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Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine Features: Ukrainian Literary Avant-Garde (1910s-1920s)

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Marko R. Stech (Toronto)

October, 2013

Among the most dynamic and interesting, though often underrated, trends in the Ukrainian literature of the 1910s and 1920s were the urban-oriented, antitraditional, avant-garde movements such as futurism and constructivism. The Ukrainian futurism was intruduced in 1914 by Mykhailo Semenko whose writing abounded with city-life themes and subjects inspired by the Italian futurist Filippo Marinetti, and whose poetry was characterized by experimentation with form and language which attempted to shock the reader. As an active proponent of futurism, Semenko founded several Ukrainian futurist organizations and journals: Fliamingo (1919–21), ASPANFUT (Association of Panfuturists, 1921–4), and, after moving to Kharkiv from Kyiv, Nova Generatsiia (1927–30). A number of talented poets and prose writers belonged to the futurist group: Geo Shkurupii, Oleksa Vlyzko, Mykola Skuba, and the theoretician Oleksii Poltoratsky. The eminent poet Mykola Bazhan and the greatest poet of the Ukrainian revolutionary period, Pavlo Tychyna, were for some time influenced by futurism and utilized some of its ideas in their work. The poet Valeriian Polishchuk was closely associated with futurism and the avant-garde, on the basis of which he tried to build his own movement of ‘dynamic spiralism.’ The futurists were never as prominent in the Ukrainian literature of their time as the symbolists or Neoclassicists, who never severed their ties with the past. Yet the futurists succeeded in reinvigorating poetry by introducing fresh themes and forms and above all by their experimentation. The group Nova Generatsiia propagated new Western European trends such as Dadaism and surrealism, although this practice conflicted with its journal’s official crude sociological declarations. The majority of futurist writers and poets, including Semenko, Shkurupii, and Polishchuk, were executed for ‘nationalism’ during the Stalinist terror of the 1930s…

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FUTURISM. Art movement that originated in Italy in 1909. Its founder is considered to be Filippo Marinetti, whose main objective was to destroy old art forms, particularly realism and classicism, the dominant trends of the 19th century. Cubism still recognized a certain convention, while futurism rejected all accepted forms and gave individualism free reign. In painting this freedom led to fantastic forms and colors, and in literature, especially poetry, to abstruse language (zaumna mova) consisting of sound-words that often had no meaning. Futurism sought to transmit the ideas and spirit of the future technological and cosmopolitan society, which was opposed to the old conservative esthetic sensibility of the peasants and petite bourgeoisie. Hence, urban and industrial themes were typical of this movement. Futurism did not receive much sympathy in Ukraine before the First World War. Such works as Alexander Archipenko’sDance or Medrano I (1912) were produced in Paris and were known in Ukraine only from reproductions. In the fine arts, besides Archipenko, who left Ukraine in 1906, the following artists were closely associated with futurism of the constructivist rather than the anarchist bent (the so-called cubo-futurism): Alexandra Ekster, Oleksander Bohomazov, Anatol Petrytsky, Kazimir Malevich, and others. The first collection of Ukrainian futurist poetry was published by Mykhailo Semenko in 1914…

Semenko Mykhailo

SEMENKO, MYKHAILO, b 31 December 1892 in Kybyntsi, Myrhorod county, Poltava gubernia, d (executed) 23 October 1937. Poet, writer, and founder and theoretician of Ukrainian futurism. Semenko’s first poetry collection, Preludes (1913), shows the influence of the modernist poets of the journal Ukraïns’ka khata. However, in the collections that followed, such as Kverofuturyzm (Quero-Futurism, 1914), he initiated Ukrainian ‘quero-futurism,’ or the art of searching. He embraced urban themes and caused a scandal by adamantly rejecting the poetry of Taras Shevchenko. In 1919 Semenko proclaimed the beginning of ‘revolutionary futurism’ and published his first ‘revolutionary futurist’ poems. In 1920 he organized the Shock Brigade of Futurist Poets, later called the Association of Panfuturists (Aspanfut), which published its credo and manifestos in the almanac Semafor u maibutnie (Semaphores into the Future, 1922). From 1924 to 1927 he worked as editor in chief of the Odesa Film Studio and in 1925 produced the poetic film Step (The Steppe). In 1924 he published two collections of his works from 1910 to 1922, both provocatively entitled Kobzar. In 1927 he founded a new futurist association called Nova Generatsiia. After of severe criticism by the Communist party, Semenko abandoned futurism and became a poet of the Bolshevik revolution. Nevertheless he was arrested in 1937 and executed with other Ukrainian writers…

 NOVA GENERATSIIA (New Generation). A literary organization of futurists, established in Kharkiv in 1927 by former members of the Association of Panfuturists, Mykhailo Semenko, Geo Shkurupii, Oleksii Poltoratsky, A. Chuzhy, Mykola Skuba, and others, and new members such as Dmytro Buzko. Its program embraced the propagandistic slogans of internationalism and proletarian culture and was combined with an imperative to modernize Ukrainian literature by putting it in touch with contemporary literary currents in the West. The organization’s official organ bore the same name, Nova generatsiia. Much of its contents were devoted to contemporary literary polemics and to the popularization of currents in literature and art in the West (eg, G. Apollinaire, Le Corbusier, W. Baumeister). In 1929, under severe criticism from the Communist party critics, the name was changed to the All-Ukrainian Association of Workers of Communist Culture, and in 1930, to the Alliance of Proletarian Writers in Ukraine. In 1931 the organization was forced to disband. Most of its members were executed during the Stalinist terror, although some, such as O. Poltoratsky, succumbed to pressure and adopted the Party line…

SHKURUPII, GEO (Yurii), b 20 April 1903 in Bendery, Bessarabia gubernia, now in Moldova, d (executed) 8 December 1937 in Leningrad. Writer of poetry and prose. One of the most prominent and talanted representatives of Ukrainian literary futurism. His first published work appeared in the almanac Hrono in 1920. He was an active member of the Association of Panfuturists and Komunkult, and subsequently Nova Generatsiia. His collections of poetry include Psykhotezy (Psychotheses, 1922) and Baraban (The Drum, 1923), but his first important futurist collection was Zharyny sliv (The Embers of Words, 1925). In 1925 he also publishes his first prose works, a collection of adventure short stories Peremozhets’ drakona (The Slayer of the Dragon). He went on to produce several short story collections and three novels, including Dveri v den (The Door to the Day, 1929), Zhanna batalionerka (Zhanna the Battalion Member, 1930), and Mis Andriiena (Miss Andriena, 1934). Severly criticized by the official Party critics, he was arrested in 1934, sentenced to 10 years in concentration camps, resentenced by a special NKVD tribunal, and executed…

POLISHCHUK, VALERIIAN, b 1 October 1897 in Bilche, Dubno county, Volhynia gubernia, d (executed) 9 October 1937 in Sandarmokh, Karelia region, RFSSR. Writer and literary critic and theorist. His first published work appeared in 1918. In 1921, together with Petro Yefremov and Valeriian Pidmohylny, he published the literary and artistic miscellany Vyr revoliutsii (Vortex of the Revolution) in Sicheslav (now Dnipropetrovsk). From that year he worked for newspapers in Kharkiv. There he joined the writers’ group Hart in 1923, and in 1925 he founded the smaller group Avanhard (Avant-garde), which advanced a program of constructivist dynamism (or spiralism) and was influenced heavily by Russian (Ilia Selvinsky), west European (Emile Verhaeren), and American (Walt Whitman) avant-garde literature. Polishchuk elaborated the idea of free-verse khvyliady (‘wave cycles’). He produced over fifty books of poetry, prose, essays, and children’s literature. He also wrote the short novels Chervonyi potik (Red Stream, 1926) and Hryhorii Skovoroda (1929) and a book about the Donbas, Povist’ metalu i vuhillia (A Tale of Metal and Coal, 1931). Polishchuk was arrested and tried in 1934 for belonging to a fictitious anti-Soviet ‘Ukrainian National Socialist party.’ In 1935 he was sentenced to ten years in a prison on the Solovets Islands, where he was later executed by the NKVD…

BAZHAN, MYKOLA, b 9 October 1904 in Kamianets-Podilskyi, d 23 November 1983 in Kyiv. Poet, writer, translator, and Soviet Ukrainian political and cultural figure; full member of the Academy of Sciences of the Ukrainian SSR from 1951. One of the most prominent representatives of the literary renaissance of the 1920s, he wrote screenplays, edited the journal Kino, and was associated with the literary groups Vaplite and Nova Generatsiia and the journal Literaturnyi iarmarok. Bazhan’s poems were first published in 1923, but he gained recognition for the avant-garde poetry collection 17-i patrul’ (The 17th Patrol, 1926). With the collection Budivli (Buildings, 1929), he abandoned futurism and constructivism and emerged as a romantic expressionist, whose poems were characterized by dynamism, unusual imagery, monumentalism, and frequent references to the Ukrainian past. In the poem ‘Budivli’ he treats historical themes, seeking a link between the modern era, the Middle Ages, and the Ukrainian baroque of the Cossack state. His poems ‘Rozmova serdets’ (Heart-to-Heart Talk), in which he presented an unusually harsh assessment of Russia, ‘Hofmanova nich’ (Hoffman’s Night, 1929), ‘Sliptsi’ (The Blind Beggars, 1933), and others aroused harsh criticism of Bazhan by the Communist party: he was accused of ‘detachment from Soviet reality’, ‘idealism’, and nationalism. During the terror of 1934-7 Bazhan capitulated to the Party pressure and wrote poems in the spirit of ‘Stalinist patriotism’…


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Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine Features: Ukrainian Literary Avant-Garde (1910s-1920s) Reviewed by on . Marko R. Stech (Toronto) October, 2013 Among the most dynamic and interesting, though often underrated, trends in the Ukrainian literature of the 1910s and 1920 Marko R. Stech (Toronto) October, 2013 Among the most dynamic and interesting, though often underrated, trends in the Ukrainian literature of the 1910s and 1920 Rating: 0
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