Boris Slutsky

This passage from Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s 1963 A Precocious Autobiography looks at prize culture.

A Stalin prize meant a lot: immediate and enormous reprints, photographs and enthusiastic articles in all the papers, appointment to some official post, a car off the waiting list, a flat, and possibly a dacha. So, many people didn’t care a damn whether the book that got them the prize was read or not, what they cared about was the prize. It would be wrong of me to accuse everyone of having such an attitude. Many authors wrote honestly, without an eye to the award, and got it nevertheless. But careerists were plenty.
And while the brouhaha over gold and silver medals was going on at the Writer’s Union, the splendid poet Boris Slutsky, who had managed to get only one poem published and that as far back as 1940, strode about the Moscow streets with his precise military step. Strange though it is, he was never more serene and confident than any of the nervous candidates for the prize.
Not that he had much reason to be calm. At the age of 35, he had still not been admitted to the Writer’s Union. He kept himself on what he earned by writing small items for the radio, and lived on cheap tinned food and coffee, in a tiny rented room – he had no flat. His desk drawers were stuffed with sad, bitter, grim poems, sometimes frightening like Baudelaire’s, typed and ready, but which it would have been absurd to offer to a publisher. Nevertheless Slutsky was serene. He was always surrounded by young poets and he gave them confidence in the future. Once, when I came to weep on his shirtfront because my best poems were turned dow, he quietly pulled open the drawer of his desk and showed me the pile of manuscripts inside.
“I fought the war. I’m scored all over by bullets,” he said. “I didn’t fight in order to keep these poems in my desk. But everything will change. Our day will come. All we have to do is wait for that day and have something ready for it in our desks and in our hearts. D’you see?”
I saw.

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Bad Brains In Britain

The Bad Brains did a blistering tour of Britain in 1983. Soundmaker, 21 May, 1983 reviews one of the gigs.

Bad Brains
Brannigans, Leeds

Sometimes being original, nay unique, can work against you. A black New York Rastafarian hardcore punk reggae band? You’ve got to be kidding me! Terrible memories of Pure Hell remain as a warning against facile cross-cultural fertilization of cultures, an insult to both Punk and black music.
On of the great things about the Sex Pistols was the bravado with which they mashed up their audience with the heaviest in dub before they went and played some of the most wonderful rockist white trash music to be played for years. Punk and reggae always went together, even if they were at opposite ends of the spectrum. It took 2-Tone to play music that truly stood midway between Punk and Reggae, but it did that by going BACK. Two steps forward, three steps back – great music.
It’s still possible to experience music that proves that all of these so-called “opposing” styles are merely marketing ploys, aids to help people who don’t have ears to choos the music they consume. That experience is THE BAD BRAINS. (Or is it Bad Brains – everything is in flux round here). What do you get?
You gt four black New Yorkers who know what they’re about, who play their instruments, who actually (in these jaded times) like what they play. They play punk songs, surreally short, which introduce instant chaos in front of the stage. Through these thrashes whines a guitar that screams, moans, cries, lush wild and heavy.
Is this the Small Faces circa 1966 or is this Jimi Hendrix? Is this Garageland thrash or Psychedelia? Are these obviously skillful musicians parodying the excesses of incompetent white tributes to R ‘n’ B or have they heard something in that – something they want to make themselves? I would argue the latter. The punk they play is too sharp, the explosions too lovingly honed and directed for this to be lazy satire. The singers gestures are magnificent, this is a man who has learnt from the source: anyone remember Iggy Pop?
The reggae they play – welcome respite from the adrenalin surges that surround it – is clipped, modern, militant. What Misty would sound like if they lost their woolliness, their community-centre safeness. The singer raps about the revolution (“You have to go to it – it will not come to you“) and racism, transfixing moral lessons that hark back to the revivalism of Jerry Lee Lewis, the apocalyptical poetry of Aretha’s dad (the Reverend CL Franklin), the challenge of the MC5.
The audience was stunned. So was I.

Arthur Pint

My First Baby

In 1980 Hackney Reading Centre put out a collection written by mothers, some fathers, and one friend called Each birth it comes different. It was published by Centerprise.
This poem is by Dolcy Edwards who was 43 in 1980. She’d come to England from Jamaica in 1962. She’d had 2 children in Jamaica and had another 2 in England. This poem is about her daughter Sharon who was 16 whn it was published.

The way I found out

My first baby
me having when me was 16.
Me didn’t know I was pregnant.
I have a friend.
Her name Bertha.
She older than me.
I said, “I miss my period.”
She said, “You must be pregnant.”
She said she’ll find out.
Me said, “How?”
She send me to pick three leaf –
pear leaf.
She said she was going to boil it,
and she did.
When she boil it
she give me for drink –
she said, “If you vomit, you pregnant.
If you don’t vomit, you don’t pregnant.”
And it’s true.
And I did pregnant.

Dolcy Edwards

Night Of The Murdered Poets

August 12 1952 – 21 Av 5712

Thirteen Soviet Jews convicted of espionage and treason were executed in Moscow’s Lubianika Prison. Their confessions had been extracted by torture. This group, known as “the Martyrs of the Soviet Union,” included actor Benjamin Zuskin, historian and trade union leader Josef Yuzefovitch, translator Ilya Vatenberg and his wife, Labor Zionist Chaika Vatenburg-Ostrovskaya, journalist Leon Talmy, radio editor Emilia Teumin, poets Isaac Pfeifer, David Hofstein, and Peretz Markish, children’s author Leib Kweitko, Yiddish author David Bergelson, Solomon Lozovsky, and surgeon Boris Shimeliovich. Ten engineers and industry workers were killed as well, on charges of sabotaging Soviet industry.

The Jewish Anti-Facist Committee, founded in 1942 to develop ties with American Jewry as part of the Soviet struggle against Nazi Germany. Solomon Mikhoels, senior actor in the Soviet State Yiddish theater, headed the committee, and most of those executed were his friends and associates. At the end of the war, the committee came under immediate suspicion of collusion in an international plot to overthrow the state. By 1949, the Soviets were openly hostile to all Jewish activity in view of the supposed Zionist “threat” posed by the newly founded state of Israel, and the committee was shut down.

Mikhoels had been assassinated early in 1948 in a staged road accident, and a year later most of his colleagues from the committee had been arrested. They were accused, among other things, of trying to set up a Jewish state in the Crimean peninsula. Extreme violence was used in their interrogation. Historian Joseph Yusefovitz claimed during his trial that he was hit so often and so hard that he would have admitted to being the pope’s nephew if it could have helped him. Boris Shimeliovich, who refused to plead guilty to a single charge, reckoned that he received more than two thousand blows.

The trial, held behind closed doors before a tribunal of three judges and no defense attorneys, began May 8, 1952, and ended July 18. All the accused spoke at length and were then extensively cross-examined in an attempt to trick them into incriminating their colleagues. The proceedings dragged on much longer than anticipated. The senior judge asked to re-open the investigation in view of the many internal contradictions and gaps in the testimony, but the Soviet leadership wanted a swift conclusion – execution by firing squad and confiscation of all property belonging to the convicted. Only two escaped this fate: Solomon Bergman, who fell into a coma during the trial and died in prison a few months after the others were executed; and biologist Lena Stern, whose sentence was commuted to exile due to the importance of her research.

The results of the trial were kept secret. The martyrs’ families were exiled in December 1952, remaining ignorant of their relatives’ fate until 1955, when their files were re-opened after Stalin’s death. Recognizing that all the confessions had been obtained under duress, the supreme military tribunal ruled that the accusations had no basis and closed the case.

Teenage Warning

Teenage Warning

Summer,
sweet, and sticky.
Three floors up
no nearer to G-d
but perhaps
closer to heaven.
The off season,
short sleeves,
long discomix days
with version.
Looking out the
window
at a rusting
Ford Anglia
she laughed.
It was going nowhere,
neither were we.
In nothing
but a black t-shirt,
she laughed.
Across her chest
white letters
bold in a circle:
Who killed Liddle
Angelic Upstarts.

Tim Wells