous ally
by the name of the "black hallway".
In that ally as if on an estate
lives the Black cat

He hides his smiles with whiskers,
darkness is like a shield to him.
All the cats are singing and crying -
but this Black cat is quiet.

He doesn't make a sound -
just eats and just drinks -
touches the dirty floor with claws
as if scratching on his throat.

He hasn't been chasing mice for a long time,
laughs and laughs beneath his whiskers -
catches us when we are honest
for a little bit of meat.

He doesn't demand, doesn't ask anything,
burns and burns his yellow eye -
everyone brings him something
and says "thank you" to him.

And that is why the house
we live in isn't happy -
we would need to hang a lightbulb
but there's not enough money for that.

The "house we live in isn't happy", the great Soviet Union, the house which isn't happy. It isn't happy because someone would have to show the light to the people, someone would have to try to do something and change something but there's not enough strength and courage -- and so this fat black cat sits there and torments the house. This song was forbidden from being recorded professionally, it was circulated among the thousands of tapes known as magnitizdat. It was clear to the government that songs like these, with witty references to the government, the state of the country, and its leaders was dangerous - and made it a goal to hide these from the public.

In Moscow Okudzhava worked at several jobs with literature, because he wished to be a Russian writer. It is a great privilege to call yourself a Russian writer; it is even greater when someone else calls you a Russian writer. Pasternak was a great living poet, and when he visited Moscow one time Okudzhava snuck into his room and greeted the startled poet. Okudzhava gave him some of his poems and left. Pasternak wasn't impressed.

He wrote short stories, poems, and a novel that was never published. With his friends he would share his poems, sitting up late through the nights at each others tiny Soviet apartments drinking, smoking, and staring down at the busy Moscow streets they envisioned a whole different world. Surrounded by a close group of friends he would sit down, when the laughter and drinking had ceased for a while, he would pick up a guitar start singing a poem to a very simple melody. It was pleasant to hear him - his voice was youthful and bright, not a truly singing voice but a warm voice - a regular person singing the sadness of the heart. Sometime in one of these nights friends decided to record his songs, because they were, after all, fun to listen to and had a very deep meaning. Soon these recordings started circulating around and soon Okudzhava became a legend.

The English reader must understand on what level the Russians view poetry -- to them it is the highest form of art, the most cherished form of art that the Russians hold dear to them. There is a music in the language that is so engaging to the ear that once some remarkable poem is heard it is irresistible and that is why Russians would fill up stadiums just to listen to a poet recite. It was also the style, a new fresh wave of poetry sweeped Russia and the Soviet Union with the late fifties and early sixties. Albert C. Todd in the Introduction to the Collected Poems of Yevgeny Yevtushenko writes: "In Russia poetry was the more neutral and fortunate outlet for the talents of a new generation of fiery idealists. (Yevtushenko, Akhamdulina, Voznesensky, Brodsky, Rozhdestvensky, and the slightly older Okudzhava), which found opportunity in the chaos and confusion of the post-Stalin years. They found ready audiences in schools, factories, and most all, on street corners. By no apparent decision of authority, but rather by a default of uncensored young voices spoke to crowds that grew quickly into hundreds, then thousands and tens of thousands in city squares and sports stadiums. Electrifying, audacious voices of youth touched strings of conscience and hope with increasing boldness about things so long unspoken they seemed like new discoveries and moral revelations of great wisdom."

An example of such a song/poem would be Vadim Egorov's "Rains"

I love you my rains
My heavy
My heavy autumn rains
A little funny
A little scattered
I love you my rains

The leaves glide towards the trunks
And the sidewalks are just like mirrors
And I walk upon the mirrors
In which nobody reflects

Where like stooping walrus's
Cars are puffing by with their motors
And like a snake
The rails flow by monotonously

Where the ragged street lights
Stroll by in a w et dripping line,
And Autumns a flaming wig
Is ripped off by rainfalling hands . . .

Thank you, my rains
Thank you, my autumn rains . . .
For all that you have done to me,
Thank you, my rains . . . .


By the late sixties and early seventies "Rains" was considered among the classic guitar-poet songs. In 2000 when in a Russian record company published a two volume CD entitled Songs of Our Century "Rains" was among them. Today "Rains" has entered into the popular song of Russia, where the author is lost among the flood of culture, and as the years progress the song loses its connection with the author and becomes nothing more then a national song (nationalnoya pesnya), much like Turgenev's "Misty Morning" has entered the popular song of Russia, and many Russians go day by day humming "Misty Morning" never knowing the great novelist wrote it. Once a poem enters the nations vocabulary it is truly worth study and interest. Unfortunately Egorov never produced more then a few songs that captured the nations interest -- his other songs are also beautifully written and performed to a very sweet melody, some might say performed even better then Okudzhava. But Okudzhava was more "cityish", he seemed to symbolize the movement and the beat of the city, its tenderness and harshness. One major theme to sing about was a very old street in Moscow - Arbat. Arbat was and still is very beautiful, very European and exciting for the youth, his love for it reflected in many of his songs especially "The Song About Arbat" and "Sign on the Stone":

May my love be as old as the whole world
For I alone served her and believed her.


Okudzhava produced dozens of songs that are still sung in films, theaters, and are played on television and radio over and over. Among these are the "Blue Trolley-bus", a song about the Moscow trolley that goes around at night; "Prayer", a philosophical poem as a prayer to God; "Song About Mozart" which is basically a beautiful poem contemplating the sorrow and enlightenment of music and life, where the author repeats several times, "please do not loose hope maestro". His songs spread like fire across the Soviet Union, they reached the tremendous population of Russians in New York, Paris, Germany, and Australia.

As the Russian teenagers poured hours over listening to these illegal recordings some picked up their own guitars and started singing their poetry. Alexander Gorodnitsky was one of those first. Born in Leningrad in 1933, he lived through the Blockade, witnessed the war, and began writing poetry while in the seventh grade in 1947. Ten years later, when he graduated as a geologist from the Leningrad University he began traveling, working, and doing research in Taimyr, Igark, Turhansk, in Kolskiy and Kolyma. "And it was precisely there," he wrote in the preface to his book of poems, "there in the taiga and the tundra, under the mosquitoes and the heat, near the camp fires of archeologists, where I first heard songs unknown to me. They were sung by geologists, pilots, fishermen -- our workers, but most importantly, by the former 'zeks' . . . These songs entered my soul with such rapture that unexpectedly I began creating melodies to my own naive poems, unwillingly resembling what I heard before. And so this is how my first songs appeared: in 1958, "Snow", in 1959, "Leather Jackets" and "Wooden Villages". . ."

These songs have entered the national song as well. "Snow" is probably one of the most famous; it has the rhythm of a national song with a truly beautiful melody. "Leather Jackets" is perhaps the best example of Gorodnitsky's art. It gives a sentimental look at the lifestyle of the geologist-romantic, the one who seeks out unknown lands, dreams, and hopes and yearns. The poem, which he later turned into a fabulous song, is a scattered piece -- giving images upon images of the vagrant life:

Leather jackets
tossed into the corner.
The low little window
is covered by a rag.
Roams behind the hanger
the lonely northern blizzard . . .
In a tiny hotel room
it's empty and dim.

It's about time
we forget this lonesome song.
Hermetically the motors
and hearts have been closed up.
Again drags off the shore
the mists and the snows,
the weather is not flyable
even to the moon.

Bald romantics,
aerial hobos,
our life -- endless boyish years.
Shew your grief away
with the empty flask
May the meteorological service
prophesize our hopes.

A sun that doesn't set
a warm breeze from the west.
And a steering wheel
in those yearning hands . . .
Unknown brides and schoolgirls
wait for us
in your tiny
little asphalt lands.

This was written in the Spring of 1959 in Turhansk and later he set it to a fabulous melody. Gorodnitsky did not yet know Okudzhava personally, but he defiantly heard his songs, and much like Okudzhava "Leather Jackets" and many others spread around the Soviet Union.

The public was fascinated with Gorodnitsky, still young he embodied the romanticism that symbolized the generation -- he lived the life of a true romantic, traveling through the harsh wilderness, diving in the waters of the earth and cutting open reefs and corals; journeying towards the Arctic and the Antarctic; spending nights staring over the Indian Ocean's skies as the expedition cruise moved slowly along its path for months. His poetry is filled with the images of journeys, farewells, and adventures:

I sit on the edge of the earth all locked up,
my tables without food,
and my window has no glass . . .
Sirens sing,
the wind whistles . . .
and rain drizzles above Vladivostok.

I'm playing a card game
Not from love
nor amazement . . .
And seagulls scream high over my ship,
there's a black mist over Vladivostok.


One of the amazing things about Gorodnitsky and his poetry is that all he wrote about was true. He did sit at the edge of the earth in Vladivostok, and it was raining, and he had no windows . . . all he had was he interest of life and the awesome splendor of nature. This romanticism was what the public denied of freedom yearned for -- and when in a country without God the youth created its own gods and legends -- the bards.

At around this time another poet appeared with a guitar. His name was Yuri Vizbor -- though not as attractive, charismatic, or adventurous as Gorodnitsky, his songs (more then 1,000 of them) circulated from the busy streets of Moscow, Kiev, and Leningrad to the tiny villages of Siberia and the Ural Mountains. Born in 1938 in Moscow he also began writing poetry at a young age and in the early fifties started composing songs, his guitar was a true Russian guitar -- 7 metal strings. His poems were light and devoid of deep philosophical meanings -- they were extremely sentimental and pure, mostly dealing with nature.

Growing up in Moscow for a youth fascinated with poetry and the history and culture of Russia he enrolled in the University by the name of V. I. Lenin, and in 1955 graduated with a degree in Russian language and literature. He worked as a teacher in the North where he also joined the army. Using his creative skill as a writer he published his works as a correspondent in the popular magazine "Yunost" (Youth) and "Krugozor", he also wrote plays, short stories, and many screenplays. Along with Vizbor there appears a female bard, Ada Yakusheva, whose songs were very simple and pleasant "and almost written by what one might call a 'female Vizbor'" she had a very soothing feminine voice and also sang about mountains and forests. She is remembered as someone who worked alongside of Vizbor in the 60s, and they wrote many songs together. However, she never gained the reputation of a serious bard, or at least a phenomenon that changed something in the movement.

During the 70s he was a popular figure, for he performed in a countless amount of festivals and concerts. He appeared as an actor in many Soviet films, including a role as the Nazi general Herman Goering in the film The Seventeen Moments of Spring. His love for nature drove him to the mountains -- he participated in many expeditions and hikes. Perhaps the openness of the mountains gave him the freedom that was lacking in the city -- there him and his friends could set up camp fires, stay up all nights drinking, reading poetry, and of course -- singing. His style was simple; his poetry was light and easy. One of the most famous poems is called "The Nightly Road":

There's no wiser and no greater remedy from stress
Then the song of nightly tires.
With a very long gray thread of worn down roads
We wear down the wounds of the soul.

Don't believe in separation, old friend,
its circle is but a dream, thank God!
New times will come, my friend,
Just believe in the road.
There's no end to the road except its result:
Roads are difficult, but it's worse without them.

As if someone's cigarette -- a stop sign in the night:
Someone also believes in the path.
Stranger -- hello and goodbye!
I can only flash my car lights.

Either a blue star will hang over my car,
Or the rain will drizzle on the glass.
Two of your tracks are behind my back . . .
That means your life didn't go by without a trace.

The road leads to two ends, but don't lie to yourself
We cannot go back.
Thank god, old friend, that we have enemies
That means that we probably have friends.

The road -- the endless road of life, the road that leads to unknown destinations, loneliness and adventure, bliss and despair. The road has been a constant image in Russian poetry, it always symbolized life and lifes search. Its origins can probably be attributed to the gypsies, who made a big contribution to Russian literature in an informal way in the mid nineteenth century. The "gypsy song" is a big part of Russian culture, the song of despair and wild romanticism, and usually in the gypsy the road had some part to play. Eventually the road, life, and song somehow got mixed all into one and have the exact some abstract philosophic meaning. Okudzhava has a song about this, which in its own abstract way is very true to the meaning of sung poetry in Russia, how it affects the Russian soul and lifestyle.

Song as short as life itself
Somewhere heard on the road
She has piercing words
And a melody that's almost enlightening

She appears suddenly with the sun
She wasn't taught to delay or lie
She is like hope from experienced hands
Given as a gift from nature

From door to door, window to window,
Following your path she drags along.
All will pass that was destined to pass
Only she will remain with you.


Another major character that simply cannot be ignored is that of Vladimir Vysotsky. He was a phenomenon which at first seemed normal, for his lyrics were pure and true and recognizabley original, but only in a matter of a few years his name grew to mythic proportions in Russia's culture. Vladimir Vysotsky was born in 1938 in Moscow. His father was a soldier in the Great Patriotic War, and his mother was a translator of German. Growing up in Moscow among the raw youth of the late forties and early fifties it was easy to get mixed up in bad situations, and Vysotsky was the kind to get mixed up in things that he shouldn't have. His friends were his schoolmates and the punks who ran around the city streets stealing cigarettes. They enjoyed sneaking into movies, getting into fights, and other adventurous things that normal kids in the cities did. In 1959 he began working in the theater by the name of A. S. Pushkin as an actor for small roles, and then in 1960 started performing in Soviet films. But in 1964 he joined the Taganka Theater of Drama and Comedy, directed by Yuri Lyubimov, where Vysotsky reigned supreme as Hamlet, and many other roles.

From the early 60s he started performing his songs among the company of friends. These songs, guitar-poems, where regular poems to the beat of a guitar in the background. The first song that he ever wrote and sang was called the "Tattoo" (1961).

His first songs were "street songs". They were what are called in Russia blatnye pesni, which means songs about the streets, the drunks, drug addicts, pimps, thieves, prostitutes, killers, spies, etc. These were what he called a "street romance", the romance of the Russian streets. An example of

He Whose Been With Her Before

That night, I didn't drink, I didn't sing
I stared at her and didn't blink,
As though a child, as though a child
But he, who's been with her before
He told me, I should simply go,
He told me, I should simply go,
I'd face denial!

And he, who's been with her before
He talked so coarsely and he swore
But I remembered--I wasn't drunk then
And as I tried to walk away
She told me, "What's the hurry, stay!"
She told me, "What's the hurry, stay,
It isn't late yet!"

But he, who's been with her before
Remembered and did not let go
And once in fall, and once in fall
I'm with my friend, they blocked our lane
They stood together in a chain,
They stood together in a chain
Eight men in all

With me--my knife and I decide
I won't go down without a fight
Watch out you fools! Watch out you fools!
Why should I wait to be submersed?
And so, I chose to strike them first
And so, I chose to strike them first
Those were the rules

But he, who's been with her before
He planned and plotted a fierce row,
Severe and grave, severe and grave
Right from behind, someone attacked
And Johnny warned me, "Watch your back!"
And Johnny warned me, "Watch your back!"
It was too late

For all eight sins--one resolution
A prison clinic--my conclusion
I lied there flat, I lied there flat
The surgeon cut across and down
He told me, "Man, just hang around!"
He told me, "Man, just hang around!"
I did just that!

The time flew by during my term
She did not wait for my return
But I've forgiven, her--I've forgiven
Yes her, I surely do condone
But him, who's been with her before
But him, who's been with her before
I won't be leaving
With him, who's been with her before
With him, who's been with her before
I will get even!

(1962, translation by Andrey Kneller)

It wasn't long until Vysotsky's youthful interest in drugs and street punks vanished and he began working on more serious poetry. From 1964, his poems start to deal with the World War II. Real, intense, sophisticated, and deeply philosophical songs appear like "Stars":

This battle is impossible to forget,
Death has seeped through the air . . .
But from the sky with a silent rain
stars were falling.

Again a star fell - and I made a wish:
to live through this battle -
this is how wickedly I tied my life
to a dumb star.

When songs like these traveled from Moscow in the underground cycle to the cities of the USSR, veterans who heard these recordings broke into tears. A very powerful song called "Brothers Grave" would probably be his best war song. "Brothers Graves" is the eternal flame for the 20,000,000 young Russian soldiers that perished in the fight against fascism, the Russians held their memory so dear that the generation of Vysotsky was proud to call them "brothers".

They don't put up crosses at the graves of the brothers,
And widows don't come here to weep.
Somebo dy brings them a bouquet of flowers
And lights an Eternal flame.

Here the earth would stick out of the ground,
And now -- granite flagstones.
Here there is no personal fate
All fates are mixed into one.

Within the flame -- you see explosions of tanks,
Russian homes burning.
A burning Smolensk and a burning Reichstag,
The burning heart of a soldier.

At the graves of the brothers there are no widows in tears,
Stronger people go here.
They don't put up crosses at the graves of the brothers . . .
But is that any better?

The main thing about Vysotsky was his style -- his voice was deep and gruff, it was not a "singers voice". It was stained by long years of smoking and drinking, and near his death at the age of 42 it got deeper and coarser. His guitar was not amazing in the sense of its mastery -- it was simple and direct, something that is comparable to the power chords used by the punk rockers -- a direct hardcore beat -- and that was, probably, its greatness. His singing was intense that moved high into a pitch that seemed all-powerful and grand. His words were also direct and vivid -- not soft and mellow like many bards, but words of metal and fire.

(Vysotsky at a concert in the late 1960s)

Because he was a trained actor Vysotsky used his skill in incorporating his songs into films in plays. "Brothers Graves" was placed into the play "The Living and the Fallen" (which was performed at the Taganka), and in the Soviet film "I Was By Birth From Childhood", both dealing with the war. His fame spread faster then that of Gorodnitsky or Okudzhava, and in today's standards Vizbor or Gorodnitsky are merely stars in the sky compared to he glowing sun of Vysotsky's fame.

In 1975 he married the famous French actress Marina Vlady, and this had a tremendous affect on the rest of his career. Being married to a foreign woman, especially a major international celebrity, he had the opportunity to leave the Soviet Union many times, he even had the opportunity to emigrate. From 1975 to the year of his death, 1980, he had performed all over Europe and America, with major concerts in Paris, London, Berlin, New York, L.A., and Chicago.

After his tragic death from an overdose in 1980 Marina Vlady published the memoir of her life with Vysotsky, entitled "Volodya: Or A Flight Cut Short." In it she remembers a truly sensitive scene when they were both in Berlin. Walking along the clean streets Vysotsky was fascinated by the cleanliness, the wonderful cars parked along the streets -- Porsches, Mercedes's, Volkswagons, etc. -- he noticed the stores filled with all the kinds of foods one could eat, stores filled with wonderful clothes and products. Marina noticed that Vysotsky felt ill and so they went back to the hotel room. When they came in Vysotsky fell down on the bed in tears, shaking. "What's wrong! What's wrong!" Marina asked. "It's not fair! It's not fair!" He yelled, "They lost! And we won! They did such horrors to us, and we are starving like animals in our own country! It's not fair!" Such was the affect of the West on the most famous man in the Soviet Union.

Back in the USSR his concerts attracted thousands of people, stadiums, concert halls, open fields, factories, hospitals -- he was earning the kind of cash that only Brezhnev earned. His popularity became phenomenal, he could not go a single day without at least 40 people begging him for his autograph. At the same time he was hassled by the KGB, jealous friends, and people who wanted something from him.

He became the ultimate superstar of Soviet history in the eyes of the public from the late 1960s to the end of his life in 1980 he was greater then Stalin, greater then Mayakovsky. His career in films was immense, performing in over 20 major motion pictures, writing screenplays, performing in plays such as Voznesensky's poem-play Anti-Worlds, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Esenin's Pugachev, and his most famous role ever: Shakespeare's Hamlet (based on the translation by Pasternak). Sooner or later showing up to see Hamlet at the Taganka meant not seeing Hamlet but Vysotsky, for he embodied the tormented Prince, tormented by lies and greed and power -- he symbolized the soul of the nation -- angry, repressed, tortured, tired, and wild. His gaze was stern and fixed, his gruff voice was the reflection of years of drinking and smoking, and screaming and crying and singing. His voice is a symbol of repression and angst, sinking deep into the poles of insanity and destroying the borders of normality and conformity -- out of this madness appeared a dashing music of resistance and life, awareness and victory. A voice that sent soldiers to tears, and the heartbeat of the Soviet Union seemed to choke itself through his voice. This was his greatest accomplishment -- what he did for the culture of the Soviet Union.

Vysotsky would probably be the definitive example of counter-culture in the Soviet Union in each possible way. His interests were wide and varied, he collected large amounts of records from the West: jazz, rock, blues. In his three-bedroom apartment in Moscow there was a large library, filled with books on literature and the war. His favorite poet was Pushkin. His favorite bard was definetly Okudzhava. One often wonders what it would have been like if Vysotsky lived beyond his 42nd year. If not for the drugs and the over exhaustion of constant travel and performance perhaps a good twenty or thirty more years could have been spent on creative work? But it seems that Vysotsky was destined to die. Much like Pushkin and Lermontov, Vysotsky seems to have been the martyr of the bard generation (and perhaps it was his death that gave them a true sense of who they were, and that their life was not a waste. "Two of your tracks are behind my back . . . That means your life didn't go by without a trace" wrote Vizbor, and this was true to all who followed this code of life. The code of being open and honest -- true and loving. Vysotsky was open and honest. He gained this reputation, this immense super-star status purely on his own, he did not play kiss-ass to anyone, which cannot be said for the greater part of the most famous Russian-Soviet poets, who definitely played on satisfying the establishment.

He died on July 25 1980, during the Olympics in Moscow. It has always been remembered as the hottest day in the year, stadiums were packed with the Olympics taking place. Then suddenly people began to notice that policeman would take off their caps after speaking into their radios. "What's the problem?" Citizens would ask. "Vysotsky's dead!" It was a strange site -- thousands of Russians left the stadiums, their workplaces, their homes, and schools and went in a massive procession to the Taganka theater where Vysotsky performed Hamlet, gathering on the roofs of buildings, staring out of windows, people began crying and singing Vysotsky's songs. At his funeral one of his friends remarked, "It's impossible to die now." Vysotsky's funeral was a funeral of an era. The time of Okudzhava and Vysotsky was over -- one of the greats had left. Among the thousands of people who showed up to mourn the death of a living god, Okudzhava delivered a small speech: "He is a true poet, and his bright and wide name is the greatest weapon against lies, horror, and what is called 'mass culture.' Not long ago we met in the Garden Circle. He was going from the Taganka to Kursk. For me he is still alive."

Fellow actor from the Taganka, Yuri Trifonov, also gave a small speech: "He brought a strength, a love for life, and a deep meaning to the music of our 60s and 70s. He sang so much sadness about our time and about us, he blessed us -- those who with love collected his recordings, who sang with him his songs, who heard them by accident from windows wide open -- he blessed us with poetry, sadness and masculinity, the kind that is needed in life. He was the poe t of legendary temperament, and he left . . ."

Among the others that wrote great essays and speeches on Vysotsky was Novella Matveeva, a female bard of Okudzhava's generation; Yuri Andreev a close friend of the circle; Yuri Vizbor, whose article on Vysotsky's death was published several times in several books on Vysotsky, the essay is short but has a deep sense of grief and shock at the death of such a young talent, "Vladimir Vysotsky was a loner," it starts, "A bigger loner than many would believe . . . . . all his life he battled with officials and bureaucrats, to whom Vysotsky's work was never really considered as work. With those who saw what they wanted to see in Vysotsky -- the vulgar, the drunk, the hysteric, the seeker of cheap popularity, the god of drunks and punks. . . . . there were no limits to his songs -- thank God that there are tape recorders for sale in stores. He screamed his poetry, and this tape recorder scream hung over the whole nation "from Moscow to the very outskirts. For his strength, for his truth, all was forgiven. His songs were the nations songs, and he himself was an artist of the nation."

Suddenly after his death, hundreds began praising him "our poet, our poet!" The very same poets who before had wished not to speak to him either out of jealousy or hate. Of all who were considered the greatest Russian poets of the time, each wrote a poem in his honor: Bella Akhmadulina, Andrei Voznesenksy, Valentin Gaft, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Rima Kazakova, Evgeny Klyachkin, Yuri Lores, Yuri Lyubimov, Vladimir Makarov, Aleksandr Tkachev, and Lenoid Filipov. Among the bards who dedicated great songs in his honor: Boris Almazov, Aleksandr Bashlachev, Yuri Vizbor, Alexander Gorodnitsky, Alexander Gradtsky, Veronika Dolina, Alexander Dolsky, Vadim Egorov, Yuliy Kim, Yuri Loza, Andrei Makarevich, Alexander Mirzyan, Bulat Okudzhava, Alexander Rozenbaum, and Mikhail Scherbakov.

Vysotsky knew he was going to die -- everyone knew he was going to die, or at least those who watched him die. It wasn't the drugs -- it was the repression. It was the knowledge that his poetry was not published -- and there was no conceivable way that it could be published in his lifetime -- and that is perhaps the poets greatest sadness -- that his art can only go around illegally underground. He was buried in the cemetery of Vagankov in Moscow -- a big ugly bronze statue was put up in his honor, where flowers have been brought to since. Gorodnitsky wrote in a song:

At Vagankov dried leafs are burning.
The sun reflects in domes -- it burns the eyes.
Come over here and quietly start praying
Even if this is your first time.
A heavenly flock of clouds flies over
The bleak tiny police station . . . .
And the lone guitar has gotten quiet,
Like a dog over a masters gravesite.
Black branches stir the winds around
Over the lucid motionless water. . . .
And timelessly forgotten poets
Smile - with a youthful smile . .

(1980 fragment)

Vysotsky's departure was a shock to the nation. But it made people more aware of the importance of the bards and their contribution to Russian culture. More and more bards began to stand out, such as Yulij Kim. He is interesting in the fact that there is nothing truly great about him and his work and yet he is considered one of the greats -- this I think is mainly due to the hype built up by Okduzhava. Kim, who was of Vietnamese descent, began writing poetry and singing to it in college, and then when in Moscow somehow got involved in the circles of Okudzhava and they both became very good friends. Since Okudzhava was not the type of person to talk bad about his friends he never mentioned that Kim's songs were childish compared to those of Vysotsky and the other figures as Gorodnitsky and Vizbor -- instead he always said he enjoyed Kim immensely. Kim represented a more pop version of the bards -- his songs did not deal with the important issues of the day, such as Okudzhava's or Vysotsky, they did not even investigate the mysteries and beauties of nature and adventure as Gorodnitsky and Vizbor did - they were simple, and almost idiotic. Along with Kim there appeared a husband and wife team -- the Nikitiny. They mainly wrote the music to the poems of the bards and performed on stage -- they were, and still are, a major success -- Sergei Nikitin and his wife had two perfect voices -- the male was young but not professional, and the female was feminine but also not a professional singer -- and that was their appeal. They have some very nice pieces but the majority of them would be considered mindless and idiotic in content and style.

Vysotsky wasn't the only bard that fell under the harshness of the Soviet regime. There was also Alexander Galich, who is of great importance in the movement of freedom in the Soviet Union. Born in 1918, Dnepropetrovsk (Ukraine) with his Jewish name Ginsberg. He lived in Sebestopal until in 1935 he moved to Moscow to study in drama and acting in the University under the name of Stanislavsky. He graduated from the theatrical studio in 1939. He was an actor, a poet, and a writer. During the 40s and the 50s he became successful with writing plays, and as the author of over 20 plays and films in the USSR. His fame was growing by the late forties and by the early fifties; he began writing some very popular songs and was awarded a large number of awards, which even included the Medal of Stalin. His songs where of a very different style then those of Vysotsky and Okudzhava, he didn't really posses a singing voice -- and Vysotsky gruff was perhaps even more musical then Galich's noteless singing. His songs, however, had a deep philosophical leaning, and this was immediately evident to the intellectual population of Moscow. His unorthodox form of poetry was what made the people of the sixties see their reflection in his ideals. Gerald Stanton Smith, perhaps the only Western writer to ever truly write about the bard movement, wrote a in the introduction of his beautiful book Alexander Galich: Songs and Poems: Galich's songs of the 1960s put before us a catalogue of disaster, failure, and guilt, in which there are no positive characters and nothing left of any ideals. The one note of consolation is an appeal to the effectiveness of dissent (however belated), and the immortality of the poetic word. The ultimate statement of this faith is "We're no Worse than Horace" This complex song, working on several planes at once in Galich's customary way, contrasts two kinds of dissent; on the one hand, there is seeming dissent which is part of the privileged, in group life, "making V-signs in your pockets." But there are also genuine dissenters, whose activity is low-level and undemonstrative, but effective, despite its minuscule scale:

There's no hall, no red-plush auditorium,
And no swooning claque to clap uproariously;
Just an ordinary tape-recorder, but
It's sufficient, there's no need for more than that.

It was the statement and others like it that made Galich a principal artistic spokesman for the heroic Soviet dissidents of the 1960s and his work the most concrete expression of their views. The faith that motivated them all was that something actually could be achieved through resistance and truth-telling, however humble and insignificant the means might seem when compared with the mighty state apparatus against which they were ranged. (pp.30-31)
If it was not for a 1968 winter concert in front of two thousand people then he would probably have never been remembered that greatly. He performed a song of his called "In Memory of Boris Pasternak", it criticized the Soviet regime and its treatment of the great Russian poet. The authorities held out for a while, but finally in 1971 he was kicked out of the Union of Writers, and later from the Union of Cinematographers. In 1974, he was given 24 hours to leave the Soviet Union -- and never return.

. . . Here I sit, a poor pe rformer,
Chuckle, rumble, chortle, roar . . .
And the next-door state informer
Hides his tape deck in its drawer . . .
(Translation by G. S. Smith)

He lived for a year in Oslo, where he made a record ( ("Screaming in Whispers"). In 1975 he worked at a radio-station called "Freedom" in Munich, and in 1976 he ended up in Paris. There he made a movie, Runaways of the 20th Century and worked as an editor of a newspaper. Through 1977 he worked hard in Paris, trying to write a novel, and broadcasting on Radio Liberty his "Galich reads the Soviet newspapers in Paris." In late 1977 he went to Italy several times, performing in Rome, and finally his final performance was in 1977 in Venice. He had performed all over Western Europe by now and in the USA.

On December 15 1977, he came home to Paris flat and tried turning on his new radio receiver. Something went wrong with the wires, he was electrocuted and died. He was 59 years old. A week later his book When I Return (Paris, 1977) was published. The very last poem in the collection reads:

Afterword to When I Return

That's all!
Sergei Eisenstein used to tell his pupils that they should shoot every single frame of their films as if it was the last frame they'd ever shot in their lives. I don't know how appropriate this commandment is for the filmmaker's art, but for poetry it's a law.
Every single poem, every line, and even more every book is the last one.
It follows that this is my last book.
Although at the bottom of my heart I hope all the same that I'll manage to write something more.

Paris, 10 April 1977
(G. S. Smith translation)

Galich's death was in no comparison to Vysotsky. The loss to the world of Russian poetry, also, not that significant. Today he is remembered a vital character in the bard genre, but always an outsider -- the dissident who finished his life beyond the borders of Russia. His influence is not that great, I feel, for his works are not melodic and the whole basis is satire and a morbid kind of philosophy.

In 1971 a young girl began writing her own songs. She was 15 years old. Her guitar was young and so were her poems. Three years later, her friends knew her as an 18-year-old poetess with a guitar, a miniature bard. On the way to a birthday party, she got off at a Moscow metro to write a song and give it as a present for her friend. She did not know that 25 years later she would be singing that song to thousands of people.

Veronika Dolina was born in Moscow in on January 2 1956. Not much is known about her biography, except that she finished the university in Moscow in 1978, and taught French. She appeared on the stage in the early seventies and was immediately hailed as one of the first members of the post-okudzhava bard movement. Her voice was young and feminine; her poetry was individual and fresh. Her guitar accompaniment was nothing special, it followed the style of Okudzhava, but there was something different in her style. In a 1984 interview with Okudzhava in the Leningrad House of Writers Okudzhava said: "Veronika Dolina is a young talented poet who sings some of her poems to guitar accompaniment. I wrote some encouraging words about her in your Leningrad magazine Avrora. And I don't believe I was mistaken. She takes her work very seriously. She's not over preoccupied with her own popularity, and she's often dissatisfied with her work. That's a good sign. The future will show us how talented she is."

These were good things to hear from the most loved bard in the nation. And quickly Dolina rose to fame. The articles that were published on her, and still are published, are strange and lack any serious literary criticism or biographical information about her life. What is known is that she remained and remains one of the most influential bards of the era. Becoming close friends with the "Garden Circle". Some of her most famous poem songs are "Formula", "House of Chaikovsky in Klima", "Flying Woman", "Candle", and "Don't Let a Poet Go To Paris".

I don't fear tragedy or restlessness,
Not a long boring winter day,
But I was just visited by something
That in all seriousness troubled me.
I awoke from this kind of scream
But the family was breathing in peace.
"Veronika!" They scream "Veronika!"
I am your final song.

"What do you want?" I quietly asked,
"See my husbands asleep, so's my child.
And I am tired from work.
Just tell me who you are, and don't joke.
But no patch of light, and no bright face.
And around me total darkness.
"Veronika!" They scream "Veronika!"
I am your final song.

Why you circle in your own night?
Are you a judge over me?
I have remained who I am,
Can't you hear me, my stupid song?
I'm hunched a little from heaviness,
But I don't search for a different life.
Oh my wild muse,
I loved you, and I still love you!

And nothing appeared from the gloom.
And I walked towards the light of the window.
But in the darkness the dog started barking
I was bothering a dogs dream.
And perfection seeped into me
And lightly patted my shoulder.
"Veronika!" in whispers "Veronika!"
I will visit you again . . .


As Vysotsky, Okudzhava, Gorodnitsky, Vizbor, Yakusheva, and Kim fascinated the youths with their poetry and song, a certain poet appeared who distinguished himself greatly from the rest of the bards. His name was Alexander Dolsky. Born in Sverdlovsk in 1938 he brought a certain twist to the bard movement; he was, I think, truly a phenomenon that Russia was not yet ready to deal with. There was something international about him -- something immensely Russian and non-Russian. Coming from a long line of intellectually noble families, his grandfather was a popular artist who sketched such figures as Nicholas II, and the opera singer Shalyapin. His father dazzled the Sverdlovsk opera scene in the 50s, and his mother was a magnificent ballerina. In an interview he discussed his inspiration and his first poetic attempts: "I began writing poetry very long ago, of course I didn't know back then that I was able to sing them. At the age of 10 I first read Esenin and suddenly started composing melodies to his poems. This was amazing, and I was not only singing Esenin, but also Pushkin and Blok, and what seemed incorrect to me I changed. What I didn't understand I made understandable -- I didn't yet know about authors rights. I took these poets in like air, like water, like the forest, which always existed, which was ours, which was dear to us. If I want to sing this then I will change it to what I want and Lermontov will hear this and say, "O wonderful kid! You truly changed it magnificently!" I thought that Lermontov and Esenin would not be upset. Now imagine this: I'm ten years old and in the house we lived in there was a courtyard filled with black coal -- we used to play in it. And so I return home, all dirty from the coal, what kind of a face I had you can only imagine!, I would take the guitar and start singing:

Oh what a night -- I can't go on
I cannot sleep there's such moonlight,
Within the soul as if on an island
A youth wasted long ago

Starting to play guitar at a young age gave him a much better skill -- today he is considered a virtuoso, his guitar moves beautifully from classical to jazz to blues to flamenco. It is truly un-Russian, for non of the bards played jazz or blues -- and Dolsky, with the exception of Mirazyan (another bard), is perhaps the only Russian bard who ever created a whole cycle of songs based on jazz, blues, and American music. His story of jazz is interesting: "It all started in Lower Tagil [a small northern Russian town, near the Urals, primarily known for its major steel factories]. There was a small jazz orchestra near the city park, they were good solid musicians, who were in Nazi camps during the war. The officials wouldn't allow us to play in the capital, and so they lived in small little cities like this. A few of these fellows were drug addicts -- but these were wise people and d id their drugs privately. Only a few young people got mixed up and lost their lives. But later when I was a student they invited me to join their orchestra. Simon Konom, a great jazz pianist, was asking me to play guitar in his band -- but I couldn't just drop my university. There were two major sides pulling at me: one was artistic and the other conservative. The conservative side was telling me that I must go to the university and obtain a solid profession, and that is why I performed only on vacations and after I got out of school." However, jazz didn't offer much money in the Soviet Union and so Dolsky had to work in restaurants among other things to earn a living. In the 1950s he was the first laureate after the war to get a prize in the art of performing guitar on stage. In 1963 he graduated from the University in the name of S. M. Kirov with a degree in economic-engineering and guitar. He quickly joined the flood of youths writing and singing their poetry to the rest of the world. There is something in Dolsky's poetry which seems innocent -- something timeless and pure. His style is very intellectual in that he writes about all that fascinates him -- jazz, poetry, art, music, life, family, skies, travel, rains, sorrow, happiness. His most popular song is "A Star on My Palm", and it has also entered the national song genre even though it is somewhat different in its style from the traditional national song:

A star fell upon my palm
I asked her, "where are you from?"
"Let me rest for just a little
I flew down from such a height!"

And then, glistening, she added,
I swear I heard a bell begin to ring:
"Don't look at the fact that I am small
I am able to do so many things

It is only necessary for you to remember
The most important things for you on earth . . .
I can make any wish come true
This is what I do."

I know what is necessary
I don't need a long time to decide
I wish to love and to be loved,
I wish that my mother wont be sick,

So that on this grieving planet
Only stars would fell out from the skies,
Everyone was as innocent as children,
And all loved rains, woods, and flowers

So, like long ago, they hacked the grass,
Everyday we flew up to the Moon
Carried women on our arms,
And there would be no disease or war

So that friendship wouldn't be a hardship,
So that trust wouldn't be a burden . . .
So that old age very lightly
Fell with wisdom on my heart

So that round a fire seeped in smoke
Quietly this song people would sing . . .
And I also wish to be loved and also love,
And that my mother won't be sick.

I talked long but in vain,
I talked long, I talked very long . . .
Without answering me the star faded,
She didn't have enough of strength.

When Dolsky toured America in the summer 2000 he performed in all the major cities, at one of the concerts at which I was present Dolsky confessed that he wrote this song at the age of sixteen and it gave him immense pleasure that people still come up to him to say how much this song means to them. It isn't difficult to believe him, his talent is immense, and such a talent begins at an early age.

Unfortunately by many he has been tagged as an "intellectual" bard, whose songs only some can understand -- but that would be a lie, because his songs are deep but there is nothing intellectually one-sided about them. They are as pure and international as real poetry can get. What is strange about Dolsky is that he has never been accepted by the bards themselves (the tight circle of Okudzhava, Vystosky, Kim, etc) as a true bard. In an 1984 interview in the Leningrad House of Writers Okudzhava was asked what he thought of Dolsky's work to which Okudzhava replied, "As far as Dolsky is concerned, I have a very high opinion of him as a man, but as an artist . . . For the time being I can't say anything really serious about his work because, in my opinion, he hasn't proven himself as a literary phenomenon yet. Let's hope Anything can happen. He's a young man, therefore with diligence, effort, and desire, of course . . ." This statement seems strange to a scholar of the Russian bard movement, for by 1984 Dolsky had composed some of the greatest poems in the last half of the twentieth century in the bard genre. Such songs as "Wish", and "An Amazing Waltz". Perhaps the only thing one might come up with is that there seemed to be a strange jealously towards Dolsky, for his mastery of the Russian language, for his virtuosity of the guitar, and his soft, young, mellow voice which pronounced poetry clearly and with deep emotion. I am not the only one who notices and places Dolsky among the great bard-poets of Russia, Vic Marinovsky, a Soviet journalist and writer, was present at the Grushin Festival in 1985, a very famous bard festival held in honor of Valery Grushin: "It was among the most amazing concerts that I've had the chance to be present at. When the moon shined like a street-light over the lake, the projectors captured the bridge coming out of the gloom that led to the platform of the performs, made in the shape of a guitar. Its frame was set to the background of two sail boats, colored in many different light bulbs, and on the mast one could see the flag of the singing festival . . . almost till dawn the singers exchanged the stage amongst each other, singers [guitar-poets] from many parts of the country. The last was a blonde-haired bard, with bluest eyes. He came upon the stage right from the thicket , touched the strings and began singing. A soft intimate baritone touched something deep within us. A gentle, pastel melody was flowing freely and willingly. . . . This was in the early 60s during the Grushin Festival. (1985, "Isskustvo"). But the impression of young poets writing in literary magazines didn't do much for Dolsky's respect. In 1989 Rima Kazakova, a very famous female Russian poet, published an articled entitled "And To Believe In Good Examples" . . . (a quote from one of Dolsky's poems) in which she wondered why Dolsky isn't getting the recognition he deserves. It was 1985 Kazakova and Dolsky had just left the concert of popular comedian Mikhail Zhvanetsky: "Me and Sasha [Russian short for Alexander] walked around Moscow at night, and instead of continuing our laughter we walked in a nervous and sad silence. It was incredibly sad for us: we finally understood that we weren't being made to laugh, we weren't amused, instead we were listening to the truth of our time, about ourselves, about us. I remembered this story not by accident. The lyrical, pastoral, Dolsky, the glory of our bards, singing beautifully, speaking peacefully, with the intellectuality and understanding of Petersburg, - he also possess the tight string of a nervous feeling, with the deep hardship of life which he has lived through, translated into the pure happiness of existence." Kazakova goes on to evaluate some of his poetry, demonstrating their power and individuality. For example a very famous philosophical piece: "Farewell Twentieth Century":

. . . . And Atlantians would vanish,
and dynasties, and gods . . .
It's impossible through science
to understand the goal of time . . .
The age group of our century
fell tightly in two epochs:
Forever he's eighteen
and for a century forty-five.

Farewell twentieth century,
horrible and beautiful,
Farewell twentieth step
into an uncountable height.
Farewell twentieth century,
great and disgusting,
Glimmering above earth
in blood and poverty.

We hurried and flew off
towards unknown reaches,
And fearlessly we ventured
into emptiness and time.
All that we could learn we learned,
and what we couldn't, we theorized,
Only our hearts, - we couldn't understand.

The twentieth century will pass us,
a third thousand w ill follow,
And in love and disappointments
the years will flow again . . .
An old book will be read,
from century to century re-read . . .
Our youth in our century stays forever.


But whatever the "fathers of the bard generation" said of Dolsky, it did not stop him from gaining a greater and more profound reputation as both musician and poet.

Dolsky wasn't of course the only great bard that wasn't part of the non-mainstream mainstream bard movement. There were hundreds of poets all over Russia, primarily in the outskirts of the big cities, who with their guitars and notebooks of poems, ventured into the mountains to perform among their friends. Dolsky represented the movements evolution into a greater era, and the "fathers" failed to realize that.

Continued in Part 3
Soviet Underground - Part 2
Alex Malina
Monday, April 1, 2002 05:47 pm
An underground movement called the Bard or Guitar-Poetry movement started in the late fifties and became big in Russia in the early sixties. The people that came out of this movement have changed the idea of Russian poetry, song, and style. Yevgeny Yevtushenko, internationally recognized as a great Russian poet, wrote of Bulat Okudzhava, "popularity came to him when he picked up his guitar and started singing a very simple, and very melodic music to his poems." Soon everyone across the USSR was singing them, students and workers in the communes, and his unofficially published records were circulating in thousands of illegal copies on tapes. Okudzhava, the father of a very immense movement of bards in the USSR, out of which came out such amazing poets as A. Galich, and V. Vysotsky.

I have attempted to explain the complex history of this movement, which later turned into more of a lifestyle. It represented freedom and beauty, and a strive towards something higher and more sensational. With all its endless history, which if needed to could be probably traced back to pre-revolutionary Russia with Alexander Vertinsky performing his songs like "The Cocaine Girl". But its true origin is in the years after the war. The bright and twisted fifties of the Soviet Union, when the youths entered the universities seeking more then answers to their homework problems. They lived with the horrible memory of the Great War, and perhaps the idea of a world annihilated by the bomb. They lived in a century possessed by tyrants and madman; their only escape was the land of beauty -- a land of imagination and creativity. And that was this land of music and poetry. They gathered in cafes to talk till dawn, hiked to the top of mountains, fled from the army, fled from the police, and fled from the country. They were an intellectual youth with a soul of a gypsy, a soul of a beatnik perhaps. Like I have stated, this is merely a small attempt at trying to relate to the public the immensely complex yet interesting, puzzling, and mysterious life of these bards -- some great, some not. Still whatever it was it was a phenomenon, which came and went unnoticed in the West. The poets of the Soviet Union such as Pasternak, Akhmatova, Voznesensky and Yevtushenko were hailed all over, but ignored were the underground poets, the true poets of the Soviet Union - the people of Russia held these poets closer to their hearts then Vozenesnky, Pasternak, or Yevtushenko could ever come. It should be noted that they used to refer to themselves, the "bards" of Moscow as the Garden Circle.

This was a time in an empire that will rarely repeat again in history. It was unique, huge, and in the end became immensely popular. Today in Russia, and the former Soviet Union, countless studies are devoted to this phenomenon. Some of its greatest characters are still alive, still publishing and performing. This, I think, will one day surely be of great importance to the scholars and readers of Russian literature, and a valuable part of the sixties youth movement of the twentieth century.

Note on the Translation

It is incredibly difficult to translate Russian poetry. I have presented translations by various people (it is noted who the translators are), but most of the poems were translated by me. In translating bard poems I did not attempt to fully translate word for word for it would destroy the meaning and image of the poem -- instead I took the literal translation and changed it so it would have an effect somewhat close to the original Russian version. This, I thought, would make it easier to read and understand.

Neglected Youth

Song as short as life itself
Somewhere heard on the road
She has piercing words
And a melody that's almost enlightening

-Bulat Okudzhava

When the Second World War ended the Soviet Union was in a state of destruction. Millions of its citizens had perished during the Stalinist purge that started in 1933, (today's estimate of the purge is 50,000,000 people), and about 20 million soldiers in the World War. There was not one family not touched by the war or the purge. Cities were destroyed to extermination, villages burned to the ground, thousands of orphans, unemployed, homeless.

The Soviet soldiers witnessed perhaps the most atrocious battles in the history of war. Many of the soldiers who went of to war were still young kids in their teens, many good poets whom if not for the war could have contributed greatly to the world of Russian poetry or even world literature. When the war first started in 1939, the young poet Boris Smolensky wrote the following lines while in a quite moment near the battlefield:

Today I will spend the whole night
Choking in the dim fog of tobacco,
Tormented by thoughts of some people
Who died very young
Who either at dawn or at night
Unexpectedly and unknowingly
Died . . . not even finishing their crooked lines of
Didn't finish loving,
Didn't finish saying,
Didn't finish . . .

Boris was killed in the war two years later at the age of 20.

This was the kind of world that the intellectual youth which became the Soviet Unions underground movement of literature in the sixties witnessed with their childish eyes.

They were born in the late twenties and thirties. Their fathers were workers, soldiers, teachers, and writers. Their fathers most definitely fought, and many didn't return. Their mothers raised them in the apartment buildings of the Stalinist age in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, and the outskirts of big cities in villages still suffering from the torment of hunger.

Every morning they woke up to the sound of their mother's voice, with despair and misery. Outside people would fall dead in the snow because there was no food. In the distance they heard the echoes of the Luftwaffe. They knew that their fathers were out there; their brothers, their cousins, their uncles. It was a Holy War. A war that a generation eating crumbs in the bomb shelter would never forget. A poet who came out of this generation, Alexander Dolsky, was born in 1938 in Sverdlovsk. Dolsky has a strange history for he was actually a descendant of the Russian monarchy, and now was a regular Soviet youth. Years later he wrote several unbelievably moving songs dedicated to the war. No one like him expressed the childhood lifestyle of these youths as he did in "Neglected Youth":

What disappointments and what grief
Our dull lives gave us
Raised in the harsh games of street punks
Inherited our fathers harshness

Hunger displaced us into mad groups
Of wise and angry youths,
We walked the markets and the bars
Stealing cigarettes and cucumbers

All the men left walking deadly roads,
And all of their sins were forgiven by the Holy War.
And the punks as they passed
Threw their spare change
To poor little women and miserable men.

. . . You young people,
living in warmth, becoming smarter every minute,
you passed behind us by a whole class
a class of war, and thank God!

. . . . faraway years, worrisome years . .
ran from the rear towards war these young kids.
Our homeless freedom passed us by quickly.
Four yours . . . No four centuries of war.

Dolsky goes on to add that this childhood, however miserable, was worth it. It offered them a taste of life as never lasting, momentary, and at an early age they understood. It was easy for them to grow up after such a childhood. Their maturity developed quickly, in those "four centuries of war". Another poem entitled "Fathers and Sons" starts off:

When you marched on to the West
Under the twisted heat near Rovno,
With blood your boots were drenched,
And thirst would burn your throat,
I used to draw dead Nazis,
Many of them, and in detail.

. . . And when with a heavy boot
in a concentration camp near Prague
they tried to teach you
how to cry like a street mutt,
I, from some stupid reason
was inconsolably crying
that I even disturbed
my sorrowful mother.

Such was the raw youth during the war. They were raised on the streets, without fathers. Their dreams were filled with visions of their brave soldiers conquering the Tutonic invasion, and coming home to them. But in the mean time they would run through the dirty bars, hungry like dogs, stealing what they could to survive.

Alexander Gorodnitsky, a poet of St. Petersburg (Leningrad), who was still a small kid during the blockade of Leningrad, a 900-day Nazi assault on the city, wrote about the children of Leningrad today:

They don't need to fear
the destruction at night.
Collecting small crumbs,
they won't need to.
In their whole different era
it will pass them all by
the horrible word:

(Children of Leningrad Are Sketching a War, A. Gorodnitsky, Moscow, 2001).

Another famous poet of the bard generation, Yuri Vizbor, called himself and his childhood friends as "youth that arrived a little late for the war." A war that would pass them by only by a few years, and a war that would come back to hunt them for the rest of their lives.

But it was more then just the horrid experience of a childhood at war. Take Nikki Giovanni's Nikki-Roma (1968) and translate that into Russian war and post-war childhood. It was also growing up poor; it was growing up in a system where people vanished forever; in a land where repression reigned supreme, especially moral and sexual; as a Soviet citizen you could not leave the Union, there were no other lands. You were taught from your youth that the Soviet Union was

the fairest land in all the world
where men can breathe freely

(Soviet folk song)

And so as prisoners in a dungeon - forbidden to breathe the air of freedom - they grew up, secretly thinking that one day they will break free, one day they will leave all this behind.

They grew up with colorful eyes believing that if they all worked together, if they joined hands, stood up, and proclaimed their existence that something will change, that something will be better. They had little to lose and much to gain. They knew that a world existed out there - with all its beauty and misery, rains and mists, sorrows and kindness - they wanted to see this world and experience it, become one with their world. This, they felt, they owed to their fallen sisters and brothers in the war. The war remained as something dear and personal, not to be played with - its grief and sadness was unforgettable. Boris Almazov, a bard/poet born in 1944 Leningrad wrote about a young boy playing with a gun:

That foolish little boy was happy
In his foolish five years of age;
And from the pubs the disabled ex-soldiers
Sadly watched him go by.

(Gerald Stanton Smith, Songs to Seven Strings, 1984)

Foolish. Foolish war. Foolish guns. Foolish tyrants. War and any interest in it was gone from the minds of these children. They had seen to much to play war. Ahead they thought was a world destined to destruction. America was their number one enemy - and America had the bomb.

Continued in Part 2

(c) 2002 Robert Young
The Soviet Underground and the Bard Generation
Alex Malina
Monday, April 1, 2002 05:13 pm