New Series No. 20 - 2002
How we built the tower - "The Vavilon project" (www.vavilon.ru)
The project, in different forms, existed for over a decade. Only very few such projects in contemporary Russian artistic life can boast of such a span. What is the reason for this? I think it’s because Vavilon is open to everybody. It is constantly striving to expand, to seek out new participants. Therefore, at different stages, the leading positions are occupied by different authors. Besides aesthetic pluralism, the desire to gather under one “roof” the heirs to different aesthetic traditions has fostered a considerable potential development and mutual enrichment. This has given Vavilon an enormous advantage in respect to other groups, which from the start focused on participants of a similar poetics.
Vavilon was begun in early 1989 by five writers: the poets Vyacheslav Gavrilov, Vadim Kalinin, Stanislav L’vovsky, Dmitry Kuzmin, and the prose writer Artem Kuftin. The oldest of them, myself, was twenty years old and the youngest, Gavrilov and Kalinin, were not yet sixteen. I’d often dreamt of such a group, most of all as a setting for creative communication and all through 1988 I’d been drifting from one literary locus to another, looking for like spirits.
The name “Vavilon” [Babylon] was chosen by secret ballot from
three proposals (mine being “Escape”) . . . There is no direct allusion to the Scriptures, even less so to the then-unread Borges, but rather to Boris Grebenshchikov (a Russian pop star) for whom Vavilon was a potent image.
Babylon is a city like any other
No need to be sad about it:
If you walk, we walk in the same direction –
Because there is no other direction.
This was our formula for aesthetic pluralism.
I produced the magazine on a typewriter and Vadim Kalinin, poet,
artist and rock-musician and now a prose-writer, designed the cover. Apart from poetry and prose, we had two main sections: In “From the well-forgotten past” we published items from poetry collections of the first two decades of the twentieth century (Komarosky, Shkapskaya, Piast, Bobrov). In “The Peak” (“a corner for graphomania”) we published the best of Soviet poetry.
In spring 1999, we announced no more nor less than an All-Soviet
Competition for young poets, placed an ad in several newspapers,
received, apart from the usual rubbish, works by some sixty writers.
This material was passed on to our jury. We invited Kushner, Levitansky, Krivulin, Bunimovich, Zhdanov and Aronov to be the judges. That’s how we conceived of the poetry spectrum. Polina Barskova from St Petersburg topped the list. Eight years later she also won the TENETA Internet literary prize.
The crowning event of this Festival was a reading by all the finalists,
which took place 1-3 November, 1991. This was a miraculous happening in the post-Soviet context. I simply approached the Cultural Committee of the Supreme Soviet and the Minister Mikhail Seslavinsky issued instructions for the necessary funds to be made available to us. Everybody remembers this Festival for its celebratory atmosphere.
During the Festival the establishment of a Union of Young Writers, Vavilon, was announced. This organization potentially united all of literary youth; we even registered it with the Ministry of Justice.
The next important event in the history of Vavilon is the transition from samizdat to typographical publication. In 1992, the first publication of the magazine Vavilon took place, drawing largely on material gathered for the Festival. In samizdat we published sixteen issues and more than forty young writers and poets . . . The problem was the subsidy. Help as usual came from abroad. A few years earlier, at a conference dedicated to Brodsky in St Petersburg, I had met the well known scholar Valentina Polukhina, who lives in England. I complained about the lack of funds and she simply sent me $30 with which we were able to publish two collections of poetry: by Zviagintsev and by Barskova. The publishing house we established was called ARGO-RISK. In the six years of its existence it published some twelve books by young poets, seven issues of Vavilon (140 writers). Since 1994, ARGO-RISK has published books by well-known authors of the older generation: Sapgir, Aizenberg, Prigov, Rubinshtein, Krivulin, Kekova . . .
In 1994, a second festival of young poetry took place with seventy
participants. But we didn’t have any new stars. This forced us to
consider other channels of information. In September 1997, Vavilon
opened its own site on the Internet (www.vavilon.ru). By February 2001, Vavilon had 98 pages dedicated to contemporary writers, beginning with the oldest: Satunovsky, Sapgir, Sergeev, Blazhenny, and Rein.
Another important part of Vavilon’s activities today is the literary
club Avtornik, which opened in the autumn of 1997. This is not
exclusively a club for young authors, but an attempt to represent the
whole of contemporary Russian literature, as seen through the eyes of the younger generation.
What awaits Vavilon in the future? Hard to say. It depends on the
new generation of eighteen-year-old writers: their literary interests and opinions etc. From the heights of my thirty years, it is impossible for me to be aware of all the shades. So, in March 1999, when we celebrated Vavilon’s tenth anniversary, I handed the direction over to the twentytwo- year-old poet and prose writer, Danil Davydov.
Excerpted from Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, No. 48, (2), 2001
[Translated by Daniel Weissbort]
Translated by Daniel Weissbort
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The