August 4, 1981 Naropa Institute, Allen continues his lecture(s) on Expansive Poetics
AG: Well, I thought this time to cover somebody that we had mentioned before, which (is Sergei) Esenin, and to cover Esenin, we also have to cover a little bit of (Nikolay) Klyuev. Those of you who are in Peter (Orlovsky)’s class have heard a lot of Klyuev, but a lot of you haven’t been in that class. So I just want to touch on him. He was a friend of Esenin. [to Peter Orlovsky] – can you pick up on Klyuev a bit?
Peter Orlovsky: .. kulak.. ..that Trotsky was picking up on, because Trotsky didn’t… and a kulak.. (they made a new definition with Klyuev on mind, because he was a peasant poet, so, “a well-to-do peasant”). “Klyuev had studied..”, this is what Trotsky wrote, “Klyuev had studied, what and where we don’t know, but he had managed to horde up a lot of superficial knowledge. He is like a well-to-do peasant who accidentally brings home a telephone receiver and attaches it in a prominent area of the room next to the icon shelf. This Klyuev decorates all the prominent corners of his verse with India, the Congo, Mont Blanc, Tibet, for Klyuev loves to decorate. A peasant owns a simple unpainted shaft bow only if he’s poor. A good owner has an engraved shaft bow painted in several colors. Klyuev is a good owner of verse. Everywhere he has engravings – cinnabar, blue-gold, a fancy roof-top and more – brocades, satin, silver, and all sorts of precious stones.” – So, it’s sort of… he goes around travelling a lot and he brings these different things back, and he’s being criticized for it, as if he’s only supposed to have… you’re supposed to give up your land and your house and your garden and work in a huge, gigantic field, and the tractor’s about to come, and you’re going to give up everything you own for the collective.
AG: What was his basic philosophy, or approach? – It was like the “back-to-the-land” movement. Can you describe that all, and the religion connected with it.
Peter Orlovsky: No, I don’t know anything about it.
AG: You know something about the religion?.
Peter Orlovsky: Well, the religion was just what’s in this book, that he was.. at fifteen, he sang songs for a religious sect that would burn their.. that sometimes the boys would be “Christ”, and they would have to cut off their genitals [!] , and the girls would have to cut off their nipples [!] – And then..
AG: And this is, like, an old, old..
Peter Orlovsky: … they’d have big..
AG: It was called “the Old Believers”
Peter Orlovsky; “The Old Believers” (or some sects of the Old Believers), and they’d have a big religious gathering with no sex at all. Then, at the end of the religious gathering, they’d have a big, wild, incestuous, orgy.
AG: This was connected with what kind of.. ? what were kulaks, does anybody know?
Student: It was a big peasant, yeah.
AG: What kind of peasant?
Student: A free peasant, I think, a non-serving peasant.
Student: He owned his land.
AG: So, a small land-owner. He came from that group and he was in favor of that, actually. His angle was similar to the “Back-to-the-land” Movement now, in some respects, (maybe somewhat of a Manson-esque aspect to it?), but, anyway, it was back-to-the-land, Holy Mother Russia, holy land, emnity for the machine civilization
Peter Orlovsky: There wasn’t like (Charles) Manson – there were no drugs involved (there were, maybe, mushrooms…
Peter Orlovsky: .. but he didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink.
AG: Yeah, Puritannical. Back-t0-the-land, like our post-Hippie scene of “rucksack revolution”, in the sense of the fear of the Machine Age, fear of Industrialization, conservatism, in the sense of wanting to conserve peasant traditions and peasant technology, preserve nineteenth-century technology, pickling and kvass vodka, haying, direct relationship to the soil, a fanatical Holy Russia attitude based on backwoods and provincial redneck Russian values, which in Russia at the time had a lot of worthwhile associations. He was from that Old Believers sect, which was a weird sect, though. What else about him? [to Peter Orlovsky] (Can you) say anything else about him (there)?
Peter Orlovsky: “The kettles gleam with a hundred years fat”
AG: The kettles?
Peter Orlovsky: “The kettles gleam with a hundred years fat”
AG: In England, in the eighteenth century, they had similar poets (and even nineteenth- and twentieth- century – same thing). It’s a constant theme in poetry from (William) Blake on, a resentment of the Industrial Revolution and a “back-to-the-land” Movement, and it comes to a climax in America in the (19)60’s with people going back and making communes (and also having connected with worship in the land associated with the American Indian – sacred, sacramental, land value – and retention of old tribal traditions connected with the land). Actually, it’s a world/universal neolithic idea, in a way, as Gary Snyder says, world/universal neolithic consciousness – a direct relationship to the land and to the village – the village economics, village work, village morals, village aesthetics, handicraft, hand crafts (weaving), such as, in (the) nineteenth century, you had William Morris and (John) Ruskin and people who were realizing that the Industrial Revolution was destroying all the arts and crafts and direct knowledge of the countryside that had accumulated for a thousand years. What’s that? – “A hundred years of fat in the kettle”?
Peter Orlovsky: On the outside
Peter Orlovsky: Well, there’s two religious groups – the Khlysts – K-H-L-Y-S-T-S – and the Skoptsy sect. “Skoptsy practiced self-castration, in the belief that this custom helped to achieve self-perfection. And the Khlysts believed in… (They were) persecuted by the official Orthodox Church (since there appeared (with them) figures who claimed to be Christ, (coming from their divine mothers), who (challenging the orthodoxy) enjoyed a large following. There were massive trials of persons suspected of (holding) membership in the Khlysts sect, in the nineteenth century, which resulted in hundreds of people being imprisoned in monasteries, while others were beheaded”.
AG: So what was his relationship with Esenin?
Peter Orlovsky: With Esenin? – [Peter reads from his book] – “He (Klyuev) completely dominated Sergei. He tied his belt for him, stroked his hair, followed him with his eyes. When Sergei returned from his first trip to Moscow, he told how Klyuev was jealous of (the) attention (given) to a woman, with whom he, Sergei, had his first city romance – “As soon as I would pick up my hat he would sit on it in the middle of the room and sob like a woman at the top of his voice, “Don’t go to her, don’t you dare!”. He was particularly indignant that the sick man who was constantly fussing with all sorts of ointments and medicines dared to bother him.” – “Ointments and medicines”..
AG: Well, since there’s an element of homosexual mysticism related to the peasant back-to-the-land Movement (which Klyuev was inviolved in, and he was the teacher for Esenin). He was Esenin’s first big-time poet-friend, and, apparently, they had a big affair, and Klyuev dominated Esenin – very strictly and cruelly, actually. (So) they knew each other. But still..(and) they were good friends, until Esenin’s suicide, so, until 1924… Yes?
Student: What is “homosexual mysticism”?
AG: I guess it’s a yearning (like you hear in Gustav Mahler) for some kind of union which can’t take place. So, more and more heartbroken yearning (like you get in (Richard) Wagner, or Mahler), that endless series of passionate heart-beat…breathings.. and almost to a climax, but that climax never comes.
Student: So it’s never… it’s non-experiential maybe, or ..
AG: No, it’s experience of lack love more than anything else – a yearning for love but a lack of consummation. In certain cases, like his, because he’s also a moralist and a Puritan.. He isn’t a pagan homosexual, he’s God-dominated, so there’s always, maybe, some kind of guilt connected to it, I guess – and aestheticism – and cutting off their own genitals, actually! –
It’s not a universal form of homosexuality, but it’s a particularly Russian kind of self-flagellation (well, it’s, like, (the) Russian Christianity also includes flagellation).
AG: Heterosexual Christianity in Russian also included flagellating yourself – (like in Mexico).
So, anyway, they had a big affair, and Esenin came from a little village which he wrote about, and grounded himself in (St.) Petersburg and Moscow and in the cafes as a peasant poet, and, wandering around with Klyluev, he wore peasant clothes. But then it got pretty theatrical, because they made up their own peasant clothes, and it got totally exaggerated. Everybody looked on Klyuev as some kind of con-man, or a peasant con-man, sometimes a genius, of a kind, sort of Svengali, of a kind, dominating people by (sheer) will-power and loud mouth and brilliance, and he had some good arguments – that the Mechanical Age was going to ruin mankind, and would certainly ruin Holy Mother Russia, particularly a Machine Age connected to a Communist bureauracy – between the two of them, he thought it would be kind of poison – because the new economic plans of Lenin and others wanted to communize the land, and communize it and break up the holdings of the kulaks, or the small landholders, and break up their traditions, and start up a whole different sense of a different family system. And then there’s all these whisperings of free love and everything, coming from the Jewish Communists and the International Anarchist Communists. It was a whole big mix-up. There’s a guy named (Nestor) Makhno – Do you remember anything about him, Peter? – anything?
Peter Orlovsky: He was a…
AG: He looks like (Arthur) Rimbaud, actually. From..
Peter Orlovsky: Georgian
Peter Orlovsky: Yeah, he was a horseman and a leader, and was he an Anarchist?
AG: Yeah. he represented the local Anarchism (in the sense of provincial Anarchism, or..what do you call it?… individualized, broken-up, decentralized Anarchism.
Peter Orlovsky:He got trapped in a battle.
Peter Orlovsky: Right
AG: And beat them. So, fighting with the Communists against the White Russians or the old Czarist armies. Then he didn’t want to come under the rule of the Central Committee (CCCP). And so Trotsky went out with an army and beat Makhno. Makhno was this beautiful-looking guy…if you ever see a picture of him – an anarchist – so that’s kind of interesting (except, it’s also said that he was kind of an egotist, and…
Peter Orlovsky: ..an alcoholic…
AG: An alcoholic
Peter Orlovsky: ..ended up in Paris…
AG: Yeah, he died in Paris, in exile, of alcoholism, drank himself to death in Paris after he got kicked out of Georgia.
But this attack on Makhno was, finally, the crucial thing, politically, because the Bolsheviks had to consolidate their power and they had all these people (what would be like The Living Theatre today, or radical anarchists, or the Rainbow Family, or Woodstock tribes), all resisting the central authority, and, finally, Trotsky had to take an army and knock them off, kill them, or drive them out.
Peter Orlovsky: Did they like…
AG: Esenin, kind of liked Klyuev, Makhno also. He mentions him a lot. I don’t know if he met him but he did like him. So what else about Klyuev, anything (else) to say?
AG: Any interesting lines?
Peter Orlovsky: He was sent to Siberia, and left in (19)45 with two suitcases of poems, and never…
Peter Orlovsky. Oh, thirty-five.. Came back in (19)35, he was freed in (19)35, and was heading out on a train to Siberia, and was never seen again (with his two suitcases of poems – which may have been used for toilet-paper, because there was no toilet-paper in those days)
AG: Yeah, he was exiled to Siberia, and he had a tough time, (but) apparently didn’t die, though, survived it. But on the way back, it is rumored, he was shot by the police because they didn’t want him back anyway, because he was a thorn-in-the-side to Stalin and the whole bureaucracy then, because he was so obviously out-of-step with what they thought was the times and what they wanted. He was still friends, even at that late date, with Esenin, though (they first met (in) 1910 or so – 1912).
[Audio for the above can be heard here , from the beginning until approxiately fourteen-and-half minutes in]