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by Israel Kremen

Culture Site. Live Journal.com/ August 10, 2007

This is the third Interview on Culture Site

Culture Site Interview's guest today is Boris Kushner.

Boris Kushner is a well-known mathematician who has published more than 90 works in the field of mathematics, including "Lectures: Constructive Mathematical Analysis" ( Moscow, Science Publications, 1973, English translation in 1984).
He is also a poet who has authored 6 poetry collections, a literary translator and a political writer.

He was born in 1941 in Russia, received his Doctorate Degree from Moscow University and worked in the Academy of Science.

Boris Kushner immigrated to the USA from the former Soviet Union in 1989. He is now a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown.

His Open Letter to Igor Shafarevich, concerning the notorious book "Rusophobia" by the latter, has been published by the Soviet Samizdat, as well as in Israel, Germany and the USA. The letter received a worldwide response. Poems of Boris Kushner have been published in Israel, Russia and the USA. His creative work was featured on special radio programs such as Radio REKA, Kol Israel (Israel) and Voice of America (USA).  A number of his poetry collections, articles and translations of Shakespeare's Sonnets, were published by a well-known bi-weekly Baltimore periodical "Vestnik".

All of Boris Kushner's books - "Pier of Eternity", "Echo of the Epoch", "The Frost of Time", "Insomnia of the Sun", " The Reason for Sadness", and "Poems and Translations" - are originally illustrated by Yulia Kushner, the author's daughter. Yulia's artwork was presented at a number of personal exhibits and appeared in some magazines.

Here is what Kushner's readers are saying:

   "I am amazed by the lavishness of your renaissance intellect, your creative potential and broad-mindedness."

Yakov Khelemsky, Moscow

   "The rich personality of the author, his life experience, erudition, knowledge of the world history and culture, are brought out in all their glory in his Poetry, as well as versatility of his subjects. Among lyrical characters of his Poems one can find Juliet, Othello, Ophelia, Beatrice. The Nature comes alive in his Poems, presenting the richness and beauty of human relationships... Music is one of the most important subjects of Kushner's Poetry."

I. Germanovich, NY

   "The Jewish identity is special to Boris Kushner. It is his sorrow, his hope and his pride. It is his congenial environment with its joy and sadness."

P. Efimov, Baltimore

   "In these times when long and descriptive poetry prevails, Boris Kushner speaks with a sweeping line, emotional detail, and precise formula. Each Poem is a concise and completed utterance, finishing on a highest note. Music in Kushner's World is an organic phenomenon. The Poet both pictures music by verse and competes with it, in full loyalty to the verse. A deep philosophical contemplation, united both verbally and rhythmically, develops into a theme that is clear and open to dialog."

V. Novikov, Moscow

   "I am confident that Boris Kushner is one of the greatest contemporary Poets. And, among those Jewish Russian poets who are not such only by means of their professional affiliation, but by their conscience, he is, in my opinion, the greatest one."

S. Reznik, Moscow


                                      Alexander Pushkin

                                          TO  THE  POET

                   Hark, poet! Do not prize the mob's love, I beseech you;
                   Too soon does loud praise die: discount it. Should a fool
                   Deride your verse, be calm; should the cold laughter reach you
                   Of many, of a crowd, stay firm, impassive, cool.

                   You are enthroned, a tsar; so follow lofty-minded
                   The road of freedom, lone, by thought unfettered led;
                   Perfect the fruit of toil to noble genius wed
                   And ask for no reward: within yourself you'll find it.

                   You are your own most stern judge and meant to be;
                   None will your work appraise with more severity.
                   Say, does it please you - this, your proud pen has created?

                   It does? Then let the mob against it crude declaim
                   And at your altar spit and try to douse the flame
                   And with a young imp's glee the tripod rock, elated.
                   1830                                 Translated by Irina Zheleznova

CS:  Boris Kusher, welcome to  Culture Site Interview.

Not a long time ago, my mother, who is living in NYC, called me and excitedly stated that she has just attended a Russian Poetry recital. The featured poet's name was Boris Kushner; and she has gotten a book of his Poems. As soon as my mother shared the book with me, I immediately fell in love with Boris Kushner's poetic Art.

Your Russian language is unbelievably rich; the subjects of your Poems are simple, but your thoughts are expressed with profound meaning; your rhymes are unexpectedly fresh and melodious; the rhythms of your verses are varying all the time, and sounds like a natural human speech.  The names of Kant, Plato, Halevi, Chagal, and the likes are everywhere... Your poems are dated according to the Hebrew calendar... there is a lot of references to music, musical performances, musicians' names...

One may even say of your Art what Alexander Pushkin said circa 1830 about Yevgeni Baratynsky:
"Here in Russia he is an original in that he thinks. He would be an original anywhere for that matter, for his thinking is according to his own lights, true and independent, while his emotions run strong and deep."

When I feel lonely or depressed, I take your book in my hands and start reading your poems, and, miraculously, a close friend is sitting next to me, speaking from his heart about everything what is closed to my own thoughts and feelings, my own aural and visual experience, my own inspiration and aspiration.

In short, Boris Kushner's Poems are so magnificent, that I couldn't resist the temptation to meet him personally. And, upon making my acquaitance with this kind, humble, and highly gifted and intelligent man, I couldn't miss a chance to introduce Boris Kushner to all of my friends and this site's readers.
BK: Dear Dr. Kremen, thank you for this opportunity to talk to you. I happened to listen to your chamber music, and I was deeply impressed by your talant. Especially, I want to emphasize the Jewishness of your music and rare ability to write clearly, without throwing out of the window the melodic source - and all of it is within the framework of entirely modern idiom. What a contrast with a fashionable "academic" contemporary music in Universities, an amorpous and faceless one, of which I was astonished to hear at some concerts of usually splendid Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. A few words on this subject one may find in my essay "The Doctors of the Poetry" (in Russian) at the site: http://berkovich-zametki.com/Nomer48/Kushner1.htm, where, among other things, I am discussing a sister of "academic" music - the modern "academic" poetry in Universities.

CS: Mr. Kushner, please share with us, when did you start to write poetry, and what can you tell us about the differences between your early work and the more recent verse?

After publishing 6 books of poetry, wonderful and exciting essays about Creators of Music Masterpieces and their relationship, and book reviews intended to fight the pseudo-academic anti-Semitism, do you know when and where we should be expecting your next collection of poetry and more literary essays to come out, either in Russian or in English?

BK: I would like to take advantage of my literary autobiography, written by request of Vladimir Batchev, a well-known writer and publisher. Hopefully, it will be published in similar-themed essay compilation in Germany, in the near future.
Let's go back to your question.

I recall my first rhyming experiments starting during the hated "dead hour" in my kindergarden. Later, at the scout camp, these mandatory naps became a killer for me. To lie still for the whole hour in middle of the day, when the grass is green, and the sun shines high! I vividly remember a swallow bumping into our dormitory's  window. I am not sure if mine was a psychological problem of some kind,but the restlessness I felt was enormous. So, as I was lying in bed, looking up at the ceiling, I began composing poetry. These episodes later flourushed into a cock-and-bull story about my favorite elementary school teacher, which caused my mother certain embarrassment.

Much later, somewhere in the 7th grade, one of my friends and I, independently published a newspaper we called "Herald". I wrote a poem (in fact, the whole newspaper issue consisted of this one long poem ), and my friend provided illustrations. The subject of the poem was to criticize our teacher.

Our unforgettable Natalia  Yevgenyevna, G-d rest her soul, was a very kind woman. She loved literature, and did her best to instill this love in us.

The poem also criticized some of my classmates. Although written with great deal of gentle irony, it didn't offend anyone. Somehow, I still remember the "poisoned arrow" I sent into one girl, Natasha Makarenko, who was a very touchy and temperamental person: "Jumping up, as if on needles,/ she did spin a web of judgments,/ throwing both truth and slander/ onto the mighty high Olympus."

The Olympus in question was again Natalia Yevgenyevna, but what I meant as far as truth and slander, totally escapes me now. Where are you now, Natasha?

But back then, in 1956 or whereabouts, Natalia Yevgenyevna had read our newspaper with obvious pleasure, and so has our school's Assistant Principal. However, upon reading it, she took the newspaper down. Apparently, it was an attack on Communist Party's monopoly on all publications, albeit it was only us, seven-graders, who have published the paper. It could have easily become a political issue. Things like that were considered dangerous in the USSR.

Our Assistant Principal, who seemed ancient to me then (I think she was 45), once  acted heroically. The longer I live, the more grateful I become to her in light of that one act.

It happened much earlier, before our newspaper business. That morning, there was a radio announcement concerning the "exposure of medical doctors' conspiracy." Even today, I can still hear a solemn voice in my head, probably by Levitan's, who was a well-known announcer. I wonder what he felt as he read his statement...

Being just 12, and I didn't really understand what was going on, I just felt the cold somewhere in my spine. Our whole school buzzed with excitement. The bell rang. Our Assistant Principal entered the classroom... What did she teach that year? Russian Grammar, most likely.

"All of it was done by the Jews!" someone shouted behind her.
"Everybody can be blamed, the Jews and the Russians alike. Enough!
Take out your notebooks!

Thank you, Nina Aleksandrovna, that was some grammar lesson, indeed.
A lesson in moral grammar, more like it. And, in my opinion, it was the most valuable lesson coming from a teacher; though, a very dangerous one for her.

While in elementary and middle school, some of my poems were written with the speed of a pre-rehearsed text. More serious verse appeared later, at the end of my high school years and in college. There were not too many of them, and they lived only in my head, not on paper. I had a photographic memory in my youth, it seemed.

1987 marked a special new chapter in my life. It was then when when I have translated Shakespeare's Sonnets. I attempted to have a go at it from time to time, and every time I did so was by request of my good friend, Vera  Svetchinskaya, G-d rest her soul.  As a poet, owe her a great deal.
Altogether, I translated 12 Sonnets, all chosen by Vera. Just prior to my immigrating to the USA, they were published by the Baltimore's magazine "Herald". My translations were wonderfully illustrated by a remarkable painter, Vladimir Syomin, Vera's dear friend. The publication was dedicated to her memory.

Parting with Russia, the actual essential, most coveted wish come true, turned out to be a very beneficial one. The poems started coming to me every day.

There were the days when I composed multiple poems, which absolutely differed in mood, meter, metaphor, verse. I never actually composed my poems sitting at the desk. They came to me on the road - in trains, plains, cars (as most Americans, I spend a lot of time in my car.)

While making daily roundtrips to and from work, crossing the field and walking along the forest edge, I composed many poems. A lot of my autumnal ones were conjured by my favorite places: the Rachel Hill, the forest just beyond the University buildings.

Tthis forest, donated to the University by a coal company, gave home to deers and squirrels, chipmunks and wild turkeys. One of my colleagues encountered a bear while skiing. They both froze in horror and surprise, and then took off in opposite directions. Thank God for that! Here, in the long forest clearing, I wrote my autumnal poems, each near a bush, a tree, or a stone. Each of these nature objects can claim their own set of verse!

There are other, chronologically longer poetic cycles, connected to my other favorite places. For instance Lake Arthur, located about 70 kilometers north of Pittsburgh, inspired a cycle called "Songs of the Lake".

Once, while driving around Lake Arthur, I composed 12 short poems. At one point, four poems appeared in my head at once, in counterpoint with each other, and I was scared I were becaming insane.

I fell in love with Pittsburgh, a city situated at the mouth of three major rivers, instantly and forever... A lot of my poems were inspired by this city.

Generally speeking, my poetic writing grew to take awfully immense proportions. My first book of poems was complied and published in 1983 in Moscow, by my relatives and my dear friends, Irina Vorobyova and Vasily Malinovsky.

The other 5 big books of my poetry were published in the USA, and many selected poems, articles and essays appeared in different magazines.

I would not really distinguish between my Russian and American poems. My Jewish outlook did not change. I finally became emancipated. To re-phrase a famous aphorism of George Kantor, the essence of every creative activity is its free expression.

It is exactly that kind of inner and outer freedom I lacked in stepmother-Russia (and please, God, bless her with all Your might, just without me in the picture.)

New sounds and landscapes around me, new energy of life if you will: all of it filled and colored my poems. Of course, it's not up to me to analyze them.

A significant part of my creative energy was dedicated to writing essays. I started doing so in Moscow, just before I left Russia. Vera Svetchinskaya insisted I write an Open Letter to Shafarevich, i.e., a review of his book "Russophobia."

The Open Letter was disseminated in Samizdat, a Soviet underground manuscript publication.

Later it was often published, and, much to my surprise, became quite a sensation. It was just the beginning. This subject of anti-Semitism was re-introduced in my other, more significant, American essays. Needless to say, I would have preferred to write essays about music and mathematics, instead of that sticky subject.

Lately I prefer to have web publications to the print media. The Internet takes away all barriers and provides a unique opportunity to share your thoughts with the widest and often unexpected audience.

I have established creative cooperation with the Russian internet-magazine "Notes of Jewish History"/ "The Jewish Olden Times". It is edited by a distinguished writer and editor, Yevgeny Berkovich (http://berkovich-zametki.com).

By clicking on "knizhni kiosk" (book kiosk) tab, one can find a complete list of authors who have published on the site.

I am also happy that Russian magazines, "The Ring A" and "Literature News", publish my poems as well.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(no subject) - milzierifo - Jan. 28th, 2012 05:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 28th, 2012 08:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Интересный блог
read Parts 2 & 3...
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


portrait 2015
Israel Kremen

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