Gennadij Ajgi

The lyric poet Gennady Aygi was born in 1934 as Gennadi Nikolayevich Lisin in Shaimursino in what today is the Chuvash Republic. He belonged to the Chuvash ethnic minority, an ethnic group distantly related to the Huns. His assumed Chuvash name means »he over there«, »the same one«. His first poems in the 50’s were published in the Chuvash language. The volume of poetry with which Gennadi Aygi wanted to conclude his studies in 1957, at the famous Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow, was declined. Inspired by his friend, the Russian poet Boris Pasternak, Gennady Aygi wrote exclusively in Russian since 1960 – in an attempt to use language to overcome his outsider position. In 1964 he was nevertheless banned from publication; this lasted for about 25 years. Despite this isolation Gennady Aygi, who Roman Jakobson referred to as the greatest living Russian poet, soon made a name for himself in Germany and France. In Germany, the 1971 volume »Beginn der Lichtung« (t: Beginning of the Clearing) secured his position as an acclaimed poet. He translated Dante and Lorca, Mayakovsky and Walt Whitman into his native language and he is editor of an anthology of Chuvash poetry. His poems have been published in 23 countries, translated into 44 languages and received numerous prizes including: the lyric poetry prize of the Académie Française (1972), the Petrarca-Prize (1993), and the Boris Pasternak Prize (2000). Aygi’s poetry draws upon the Chuvash folk tradition and is rooted in deep orthodox faith. A multitude of literary influences can also be discerned in his work. These include French symbolists like Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and the Russian futurists around Mayakovsky. Characteristic of Aygi’s composition principle is the extreme reduction and intensification of language, which has been made possible by breaking open classical poetical forms: Aygi was not interested in describing the world, but in »abstractly making phenomena in the world absolute by means of the poet«. He added: »My works are not symbols, metaphors or allegories. My work is about being woken up by a piercing light, where a human pike – the word – intentionally becomes unclear, where the human being is reconciled with nature and the universe.« Gennadi Aygi died in Moscow in 2006.

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