Timur Kibirov’s “Intoxicating Silver Age”: Stretching the Canon and the Legacy of Blok

Marijeta Bozovic, Columbia University

Criticism has yet to adequately catch up with Timur Kibirov’s popularity and significance in late 20th and 21st century Russian poetry. His highly meta-literary lyrics are rife with allusions, ironic quotations, paraphrases, borrowings and responses: the verses call into question accepted notions of canon and “literariness,” pulling apart Soviet, intelligentsia and general “Russian Literature” clichés alike. And yet for all the radical elements and irony in his work, Kibirov consistently demonstrates a profound knowledge of, debt to—and love for—the Russian poetic tradition. The questions he raises about the construction, sanctity and relevance of literary canons represent some of the most relevant and powerful questions in Russian and Western literature today.

While some have noted Kibirov’s games with the giants of Russian Golden Age poetry, it is with the Silver Age poets—and with Aleksandr Blok in particular—that stretching the canon proves most interesting and combative. Blok is Kibirov’s most immediate literary forefather and, it is probably fair to say, his most intense influence; a Bloomian anxiety over that influence casts a shadow over all the numerous Silver Age allusions in his poetry.

My paper will examine several shorter poems by Kibirov and then go into his 1994 poem “Solntsedar” at more length, as this lengthy piece showcases some of the most profound and masterful treatment of the Blok and Silver Age themes in Kibirov’s oeuvre. The very title and dedication to the drinking-buddy monikers “Khitruk and Kisliakov” introduces a particular tone to the piece and takes up the Symbolist theme of creative intoxication. The poem quotes or alludes to no fewer than seven of Blok’s lyrics, in all cases re-writing them to dramatic and/or comic effect. For example, Blok’s line “Ia byl molod, i svezh, i vliublen” from his 1902 lyric (untitled, beginning with that same line) gains a foot in Kibirov’s hands to become “Ia byl molod, i svezh, i vliublen, i pryshchami/Ia ne tak uzh obil’no pokryt” in “Solntsedar.”

Kibirov, who once esteemed Blok and the Silver Age poets above all others, would have us question this neo-Romanticism and challenge its usual canonic interpretations. And yet, Blok’s music and meters infect and enable Kibirov’s own. Thus Kibirov always needs to rewrite Blok, translate him, make him more modern to fit current reality—but without any doubt, those intoxicating poems were a vital life-source for our contemporary poet.