When writing becomes therapy

Dmitry Bykov is a larger-than-life figure in so many ways. He is a big man and his personality is immense; his unruly hair and casual T-shirts contrast delightfully with his analytical mind and phenomenal memory. As part of the Slovo Festival of Russian Literature, he captivated a crowded, London audience this week with a bravura performance, reciting poetry, cracking jokes and engaging in a relaxed, but impassioned interview.

Bykov has won numerous prizes for his novels and biographies, including the National Bestseller and Big Book awards for “Boris Pasternak” (2005). He is also a teacher, journalist, TV and radio presenter, but he is currently best known for his Citizen Poet project, involving satirical poetry on contemporary themes in the styles of different Russian writers. Most people have come to the sold-out “Evening with Dmitry Bykov” to see the co-creator of Citizen Poet and its new successor, Gospodin Khoroshi (Mr. Good).
“I’m not sure if I’m a big fan of his prose-writing,” said Yelena Durden-Smith, who was in the audience, “but he is a very skilled versifier. I think this is his prime area.” She enthusiastically recounted the satirical targets of the latest show, which included the Pope, Hugo Chavez and – at one point – a letter from Silvio Berlusconi to Vladimir Putin’s dog, Koni, written in the style of the lyrical poet, Sergei Yesenin.
After a series of virtuoso recitations of his own pastiche-poetry whose literary inspirations include Lermontov, Pasternak, Pushkin and Blok, Bykov talked about his extensive travels across Russia. “The provinces are more radicalized than Moscow,” he said. “They are hungrier, angrier and less subject to TV propaganda.”
As a writer with a reputation for being outspoken, Bykov accepts his controversial status with equanimity: “Some people love me; some people hate me,” he said. “When I die, they will hang me from my tongue … No one in Russia can be loved universally.”
One of the recurring themes in his work is the cyclical nature of Russian history. He sees parallels between figures in different eras, enabling him to create acute, epoch-spanning satire: “Psychologically all these characters are the same,” he added. “People play the same role and history repeats itself. We have the same play being staged over and over with different set designs.”
More here.


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