"It Was Truly Modern Poetry That Was Needed as Oxygen...": Moscow Conceptualists and Nikolaj Glazkov

Irene Kolchinsky, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Although Moscow conceptualist poets (Vsevolod Nekrasov, Dmitrij Prigov, Lev Rubinshtejn, and others) have received in recent years significant scholarly attention, the problem of their literary roots remained largely unexplored. Parody and pastiche associated with the conceptualism allowed scholars to link them to the Oberiu, Olejnikov, and Zoshchenko, but this connection only underscored their major differences in the objects of their ironies, in their techniques and vocabularies. More immediate predecessors, however, were not even in sight.

The conceptualists' attack on Soviet ideology through constant games with official language seemed to be an exclusive privilege of the relatively "vegetarian" post-Stalin era, and was hardly imaginable in the times of terror. Despite the odds, it turned out wrong. A similar playful approach to the ideological environment can be found in the lyrics written in the late 1930s and 1940s by Moscow poet Nikolaj Glazkov (1919-1979). Of course, the majority of these lyrics could not be published until very recently, and some still remained unpublished in the poet's archive, but they had been widely circulated in samizdat, and were well-known to the conceptualists. In his recent memoir, Vsevolod Nekrasov recollected his first encounter with Glazkov's samizdat poetry in the mid-1950s and the striking effect it had on him and his friends. "It was truly modern poetry with its modern technique, actual language that was needed as oxygen. This poetry had its own concept of verse, philosophy and life, live movement of speech, which were missed for forty years." Indeed, Glazkov's early poetry impresses a reader with its free, anti-utopian pathos, which manifests itself in ironic play with official clichès, absolutely unparalleled in those years. In my paper I investigate Glazkov's experiments with ideological language, which largely anticipated the poetic practice of Nekrasov, Prigov, and Rubinshtejn. In addition, the conceptualists' characteristic predilection for minimalism also connects them directly to Glazkov, who can be considered the pioneer of the genre.