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Chances are Vladimir Gordeichev has not made it into your purview. He hadn’t made it into mine until I traveled to Voronezh. But, there it was, as Oksana and I walked past the aging, even crumbling, building at 4 Komissarzhevskaya Street – a plaque commemorating the poet Vladimir Grigoryevich Gordeichev, who was born in 1930 and died in 1995. The information on the plaque is a tad misleading. One could read it that the poet lived in this building his entire life, although he did not. He was born, the son of a peasant, in the village of Kastornoe in the Kursk region. Some sources clarify that Kastornoe was basically just a train station – perhaps as my grandmother would have said it, “a wide spot in the road.” It was in Kastornoe that Gordeichev went to school. He later attended the pedagogical institute in Voronezh, graduating in 1950, and then studied at the Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow, where he graduated in 1957. Here his classmates and companions included Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Robert Rozhdestvensky, Bella Akhmadulina and Andrei Voznesensky, in other words, those who were to become the most famous and popular poets of the Thaw era and, in some cases, beyond.
Gordeichev taught at a rural school from 1948 to 1950, and he published his first verse in 1950. Throughout his life he published over 30 collections of poetry and one volume of memoirs – Pages of Remembrance (1987). He was 57 when he published that book, several years younger than I am now. Lord almighty, is it really time for that?
Gordeichev lived his entire adult life in Voronezh, where he was the chairman of the Voronezh Writers Union three different times. He was elected Secretary of the Writers Union of Russia a year before he died. I have no idea if any of these things mean anything. I’m not much of one for regalia, but I mention it here because I know virtually nothing about this poet and everything I see or read about him is new for me. He spent his early teenage years living under the German occupation, thus experiencing that hardship first hand. It left a mark on him not only personally, but professionally, as many of his poems would reference the war. For many years he was the poetry editor for the Ascent literary journal and, as was common for Soviet writers, he was the author of numerous translations from Azerbaijanian, Belorussian and Greek, presumably from line-by-line cribs, although I don’t know that for a fact.
The website for the Agency of Innovation and Development of Voronezh has this to say about its native poet: “V. Gordeichev in his poetry always responded to events of the day, capturing with his verses the entire palette of daily life… The poet was convinced that a ‘new commonwealth of ideas worthy of great spaces’ would come about. His poems were lively, energetic and forceful, and they provide an impulse to untangling the theorems of life. His heroes seek new words and prepare for new deeds. The municipal library was named for him in the year 2000.”
Honestly? Praise like that could bury a man, right along with his reputation. But let us not judge the man by the praise others offer him. He doesn’t answer for that, after all. You do wonder, however, if perhaps someone in charge of the the plaque honoring Gordeichev could clean away a bit of that rust that has cropped up in the last 20 years…
The poetry website stihi.ru, which contains one of the most complete biographies I found, has this to say about Gordeichev’s poetry: “His sense of citizenship was not bathetic, but rather very sincere and earthy... Vladimir Gordeichev belonged to that group of poets and prose writers whose roots went down into the native earth. He lived and created on it, fed off of its living, epic strength, while giving it all the beauty and energy of his talent.”
Several Russian sources (probably at a loss, like I, to write in detail about someone they don’t know well) resort to quoting from the encyclopedic entry on Gordeichev in Wolfgang Kasack’s highly-respected Dictionary of Russian Literature Since 1917 (Eng., 1988). I could do worse. Kasack, indeed, is trustworthy and insightful. Here is what he says:
“Gordeichev’s poems show his dues to the nature of his native region, in which he is able to find the beautiful even in the unprepossessing. The world of plants and animals serves him as a metaphor for his ethical messages. He is in favor of acting in accordance with one’s conscience, he admires human purity and resolution and he fights against the abdication of responsibility. He admonishes his readers to respect natural forces instead of trusting exclusively in science. Publicistic rhetoric is as foreign to him as experimentation with form. Gordeichev professes to follow in the tradition of Alexander Tvardovsky, Vladimir Lugovskoi, and Boris Kornilov; he has found general recognition as a writer since Vladimir Soloukhin’s favorable review of his first volume.”