Valeri SCHERSTJANOI (Russia)
Valeri Scherstjanoi (b. 1950) – poet, sound-performer, graphic artist-scribentist. Author of a number of poetry books, and since 1983 he has been writing theoretical texts (original poet’s theory and practice of Ars Scribendi) and articles on the history of the Russian futurism in magazines, collections, literary miscellanies and anthologies. From 1994 to 1998 he was the art director of the International festival “bobeobi” (Berlin). In 1998 he published an anthology of sound poetry: Tango mit Kuehen. Anthologie der russischen Lautpoesie des 20. Jahrhunderts, where in the printed form he united and commented on the works of the Russian poets of the beginning of the century. He is acting as a free author of experimental radio performances, and also as a sound-performer, as a scribentist in the field of graphic art. For more information see the bio-bibliography of the participant.
The article has been granted especially for the present edition translated
from German by the author from: Valeri Scherstjanoj.
Tango mit Kuehen. Anthologie der russischen
Lautpoesie zu Beginn des 20 Jahrhunderts (Wien: Edition
© 1998 Valeri Scherstjanoi, Munich.
ON THE NEOLOGISTS OF RUSSIAN FUTURIST POETRY
Velimir Khlebnikov compared the languages of people of his era with the talons on the wings of ancient birds.
In his manifesto “Questions which could be discussed at the first meeting of the Asian Conference” (“Voprosi, kotorie mi mogli bi obsudit’ pri pervoj vstreche na Azijskom s’ezde”), Khlebnikov called for a “destruction of languages by laying siege to their secrets. The word will remain not for everyday usage, but for the word itself.” (1916)
Velimir Khlebnikov undertook the first attempts at the creation of new words, neologisms in the system of his so-called “layers of language,” of which there existed 20 in his creative works. “Star language,” “secret languages,” “feminine words,” “protest words,” “pan-slavic languages,” “the figure as a word” and so forth. Interestingly, the whole famous Dal’ dictionary occupies one single “layer of language.” The same is the case with “zaum” (“trans-sense language”).
Velimir Khlebnikov. Bobeobi, 1908-09
If sound poetry in Russian Futurism is talked of in the West, then instead of “sonor poetry,” “sound poetry” is referred to as “zaum,” considering that due to a lack of knowledge of the Russian language, trans-sense language is the sonorous, phonetic language of Russian futurism.
In Russian futurism all started with the creation of neologisms to “language and sound displacements.” The most elementary of the formation of neologisms, for example, by Khlebnikov is based on the joining of simple words (in sum – composites): sea+speeches= seaspeeches (morerechi), swan+marvel= swanmarvel (lebyedivo), A+mother=Amothers (Azmateri), give+secret= givcret (daina); or in Vasilij Kamensky: Ring+night= ringnight (zveninochka), bush+island= bushisland (kustostrov); or inDavid Burliuk: smile+toads= smilotoads (ulybkozhabi), corset+champagne+violins= corsetrubchampagnoviolins. More complex composites are found in the work of Vasilisk Gnedov: wet+fugitives+of+thieves+about+whip+smoothness= wetfugitivethievowhipsmoothness.
These poetic examples are reminiscent of Aleksei Kruchonykh’s famous theory of “displacement” (“teorija sdviga”). Later, in 1922, Kruchonykh spoke of so-called “sound displacement.”
But as early as the years 1906-08, Velimir Khlebnikov gave a graphic example of how to “concretely” work upon one single word. Whether we like it or not, we are reminded of his verses “Incantation by Laughter” (“Zaklyatie smekhom”) (of which there were many versions), printed by Nikolai Kul’bin in “Impressionist Studies” (“Studija impressionistov”) in 1909.
Khlebnikov’s neologisms enrich the grammar of the Russian language, the poet examined the function of each new word, and took great care about its “comprehensibility.” In 1908, four years before the rise of zaum-poetry,” Khlebnikov is to be found inventing not only neologisms, but completely new words too, which he describes as “landscapings of sounds.” In his poem “Bobeobi…,” or more correctly “Opus No. 13,” the poet compares “bobeobi” with the song of lips, “veeomi” with the song of the eyes, “pieeo” with the song of the brows, “lieeiy” with the song of the face, and “gzi-gzi-gzeo” with the song of chains. I say ‘with the song’, because the verb ‘to sing’ in Russian (in contrast to German) can be used reflexively. So “pyelis’” means they sang themselves. The accumulation of vowels in each of the invented words (o-e-o-i, e-e-o-i, i-e-e-o, i-e-e-iy) indicates to the poet, the reader, that the very verse is almost a song. It was not called an ‘opus’ for nothing.
The very word “zaum” (“çàóìü”, “trans-sense”) will then be a neologism, if we write it without a soft sign “ü”. That is, its component parts – the prefix “trans” (“za”) and the noun “sense” (“um”). Such subtleties as the differences between um (“óì”) and um’ (“óìü”) are very hard to explain to, for instance, English and German speakers, where a soft sign “ü” does not exist. It is even harder to translate into a foreign language the multiplicity of meanings of words with the “zaum” root. In Dal’s dictionary, thus, can be found: “zaumitsya, zaumnet’, zaumnichat’, zaumstvovat’,” (all ‘to transcend sense’) and “zaumniy” (a person not a language! – V.S.) and so on.
It was probably on the suggestion of David Burliuk that Aleksei Kruchonykh penned his first “zaum poem”. Which provoked such a scandal in Russian literature. And it is very likely that Kruchonykh himself did not expect the fire caused by one trans-sensual lightning flash such as “Dyr bul shchyl.” It is of no interest to us here to compare ‘dyr’ with ‘dyrka’(hole), ‘bul’ with ‘bulka’(loaf) or with ‘bulyzhnik’(cobblestone), but it would have been interesting to hear the declamation of this or similar zaum works. (On the tape released in 1995 by the Hylaea label of the State Literature Museum, Kruchonykh reads/shouts his old verse of the ‘20’s in 1951, maybe not understanding himself that his zaum had already set off on some sort of semantic line of development.)
But the poet has the right to be proud of his discovery. In 1965, on August 25th he wrote in Nikolai Nikiforov’s album (Tambov), “They are unable to translate into any European language, despite many attempts, my 1913 phonetic record of Russian speech dyr-bul-shchyl. I think I will be the only one for another 50 years. AKruch 25 VIII 65.”
At about the same time, the dadasoph Raoul Hausmann wrote the following about zaum poetry (On July 3rd 1965, is contact between Hausmann and Kruchonykh completely out of the question?!): “Zaum poetry, practised by Khlebnikov, Kruchonykh and Iliazd, is based on a popular surrealist form which includes various folklore elements. These poets differed from the Italian futurists with their interest in the idea of novelty, their creations were also not related to the phonetic research of the Dadaists.” (R. Hausmann. Introduction to the History of Sound poetry 1910-1939. From the archive of Prof. Karl Rich, presented to the author of these lines in 1985.) Hausmann’s ideas can be considered correct, if one draws distinctions between individual Russian neologists.
Velimir Khlebnikov, Aleksei Kruchonykh and Vasilij Kamensky were on the path to inventing a new concept, the neologism, which would clarify the occupation of a sound poet, as the German language Dadaists Hugo Ball, Raoul Hausmann and Kurt Schwitters had. Arguments rage till this very day on who thought up the concept of ‘Lautdichtung,’ ‘Lautdichter,’ and ‘Lautpoesie,’ although such concepts only manage to vaguely explain the work of a poet.1
But the Russian futurists also talked and wrote of concepts of the sound poet similar to the abovementioned German ones. These were neologisms in themselves: Khlebnikov’s ‘zvuchei’ and ‘zvuchmo,’ Kamensky’s ‘zvuchal’,’ and Kruchonykh’s ‘zvuchar’.’(All poss. ‘soundist.’)
Khlebnikov’s neologisms can easily be associated with the Russian words for ‘stream’ and ‘letter,’ Kamensky’s with the word for ‘sadness,’ and Kruchonykh’s with the word ‘ploughman.’ From the word ‘zvuchar’ it is not far to the word ‘rechar’ (poss. trans. ploughman of speech.)
From these neologisms, nouns denoting poetic activity can be formed: ‘zvucheynik’ (Khlebnikov), ‘zvuchalnik’ (Kamensky) and ‘zvucharnik’ (Kruchonykh).
But what is to be done with the word for “zaum” (trans-sense)? People have talked and still do of ‘zaumniki’ (trans-sensists), of ‘semantic zaum’, of phonetic (very close to the concept of sound poetry), graphic and pure zaum, and even of ‘pure neologisms.’… In his “Declaration of zaum language” (“Deklaracija zaumnogo jazika”) Aleksei Kruchonykh underlined the significance of ‘proto-sounds’ in ‘rhythmic-musical waves’. Kazimir Malevich, armed with Roman Jakobson’s ideas, spread the so-called “saund idea.” After Kruchonykh and Khlebnikov’s ‘self-sufficient word’ (“Slova kak takovogo”), the young Roman Jakobson awaited the “Declaration of the freed linguistic sound” (Deklaracija osvobozdennogo jazikovogo zvuka”). In his “Study on Phonemes” (“Edjud o fonemakh”) Aleksandr Kvyatkovsky reminded possible future poets that sounds are more than just letters, and called for the creation of new (poetic) alphabets…
Aleksandr Tufanov was most probably (along with Ilya Zdanevich, who continued his creative life in France) one of the successive neologists in the field of ‘pure’ zaum, else what other title can one give to his ‘phonic music’?
Due to the absence of recordings of the voices of Russian sound poets, we can only guess how they executed their works in performance, and whether or not these works were purely phonetic and liberated from all semantic significance…
Of such examples we know very little indeed.
1. Lautdichtung (Sound Languages) is poetry as an act and craft; Lautdichter (also Sound Languages) is the poet in the sense of a craftsman; Lautpoesie (Sound Poetry) in the elevated or general sense; Lautpoet (Sound Poet) in the elevated or general sense also.
It is interesting to note that an album with Vasilj Kandinsky’s woodcuts, printed by the Stroganov Academy bore the title “Verses without words” (“Stikhi bez slov”). In the German-speaking countries at times sound poetry is referred to as “verses without words” (the same was said by Hugo Ball, in stating that he was a pioneer of German sound poetry.)
Translated by Subhi Sherwell.Previous (Christian SCHOLZ), Next (Larry WENDT)