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Yuli Gugolev was born in 1964 in Moscow. He is a translator and the author of two books of poetry: Polnoe. Sobranie sochineniy [Complete Works] (Moscow: OGI, 2000) and Komandirovochnye[…]

In Russia is a poet more than a poet?

Question: How have Russian attitudes toward poetry changed?


Yuli Gugolev: I think that whether it’s relation or attitude, to the poetry, has changed. Now, it’s different. But it’s difficult for me to compare it to Pushkin’s time. I’d rather compare it with ‘60s of last century, 20th Century, because at that time, poetry in Russia wasn’t poetry in itself. Maybe, those of your readers, I don't know, part of the audience, who read in Russian, they remember this fabulous line by Yevtushenko [?], poet in Russia is more than a poet. Or the poet in Russia, I don't know.

And I remember that generations were fascinated with this expression. But in a sense, it’s quite silly, because a carrot in Russia more than a carrot. Or I don't know, a bread in Russia more than bread, and the star in Russia more than the star east. So to date, poetry is not more than poetry should be. Probably, it’s first fear [?] enduring [?] whole Russian history, when poetry occupies its own place. Quite modest, I guess. Like, in different culture, it is. So from my point of view it’s normal, because one poet stands on the stadium, and the crowds shout, like, I don't know, they look at the gladiator. It’s strange situation, because, probably, it’s gladiator, not a poet.


Question: Is this because of a less repressive regime?


Yuli Gugolev: In a sense, yes. Well, it happens because poetry today shouldn’t bears [?] not its own load. As I said, it shouldn’t substitute free newspapers, as it could be free, in general. It shouldn’t, how do you say it, entertain people. It shouldn’t talk about, I don't know, something not illegal, but something forbidden-- no. It has to do it’s own job.

Wow. Probably, at least, as far as I could suggest, the main aim go, I don't know. And duty of poetry is to figure out what poetry is. In practical way, it is searching of the language, always. Each poetry, in progress, I mean, each poetry, the poet is working on, it is part of these general and quite ambitious search of the language which give [?] maybe, in case of success. And thiscould give to the poet, him/herself, and to the audience, possibility to stand, be closer to the understanding or suggestion what the poetry is.


Question: Does poetry risk reverting back to an unnatural social stature?


Yuli Gugolev: Probably, I wouldn’t describe the situation like this. Because today, in today’s Russia, the poets aren’t so dangerous for those who keep power in their hands. So it is with one hand. With the other hand, those who have power in their hands, they understand that there are many of much more effective ways of moderation of the relations with people, and people of art, as well. And it’s not so necessary to repress people. So unfortunately, I cannot answer directly to your question, as you asked me. So I don't think that the poetry will-- in 10 or 15 years, the poetry will be the only possibility to say the truth to people. No. There are different institutions. And not only poetry develops, everything is developing.

Recorded on: March 4, 2008