Based in the Twin Cities, Dmitri Gerasimenko is a graduate of the St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy with 28 years of stage experience as an actor, director, producer, and musician in Russia and the United States.
Mr. Gerasimenko performs in Russian, but provides background and translation in English. Musical numbers, performed with guitar accompaniment, range from romances to lullabies to rousing soldiers’ songs. The evening’s poetry, recited with dynamic flair, will consist of selections by Alexander Blok and Oleg Grigoriev. Together, these two poets represent bookends of the Silver Age of Russian poetry, spanning the beginning of the 20th century to the end of the Soviet era. Mr. Gerasimenko will also present timelines that situate the poetry in a historical context.
Mr. Gerasimenko is a consummate performer, and the evening promises to appeal to anyone with an interest in Russian culture and history. Lasting approximately one hour, the program will be divided by a short intermission.
Some additional information on Oleg Grigoriev
Born during the evacuation of Vologda on December 6, 1943.
After returning from the front, his father struggled with alcoholism, and Grigoriev’s mother (a pharmacist) moved to Leningrad with her two children.
In 1971, he produced his first book of children’s poems and stories. Titled “Jackass,” it included several songs that became quite popular (“Hospitality” and “Orange”). Indeed, many of his poems entered the vernacular of St. Petersburg urban folklore.
Grigoriev’s verses are aphoristic and paradoxical, with elements of the absurd and plenty of black humor. He had no profession and worked sporadically at odd jobs as a watchman, fireman, or janitor. As a result, he was sentenced to two years of forced labor for “parasitism” (unemployment) in the early 1970′s. He served his sentence at a construction plant in his native Vologda region. Around this time, he stated in one of his poems:
With a shaved head,
In prison stripes,
I build Communism
With a crowbar and a shovel.
Fortunately, he was granted early release.
In 1981, he published his second children’s book (“Vitamin Growth”) in Moscow. Lyrics from it caused outrage among representatives of official literary circles, and Grigoriev was denied membership in the Union of Soviet Writers. In June of the same year, Grigoriev was denounced along with two other poets in an article published in “Komsomolskaya Pravda” entitled “What is the sparrow’s guilt?” (The title refers to one of Grigoriev’s poems).
In 1985 Leonid Desyatnikov wrote a classic one-act opera for children based on a poem in “Vitamin Growth.”
Grigoriev’s next book, “Talking Crows,” came out with Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms underway in 1989. In the same year, he received a second criminal conviction (for debauchery and disobedience to police). Many of his fellow poets and writers came to his defense. In the six months before his death, he was finally admitted to the Union of Soviet Writers.
Oleg Grigoriev died on April 30, 1992 in St. Petersburg of a perforated ulcer.
Some additional information on Alexander Blok
Born November 16, 1880 in St. Petersburg.
The poet’s family belonged to the old Russian intelligentsia, dedicated through generations to serve the advancement of science, literature, and the arts.
Blok’s work possessed a paradoxical combination of the mystical and domestic, of detachment and everyday engagement. Blok was in general very sensitive to daily impressions and the sounds of the surrounding city. In this sense he was, so to speak, without a skin. Before the revolution of 1917, the musicality of Blok’s poetry lulled his audience, immersing it in a certain dream-like state.
In February 1919, Blok was arrested in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) by a Revolutionary Commission. The next year he wrote in his diary of WWI and the Russian Revolution:
“… Under the yoke of violence human conscience subsides. This happened with Europe under the yoke of war with Russia – now.”
Rethinking revolutionary events and the fate of Russia caused Blok a deep creative crisis, depression and physical illness. After a creative surge in January 1918, when he suddenly produced “Scythians” and “Twelve,” Blok completely stopped writing poetry and responded to questions about his silence saying: “All sounds have stopped … Can’t you hear that there are no longer any sounds?”
“I breathe, breathe, breathe! We are suffocating, we will all suffocate”
Blok’s last cry of despair over the revolution was read in a February 1921 lecture at an evening dedicated to the memory of Pushkin. Blok stood on the stage in a black jacket over a white sweater with a high collar, his hands in his pockets. He quoted the great poet: “In the world there is no joy, but there is peace and liberty.”
He then turned to a Soviet bureaucrat in attendance and said, “Peace and liberty also take away. Not external peace, but creativity. Not childish freedom, but rather creative liberty – one’s secret freedom. And the poet dies. Because he has nothing to breathe: life for him has lost meaning.”
Six months later, long after his doctors were denied requests that he be permitted to travel abroad for treatment, Blok died. He had finally been given permission to leave, but by then it was too late: the exit visa was granted the day before his death.