Velimir Khlebnikov

Poems by Velimir Khlebnikov

Khlebnikov, born Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov, was the son of an ornithologist. He studied mathematics and natural science at the University of Kazan and began to write poetry in his student years. In 1908 he studied at the University of St. Petersburg without graduating and began to publish his poetry in various collections. He quickly joined avant-garde circles and became one of the founders of Russian Futurism. David Burlyuk and Aleksey Kruchyonykh began to publish small collections of his poetry in 1913 and 1914.

Viktor Shklovsky, in his book Hamburg Account, compared Khlebnikov’s standing in Russian literature with the relative strengths of the professional boxers that competed behind locked doors in Hamburg: “In a Hamburg accounting Khlebnikov is the true champion”. As Vladimir Mayakovsky said: “Khlebnikov is not a poet for the consumer, Khlebnikov is a poet for the manufacturer”. Today we might say, “Powerful but not necessarily user friendly”.

Obsessed by the very element of language, by the magic of creativity with words, by ideas about the confluence of mathematics and art, Khlebnikov wandered about the land like a dervish, without a roof over his head, stuffing pillowcases with rough drafts of his poetry. In his experimental work he prepared the ground for many of Mayakovsky’s breakthroughs in new form and in part for Boris Pasternak as well. His influence can be felt in the work of Daniil Kharms, Alexander Vvedensky, and Nikolai Zabolotsky. Revolting against the mysticism of Symbolism, Khlebnikov was interested in coining new words and in developing a new “trans-sense language” (zaumnyi yazyk, or zaum), a language beyond sense that would facilitate the Futurists’ avowed intentions of scrapping the culture of the past, as expressed in their 1912 manifesto “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste”.

Khlebnikov’s genius is unquestioned, though much in his poetry is ineffably complex, chaotic, and unassembled. Phenomenal lines are sometimes interspersed with bewildering semantic enigmas. Fortunately, Khlebnikov today ceases to be a poet only “for manufacturers” and lives on in the souls of many readers who are not at all literary professionals. This Don Quixote, who called himself “President of the Terrestrial Globe”, never betrayed his one and only Dulcinea, poetry, and he has been rewarded with posthumous acclaim.

1908

1909

1910

1911

1912

1914

1915

1918

1920

1921

1922

in italian

Velimir Chlèbnikov (italiano)

1912

1921