Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




The Bad, the Bad, and the Ugly: Russophone B-Verse Throughout the Ages
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Registration required for attendance. Please note that all attendees must follow Columbia’s COVID-19 Policies and Guidelines. Columbia University is committed to protecting the health and safety of its community. To that end, all visiting alumni and guests must meet the University requirement of full vaccination status in order to attend in-person events. Vaccination cards may be checked upon entry to all venues.

Please join the Harriman Institute for a conference entitled “The Bad, the Bad, and the Ugly: Russophone B-Verse Throughout the Ages,” organized by Zachary Deming and Venya Gushchin.

In his canny examination of the life and oeuvre of Count Khvostov, Ilya Vinitsky suggests that “if good poetry hides an author’s complexes, then bad poetry unveils them.” This observation draws our attention to a typically unexamined assumption of literary scholarship: that our objects of study must, necessarily, be “good.” Verse scholarship in the 20th and 21st centuries has made great strides in deconstructing cumbersome notions of universal artistic quality and heroic genius. It has made room in the field of poetics for literary verse that challenges long-held notions of “the good,” “the true,” and “the beautiful”—and, at long last, has given even the unabashedly ugly its due consideration.

Our conference embraces the notion that abject artistic failure, too, can be fertile ground for intellectual inquiry. Indeed, works of poor quality play an integral role in the formation of the canon of Russophone verse. Bad poetry defines the limits of literariness at a given historical moment, heightens the contradictions inherent in the process by which literary form coheres and “is made,” and lays the foundation for future verbal experimentation and development. In so doing, it offers us a particularly effective means of investigating relations between individual actors and literary institutions. Svetlana Boym suggests as much in her study of “commonplace writing,” positing that it becomes “a public threat,” dramatizing “the tension between writing and publishing, between writing and the presentation of the self.”

For two days, we will investigate and celebrate “B-verse”: poetry that is hackneyed, poorly crafted, transparently self-indulgent, or otherwise artistically ineffective. The papers presented will survey “bad” verse production in a grand variety of manifestations, and from a wide range of time periods.

In addition to the more traditional scholarly component, this conference will also include a workshop dedicated to translating “B-verse,” in the effort to locate “badness” in tangible literary form, and to answer broader questions about the heuristics of stylistic quality and appraisal in and out of Russian-language poetry.

We seek to foreground those moments in literary production at which human frailty bleeds into form. And as we engage with poetic text that is (at least ostensibly) forthrightly “bad,” we hope to interrogate the reflexive process through which “literariness” is ascribed to verse language. In so doing, we will demonstrate how our own engagement with texts that freely shirk traditional standards of quality may be even freer, cleverer, and more intellectually generative.





Day One

Friday, October 21, 2022

1:30pm | Welcome


2:00-4:00pm | “All that Glitters is not Gold”: Silver Age B-Verse


Lena Zakryzhevskaia

Khodasevich and Berberova


Sarah Matthews

Food for Thought in Vladislav Khodasevich’s Poetry: “Ну, Словом – Вот Тебе Бисквит, а Книг, Пожалуйста, не Кушай'”


Elena Leonenko

“Насилие над Рифмами”: Isabella Grinevskaia’s Literary Legacy


4:15-6:15pm | Embarrassment of Imagination, Poverty of Riches: Émigré and Late Soviet B-Verse


Katya Tomashevskaya

“It is Better Not to Put This Kind of Poetry Into One Basket”: Vladimir Bogomyakov and His Heteronyms for Light Verse


Intizor Gulyamova

B-Verse as One of the Key Mechanisms of the Metafiction in Vladimir Nabokov’s Last Russian Novel The Gift

6:30-7:30pm | Keynote Speech: Ilya Vinitsky


Day Two

Saturday, October 22, 2022

10:00am-12:00pm | Semantic Satiation: B-Verse as Oral Culture


Anna Vichkitova

Good Bad Verse: Imagery of Russian Hip-Hop Texts


David Molina

Murat Nasyrov, Phonetic Translation, and Why the Boy Wanted to Go to Tambov


Yulia Kim

A Prisoner of Words: Political Polysemization on The Example of One Poetic Text


1:00-3:00pm | Ahead of One’s Time: Bad Poetry and the Futurist Project


Austin Gary

Futurist Violence in Pasternak’s Early Verse


Lada Panova

“Bad Writing” Meets “Cratylic” Discourse: Velimir Khlebnikov’s Poem “Slovo o El”


Valerii Otiakovski

Konst. Konst. Fofanov as a ‘Bad’ Konst. Fofanov: on a Literary Reputation of K. Olimpov


3:15-4:15 pm | Translation Workshop, conducted by Venya Gushchin


4:30-5:00 pm | Closing Ceremony