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Saturday, April 21 2001
Volume 01 : Number 214

In this issue:

-Kuzmin and Antinous
-More on Kuzmin
-Quote of the Day

From: "Ben Boxer"
Subject: Kuzmin and Antinous

Mikhail Kuzmin, born in 1875, is the first major figure in gay literature in Russia. He was a symbolist poet, prose writer, and playwright. He came from provincial nobility, and at an early age recognized and accepted his homosexuality. His first love, Chicherin, was a classmate who later became a great Soviet statesmen.

Openly gay, Kuzmin wrote the first celebrations of gay themes in Russian literature, and the first Russian coming-out novel, "Wings" (1907). "Wings" tells the story of Vanya, a young man from the provinces who admires an older man without fully understanding the intensity of his feelings toward him. One day, he discovers that the man is having an affair with a young male attendant at the local sauna. In horror, Vanya runs away and tries to forget him, but, during a trip to Italy, he encounters him again and suddenly realizes that from the beginning what he felt was love. They become intimate and continue their travels together.

"Wings" raised a storm of controversy when it appeared. One critic wrote: "It is true that such practices occur in the Caucases [sic] and in certain aristocratic circles in our large cities. But no one before has dared publicize this unnatural vice." In "Literature and Revolution," Leon Trotsky---later purged from the Soviet leadership, exiled, and then assassinated by a Stalinist agent in Mexico City---took Kuzmin personally to task, calling his writings "decadent, bourgeois, and unworthy of Soviet society."

Even so, in 1928 Kuzmin was able to organize a public reading of his poetry in Leningrad. Hundreds of admirers attended, including many gay people otherwise closeted under the strictures of Soviet rule. Claiming him as their own, they literally covered him with flowers.

In 1936, on the eve of the Stalinist purges, Kuzmin died at the age of 61, perhaps saved by death from the indignity of imprisonment in one of the labor camps in Siberia where so many openly gay people finished out their lives in misery and despair.

As are so many of us, Kuzmin was a devoted admirer of ancient Hellenic culture which allowed the homosexual his rightful place in society. I share with you the following Kuzmin poem from the "Alexandrian Songs." It never fails to bring tears to my eyes:

(translated by Michael Green)

Three times I saw him face to face.
The first time was in the gardens--
I had been sent to fetch food for my comrades,
and to make the journey shorter
I took the path by the palace wing;
suddenly I caught the tremor of strings,
and, being tall of stature,
I peered through the broad window and saw
he was sitting alone and sad,
his slender fingers idly plucking the strings of a lyre;
a white dog
lay silent at his feet,
and only the fountain's splashing
mingled with the music.
Sensing my gaze,
he put down his lyre
and lifted his lowered face.
Magic to me his beauty
and his silence in the empty room,
in the noontide stillness.
Crossing myself, I ran away in fear,
away from the window . . .
Later, on guard duty at Lochias,
I was standing in the passage
leading to the quarters of the imperial astrologer.
The moon cast a bright square on the floor,
and the copper buckles of my sandals
as I trod the patch of brightness.
Hearing footsteps,
I halted.
From the inner chamber,
a slave bearing a torch before them,
three men came forth,
he being one.
He was pale,
but it seemed to me
that the room was lit
not by the torch, but by his countenance.
As he passed, he glanced at me
and said, "I've seen you before, my friend,"
and withdrew to the astrologer's quarters.
Long after his white robes were lost to view
and the torch had been swallowed in darkness,
I stood there, not moving, not breathing,
and afterwards in the barracks,
feeling Martius, who slept next to me,
touch my hand in his usual way,
I pretended to be asleep.
And then one evening
we met again.
We were bathing
near the tents of Hadrian's camp,
when suddenly a cry went up.
We ran, but it was too late.
Dragged from the water, the body
lay on the sand,
and that same unearthly face,
the face of a magician,
stared with wide-open eyes.
Still far off, the Emperor was hurrying toward us,
shaken by the grievous tidings;
but I stood seeing nothing,
not feeling tears unknown to me since childhood
running down my cheeks.
All night I whispered prayers, raving of my native Asia, of Nicomedia,
and angel voices sang:
A new god
is given unto men!"

(Antinous---ca. 11 1-130 A.D.---was the beautiful Bithynian youth, lover of Roman Emperor Hadrian. He drowned in the River Nile in Egypt, whether by accident or self-sacrifice is not known, to purchase his lover's health. Hadrian deified him and his statues were disseminated throughout the ancient world.)
From: "Ben Boxer"
Subject: More on Kuzmin

There is conflict about Kuzmin's date of birth. Most accepted is the year 1875, but others claim it is 1872. His full name is Mikhail Alekseyevich Kuzmin, the middle name signifying that he was the son of Aleksander Kuzmin. He was born in Saratov, near Yaroslavl, Russia, and died on March 1, 1936, in Leningrad. He was a Russian writer, playwright, and poet.

He developed an interest in music and the theatre through attending operettas in Saratov. In 1891, he became a member of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's music composition class at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he completed three years of a seven-year course. At the same time, he became fluent in German and Italian.

In 1895, he accompanied his mother to Egypt and settled in Alexandria until early in 1896. In March 1897 he went to Italy.

Kuzmin had a childhood friend Georgy Vasilevich Chicherin (1872-1936) who was his own age and was also a self-accepting gay. In 1904 Chicherin introduced Kuzmin to Mir iskoustva (The World of Art), which was an artistic circle centered mainly on Sergei Diaghilev, their contemporary. (See List Digest 178, March 2001.) The Mir iskoustva was attractive to Kuzmin because of its large gay membership and its devotion to dandyism. (See List Digest 180.) Georgy Chicherin went on to become Lenin's foreign minister in 1918.

Kuzmin was also a frequent resident of Vyacheslav Ivanov's apartment, which was called the "Tower" and was a major center of literary activity in St. Petersburg from 1905 to 1907.

In 1905 Kuzmin's first published works appeared in "Zelenyi sbornik," ("Green Miscellany") including the homosexual play "Istoriia rytsaria d'Alessio," ("The History of the Knight d'Alessio"). The Moscow Symbolist Valeri Bryusov (1873-1924) published twelve of his "Aleksandriiskie pesni," ("Alexandrian Songs"), from which collection you read his poem "Antinous" earlier today. His novel "Kril'ya," ("Wings"), in the journal Vesy, (The Scales, 1904-1909).

The songs reflect his experiences in Alexandria and deal with the love for young men, as described by various male and female narrators. The ambiance of Italy pervades the novel which is mainly autobiographical and narrates the relationship between the adolescent Vanya and the older, urbane Larion Dmitrievich Stroop who helps the younger man acknowledge and accept his gayness. "Kril'ya" was the first work in Russian literature with an explicit homosexual theme and earned Mikhail Kuzmin the sobriquet the 'northern Oscar Wilde'.

In 1910 Kuzmin met his first major love, the poet Vsevolod Knyazev, who committed suicide in 1913. Kuzmin met the poet Yury Yurkin, and they lived together for two years in Yurkin's mother's home. They were then joined for a short while by Yurkin's wife, Olga Arbenina.

When the Communist government took power in 1917 Kuzmin sat on the Praesidium of the Association of Artists in Petrograd along with other authors such as Alexander Blok (1880-1921) and Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930). Mikhail Kuzmin also worked as an official translator under Maxim Gorky (1868-1936). In 1918 he helped found the daily Zhizn iskuostva, (The Life of Art) and worked as one of its editors with Viktor Skhlovsky (1893-1984).

Kuzmin's writing fell out of favor with the Communists, and Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) declared in his "Literature and Revolution," (1924), that his books were disreputable and useless. His poem sequence of 1929, "Forel' razbivaet led," ("The Trout Breaks the Ice") symbolizes one man's idealized, and ultimately reciprocated, love for another. Vsevolod Knyazev appears in it as the 'stripling with a bullet through his brain', and Yury Yurkin appears as Mister Dorian, an allusion to Oscar Wilde's novel, "The Picture of Dorian Gray." In 1934 same-sex relationships were criminalized in the Soviet Union. Kuzmin died of pneumonia in 1936. Two years later Yury Yurkin and many other writers were arrested and shot under the Stalinist regime. Others were sent to Siberian labor camps.

The first officially registered lesbian and gay organization in Russia was called "Krylya" after Mikhail Kuzmin's novel of 1906. Attached are the front and back covers of Russia's leading gay magazine, Out of the Blue.
From: "Ben Boxer"
Subject: Quote of the Day

George Villiers, son of the first Duke of Buckingham, said of King Charles II, a horny womanizer who screwed every female in sight, from parlorrmaids to duchesses: "A king is supposed to be the father of his people, and Charles certainly was father to a good many of them." Charles II was the grandson of gay King James, of the King James Version, whom we have met before.
From: "David Cantu"
Subject: Jokes

Follow That Man...

A man walks into a pharmacy and asks for a pack of condoms. As soon as he has paid for them, the man starts laughing and walks out.

The next day, the same performance, with the man walking out laughing. This continues for a week. The pharmacist thinks this odd and asks his assistant to follow him next time he purchases condoms.

Sure enough, he comes into the store the next day, repeating his strange actions once more.

The assistant duly follows. Half an hour later, he returns.

"So did you follow him?"

"I did."

"And...? Where did he go?"

"Over to your house..." ****
Mysterious Roses...

Barney Smith goes to his doctor, complaining of rectal discomfort.

The doctor, noticing that he has a string hanging out of his ass, says: "This is most unusual. I don't know what to make of it. Perhaps I should just pull the string and see what happens."

The learned doctor proceeded to pull the string. He pulled and pulled, and out came a dozen long-stemmed American Beauty roses.

"My God!" exclaimed the doctor. "I've never seen anything like this before! Where do you suppose they came from?"

Barney replied, "I don't have any idea... Is there a card?"

End of silverfoxesclub-digest V1 #214