Poetical Practices

As we have noted in the course of this study the poetical practices of non-canonical men and women poets resemble each other, while differing from those of the canonical men. Many women and men noncanonical poets avoided classical themes, presumably because they lacked a classical education. Both women and men noncanonical poets wrote many more prayers, poems to family members, and poems about children (lullabies, elegies on their deaths).6 Noncanonical men poets less frequently personify nature as a female sex partner than do the canonical men and do not generally address poems to a sexualized female muse.7 They also write more cross-gender poems than do their canonical men counterparts. In short, in some ways they could be said to write "like a woman."8

Such similarities in the poetic practices of noncanonical men and women poets bring to mind Julia Kristeva's definition of femininity, not as a quality, but as a "position." For Kristeva the feminine, along with the working class and some avant-garde writers, are defined by their marginalization from the "patriarchal symbolic order."9 Similarly, in the case of Russian poets, some of the writing practices that women and noncanonical men poets share may be a function of their marginaliza-tion from Russian literature, of being perceived as Other.

We have seen that some women poets ambivalently exploited their feminine Otherness in the "poetess" stance. Nonaristocratic men poets similarly exploited their provincial or uneducated Otherness. For example, Kol'tsov appeals to presumably wealthy and aristocratic readers in the capitals to pity his unhappy, uncivilized youth in the following repeatedly cited lines:

CKy^HO h Hepafl0CTH0 3 npoBen BeK kihocth: B cyeTHLix 3aHaTHa He BH^an a Kpacmix ^Hen. ^Hn b CTenax c KopoBaMH

(I spent my youth Bored and joyless: In empty occupations I saw no beautiful days. I lived on the steppe with the cows.) ("Povest' moei liubvi" [The tale of my love, 1829])10

Mil'keev similarly prefaced his one book of poetry with a twelve-page letter to Zhukovsky describing his unhappy, uncivilized youth: "[Priroda] naznachila rodit'sia i zhit' v takoi sfere, gde nichto ne moglo sposobstvovat' svoevremennomu probuzhdeniiu i obrazovaniiu etogo instinkta. ... Ne garmonicheskii tot klass, iz kotorogo ia proiskhozhu." ([Nature] appointed me to be born and live in a sphere where nothing could assist the awakening and development of that instinct [for poetic sound]. ... The class I come from is not harmonious).11 While Kol'tsov had a well-to-do if despotic father, Mil'keev lived in poverty. This is reflected in the conclusion of his open letter to Zhukovsky in which Mil'keev asks not only for sympathy and recognition but also for help finding a job in Saint Petersburg that would provide enough free time for him to continue writing poetry.

Fedotov, in addressing the aristocracy, took a more ambivalent, clowning attitude toward his lack of a university education and lower social status. In "K moim chitateliam, stikhov moikh strogim razbi-rateliam" (To my readers, strict examiners of my verse, 1850), he argues that because as a soldier he cannot afford Romantic preoccupations with nature, glory, and love, he therefore cannot be a poet. His aristocratic readers, he concludes, rather than criticize his poetry for these deficiencies, should be indulgent, since at least he does not publish it. Like Rostopchina in "Iskushenie" (discussed in chapter 4), Fedotov ironically has written a poem arguing that he is not a poet. In all these examples we see the mixture of accommodation and resistance to the role of Other (discussed in chapter 1) that marks women's poetry as well.

I suspect that, as with women's poetry, an examination of noncanon-ical men's poetry would reveal original reworkings of traditional literary conventions and categories. For example, Fedotov wrote at least two poems in connection with his painting "Svatovstvo maiora" (The major's wooing): "Popravka obstoiatel'stv, ili zhenit'ba maiora (predislovie k kartine)" (An improvement in circumstances or the major's marriage [foreword to the picture]), and "Ratseia (Ob"iasnenie kartiny 'Svatovstvo maiora')" (Lecture [explanation of the picture "The major's wooing"]). Although literary historians consider these poems curiosities— minor historical commentaries on the painting—the fact that Fedotov wrote them indicates that he viewed the painting by itself as incomplete. It might make sense, then, to analyze the painting-poems as a separate and original genre. Fedotov's fables a la Krylov also should be read in the context of his paintings. Khomiakov's work might repay examination on its own terms as well, in the tradition of religious or philosophical poetry. That is, along with interpretive strategies for women's writings and gender-neutral aesthetic standards, we also need interpretive strategies for the writings of nonaristocrats and class-neutral aesthetic standards. Such speculations, however, which can only be verified by close analyses of these poets' works, cannot be pursued in this study.

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