Vasily Surikov monument, Moscow

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It  must have been someone’s bad joke to erect a monument to Vasily Surikov (1848-1916) in front of the apartment complex at 30 Prechistenka Street in Moscow. Oh, sure, there are the weighty reasons that the Russian Academy of Arts is located across the way, and that Surikov, one of the great historical painters in the Russian canon, lends his name to one of the institutes run by the Academy – the Surikov State Academic Institute of Art. But rarely in my ongoing searches for public reminders of Russia’s artistic prowess have I come upon anything quite so incongruous, so lacking in aesthetic sense, so downright wrong. The abominable building behind the Surikov monument is what a gaping hole is to a boat hull, a broken wing to an airplane, square wheels to an automobile, a sleep mask on a master snooker player. That is, in the presence of the former, the latter simply cannot do its job.
I have always carried a serious grudge against Soviet era architects. They were the true enemies of the people, the traitors and saboteurs of their time. Like few others, bad, unconscionable architects poisoned every day, minute and second of those who were fated to live in the Soviet Union. You cannot proliferate such public hideousness without leaving a mark, and the only mark you can leave is a scar. Look at the scar on the face of Moscow that looms ominously behind Surikov here. There is nothing the great artist can do to counteract it. It swallows him like a beast run amok.
The sculptor Mikhail Pereyaslavets did everything in his power to keep his Surikov free of its surroundings. I think he only made it worse. He (or someone working with him on this project) cleared out as much space as possible around the monument. There are small groves of trees, and wide-open spaces of sidewalk and benches that seem to create a positively-charged negative space around the statue. But nothing can compete with that monstrosity ominously rising up behind it all. No matter what angle you take to approach it, it is competing with the apartment house, and it is losing the competition. Sure, you can stand right under the thing and get comparisons of the painter’s beard and lapels with the infinite white sky behind them. Or you can walk around the back and ignore that horrid building altogether. But you do realize, don’t you, that in this case you are taking photos of the great man’s butt?
A technical word or two. The sculptor’s signature on the back of the bronze likeness comes with a date of 2000. However, a usually reliable website about Moscow’s tourist attractions tells us it was unveiled in 2003. I can’t reconcile the discrepancy, nor will I worry that  fact. Pick up the gauntlet and let me know what you find, should you take the search for truth and knowledge further than I. The bronze sculpture (2.6 meters/8.5 feet in height) stands on a marble pedestal  (1.84 meters/6 feet in height). In imagining his sculpture, Pereyaslavets apparently leaned on a description of Surikov once made by the poet Maximilian Voloshin: “Surikov was of moderate height, solid, strong, broad-shouldered and youthful despite the fact he was nearly 70 years old… His appearance was simple, with national features, though not those of a peasant. You could sense in him a fine, strong tempering. He was built as they are in the North, like a cossack…”

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Surikov bequeathed to us dramatic, moving historical canvasses. So strong are the images he created, that millions of Russians (and foreigners, too) probably know several key elements of Russian history primarily through paintings he made – The Morning of the Execution of the Streltsy (1887-81), The Boyar’s Wife Morozova (1881-87), The Taking of the Snow Village (1890-91), Suvorov’s Crossing of the Alps (1895-99), Stepan Razin (1900?). You can’t take your eyes off these paintings. I have attended three-hour theater performances that don’t have half, one-quarter, of the action and nuance that these paintings do.
Take the portrait of Stepan Razin. It’s essentially a portrait, but where a usual portraitist would have cut out all but the most important central figure, Surikov crams in all kinds of stuff going on around him. Razin, the infamous rebel, is unhappily ensconced in a small boat making its way across a lake or river. Every one of his men (there are nine that we see) is experiencing his own drama – someone may be angry, another tired, another bored, another sleepy, another amused… Razin, as the center of attention (not among his men, but for us as viewers of the painting), is puffed up, and full of arrogant thoughts about himself (it only came to me now that there is a bit of Donald Trump in him). We see that he commands power of a sort, just as we see that he doesn’t trust it, nor does he trust it will last long. (Pardon me, that last phrase was very unprofessional, wishful thinking on my part – although I’ll stand by what it declares!)
But it is in paintings like The Morning of the Execution of the Streltsy, The Boyar’s Wife Morozova and Suvorov’s Crossing of the Alps that Surikov’s genius is expressed to the fullest. They capture in stunning detail man’s battle against man, as well as man’s battle against God. In the case of the fantastically famous and popular image of Feodosia Morozova, you have the important addition of the eternal battle of a powerful Russian woman pitted against the entire world around her – man, state and God included. (As my wife left the house today she asked what I was doing and I said I was writing about Surikov. She immediately quipped: “I am Countess Morozova. You know that, don’t you?” “Yes,” I replied, as nonchalantly as I could.)
In short, one would be justified in suggesting that Surikov did not merely illustrate or “record” historical events in his greatest paintings, he actually helped create them as events of historical value. We know these instances in Russian history precisely as Surikov understood and described them to us in oils. Who but a few were there to see Suvorov and his army cross the Alps? Certainly no one we can appeal to today. But think “Suvorov” and “Alps” and you cannot help but think “Surikov.”
All of which brings us back to that damn Soviet apartment building on Prechistenka Street. What a travesty! Look how easily a bad architect took the mountain that is Surikov and turned him into the molehill that is this monument in Moscow.

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Andrei Platonov plaque, Voronezh

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Voronezh has done well by Andrei Platonov. When I was there last year I photographed three locations where the city mothers and fathers have commemorated the fact that this hometown boy did good. (There is a fourth that I did not get to.) Today I present the plaque honoring Platonov’s work as a young journalist in the Voronezh Commune newspaper from 1919 to 1925. It was unveiled in October 1987 and was the first of the plaques and monuments that would appear over the next few decades. The paper’s editorial offices were located in this building at 39 Revolution Prospekt, the town’s main drag. The paper, incidentally, has a rich history. It was founded in 1917, coming out under several different names until 1919, when the moniker of Voronezh Commune stuck for almost a decade. The city name was dropped in 1928 and the paper began appearing under the name of Commune, which it continues to do to this day.
Platonov (which is a pseudonym – his real last name was Klimentov) used numerous aliases when writing for the local press early in his life. Aside from Platonov, these assumed names included A. Firsov, Yelpidifor Baklazhanov, Iogann Pupkov and Foma Chelovekov. Excellent names, all of them! He published short fictions as well as journalistic articles, all while working on local construction projects involving the railroad, electric stations and other major objects. He gave up writing (more or less) for awhile in 1921 when Russia was hit particularly hard by a drought and ensuing famine. He is quoted as saying at the time, “How boring merely to write about the suffering millions, when you can take action and feed them.” Be that as it may, he published his first collection of poetry, The Blue Depth, in Krasnodar in 1922. (I’m grateful to the online Encyclopedia of Voronezh Life for many of the tidbits offered here.)
At this very same time Platonov married Maria Sheremetyeva, from the famous line of nobles, and remained with her until his death in 1951. Maria – as well as the couple’s first son Platon, and later their daughter Maria –  was later instrumental in saving and protecting Platonov’s large archive of unpublished stories, novels and plays. (Here I cannot pass over the fact that Platonov died from tuberculosis that was brought back to him from the labor camps by his son Platon, who, most likely, was arrested for the sin of being his father’s son.) Stories like this, of brave people preserving priceless archives in the Soviet years, are legion. And far be it from me to say that one archive was more important than another! How are you going to put numerical values on archives left behind, say, by Osip Mandelstam, Vsevolod Meyerhold, or Andrei Platonov? Nonsense. And yet. And yet. In recent decades, in the estimation of many esteemed and knowledgeable individuals, Platonov has emerged as the greatest writer of the Soviet era. I worked for a couple of years with British director Tim Supple and Ukrainian playwright Maksym Kurochkin on a doomed – alas! – project that was intended to engage full-on the excruciating 20th century in the Soviet Union, and Platonov’s name came up time after time, as a model, a paradigm for excellence, resistance, and insight during that benighted period. The novelist Viktor Yerofeev wrote in the Times Literary Supplement, “In Russia it is Platonov who is increasingly described as the best writer of the post-revolutionary epoch.” None less than Joseph Brodsky said the following: “I squint back on our century and I see six writers I think it will be remembered for. They are Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, William Faulkner, Andrei Platonov and Samuel Beckett… They are summits in the literary landscape of our century… What’s more, they don’t lose an inch of their status when compared  to the giants of fiction from the previous century.”

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These last two quotes are offered as testimonials on the back cover of a book you cannot have seen yet. It is Fourteen Little Red Huts and Other Plays, edited by Robert Chandler, in the new Russian Library series published by Columbia University Press. An uncorrected proof of the book, planned for publication on December 6, 2016, found its way into my hands a week or so ago, thus reminding me that I had not yet shared my photos of the plaque honoring Platonov’s time as a writer for Voronezh Commune. This volume seems a fitting way to launch this important series that, I presume is intended not only to bring us new versions of writings that we already love, but to acquaint us with writers we may not yet know. Platonov, therefore, is at the head of the juggernaut which the Russian Library promises to be.
Chandler is a well-known translator of Russian literature with Platonov, Pushkin, Nikolai Leskov, Vasily Grossman and many others under his belt. He offers up a 23-page introduction to the book, and I offer up here a brief excerpt from it:
“…There are still aspects of his [Platonov’s] work that have hardly been explored at all. His six film scripts are almost unknown; his eight finished and two unfinished plays plays are still seldom staged, even in Russia. At least two of these plays, however, are masterpieces. The Hurdy-Gurdy (1930) and Fourteen Little Red Huts (1933) anticipate the work of Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco. They are as bold in their political satire as Bertolt Brecht at his most biting. And they are also important as documents of historical witness. Along with the short novel The Foundation Pit, they constitute Platonov’s most impassioned, and penetrating, response to Stalin’s assault on the Soviet peasantry – the catastrophes of the collectivization of agriculture (1930) and the ensuing Terror Famine (1932-1933).”
That was all to come afterwards. It began right here, on this street, in this building in the center of Voronezh.

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Russian ballet at the Palace Theatre, London

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The plaque, which you can see at the end of the block of photos below, blithely proclaims that the Palace Theatre  is famed for being the home of London’s longest-running musicals. The hell it is. This venue, located at Cambridge Circus, is famous for being one of the places where Russian ballet established a foothold in Britain in the early 20th century. It was here that Anna Pavlova performed some of her London seasons; here that Nikolai Legat debuted on the London stage; and here where Vaclav Nijinsky unveiled his own company in 1914. In regards to them I understand what is carved in stone over the stage door: “The world’s greatest artistes have passed and will pass through these doors.” But what this has to do with a so-called mentalist like Derren Brown – the house’s occupant (or occupier) when I took these photos earlier this year – I do not know. Surely the timelessness of a gorgeous old place like this is created only by those of the stature of Pavlova, Nijinsky and their like. As for the theatre’s physical appearance, at least in regards to the front facade, it would appear it has not changed much in a century. You can watch a short video of Anna Pavlova dancing a snippet of “The Dying Swan” on YouTube, which begins with a short panorama of the theatre front. Looks very much the same as the shots you see here.
Pavlova performed here at least in 1910 and 1912, and we can even pin one of her performances down to my own birthdate of June 18, in the year 1912, thanks to an old program of that evening’s show which is available for sale for $200 as of this writing. The description of the evening’s fare, incidentally, takes a good deal of the hot air out of my earlier rather pompous claim that the fame of Russian dancers is of more value than that of the other hucksters who may have performed here. Just imagine the show that night, on Tuesday, June 18. Pavlova, the headliner, shared the stage with three comedians, a mime, a comic violinist, a comic juggler, a comic conjurer (Ah! Derren Brown again!), and an ambidextrous caligraphist, among others. Not exactly your sublime evening of high art. In fact, here is a nice description of the kind of entertainment audiences might have seen at the Alhambra Theatre, a Glaswegian counterpart of the Palace, in or around the years 1913 and 1914.
After the overture in the Alhambra the first act was frequently a play, musical revue, ballet, or short opera, all followed by variety with 6-10 turns, and ending with film. Through the Syndicate, entertainers came from all continents – comics, mimists, singers, illusionists, gymnasts, tumblers, instrumentalists, dancers, whistlers, Arabian whirlers, conjurers, memory men, trick cyclists, quartettes, jugglers, and ventriloquists. Dance and ballet came from the Danish classicist Adeline Genee, the Imperial Russian Ballet, America’s Maud Allan in her provocative free-movement, Lydia Kyasht and her Russian corps de ballet, Nicolas Legat’s Russian company, Anna Pavlova and others.”
Be all that as it may, Pavlova’s memory is so closely associated with the Palace that there is speculation about hers being one of two ghosts who continue to haunt the backstage area to this day (for the record, the other is of the Welsh composer and actor Ivor Novello).
We can also focus in tightly on another moment from those long-gone days by perusing an unsigned newspaper review of Pavlova’s April 18, 1910, performance, which appeared in the Daily Mail on April 19:
London – that is to say art and pleasure loving London – has a new sensation which will be discussed as widely and as eagerly as Elektra and the Sicilians, with the one difference that the new topic does not lend itself to argument. Anna Pavlova and Michael Mordkin, ‘Russia’s acknowledged greatest dancers and the famous leaders of the Imperial Russian Ballet,’ who made their debut at the Palace Theatre last night, are the last word in the art of dancing. The perfection of their art cannot be disputed. It is such as to re-establish the supremacy of the traditional ballet style over the so called ‘classic’ dance and its offshoots, of which we have had a very surfeit during the last year or two.
It is impossible to do justice to Anna Pavlova by mere description. Such grace as hers, such litheness of body, and such perfect balance in motion so quick that eyes can scarcely follow it must be seen to be believed. It is not alone the top-like whirling round on tip-toe, ending in a difficult poise that would defy the efforts of an ordinary dancer, even if it were attempted from an attitude of repose; it is none of the conventional tricks of the ballet-dancer that causes wonderment in the dancing of Anna Pavlova and her no less amazing partner, but their extraordinary effects of movement arrested, as it were, in mid-air – a pause, a hesitation that seems to defy the laws of gravity and makes you look instinctively for the wires on which these graceful marionettes must surely be suspended.”

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I must add a few words about Pavlova’s “no less amazing partner” Michael, or Mikhail, Mordkin, with whom Miss Pavlova apparently had a turbulent relationship. I am grateful to the Victoria and Albert Museum website for the following tidbit:
In 1912 Pavlova appeared in the first Royal Variety Performance. She was very competitive and during a curtain call slapped the face of her partner, Michael Mordkin, because she thought he was getting more applause.
The feud between Pavlova and Mordkin was much reported in the press. The pair were a sensation when they appeared together at the Palace Theatre, one of London’s leading music halls, in 1910.
They first appeared in a classical pas de deux, performed with such style and beauty that they took ten curtain calls, an extraordinary number for a music hall. Nothing prepared the audience for what came next.
Gone were Pavlova’s tutu and Mordkin’s ballet costume, gone her pointe shoes. In Greek tunics and sandals, they flung themselves onto the stage in the Autumn Bacchanal, one of the most tempestuous and passionate dances ever staged.”
Nijinsky’s most memorable, if not successful, connection to the Palace comes over just a two-week period in the spring of 1914. After breaking with Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, who had raised him to the status of a living legend, Nijinsky attempted to put together his own troupe with which he planned to tour.  It never happened. Immediately following the two-week run at the Palace, the new company fell apart. A minor detail of that doomed endeavor was that Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Robert Schumann’s Carnaval, commissioned by Nijinsky, was given its world premiere during the performance of March 2, 1914  – the opening night of the run. Writing in her memoirs, Nijinsky’s sister Bronislawa wrote in some detail about the thought (or lack of it) and preparations that went into the new company. “The performances were to begin on March 2. There were only four and a half weeks to opening night, and Vaslav [her spelling] had not even started the work. To sign a contract with such a short time for preparation seemed to me to be pure folly, but it was too late to talk about it, least of all with Vaslav.” According to Bronislawa, the program for the Saison Nijinsky was to include major pieces such as Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, Le Spectre de la rose, and Nijinsky’s own choreography of Carnaval and Les Sylphides among smaller dance numbers.
Nikolai Legat first danced abroad with Anna Pavlova no later than 1908. You can see a photo of the two in Swan Lake from that year when they toured Europe. Legat, however, although he enjoyed dancing abroad and did so for many years, remained in Russia at the Imperial School where he built his reputation as a teacher and choreographer. Still, Diaghilev convinced him to come West and take over as the ballet master of the Ballets Russes in 1923. Legat left to found his own school in London in 1926. I don’t readily find specific dates for Legat performing at the Palace, although there is a posed photo of Anna Pavlova performing in Legat’s choreography for Les Coquetteries de Columbine which premiered at the Palace on April 15, 1912.

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Pavel Vasilyev plaque, Moscow

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It  seems to be a time of discovering poets for me. A few days ago it was Richard Ter-Pogosian. Now it is another. I was walking through my former city of Moscow yesterday and happened upon a plaque I didn’t know commemorating a poet I’d never heard of – Pavel Vasilyev, who lived in this building at 26 Fourth Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street in 1936 and 1937. Yes, you probably guessed right: that latter date is also the poet’s year of death. The meat grinder year. The year of blood. The year of hatred, lies, villainy and infamy. What will ever be done to wash away the sins of that year? Nothing? Can nothing wash those sins away? And what happens if that is true?
But let’s narrow the conversation a bit; bring it back to this new poet in my life. These days, with our instant access to information, it is not difficult to begin understanding the stature that Vasilyev enjoyed for a brief time in his life. The number of poets, writers and others singing his praises in the late 1920s, early 1930s is more than merely impressive – it is downright imposing. As Valentin Antonov wrote in an eye-opening blog in 2009, you can begin the list with Alexei Tolstoy, Anatoly Lunacharsky, Ryurik Ivlev and Vladimir Soloukhin. Our purposes today will be served by Boris Pasternak, who wrote in 1956 (presumably taking part in Vasilyev’s “rehabilitation,” which occurred that year):
At the beginning of the 1930s Pavel Vasilyev impressed me upon first discovery approximately as had Yesenin and Mayakovsky before him. He was comparable to them, particularly to Yesenin, by his creative expressiveness, the power of his gift and his great, infinite promise, because he lacked the tragic explosiveness, which internally cut short the lives of the latter two, and he commanded a cold composure allowing him to control his turbulent instincts. He possessed that bright, happy and quick imagination, without which great poetry does not exist, the likes of which in such abundance I have never seen again in all the years that have passed since  his death.”
That is no rote, routine recommendation. Pasternak here, in just a few lines, places Vasilyev among (and to some extent, above) the greatest poets of his time.
Wolfgang Kasack, the great German scholar, called Vasilyev’s poetry “antiurban, erotic and associated with the free life of the Cossacks.” Later in his entry in his Dictionary of Russian Literature since 1917, he adds: “Vasilyev’s poetry is characterized by an earthy, graphic power. Fairy-tale elements mingle with Cossack history and a revolutionary present. Strong characters, powerful animals, fierce action and the colorful landscape of the steppes are expressively combined in scenes that create great forward momentum with varied rhythms. Bloody revolutionary events experienced in Vasilyev’s childhood are presented without reference to historical persons or incidents.”
Vasilyev’s stance – and one did have to have a stance in those years; it was virtually impossible to stand and watch tumultuous events pass by – was a confused one. As an 11 year-old schoolboy he wrote a poem dedicated to Vladimir Lenin that was picked up and turned into a song by his teacher and classmates. He seemed to sing the praises of the Revolution at times, while at others he was clearly at odds with its consequences. By the early 1930s he was constantly running into trouble. His fate was probably sealed when Maxim Gorky (yes, that slipperly ol’ Maxim Gorky again) in 1934 accused him of “drunkenness, hooliganism and violating the law on residence registration.”
What the hell? Was Gorky playing the role of the pot calling the kettle black? I don’t know; I’ll have to look into this some day. But here are some of the facts of the end process:
Vasilyev was first arrested in 1932, although was released before long. Gorky jumped on his back in 1934 and, surely consequently, Vasilyev was kicked out of the brand-new Writers Union in January 1935. Six months later he was arrested again, this time for engaging in what, by all accounts, was a nasty, drunken, public fight with a poet known as Jack (Yakov) Altauzen. Judging by the record, Vasilyev’s antisemitic views were well known, and this brawl appears to have been a flare-up of racist behavior. Vasilyev was released early again, in 1936. In February 1937 he was arrested still again for the supposed crime of belonging to a terrorist group whose purpose was to assassinate Joseph Stalin. He was condemned to be shot and the sentence was carried out July 16, 1937, in the Lefortovo prison. Similar to his contemporary, Vsevolod Meyerhold, his remains lie in an unmarked grave in the Donskoi Monastery.

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Pavel Vasilyev (1909-1937) was a restless man. Even with his family as a youth he traveled often from town to town. His father was a teacher and held many different jobs. The poet was born in the town of Zaisan in what is now known as the Republic of Kazakhstan. Other cities figuring in his biography are Pavlodar, Sandyktav Station, Atbasar, Petropavlovsk, Omsk, Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk and Moscow. He spent time as a fisherman and prospector on the Irtysh and Selemidzha rivers. He also worked as a journalist, leading him toward the life of writer and poet. His first published poem was called “October,” and was printed in Vladivostok on Nov. 6, 1926. His poems were soon picked up by many of the top publications in the Soviet Union, including Izvestia, Novy Mir, Literary gazette, Ogonyok and many others. At the same time, much of his work could not be published. For example, in the early 1930s he wrote a series of ten folkloric, historical verse epics, although only one, The Salt Riot (1934), saw the light of day. Either because of his poetry, his personality, or his intolerant world view – or, perhaps, because of all three together – he eventually came upon his downfall. It is accepted knowledge that Vasilyev was the prototype for the main character, an antihero, spy and ruffian named Andrei Abrikosov in Ivan Pyryev’s popular film The Party Ticket (1936). Note that he was portrayed here as a spy a year before he was executed for being a spy…
I don’t know enough about Vasilyev to take sides for or against him in regards to his character or lack thereof. I do, however, see a depressingly familiar case of a talented, unusual person being singled out by the in-crowd and turned into a victim and a scapegoat. The story of Pavel Vasilyev may be messy and paradoxical. But it ends with a gunshot – probably to his head – which gives him certain rights in retrospect.
Here is a poem written in February 1937, presumably after he had been arrested:

Red-breast finches flutter up…
So soon, to my misfortune,
I’ll see the green eye of the wolf
In hostile northern lands.

We shall be heartsick and forlorn,
Though fragrant as wild honey.
Unnoticed, time frames will collapse
As gray enshrouds our curls.

And then I’ll tell you, sweet:
“The days fly by like leaves upon the wind,
It’s good that in a former life
We found each other then lost it all…”

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Richard Ter-Pogosian grave, Los Angeles

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I’ve been working for awhile now with the majors – your Dostoevskys and Bulgakovs and such. But not by Pushkin alone is Russian literature Russian literature. And so on this day, so dreary, rainy and quiet where I live, I have succumbed to the desire to search a little farther than usual and to dig into the more obscure reaches of my topic. I’ll tell you right here: I had never heard of the poet Richard Ter-Pogosian until I happened upon his grave about a year ago in the Hollywood Forever cemetery. I would not have known that Richard Saakovich was a poet, had not his gravestone proclaimed it quite assertively in proverbial black and white. We can quickly summarize the information which I carried away with me from this place: Ter-Pogosian was born in 1911 and he died in his mid-90s in 2005. His wife Maria, nee Yevtushenko, was born in 1918 and preceded her husband in death in 2003. As I say, Mr. Ter-Pogosian was a poet, which is borne out not only by the word itself, but by the quill next to the word atop of the stone cross above his name. His name, of course, indicates he was of Armenian descent, although the fact that the gravestone offers it in Russian (as it does the word “poet”) implies that he considered himself a Russian poet. The name is given in English on the stone cross as Ter-Boghossian, although that rings no more bells than Ter-Pogosian. (Unless it makes us wonder if there is any connection between our poet and Eric Bogosian, the American playwright of Armenian extraction.) And that is it. That puts me at the end of my pitifully meagre knowledge.
A few things came to me long after I made these photos in the summer of 2015. By which I mean to say I only noticed them today as I began editing them. One is that there appear to be two cups of some kind lying on their side between the two graves. Perhaps these are vessels for flowers that have been put aside for the moment. I mention them because they seem to bear some specific kind of design. I don’t know if there is anything in that which might expand our knowledge or not. The other thing is the clay pot at the foot of Richard’s gravestone. Look closely at the photo above. Yes, you’re right. That is a baby’s boot in the pot. Not exactly the first thing you would expect to see in a flower pot on a grave. But there it is – the reality of it is undeniable. (The flower pot on Maria’s grave appears to be empty.) Now, if you think I am struggling to come up with something to write, you are absolutely correct. On the other hand, when presented with an absolute dearth of information, one can only begin with whatever is at hand. I have done that now, and now I have exhausted it. Utterly. As such, it is time to turn to the god of contemporary information, and to ask it, as our forbears once appealed to the Oracles, for whatever enlightenment They should so deem to share.

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The first bit of information I come upon is posted on, a Russian-language site that offers a page listing the writers of the Second Wave of emigration. This is important, because we now know that Ter-Pogosian left the Soviet Union during or shortly after World War II. As the site suggests, from the years 1938 to 1947, 10 million Soviet citizens found ways to leave the Soviet Union. The Second Wave is considered to have continued into the 1950s. There are 74 individuals in this list of writers (expanded to include historians, academics, journalists, etc.). No information is offered about anyone, aside from birth-death dates.
Next we come upon a Russian-language book published by Vladimir Agenosov in 2014. It is entitled Those Who Arose from Oblivion: An Anthology of DP (displaced persons) Writers and the Second Emigration. It includes poetry by Ter-Pogosian. An interesting statistic offered up in a review of this book is that approximately 13,000 displaced persons settled in the UK; 77,400 in the US; 25,200 in Australia; 23,200 in Canada…
Mikhail Yupp, in a long article on the internet, tells of tracking down Ter-Pogosian after finding one of his poems reprinted in a 1966 calendar put out by a Russians abroad organization. He also gets in a few digs at a Russian scholar who had published a collection, Coasts, dealing with the topic of DP poets. Unlike Yupp, he had not been able to find Ter-Pogosian when doing his research. I’ll quote Yupp’s description of the incident, because it is the only reference to the poet’s own speech that I have uncovered as of yet:
In the summer of 1992 one of the editors of the Coasts collection was in Los Angeles and he called Richard Saakovich. When asked, ‘How did Yupp find you?’ Ter-Pogosian replied:
‘He who seeks shall always find. However, why didn’t you, respected editor, appeal to Yupp? After all, you both live in the same city.’
The poem that Yupp discovered was called “Greatcoat” and tells of thoughts visited upon the poet when, one day, he pulls an old greatcoat out of a trunk. “Greatcoat” contains lines that might allow us to draw some conclusions about Ter-Pogosian’s escape from the Soviet Union. Here, in a hasty translation, are the final three quatrains from that work:

…At war and in bitter battles
Your gray hue lost its color.
You’re full of holes and stains of blood –
Traces of those cruel years!

So much woe and deprivation
Settled on your shoulders!
On the fields of wild battle
And in German labor camps!

I brought you with me here
To these lands so faraway.
We are inseparable now,
My gray greatcoat and I.

As such, we may conjecture that Ter–Pogosian was one of those (like two of my first teachers of Russian) who slipped out of the Soviet Union by way of Germany during, or shortly after, the war. He also appears to have survived time as a POW.
To the best of my ability to determine, Ter-Pogosian published at least four volumes of poetry in his lifetime. (See P.S. below.) In any case you can see four books listed on a Russian bookseller’s webpage:
1. Poems (3rd edition), Paris, 1960.
2. Lively Brook, Madrid, 1972.
3. Along Boundaries, Los Angeles, 1988.
4. Herbarium, Los Angeles, 1991.
The price set for the four volumes is, according to today’s exchange rate, approximately $540.
Note the cities of publication. Does this mean that Ter-Pogosian resided in Europe into the 1970s then found his way to the United States at about the time that the Third Wave of emigration was taking place from the Soviet Union? Possibly. Or it is possible that publishers in Paris and Madrid were simply willing to publish his work.
At present I have no more answers to these or any other questions about Richard Ter-Pogosian. I’ll be looking, though…

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I am compelled to add a P.S. several days after my original post thanks to a letter from my friend Peter Greenleaf, who somehow always seems to have been where I have not yet gone. It proved true again in connection with Ter-Pogosian. Please look at the photos below and behold: a portrait of the poet, a listing of the poetry collections he published, and a shot of two book covers, one of them being Lively Brook, the other being Collected Poetry. There were more than I knew. The photos are of items that Peter holds in his personal library. For the record, here are the books as we now know them:
1. Poems, Paris, 1960.
2. Lively Brook, Madrid, 1972.
3. Along Boundaries, Los Angeles, 1988.
4. Herbarium, Los Angeles, 1991.
5. Evening Bell (p. & d. undetermined)
6. Rainbow (p. & d. undetermined)
7. Collected Poetry (p. & d. undetermined)
We also see that Ter-Pogosian had at least one unpublished book, Epilogue.
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