Thursday, January 21, 2010

Russian poetic school of Noughtters Lives on in English poetry

Please read the Russian version of this post here.

ETA Hoffman
Veniamin Kaverin, one of the best loved Soviet novelists, once proclaimed that the two best Russian writers were R L Stevenson and ETA Hoffman (pictured) of the Nutcracker fame. Much later, in 1965, a wise and respectable Kaverin published his book of memoirs 'Hello, Brother, It's So Hard to Write', which included a humorous account of an evening in The Pegasus Stable, a Moscow literary cafe popular in the late 1910s - early 1920s.

He mentions a loud poetic school of the time called "ничевоки" – 'noughtters' (nothingers, nadaists). They were the Russian version of Dada. Articles about both schools (here and in Russian here) say they flourished between 1916 and 1922. Nichevoki espoused minimalism in verse. Their poems often were a chain of a few nouns in nominative, and that was that.

'Here was the poet Truvor Kanunnikov, writes Kaverin. He never wrote anything. Not because he couldn't, but as a matter of principle. He was one of the noughtters, an extreme one. He proclaimed that the supreme level of poetry was the blank white page'.

I have always thought that Kaverin's story was a joke. Surely, Dada and Nada are a thing of the literary past. Amazingly it isn't. The other day I was reading a brilliantly compiled book of humorous poems of British and American authors The Funny Side: 101 Humorous Poems (Faber poetry) (edited by Wendy Cope) and found several poems straight from the book of Noughtters.

Here is one:

The Lover Writes a One-Word-Poem


(Gavin Ewart)

And this one is even better:

On Going to Meet a Zen Master in Kyushu Mountains and Not Finding Him
for A.G.

(Don Patterson)

(Note: it's just the title and the dedication, the rest is a blank page).

By the way, any better suggestions as to how to render ничевоки into English?


Anonymous said...

How about "minimalist" poetry? See here.

Alexander Anichkin said...

good suggestion and a very good article, I was looking for an overview like that.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...