Gennady Aygi in Need

Gennady Aygi is the major Chuvash poet of our times, now in his early seventies & in need of help because of failing health. The email below from PEN Berlin was forwarded to me by Ammiel Alcalay. Your help will be much appreciated. Below the appeal I’ll paste two small texts by & a bio-note on Aygi I put together a few years back for a special issue on poetics of Boundary2.

Please help the poet Gennadji Ajgi in Moscow!

Gennadij Ajgi born in 1934 in Schajmursino (at the time part of the Autonomous Chuvash Soviet Republic), is a great European Poet. The Chuvashian lyricist has been writing since 1960 in the Russian language (following the advice of Boris Pasternak) and has received a numerous amount of awards amongst others the German Petraca price and the price of the Académie Française. In 1992/93 Ajgi was fellow in Berlin as part of the artists program of the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service). During this time period he published “Aus Feldern Russland“ (From Russian Fields) together with his translator Felix Philipp Ingold and has enchanted many listeners and readers.

We have received a cry for help from Moscow. Gennagij Ajgi who recently accepted to take part at the P.E.N. congress in Berlin in May has fallen ill and lies in a Moscow clinic. The hospital costs are large and exceed the modest amount covered by the families insurance. P.E.N. in Germany has set up a donation account to help Ajgis family with the hospital bill.

Commerzbank of Darmstadt; Germany
IBAN: DE 3750 8400 050 – 130808907

Please help with a donation and please help soon. The reserve assets and donations of his friends and family in Moscow have already been used. Every Euro Counts! Please pass this call for help to your friends and family.

Berlin, January 2006
Nina Hartl, DAAD
Ursulla Setzer and Herbert Wiesner, PEN-Zentrum, Germany
Ulrich Schreiber, internationales literaturfestival berlin


from Boundary2 vol 26 #1: 99 Poets /1999 An International Poetics Symposium
a special issue edited by Charles Bernstein

Gennady Aygi

Called by Jacques Roubaud “the most original voice in contemporary Russian poetry, and one of the most unusual voices in the world,” Gennady Aygi was born in 1934 in the village of Shaymurzino in the Chuvash Autonomous Republic, some 500 miles east of Moscow. His father was a village school teacher, his maternal grandfather the village’s last shaman-priest of ancient Chuvash religious practice. Admitted to the Moscow Literary Institute, he was excluded from it in 1958 for poems judged “too subjective,” and for his friendship with Boris Pasternak. Although writing mainly in Russian, Aygi is regarded as the Chuvash national poet; he has translated poetry of many languages into Chuvash and edited a historic anthology of Chuvash poetry.
Well and ably translated into French by Léon Robel for many years, he is only now becoming visible in English thanks to Peter France’s 1997 translation of Aygi’s “Selected Poems 1954-94” (Northwestern University Press). France has also translated Aygi’s “An Anthology of Chuvash Poetry,” published by Forest Books in 1991. The texts here included come from the collection of essays Conversations à distance (Circé 1994; translated by Léon Robel).

1) from: A few remarks concerning my poetry

Much in my esthetic formation is clearly linked to Chuvash culture…
What has marked me before all is this: that for me poetry is, irrevocably, the type of “action” and “linkage” that is best expressed by the word “sacred act.” Since childhood, when I did not yet know that this was called “poetry,” I have observed all around me exactly that one of its functions. Later I strengthened this thought — that said function was necessary in order to “work with the spiritual forces” — without excluding (to the contrary: by also including) the need inherent in it to “put in evidence and sustain brotherhood” among mankind.
Since 1960 I write in Russian. The first reader to have approved my poems in this language was Nazim Hikmet who earlier had counseled me and Pasternak to switch to that language.

2) A little something — concerning the present “Consummatum*” / Preface to the Polish edition of my poetry/

You are called: Letter and Spirit
Cyprian Norwid

I am writing these lines in a forest hut, in my short-lived Walden (my already ancient “Thoreauism” has indeed remained an unrealized dream), where I spend my long nights of insomnia — this time — in the sole company of Cyprian Norwid, and I would have liked this meditation, destined to Polish readers, to be as far as possible “practical,” also in the spirit of Norwid.
It if indubitable for me that the contemporary Poetic Word has, essentially and for a long time, been seriously diminished and not only in the space surrounding me.
“A certain” poetic system has come to an end, and it doesn’t matter here to know if it was “traditional poetry” or “contemporary free verse;” what is important is to define what was, in this system, the attitude toward language: its autonomous force was doomed to oblivion, its language remained shallow and insignificant, no matter the importance of the problem in whose service it was put / poetic art is never renewed in a “thematic” manner/.
More than once have I tried — in despair and without results — to speak of the necessity of a present “resurrection of the Word,” considering it like one of the manifestations of creative force existing in the “universality” of the unity of the human and “other” / which goes beyond us /.
Two great Poles — Norwid and Malevitch — had that “universal language’ (I say this without forgetting the profound “Russianness” of the great Kazimir).
The “poetry of sounds” / once more I recall Norwid / has exhausted itself a long time ago, though it still retains its scale of lifeless bel-canto feeding the immense ocean of versification and personalist rhetoric, — the “eternal” romanticism has degenerated in our time into a private and alienated literary personalism / which mustn’t be confused with theological personalism /, — poetry seems chock-a-block full of war poems — war of men among men; everything that unites men “into a brotherhood” in this world-like-a-house, becomes anachronistic /.
To say “it is language that makes the poet” is to say nothing. In this case language easily fabricates versifiers / no matter how clever and dexterous they are inside the inertia of a sonority that moves by itself /.
Khlebnikov’s “radical verbocreation” has renewed Russian poetry. Malevitch’s famous “square,” “incising itself into the skies,” has set about to create another representation of time and space. Poetry does not create an inert melody preserved in language, but the Verb and the Doing turned in a new way “with crackings” of the Master-Builder / here I am once more in complete solidarity with Cyprian Norwid /.
It seems indispensable for me here to specify somewhat my own position “inside” today’s poetry.
In his Letter on Malevich, Roman Jakobson called me “an extraordinary presence in today’s poetic avant-garde.”
I attach much importance to this great sch
olar’s words. I do consider my constant aspiration to give poetic language an extreme sharpness as being avant-garde. This said, I have more than once pointed out that there are two concepts in the Russian avant-garde I do not accept: its scientific utopianism and its religious eclecticism.
The present day manifestations of “the Russian avant-garde” seem to me to be unconscionably conformist in their aspiration, with a ludic aim of “arranging” a civilized hell / one may be obliged to live in hell but that doesn’t mean that one has to accept it as something necessary and indisputable /.
Without a making conscious of the New Function of the Word the renewal of contemporary poetry is impossible.
Here I won’t resist the desire for a little digression.
For a long time we have lived without poetic thinking, faking it with invertebrate “meditations.”
But our concentration on something essential?… To all appearances, people will raise their prayers for good toward something Very-Serious when they are caught in a definite ecological trap where they will be surrounded by their own crimes, rather than among wars explained through the hostility of “others.”
And I permit myself to say frankly / there remains so little time for everything / : the future “resurrection of the Word,” I don’t see it as abstractly spiritual / the word “spiritual” is presently in Russia an ersatz designation for a vague feeling of goodness and all the gradients of “sentiment,” nor as pseudo-existential / continuing henceforth to automatically fragment man / , but tragically-&-personally-religious as a new “turning-point;” in poetry this demands from the “poetic receptors” the re-establishment, under new conditions, of their links with the Universe-house and with the Brotherhood-life as in the ancient-old-deep intensity of what was called Truth, — no matter how emphatic this may sound.
From a “purely literary” point-of-view one could call this a realism of the essential, an existential realism, by specifying very carefully the esthetic and philosophic new ecclesial elaboration / I see a grandiose example of this realism in Andreï Platonov’s The Foundation Pit which stands there towering like a Unique Word: so that we can speak not only of a desired future for such a tendency, but also of its rootedness in Russian literature, to begin with Innokenti Anneski, the first existentialist “manifest” in European poetry /.
I do not doubt that many people / no matter if they were heard or not / have more than once started to speak of a neo-humanism. Be that as it may, we will have to seriously address — in a large and vast community the question of the new esthetic of skeptic humanism with its new experience, in the name of a renewed acceptance of life.
Repeating this I state the obvious, but I’ve known for a long time that what is least understood today are the so-called banal truths. The current complexity is brimful with a prolixity that costs nothing / which is, by the way, the principal characteristic of contemporary European poetry /, while “simplicity” always remains the same miracle, always similarly / and in all ages / indefinable.

14-15 August
in the village of Sosnovo, near Leningrad

* According to Norwid (1821-1883), the “consummatum” is the synthesis of the “Letter” which is the thesis (of an “incompleted” work, with no hidden meaning) and the “Spirit” which is the antithesis (“Unsaid”-”Complement,” “silence).
(Translator’s note)

Translated by Pierre Joris from the French of Léon Robel

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1 Response

  1. John Sakkis says:

    this is terrible news…Gennady’s reading at The Poetry Center @ SFSU stands as one of the three best readings i’ve ever attended…and he read last (after a 3 1/2 hour marathon of international poets!)…i was lucky enough to have drinks with Gennady and his translator Peter France at a local pub in the Tenderloin after the reading…Peter kindly translating my English for Gennady, vise versa…

    before leaving i told Gennady that i was sorry we couldn’t communicate without a translator…Gennady took a napkin and wrote something in Russian which Peter quickly translated…”John, we communicate through the air…”

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