Poetry as Nakedness
ODE ON THE ECONOMIC CATACLYSM (RUSSIA 1998)
The economic cataclysm swallowed Andrey Borisovich Gubin in Moscow,
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An assassin shot Galina Sergeevna Starovoytova in Saint Petersburg,
A crocodile cataclised Aleksandr Sergeevich Rudakov in Afrika,
A camel spat on Moisey Abramovich Rabinovich in the zoo.
The first International “Festival of Naked Poetry” took place in August last year at the London Institute of Contemporary Art. What is behind this project with its (seemingly) metaphorical title? Is poetry nakedness? Or, can nakedness be poetical? — In the spring of 1997, the poets Tim Gadaski (born in 1967 in Oymiakon, Yakutia) and Vladimir Yaremenko-Tolstoy (born in 1962 in Yakutsk) gave a reading at the Central Exhibition Hall in St. Petersburg during which they bored their audience to such a degree that the listeners began to hurl tomatoes and eggs. The artists decided that the best way to win over their audience was, as they put it, “to expose our lives totally to their frustration” by taking off their clothes. With this successful strategy, a new literary movement was born, a movement which has since found a following all across Europe, with performances by such well known poets as Anthony Howell, Paula Edwards, Matthew Fraser, Ivor Stodolsky, Reiko Iwano, and Emmanuelle Waeckerle.
Yaremenko-Tolstoy seems to be able to mobilize new members for the worldwide (naked) poets’ society wherever hegoes. He also takes photographs of the nude writers for an anthology, a collection of more than 100 naked poets from all over Europe. Their poetry together with their photographs will, it is hoped, offer an opportunity to perceive soul and body simultaneously, to find “invisible energetic strings” between body and text by reading the body like a poem and by comprehending poems through the body.
Some critics consider Gadaski and Yaremenko-Tolstoy’s idea that poetry declaimed in the nude creates a spiritual bond with its audience simply an advertising ploy. Others feel reminded of Allen Ginsberg’s reading of Blake at the Royal Albert Hall and of his public discussions of masturbation. Others argue that even nudity cannot improve Gadaski and Yaremenko-Tolstoy’s poems and that “this kind of poetry will disappear like a table-dancer’s G-string, up it’s own fundament” (The Guardian, 22.8.98) …
Yet both have their own reasons for continuing their movement, knowing that in times like ours, when the senses are overflowing with nude images of all kind (a long time after Baudrillard found the answer to the question what to do “after the orgy”), it is no longer possible to shock anyone. Gadaski and Yaremenko-Tolstoy’s performances, then, cannot be simply subsumed under 60s-style action art, nor are they simply “body art” or a form of exhibitionism. Poetry “is the only art that can be created in the nude”, Gadaski and Yaremenko-Tolstoy argue. “While painters need brushes and canvas, while film makers need cameras and lighting, poets are free of any such artificial devices. Naked people who were inspired by nature and love created the first poetry. The verses thus created were memorized and recited, while the wind and the sun were gently kissing the poets’ unveiled faces. You see, you don’t even need a pen or paper since a poem can be memorized. It’s just you and the world. In order to return to the essence of poetry, clothes must be thrown away like chains.” (True enough, audiences do not always seem to appreciate the naked poets’ lofty goals, paying more attention to their naked bodies than to the poems).
In addition to their activities in the nude, Gadaski and Yaremenko-Tolstoy have started to perform native Siberian shamanic dances (for one of them, 18 Siberian virgins are needed‹they may be hard to come by in Western European cities). They also do drawings, create slight-shows, are at work on a project for “photoanalysis,” and regularly try to interrupt daily life in London by staging short-lived “actions” in the street. I asked them about all these activities, which seem to be marginal to their lives as poets. Here is their answer: “What does it mean nowadays to be a performing artist, an Œactivist?’ For us, it means to do the wrong things in the wrong place at the wrong time. We cannot speak about any future plans because we do not have any. We are happy with the present situation, even though not everything is very easy. For example, the Chairman of the Paris Naked Poets’ Club Paris, Mr. Julian Blaine, stipulates that only “well established” poets are allowed into the club. Naked poets live in all countries, but even for us it’s not always easy to find them – some of them are very shy and perform only when nobody can see them. We are planning an international symposium on Naked Poetry in Cambridge this autumn, with scholars, philosophers, writers, journalists, etc.”
But what if one day the audience will once again hurl eggs and tomatoes at the naked authors? Yaremenko-Tolstoy is unfazed by this prospect: “I am prepared for this. I will simply carry a shaver with me and begin to shave my body hair…” This might become an endless repetition of ritual performances, a simulation of “art” — or is it perhaps already not much more than tastelessness? To hurl insults or other kinds of verbal vegetablesat the Naked Poets, call or fax: 044-181-858-6831.