The Lost Acmeists: Vladimir Narbut and Mixail Zenkevich

Svetlana Cheloukhina, Queens College/CUNY

This paper provides an overview of lives and work of two Russian poets, artistic allies and close friends, Vladimir Narbut and Mikhail Zenkevich. These poets formed the left wing of the Acmeist movement, so-called Adamism. Unlike their famous fellow-Acmeists, Narbut and Zenkevich have been extensively underread and understudied although their input in legacy of Silver Age and Russian poetic avant-garde is undeniable and a need for a thorough critical study of their heritage has become imminent.

Narbut's and Zenkevich's artistic position was on the margins of Acmeism and left wing of Russian cultural ideology. Their early poetry was often a shocking revelation to their contemporaries since their works embodied an amalgamation of crude naturalism, explicit eroticism and unusual fantastic elements. In a letter to Zenkevich Narbut wrote, "I am sure, there are only two Acmeists: you and I." At the same time, trying to dissociate themselves from the "older Acmeists," he had also referred to himself and Zenkevich as "naturo-realists" and "the earthly ones." The poets' closeness was manifested in a number of their poetic exchanges, which I will trace in my presentation. Their simultaneous belonging to different literary camps also presents an opportunity to expose connections between Acmeism and avant-garde poetry on a new example.

Before his tragic death in a GULAG labor camp in 1938, Narbut managed to publish six collections of poetry of varying artistic value, wrote a large number of critical articles and ethnographic essays, became extensively involved in party and social work, served as an editor of several journals, and worked as a head of the publishing house "Zemlja i fabrika." Zenkevich, during his long career, published eleven collections of poetry but like many artists of his generation later was silenced as a poet and turned to poetic translations. He became the first translator of American poetry into the Russian language and produced two books of poetic translations. A recent posthumous publication of his writings reveals him as a talented novelist.

Following the pioneering work of R. Timenchik and L. Ozerov, my paper will shed new light upon two "lost Acmeists" thus helping after the entire picture of 20th-century Russian poetry.