Selvinski, Ilya Lvovich

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SELVINSKI, ILYA LVOVICH (1899–1968), Soviet Russian poet. The son of a furrier, Selvinski was born in Simferopol. In 1933–34 he was a member of a Soviet polar expedition. Primarily known for his unconventional experimental verse, Selvinski was one of the foremost exponents of constructivism, an offshoot of futurism. Repeatedly attacked over the years for his inability or unwillingness to conform to the norms of orthodox Soviet writing, Selvinski continued to publish prolifically and preach assorted heresies. Thus, in 1947 he dared to propose that "Socialist symbolism" supplant Socialist realism as the official style of Soviet literature. Most of Selvinski's poetry is narrative. His longer works include Ulyalayevshchina (1927), a brisk, colorful account of the Civil War, which contains a tale of the exploits of heroic Red guerillas and their picturesque anarchistic adversaries. Zapiski poeta ("Notebooks of a Poet," 1928), which contains several effective parodies of Soviet poets, displays Selvinski's satirical gifts. Pao-Pao (1932) is a whimsical verse play about the transformation of an ape into a human being. Some of Selvinski's works describe his native Crimea. During World War ii he wrote a number of moving poems dealing with the tragic fate of Russian Jewry and three big Russian historical tragedies in verse. After the war he received high decorations for his conduct as an officer and commissar. Shortly before his death Selvinski published O yunost moya! (1967), a fictionalized account of his youth which includes some portraits of non-Ashkenazi, Tatar-speaking Jews in the Crimea during the Civil War, and even some references to their Zionist sentiments. Davayte pomechtayem o bessmertye ("Let us Dream of Immortality") was published posthumously in 1969.

[Maurice Friedberg]