Poetry News

In a New York School Way: Noel Black Reads Igor Kholin's Diaries & Poems

By Harriet Staff
Igor Kholin, Kholin 66, cover

For Hyperallergic, poet and writer Noel Black takes on the "endlessly amusing" writings of Soviet poet Igor Kholin (1920–1999), whose book, Kholin 66: Diaries and Poems, was published last spring by Ugly Duckling Presse. "Like his New York School contemporaries in the US (about whom he was almost certainly unaware), Kholin’s diaries and poems seem to draw much of their energy from the gossip and shit-talking of an inwardly looking coterie that had no real audience outside their own circle," writes Black. More:

...Cut off from publishing because they didn’t and wouldn’t adhere to the state’s heroic Socialist Realist conventions of art and poetry, even in post-thaw, pre-Glasnost Russia, they traded manuscripts in samizdat, much in the same way New York School poets outside academia exchanged mimeos and self-published pamphlets. James Schuyler’s diaries and diaristic poems, Aram Saroyan’s minimalist concretions, and Ted Berrigan’s affectionate takedowns of his friends all come to mind. But there’s something even more charmingly flat and brutish in Kholin’s writing. From August 22, 1966:

We talked about Sapgir’s poems. A lot. Kropivnitsky only acknowledges his early work, which is excessively literary, contrived, overly romantic, and all riddled with banalities like the face of a pockmarked crone. Although it definitely shows some talent.

It’s hard not to laugh at the insecure certainty in these assessments of his friends, especially considering Kholin was a 2nd-grade dropout and didn’t even take up poetry until he left the army after WWII. As Shayevich and Morse note in their introduction, “he barely survived … a bullet that grazed the corner of lips came out his back. He wore his scar as a permanent smirk, a wound that seemed to shape his voice.” And you can hear that smirk throughout. From September 2, 1966:

Sapgir has developed yet another stage of drunkenness. Reading poetry. We recall the three previous stages. One: kisses ladies’ hands; two: I’m a genius; three: talks shit about everyone; and now there’s poetry, too, a drifting stage.

Soaked in vodka, bad sex, misogyny, and self-deprecation, the diaries alone are a fascinating time capsule...

Read the full review at Hyperallergic.

Originally Published: February 7th, 2018