This article from 
has been sent to you by [EMAIL PROTECTED]

Wicked Chipmunks! A happy poet is not a good poet I eat. You eat.


/-------------------- advertisement -----------------------\

Enjoy new investment freedom!

Get the tools you need to successfully manage your portfolio
from Harrisdirect.  Start with award-winning research.  Then
add access to round-the-clock customer service from
Series-7 trained representatives.  Open an account today and
receive a $100 credit!


Upstate Quest for a Russian Soul

May 3, 2002 



HANCOCK, N.Y., May 1 - The literature of the new Russian
avant-garde is hatched here in a ramshackle house just a
yard from the railroad tracks that run by the Delaware
River. Parked outside, under green tarps and camouflage
netting, are three disabled military jeeps that first saw
service in World War II. Inside, an aristocratic-looking
Russian wolfhound the size of a small pony sprawls like a
fluffy carpet outside the hand-built sauna. 

The house belongs to Konstantin K. Kuzminsky - poet,
teacher, linguist, geologist, former dissident and, now,
mentor to a coterie of aspiring Russian-American artists.
But it's less a home than a pilgrimage site. Each weekend,
Mr. Kuzminsky's young admirers arrive at the Catskill
retreat by the carload from Brooklyn and Queens, bringing
loaves of his favorite brown bread as tribute and offering
up their poems and drawings. 

The collaboration between the grizzled Russian writer and
his fresh-faced acolytes is the driving force behind much
of the experimental poetry, performance art and video work
in the Russian immigrant community in New York City. The
latest example of their symbiotic efforts is the magazine
Magazinnik, which appeared in March as the city's first
all-Russian collection of avant-garde writing by

Still, for all its creative fecundity, it is a somewhat odd
coupling. Mr. Kuzminsky brings an encyclopedic knowledge of
literature, a naturally fatalistic disposition and a
lifetime of artistic hard knocks in the former Soviet Union
and the United States. He calls himself a "Russian
patriot," meaning he is fiercely defensive of the
singularity of Russian culture, and is equally loyal to the
Russian Orthodox Church and anarchism. 

The young immigrant artists, including the editors of
Magazinnik, are balanced between two cultures, raised
during the waning days of the Soviet empire and
transplanted to New York City in the early bloom of their
careers. They all have day jobs that have little to do with
poetry or with soulful artistic suffering. And they find
inspiration, they say, in the tension of dual identities. 

They also liken themselves to the Russian avant-garde
artists of a century ago. "I feel the same kind of new
beginning, like we have a clear start just like at the
beginning of the 20th century," said Igor Satanovsky, one
of the magazine's founders and a poet who writes in both
English and Russian. 

Meetings of the two generations take place weekly at the
house in the woods that Mr. Kuzminsky shares with his wife
of 40 years, Emma Podberiozkina. The two live frugally;
despite the poet's prolific output, his poetry has not paid
the bills. They have no working means of transport - the
old jeeps are nearly as old as Mr. Kuzminsky - so a
neighbor shops for them. A farmer brings fresh eggs. 

Mr. Kuzminsky invariably greets visitors to his home in the
woods dressed in nothing more than a belted bathrobe,
slippers and a silver necklace with a large cross. He is 62
and short of breath from years of chain smoking. But he
talks for hours at a stretch - about his activist youth and
disaffected middle age in Leningrad, about his tempestuous
relations with fellow poets like Allen Ginsberg and Joseph
Brodsky, and, finally, about the essential tyranny of
literary form and the symphony of a well-structured verse. 

"I'm like a sponge," he said during a meandering
afternoon-long conversation, during which he consumed a cup
of tea, a cup of a fizzy antacid drink and dozens of
cigarettes. "I collect energy and information from others
and, when necessary, I distribute it to those who need it."

He is not at all surprised that he has become the muse and
master to so many "chipmunks," as he calls the young
admirers. The same thing used to happen in Leningrad (now
St. Petersburg) before he immigrated to the United States
in 1976. And it was happening when he lived in Brighton
Beach, before he moved upstate in 1997. 

"I am teaching those chipmunks, those Americanized
monsters," he said fondly, as his wife glided silently
around him, recording his gestures and words on videotape.
"They are talented but they are ignorant." 

Mr. Kuzminsky's own poetry sometimes consists of artfully
combined strings of words or near-words culled from
different languages. His contribution to the first issue of
Magazinnik is one such piece, written partly in Russian and
partly with Latin letters, and inspired by readings about

The poem, "Kai-Kai Kanaka Tripela Meri," or "The man who
ate three white women," begins in Russian, which translates
to: "I eat. You eat." Across the page is the equivalent in
Mr. Kuzminsky's creation, which he said is based on a
Polynesian language: "mi kai-kai. yu kai-kai."
Nevertheless, when Mr. Kuzminsky reads his poems out loud,
they sound like music. 

Scattered around his house are plastic skulls, rifles, felt
boots, a Maxim machine gun, an old scuba-diving vest,
gardening catalogs, a Lenin ashtray, a red tarboosh and a
battered teddy bear that Mr. Kuzminsky says he was given as
a child during the siege of Leningrad. His shelves are
crammed with books, including the anthology of banned
Russian poets that he compiled in part from memory when he
first came to the United States. 

The seat of one old wooden chair has been replaced with a
plaster cast of a naked woman, the contribution of one of
the rotating weekend guests. "Sit," Mrs. Podberiozkina said
at one point, motioning to the chair. "It's art, but you
can sit." 

Mr. Kuzminsky said he had despaired of seeing many of his
cheerful young "chipmunks" find the dark part of themselves
that inspires good poetry. "A happy poet is not a good
poet," he said. 

Many of them, he added, also mistakenly try to reach an
American audience with their poetry and art. "I tried to
deal with the natives in the beginning," Mr. Kuzminsky
said. "But the natives didn't need me." 

That is why he pushed the young people to forgo the
English-Russian magazine, Koja, that they started a few
years ago and start an all-Russian art magazine. "They were
ashamed and afraid of their Russian language skills," Mr.
Kuzminsky recalled. "But I said, O.K., make mistakes. It
doesn't matter." 

A lot of him has rubbed off on the young people. The old
poet is a presence in their gatherings, even when he is not
physically there. 

The Kuzminsky circle introduced Magazinnik to the world (in
print and at in mid-March with a party
at an East Village bar thick with cigarette smoke. Video
screens along the wall showed shots of Mr. Kuzminsky,
edited to make him endlessly jab at the same word like a
woodpecker, along with stylized Bollywood movie clips. 

Dmitry Romendik, editor of the new magazine, appeared in a
long purple caftan, Central Asian beanie and sunglasses.
Mr. Satanovsky read his poems in thick goggles reminiscent
of those worn by the cartoon Rocky, of Rocky and

Another poet insisted on doing his reading while seated on
a toilet in the bar. A ponytailed Brooklyn cabdriver who
plays jazz tuba improvised a duet with a Russian opera
singer wrapped in a black feather boa. 

The young poets and artists said they hoped to mine the
artistic possibilities of their dual identities as Russians
and Americans. "The idea is to stay oppositional," said
Zhenya Plechkina, the design editor of the magazine. "To be
avant-garde is to move things forward. And New York - it's
about renovating things, about pushing things further." In
that vein, she admires the American Beat poets of the
1950's as much as the original Russian avant-garde artists
of the previous century. 

Back in the Catskills, though, Mr. Kuzminsky has his
doubts. In his experience, he said, Russian immigrants
cannot, and maybe should not, meld their two identities. In
his view, there are, sadly, just two choices. 

"Some people come and they try to adjust, to become
Americans - like my Americanized monsters," he said. "And
others come and remain forever outsiders."

For information on advertising in e-mail newsletters
or other creative advertising opportunities with The
New York Times on the Web, please contact
[EMAIL PROTECTED] or visit our online media
kit at

For general information about, write to 

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

Reply via email to