Kushner, Aleksander Semenovich

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KUSHNER, ALEKSANDER SEMENOVICH (1936– ), Russian poet and translator. Kushner was born in Leningrad. In 1959 he graduated from the philological faculty of Leningrad's Herzen Pedagogical Institute and until 1970 worked as an evening school teacher. He began publishing poetry in 1957. His first collections of verse, Pervoe vpechatlenie ("First Impression," 1962) and Nochnoy dozor ("Night Watch," 1966), reflect to some degree the influence of V. *Khodasevich. Starting with the collection Primety ("Omens," 1969), Kushner can be linked with the tradition of the Acmeists (particularly with O. *Mandelshtam). His verse is distinguished, however, by considerable semantic simplicity and restraint in the choice of metaphor, which imparts an electric tension to his poetry. Kushner's poetry is written in classical meter, in strophes with a precise, somewhat subdued, rhythm. Basic motifs in his poetry are the inevitability of death, suffering, and persecution as necessary conditions for happiness; external lack of freedom as the source of internal freedom; solitude; and the metaphysical exile of the individual. His philosophical lyrics are based on rejection of the perceptible reality of daily life, of the urban scene, on precise and concrete observation, and filled with associations, reminiscences, and veiled allusions to the cultural symbols of all times and peoples (excluding, however, allusions to the Hebrew Bible). From the late 1960s, both Kushner and his poetry were criticized, and after an attack by the secretary of the Leningrad Party provincial committee of the Communist Party, he was not published for a while.

He became well known with the publication of his collections Pis'mo ("Letter," 1974) and Pryamaya rech' ("Direct Speech," 1975). The appearance of his collection Golos ("Voice," 1978) coincided with a raging argument, encompassing the Soviet samizdat (underground press) and émigré press, about the place and significance of his poetry which some considered the most outstanding in contemporary Russian literature. His book of selected poems Kanva ("Canvas," 1981) was succeeded by the collections Tavricheskiy sad ("Tauride Garden," 1984) and Dnevnie sny ("Day Dreams," 1986). Aleksander Kushner also published books of poems for children: Zavetnoe zhelanie ("Secret Wish," 1973), Gorod v podarok ("City as Gift," 1976), and Velosiped ("Bicycle," 1979).

In Kushner's poetry Jewish motifs appear only in references or allusions. An exception is the poem "Kogda tot pol' skiy pedadog…" ("When That Polish Pedadogue") about the educator and writer Janusz *Korczak. Upholding the principle of not leaving the Soviet Union and of not expressing an attitude about the Soviet regime, Kushner reacted to the mass emigration of other Jews from the Soviet Union with poems such as "The Next Time Too I Want To Live in Russia."

[Yuri Kulker /

The Shorter Jewish Encyclopaedia in Russian]