This book is thus a study of a major curren in twentieth-century Russian poetry, and an enquiry into the intersection between literary and spiritual concerns. Josephine von Zitzewitz’s new study focuses on the Religious-Philosophical Seminar’s identification of culture and spirituality, which allowed Leningrad’s unofficial culture to tap into the spirit of Russian modernism, as can be seen in «37». But it also presents case studies of five poets from a special generation: not only Krivulin and Shvarts, but also Sergey Stratanovskii(1944), Oleg Okhapkin (1944-2008) and Aleksandr Mironov (1948-2010). Cover image — «Neva» by Natalia Zhilina,1990.



Oleg Okhapkin (1944-2008) constitutes an exception among the poets under study here in that his Orthodoxy was, literally, put into his cradle. He was brought up by steadfast Orthodox believer, his grandmother and her friend. They believed the boy to be the fulfilment of a prophecy of Father John of Kronstadt, who had foretold the birth of a male child of angelic beauty that would return God’s word to the Russian people at a time Russia had fallen into sin. 1  Okhapkin had a beautiful voice, and as an adolescent spent a year (1957-1958) singing in the choir of the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. Subsequently he entered the Musorgsky Musical Academy, poised for a career as a professional singer, but then decided to abandon this path and instead dedicate himself completely to the writing of poetry. He remained faithful to this calling until his death in 2008.2

According to the ‘legend of Okhapkin’ told by David Dar, Okhapkin’s early love for literature was instilled and encouraged by a clergyman, a bishop of the Tikhonov, underground church. During a meeting with the young Okhapkin he advocated the great Russian writers as religious teachers, reportedly telling the boy: ‘Не ходи в монастырь, не служи антихристовой церкви. Иди в мир. Читай Пушкина, Лермонтова, Достоевского, Гоголя. А мое благословение будет всегда с тобой’ [‘Don’t join a monastery, don’t serve the church of the antichrist. Go into the world. Read Pushkin, Lermontov, Dostoevskii and Gogol’. And my blessing will always be with you’].3  Thus in the case of Okhapkin the traditional path of the underground writer is inverted: while the overwhelming majority of neophytes came to Orthodoxy through their study of poetry and philosophy, and often experimented first with Eastern religions, Okhapkin was initiated to literature via his Christian religion.

Okhapkin consciously wrote from an Orthodox Christian perspective.4  Despite his impeccable religious credentials and a penchant towards asceticism, discussed below, Okhapkin was no stranger to the world. Throughout the 1960s he led a bohemian lifestyle and frequented the Café Saigon.5  In the 1970s he was involved in several unofficial study groups. Throughout 1976 his flat became the meeting point for the seminar Gumilevskie chteniia, which was curated by I. Martynov. He attended the Religious-Philosophical Seminar and read his poetry there. Perhaps his most seminal involvement was with the Khristianskii seminar po problemam religioznogo vozroshdeniia, founded in 1974 by the Muscovite Aleksandr Ogorodnikov, a neophyte and ‘spiritual son’ of Father Dmitrii Dudko.

Okhapkin was not a full member of this group, which brought together fervent young Orthodox believers from Moscow, Leningrad, and several provincial towns, notably Samara, mostly because his dire material situation prevented him from travelling. However, he was very close to Vladimir Poresh, the Seminar’s representative in Leningrad. This connection led to Okhapkin agreeing, in 1978, to serve as literary editor of the Seminar’s samizdat journal Obshchina.8 Reprisals against unofficial cultural intensified around the turn of the decade, but the members of the Khristianskii seminar members were dealt with more harshly than those who had organised purely cultural or literary groups. The reason was likely ideological: the Seminar members propagated an outspoken religious agenda that included the provision of theological education that the weakened Orthodox church could not provide,9 a commitment to mission,10 and a condemnation of the state’s abuse of its competences in insisting on regulating religious activity.11 The Seminar’s tasks were defined as ‘описать опыт блужданий современного поколения от марксистских догм к религии и Церкви’[‘to describe the wanderings of the present generation from Marxist dogma towards religion and the Church’]. The main organisers, including Poresh, received labour camp sentences. Okhapkin himself escaped imprisonment but was summoned for interrogation by the KGB several times and called as a witness in the trial against Poresh.12 He ascribes the mental ill health that blighted his life from the 1980s onwards to the trauma of this ordeal.13


1. Poetry as Religious Vocation

Like many of his peers, Okhapkin began writing poetry as a teenager. A few of his poems were published in the official Molodoi Leningrad.14  In 1970 he was under threat for arrest as a ‘parasite’, the same fate Iosif Brodskii had suffered in 1964. Thanks to the efforts of writers around Efim Etkind, Okhapkin was given a membership in the gruppkom of the Writers’ Union, which gave him the right to live in Leningrad without having to be in regular employment. He also worked for a time as literary secretary for David Dar’ and his wife, Vera Panova.15 The desire to become a published poet seems to have stayed with him longer than in the case of others – he submitted a collection for publication to Lenizdat publishing house as late as 1978, but refused to comply with the request of his reviewers to introduce alterations. This seems to have been the point where he gave up all hopes of becoming a published poet. Subsequently he accepted Poresh’s suggestion to edit the literary section of Obshchina, no longer afraid that the association with a samizdat journal would compromise his poetic career.16

The account of how Okhapkin came to understand poetry as his true vocation has been repeated many times. In the elevated tone of David Dar’ it looks like this: having decided not to pursue a career as a singer, Okhapkin was planning to leave Leningrad and went on a farewell tour which prompted him to climb the belfry of the Smolny church. There, he chanced upon Iosif Brodsky, and the following conversation took place:

– Ты кто? – спросил Олег. – Поэт, — ответил юноша. Привычное слово «поэт», произнесенное только что вернувшимся из ссылки Иосифом Бродским, произнесенное на этой высоте, над городом поэзии, в золотом сиянии, по всей вероятности , прозвучало так, что обрело для Олега Охапкина какой-то новый, особый смысл, который стал смыслом всей его дальнейшей жизни.17

Who are you? – Oleg asked. – A poet, — replied the youth. The ordinary term “poet”, pronounced by Iosif Brodskii who had only just returned from exile, pronounced at such a height, above the city of poetry, in the golden shimmer, very probably acquired some kind of new and special meaning for Oleg Okhapkin, a meaning which should become the meaning of his entire subsequent life.

In Okhapkin’s own account, there is no mention of an intention to leave Leningrad, but he adds another note:
[Бродский] пригласил меня к себе домой, прочитал мои стихи и сказал: «Олег, вы действительно пишете хорошие стихи, и если это будет продолжаться, то через двадцать лет Нобелевская премия будет ваша.»18

[Brodskii] invited me to his place, read my poems and said: “Oleg, you really do write good poems, and if you continue like that you will be awarded the Nobel Prize in twenty years time.”

It is impossible to establish now whether Brodsky really mentioned the Nobel Prize to Okhapkin and, if he did, whether his remark was intended ironically. What is clear is that Okhapkin himself publicised his acquaintance with Brodsky, and the latter’s endorsement of his work, in the 1970s, immortalising the encounter in the poem ‘Iosifu Brodskomu’ (1970, pp. 53-56). Initiation stories are being told by many of Okhaplin’s peers; cf. Krivulin’s literary epiphany after reading Boratynskii (chapter 2, FN 20) and Shvarts’s vision (chapter 4, FN 34). In Okhapkin’s case the story is modelled on the archetypical story of an established poet giving his solemn approval to a newcomer.19 This ‘personal foundation myth’ is thus, consciously or not, a move or technique aimed at emphasising this poet’s belonging to a particular tradition – the classical tradition of Russian poetry.
Krivulin observed that Okhapkin ‘строил свою жизнь “по слову”’ [‘built his life “according to the word”’]. Citing the long poem ‘Golod’ (1970) as an example, Krivulin argues that Okhapkin interpreted the actual hunger he suffered as a result of his decision to pursue his calling regardless of consequences as a form of religious devotion and recast his precarious material circumstances as a form of monastic asceticism:

Он сам себя обрек на голод “ради слова” и, фиксируя свое состояние в поэтической форме, говорил фактически о “голоде словесном”, о неутолимой потребности героически подражать Богу-Слову. “Подражание Христу” в условиях сосновополянской хрущобы, осозноваемой как пещера монаха-отшельника.20

He condemned himself to hunger “for the sake of the word” and, recording his state in poetic form he practically spoke about “verbal hunger”, about the insatiable need to emulate God-the-Word. “Emulating Christ” in the environment of the slums of Sosnovaia Poliana that was perceived as the cave of a hermit monk.

While Okhapkin’s material poverty may have been extreme at times, the lifestyle he lead was not significantly different to that of his peers. But his idea that he was on a mission, understood literally, invested his choice of poetry as a profession with added meaning, while the privations he endured imbued his faith with the pathos of lived history. In her introduction to Okhapkin’s posthumous volume ‘Izbrannoe’, which showcases shorter lyrics from four decades, as well as some of his longer poems, Okhapkin’s widow Tat’iana Koval’kova states that ‘Выбор поэзии как духовного пути в жизни как пути служения, отсекает всякую возможность жизни по законам «мира сего»’ [‘The choice of poetry as a spiritual path in life, as a path of service, removes all possibility of a life according to the laws of “this world”’]. 21 This fusion of literary and religious impulses was at once reason and justification for a life that was marginal in every sense – Okhapkin’s involvement with unofficial culture meant he was cut off from Soviet mainstream culture, while his rootedness in church culture singled him out in the unofficial sphere. The key to this vision is the fact that he understood poetry not just as ‘service of God’, but specifically as ‘imitation of Christ’, i.e. as his personal cross:

Мне давно приглянулась горка
На которой незримый крест
Распахнулась настолько горько
Что вольнее не сыщешь мест.

Прохожу вдалеке и вижу:
Это место – оно моё.22

My eye was caught long ago/ by a hill on which an invisible cross/ opened up itself so bitterly/ that you won’t find greater freedom anywhere.// I walk past in the distance and see:/ That place is mine.

Significantly, in this latter example the poet employs a paradox that is analogous to the paradox inherent in Christian teaching itself: equating his own life with the torturous way of the cross, he identifies the cross as the only source of true freedom. In the case of a poet, freedom means to a not insignificant degree the freedom to create.


2. Biblical Poems: From Prophet to Pushkin to the New Testament

Okhapkin is the only one among his peers who produced a good number of straightforwardly confessional poems – poems that detail his personal involvement with God. Most of these are modelled on Biblical stories. The Old Testament figure of Job, who remained faithful to God in the face of intense suffering seems to have been a favourite mouthpiece for Okhapkin, featuring in the long narrative ‘Ispytanie Iova’, the shorter lyric ‘Tiazhelye krylia’ and also in ‘Doroga Iova’, published in Obvodnyi kanal No 7 and not included in subsequent printed versions. It is tempting to conclude that Job provided Okhapkin with a conceptual framework that allowed him to recast his personal circumstances as a trial visited upon him by God himself, with the purpose of testing the strength of his faith:

Одно ещё оставил – дар,
то самое, с чего я гол,
Да тяжесть крыл, свободы жар,
Молитвы огненный Глагол (‘Taizhelye krylia, 1972, p. 160)

One other thing he left behind – a gift/ that’s why I’m naked,/ And the weight of wings, the heat of freedom/ Prayer’s fiery word’

The fascination with the reluctant prophet Jonah is related (‘Sud’ba Iony’) – Jonah tries to avoid his prophetic calling but in the end accepts that he cannot hide from it, although the realisation means he cannot live a normal life any more.23

Yet there is distinct literariness to his religious poetry, owing to his profound involvement with literary tradition. ‘Voploshchenie’ is a pertinent illustration; despite its New Testament echoes – a title that invokes the incarnation and a mention of the (Holy?) Spirit in the last line – the most striking imagery is adapted from Pushkin. Any reader with a basic knowledge of Russian poetry is likely to interpret the six-winged seraph inspiring a reluctant prophet who uses the first person as a reference to from Pushkin’s canonical poem ‘Prorok’. By invoking the prototype of the Romantic poet Okhapkin inscribes himself into a tradition that idealises the poet as a tragic hero whose gift separates him from those around him:

Не музой и не демоном храним
Я принял в дар провидческое око,
Покров мой – шестикрылый серафим –
Ужасный гений древнего пророка

И оттого так лёгок мой ярем.
Я верую, что Дух владеет мною. (1968, p. 29)

Preserved by neither muse nor demon/ I accepted the gift of the prophetic eye,/ My cover is the six-winged seraph/ The ancient prophet’s terrible genius./ And this is why my pulse is light./ I believe that the Spirit is guiding me

But Okhapkin adds another facet to the his poetic myth, that of religious prophet without quotation marks, and the latent biblical background to ‘Prorok’, which draws on a scene from Isaiah 6, makes this the ideal text for his purpose. Pushkin himself did not hail the poet as a religious prophet; his emphasis was on the self-sacrificing individual genius. Okhapkin, on the other hand, seems to have manipulated his reference to poetic tradition in order to strengthen his own stance equating poetry and religious prophecy, which transpires in the final line. His entire oeuvre supports such a reading.24

However, the most interesting religious stance adopted by Okhapkin’s lyrical persona is that of an Apostle. In these cases poetry no longer ‘merely’ articulates the poet’s divine inspiration, but becomes Gospel, a revelation of Christ. The Apostle is an eyewitness, somebody who had a personal encounter with Christ and can thus relate his experience with some authority. ‘Prizvanie’ is such a story, retelling the instance when Jesus called his first disciples at the Lake of Gennesaret as told in Luke 5:1-11. The presence of the poet in this scene (‘Я был с Тобой в земле Геннисарета, / иначе, мне привиделось все это’ [‘I was with you at Lake Genezareth. /If that’s not true I have dreamt all this’,1971, p. 116] is proof that the poet not merely draws an analogy between poet and Apostle/disciple, but identifies the two. What is implied here is that if the poet is not one of the Apostles, his whole existence is a mirage and his labour in vain.

Bible stories retold abound in Okhapkin’s oeuvre. Most of them, however, are much longer and feature a third-person narrator. As a rule, poems with a first person narrator, such as ‘Prizvanie’ and the long poem ‘Ispytanie Iova’ (1973), are preoccupied with the religious calling of the poet himself. Biblical stories retold by a third person narrator, on the other hand, represent the fruit of the faithful labour of the poet-Apostle.

What does make his Bible narratives unusual though is their transparency – they are devoid of modernist complexity and ‘advertise’ what they are, rather than relying on the reader to guess – and their closeness to the original. Moreover, Okhapkin hardly ever adapts the point made in the original story.25 However, his poems can be longer than the passages they draw on, sometimes also combining passages that are further apart in the Gospel into one narrative. Moreover, Okhapkin’s Apostle supplements them with comments and explicit conclusions lacking in the Gospel narratives. The following example from ‘Vkhod Gospoden v Ierusalim’ illustrates this technique. Stanza 2 describes the beginning of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday. Matthew 21:6), but the narrator’s remarks about the ‘proud city betraying her prophets’ in lines 3-4 correspond to Matthew 23:37, where Jesus pronounces them as an admonition:

Животные тихо
Побрели. Впереди за Кедроном вставал
Гордый город, что стольких почтив, предавал
Лишь пророков своих, и теперь, как шутиха,
Рассыпался пред Ним в лицемерье похвал. (1970, p. 88)

The animal started walking/ Peacefully. Ahead, beyond the Kedron/ the proud city/ stood which, having honoured so many merely/ betrayed its prophets and now, like a jester/ praised him profusely, full of hypocrisy.

In stanza 4 we return to Matthew 21:8-9:

Люди ветви с дерев обрезали пред Ним
И стелили, стелили… кричали: Осанна!
Славься, Сыне Давидов, зане осеним
Всенародно Тебя и придём покаянно.

The people cut branches from the trees/ and spread them before him, crying ‘Hosanna! Be praised, Son of David, because we all publicly shield you and come full of repentance.

Stanza 5 begins with the narrator’s own interpretation of the events; the narrator’s inner ear then fuses the enthusiastic ‘Hosanna’ of the Palm Sunday crowd with the ‘Crucify’ demanded by the same crowd a week later:

Люди встречали Его на царство.
Но, спустившись с горы и завидев город,
Он заплакал о нём, зная в сердце зверство
Тех, кто ныне восторжен, а завтра — Ирод,
Не иначе, каркнет пред римлян ражих:
«Кровь Его на нас и на детях наших!»
Крови! крови! осанна! распни! распни!
Иерусалиме! Голгофы огни!..26

The people were greeting Him as their king./ But, having descended from the hill and seen the city/ He cried over it, knowing in his heart the brutality/ Of those who today are in raptures and tomorrow – Herod/ Will certainly caw before the burly Romans:/ “His blood is on us and on our children!” Blood! blood! hosanna! crucify! crucify!/ Jerusalem! The lights of Golgotha!…

The transparency of the story is underscored by the simple language with its prose-like syntax that dispenses with metaphors. While there is a regular rhyme scheme (ababcdcd or abbaccdd) the meter is irregular and this, together with the prolific enjambment, makes the end rhymes less obtrusive.

It is not just the Apostles surrounding Jesus that interest the poet, he also impersonates other Gospel protagonists, as well as St Paul. In ‘Novoe vino’, for example, the writer appears in the guise of Lazarus, the friend whom Jesus resurrected from the dead (cf. John:11). The lyrical voice undergoes a similar resurrection experience that turns him into a ‘born again’ man ‘И вот, меня лишь нет в помине./ Зато есть новое вино/ Твоей, о Господи, любови!’ [‘And see, there is no trace of me/ Instead there is the new wine/ of Thy love, oh Lord!’, 1971, p. 114]. New wine is a biblical image, while the idea of the self vanishing to be replaced with God’s love echoes the words of St Paul: ‘it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.’ (Galatians 2 19-21).

As Sergei Stratanovskii has pointed out, Okhapkin likes to project his lyric persona onto literary archetypes, listing the Flying Dutchman (‘Letuchii Golandets’), Ulysses (‘Skitanie Odysseia’).27  In technical terms the poems in which he adopts the voice of a Biblical figure belong to the same genre. Moreover, given that adaptations of Biblical stories were popular topics among his peers, and among Silver Age poets, too, Okhapkin’s fondness for Bible stories should thus be read not only as a religious, but also a literary characteristic, one that anchors him within his peer group.


3. Excursion: A national Gospel?

The ideology of the Khristianskii seminar po problemam religioznogo vozroshdeniia, with which Okhapkin was heavily involved, centred on two premises: the conviction that a new, religious, age was about to begin and the neo-Slavophile idea Russia’s chosenness that would afford Russia a leading role in the imminent religious age permeate the group’s programmatic writings.28

The group’s attitude towards art and literature as a way of serving God within this context is summarised in the introduction to Okhapkin’s poems written by Vladimir Poresh for Obshchina:
Русская культура, как и культура всего мира, вступает сейчас в новую творческую эпоху: начинается новый религиозный период и истории человечества. В всязи с этим возрастает необычайно ответственность художника и требования к нему: художественное творчество – особый род служения Абсолютному смыслу.29

Russian culture is now entering a new creative epoch, together with wider world culture. A new religious period is dawning in human history. And because of this we see an unusual increase in the responsibility of the artist and the demands placed on him. After all, artistic creation is a special way of serving the Absolute meaning.

This heady messianic cocktail mixes the young people’s own experience – their personal discovery of Orthodoxy, life in the underground – with echoes from nineteenth-century Slavophile thought and the apocalyptic expectations of thinkers and writers at the turn of the twentieth century. A good number of Okhapkin’s poems show evidence of a similar mood. However, in his case the mood seems to be inspired by the messianic urge that permeates the New Testament – whose authors wrote under the premise that the Second Coming, and with it the end of historical time, was imminent – at least as much as by the national enthusiasm of his peers.

A poetic illustration of the points made above by Poresh is Okhapkin’s ‘Na smert’ patriarkha’, in which the death of Patriarch Aleksii I in 1970s is interpreted as a watershed, heralding the new religious age to come:

На грани эпох постигает смерть
Избранников Рока.
Времени нож отсекает пласт
Безвременья века.
Христова Пасха…Христос воскрес!
Воистину с нами.
Тленный мрака покров разлез
И свет грядущий сквозит в разрез (p. 67)

At the end of the ages death finds/ Fate’s chosen ones./ […] The knife of time cuts away the layer/ of the century’s stagnation./[…] The Easter of Christ… Christ has risen!/ He really is with us./ The shroud of corruptible has been torn/ And the coming light shines through the gap.

Okhapkin wrote many other poems on the theme of Russia and Russianness,30  all of which place the emphasis on Russia’s inherent Christianity. ‘Vremia Paskhi’, to give an example, features a number of Orthodox attributes, such as bell towers and the procession (‘Krestnyi khod’), while the Slavophile dogma of Russia’s chosenness reverberates in the image of the ‘all-Russian draft’ that will dispel the darkness of the world:

Вся Россия, что есть христиан,
К Пасхе красные свечи затеплит,
и сквозняк всероссийский растреплет
Гребни тьмы, теневой океан. (1969, pp. 36-37, p. 37)

All of Christian Russia/ lights red candles for Easter/ and the all-Russian draft tousles /The crests of darkness, the ocean of shadows.

The same messianic idea shines through in ‘Zaveshchanie’, a poem employing a large array of Slavophile imagery, from the mention of the Mongol yoke and the designation of Russia as ‘Sviataia Rus’’ to the implicit identification of Moscow with Jerusalem in the epigraph, a quote from Psalm 137. Okhapkin’s final exhortation is not belligerent, though, but draws on a Gospel passage teaching simplicity and humility: ‘Ибо то, что премудрых судит,/ Лишь младенцам открыто будет’ [‘For that which judges the sages/ Will be revealed only to infants’, p. 121; cf. Matthew 18:3].

The choice of literature for inclusion into the only published issue of the journal Obshchina underscores the primacy of religion over national concerns, and the primacy of religious vision over Church dogma. The only featured writer, apart from Okhapkin himself, is the mystic poet and Gulag inmate Daniil Andreev (1906-1959), with his long poem on the Blockade, ‘Leningradskii apokalipsis’.31 Ultimately, all strictly political allegiances, be they to the West or the East, are rejected for the sake of a ‘third way’ of salvation, which will lead the Russian people straight to heaven.

Щель, не в Европу на этот раз
И не в Царьград, чай, –
В небо – спастись – […]
Стадо удержит смиренный Спас
Яростью отчей.
(Na smert’ Patriarkha, 1970, p. 68)

A crack, this time not onto Europe/ and not to Constantinople, tea -/ To save oneself into heaven – […]/ The Saviour holds on to the flock/ Through paternal fury.

For Okhapkin, religion was thus not a function of the national, but rather that which could validate the national. As Sergei Stratanovskii rightly observed, Okhapkin only recognised a nation when it held moral, and in this case religious, values.32

Okhapkin’s Russian religious patriotism thus differs fundamentally from that professed by the national underground, first and foremost in Moscow.33  While the poet identifies Russia with Russian Orthodoxy34  he, controversially, insists that Christian values must take precedence over any political considerations, as detailed in the poem ‘Pismo k pravoslavnym’: ‘Я со всеми б к имперской прибег латыни/ Но бесстрашно Слова служа святыне,/ верю […]’ [‘I would follow the crowd, use imperial Latin/ But I fearlessly serve the sacred Word/ and believe […]’, 1972, p. 117]. This quote plays on the dual meaning of ‘word’ as Word of God made flesh, i.e. Christ (John 1) and the literary word. In fact, Okhapkin’s patriotism is firmly tied to the Russian language (‘Именуюсь русским в сердцах поэтом/ Дух мой в слове русском окреп’ [‘In the hearts I am called a Russian poet/ My spirit grew strong in the Russian word’, ibid.]. When he quasi-identifies the literary word with the Word of God it is Russian literature he has in mind.


4. Poets Dead and Alive

A disproportionately large number of Okhapkin’s poems are dedicated either to a fellow unofficial poet or a deceased classic.35 Yet another device gleaned from the Silver Age, mutual dedication and the copious use of epigraphs borrowed from other poets was a common occurrence in unofficial poetry. But few dedicated with such insistence, and to such a wide group, as Okhapkin. Dedication to fellow poets alongside dedication to classics validates unofficial poets because it implicitly places them into the same category as the classics; it also raises the reader’s expectation that he should recognise the unknown addressee of a given dedication, or the quoted epigraph, with as much ease as he recognises the name or words of Pushkin.36 Ironic as it might be, this technique nevertheless illustrates the claim staked by unofficial poets to inclusion into the literary canon, and to the self-confidence, however brittle, with which they claimed their place alongside Pushkin, Mandel’shtam et al. Dedication seems to be Okhapkin’s main way of realising what Krivulin calls the ‘vertical of time’, i.e. the widening of a poet’s circle of interlocutors by means of intertextual conversation with illustrious predecessor.37

There are other stylistic peculiarities that betray Okhapkin’s underground origins, in particular eclecticism of both subject matter and register.38  Serene evocations of nature and Biblical stories stand alongside texts that explore Buddhism (cf. ‘Golubaia luna’) and paganism; in some poems (‘Gesperida’)39  pagan and Christian motifs are combined under the same title, with no obvious tension between them. Biblical poems such as ‘Vkhod Gospoden v Ierusalim’, ‘Ballada o bludnom syne’ and ‘Mariia Magdalina’ are told by an unobtrusive narrator who uses natural, prose-like syntax with heavily enjambed lines and freely combines modern Russian, which includes profanities such as ‘хозяин скупым и жестоким / дерьмом оказалcя’ [‘The lord turned out to be a harsh and mean/ piece of shit’, ‘Ballada o bludnom syne’, p. 90], with Old Church Slavonic. A particular evocative example is the poem ‘Prizvanie’, in which an almost verbatim quotation from the Bible (‘Не бойся! / Отныне человеков суждено/ Ловитьве быть’ [‘Don’t be afraid!/ From today on you will be/ Fishers of men’] with ordinary colloquial language: ‘Ты, Симон, в рыбьем весь. Пойди, умойся!’ [‘You, Simon, are covered in fish. Go, wash yourself!’, 1971, p. 116]. In this poem, the linguistic shift corresponds to the shift from Biblical ‘reportage’ to personal commentary or embellishment. In other places, colloquial language stands alongside high, solemn registers reminiscent of eighteenth-century odes; indeed Okhapkin lead a ‘dialogue through the ages’ with the poetry of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Okhapkin’s fondness of Derzhavin, for example, may have inspired the manipulations of formal genre in the Biblical poems to include conversational register and his own personal considerations.40  However, the most reliable link between Okhapkin and the eighteenth century is Brodskii, whose experiments with eighteenth-century forms are well-documented. Okhapkin’s poems feature many of the archaic stylistic peculiarities familiar from Brodskii, the well-known older friend Okhapkin admired. Alongside solemn elevated register these are experiments with syllabic lines (e.g. ‘Nochnoe plavanie’, 1968, p. 26), a fondness for ‘bol’shie stikhtvoreniia’, long poems that are several pages long. Many of them feature the octet stanza familiar from Brodskii’s early poetry.41  In 1995 Okhapkin was awarded the Derzhavin Prize for his contribution to the development of the Russian Ode. None of Okhapkin’s long and solemn poems corresponds to the strict formal specification of the eighteenth-century ode: his stanzas are much freer, and many of the poems are narrative, but there is a distinct odic ‘feel’ to many of them.42  As Denis Akhapkin has noted, what is often decisive is ‘стремление автора соотнести стихотворение каким-либо образом с традицией’ [‘the author’s endeavour to bring his poems somehow into correlation with tradition’].43  Due to multi-faceted eclecticisms Okhapkin’s work exists in a works in a field of tension between archaic diction, romantic self-understanding, modernist techniques and topics and a good dose of 1970s irony.

Archaisms enriched and rejuvenated the language immediately available to the 1970s poet; one can say that the 1970s poets cultivated a certain avant-gardism through archaism. While the presence of archaisms was particularly noticeable in Okhapkin’s work, this poetic device was by no means unique. Many of his peers, including Shvarts, Viktor Krivulin, and Aleksandr Mironov, freely combined high and low registers and experimented with archaic diction, including Old Church Slavonic.44  Linguistic archaisms, as well as the cultivation of ‘archaic’ subject matter, such as classical literature and, specifically, Scripture, signified the author’s belonging to a ‘cultured’ sphere that was distinct from Soviet ‘high’ culture; linguistic archaisms were also a way of substituting a ‘high’ register for the existing one, as the high register in contemporary language was irredeemably tainted with Soviet associations.45  Vladimir Poresh interprets Okhapkin’s use of Church Slavonic and Slavonic syntax as evidence that ‘воцеркновляет современный русский язык’ [‘the contemporary Russian language is getting closer to the church’];46  Dmitrii Bobyshev asserts that for Okhapkin, archaisms played the role of ‘вечное вино религиозной Истины’ [‘the eternal wine of religious Truth’].47  However, we can see that the use of Old Church Slavonic had an important cultural, even political, function and must not be read in isolation as a purely poetic device or an individual poet’s fancy.


5. Poetry as Mystical Prayer

However, in the case of Okhapkin there is an additional explanation for his fondness of archaic diction, and particular Church Slavonic, with which Okhapkin was intimately familiar since childhood. At a time when there were few operative churches, poetry had the function of replacing and popularising the liturgy – or so Okhapkin thought. It is thus only natural that the poet should use Church Slavonic in order to shorten the distance between the original liturgical language and secular poetry of the late twentieth century. That Okhapkin imbued his poetry with liturgical credentials is evident from his poetry itself:

[Голос] с колоколен
как бы снятый, оттого вдвойне
Грустный звон, вечерний, позабытый
кем-то на Руси
Недопетый, в воздухе зарытый,
И откопан вдруг иже еси
(Grustnyi zvon, 1971, p. 107)

[The voice] seems removed/ from the belfries, this elicits a chime that is /twice sad […] not sung to the end by some Russian, buried in the air/ And suddenly unearthed if it exists

In an interview he gave in 2004, Okhapkin expresses this statement more prosaically: ‘Сейчас, когда открылось столько храмов, где звучит настоящая литургическая поэзия, мои стихи уже не так нужны’ [‘Now that so many churches have been opened in which true liturgical poetry can be heard my poems are no longer that necessary’]. It might strike us as presumptuous that a little-known poet, somebody who was by definition a secular writer, should claim a religious and even liturgical function for his poetry. However, when Okhapkin states ‘ода сродни псалму’ [‘the ode is akin to the psalm’] he in fact betrays an understanding of lyric poetry that is commensurate with the Old Testament. The Psalter, a collection of lyric poems, many of which were intended for musical accompaniment, was the prayer book of the ancient Israelites and thus a liturgical source. In other words, poetry was liturgy, while liturgy was poetry. The psalms, which embrace the entire spectrum of human emotion from exalted joy to abject despondency and do not shy away from expressing doubt in God, but ultimately maintain a deeply intimate, personal faith, provide us with the key to reading those poems of Okhapkin in which the lyrical voice feels a chasm between himself and God, such as ‘S utra zariadilo’, ‘Ispytanye Iova’, or this example from ‘Kakoe solntse’:

Шепчу в припадке грусти – Боже!
Твой мир… зачем я не с ним,
Когда, как он, пылаю тоже,
Когда, как он, непоправим! (1967, p. 11)

I whisper in a bout of sadness – God!/ Your world… why am I not with it/ When I, like it, am also aflame/ When I, like it, am also incorrigible!’

No matter how strong the poet’s momentary doubt (‘Не находя ни Господа, ни Спаса/в душе моей’ [‘Finding neither the Lord nor the Saviour within my soul’]), the ultimate note is always one of hope and a profound, irrepressible affirmation of life: ‘Я смерть пою. Но жизнь поет во мне/ Надеждою ….Не сам ли я – даренье без того,/ Что отнято?’ [‘I sing death. But life is singing within me/ With hope… Am I not myself a gift without that/ Which has been taken from me?’].

Nevertheless, there is an important moment to consider: psalms are part of the scriptural canon for both Jews and Christians. Christians believe that the Holy Scriptures do not only ‘talk about’ God but reveal divine reality; they enable human beings to know God. Icons are a widespread form of sacred art purported to have the same power, which is why they have to conform strictly to a set canonical form that has been agreed to represent dogma. Consequently, poems that seek the label ‘Christian’ or ‘Orthodox’ must likewise neatly correspond to dogma. Okhapkin at the very least did not seek clearly to distinguish his literary work from religious dogma. However, certain features of his poetry put his endeavour to write dogmatically sound verse in jeopardy. The problem is not, in the first instance, the poet’s eclecticism which irreverently mixes concerns and registers and places profanity next to solemn praise. Much more problematic are certain trains of thoughts, particularly with regard to his representation of ‘the Word’. Okhapkin cannot resist tracing the kinship between ‘Slovo’, the originally creative Word which, in the Gospel of John, is identified as Jesus Christ, and the literary word. This kinship seems to validate the writer’s labour in religious terms. But this very same move is also likely to encourage ‘worship of the literary word’, as illustrated by excerpts from already mentioned long poem ‘Ispytanie Iovy’ (1973). The poem freely mixes story elements from the Old and New Testament (the book of Job and the Apocalypse, which supplied the epigraph). Early on the first person narrator, in a fit of doubt, seeks solace by picking up the book of Job. Halfway through the first lyric though the reader morphs into a writer and creator: ‘И выпало перо/ из рук моих…..’ [‘And the quilt/ fell out of my hands…’]

From the depth of his own creation, the text, it seems he is addressed by the Word himself:

И внутрь меня разверзлась дыра.
И в глубине рече Глагол Предвечный:
Не Аз есмь Альфа и Омега,
Начало и Конец? Дерзай же, дух!
Я сотворил тебя!

And a hole opened up within me./ And in the depth the speech of the Eternal Word: Am I not Alpha and Omega,/ Beginning and End? Dare them, spirit!/ I created you!

Even if we read ‘Glagol’ to mean Christ and not the literary word, the poet has admitted an infelicity in relation to the Biblical text: while the Book of Revelation attributes the words ‘I am the Alpha and Omega’ to Jesus (Rev. 21:6), Jesus never assumed the role of the Creator. Similarly, in the excerpt below it is not clear whether ‘spirit’ refers to the writer’s (creator’s) spirit or the Holy Spirit:

И в образе Олега
Ты – недр Моих исторгнутый издох.
Возьми же сей Глагол и победи Им
Ничтожество твое, ничтоже – дрожь.

And in the image of Oleg/ You are the outbreath let out by my bosom./ Take now this Word and conquer with It/ your own pettiness, without a moment’s tremble.

This chain of images is highly complex: Olega (the genitive of Oleg) is a convenient rhyme for Omega. It might also be a reference to ‘Veshchii Oleg’, the first Prince of Kiev (died 912), national hero, and protagonist of Puhkin’s ‘Pesn’ o veshchem Olege’ (1825). The exhortation to take the word and conquer is a near-quotation from Pushkin’s ‘Prorok’; this in turn introduces Old Testament notions, as ‘Prorok’ adapts elements from Isaiah 6.
Ultimately though this poet is exhorted to conquer himself rather than ‘the people’s hearts’. We thus return to the poem’s initial theme of doubt. This doubt, it turns out, was never of a religious nature, but more likely linked to ‘writers’ block.’ What we witness is thus emphatically not an initiation into prophecy, but an exhortation to the poet to ‘overcome his own wretchedness’ and sit down and write. And indeed this is confirmed by the next lines, which seems to refer directly to the situation of the underground poet, whose words (in a slightly overdrawn formulation) may lead him to perdition: ‘Но берегись! Уж многим повредили/ Слова, от коих смертью да умрешь!’ [‘But be aware! Words have done harm/To many, and they will bring you death!’].
In this line, the Word irrevocably turns into ‘words’, literary words. The biblical imagery of this poem is robustly non-canonical, and this holds true for a large number of Okhapkin’s poems.


6. Nature Poetry

Until now the discussion has been exclusively concerned with the ‘public’, evangelising function of Okhapkin’s poetry. However, there is a second, private and mystical element to their religiosity. The discussion of the devotional aspects of Okhapkin’s poetry would not be complete without mentioning the notion of silence that dominates many of his poems and is presented as the natural habitat of the poet who seeks closeness with God in his work:

Раскачать [мир] размером времени, окоем
Ширить звучными стихами, с Господом быть вдвоем
Молчанье – моя страна.

‘Pesn’ia o poberzhe’e’ (1970, pp. 69-70).

To rock [the world] to the metre of time, to expand/the horizon with sonorous verse, to be alone with the Lord/ […] Silence is my land.

Silence in Okhapkin’s poetry is inextricably entwined with his second ‘great theme’, alongside the grand rhetoric of Biblical narrative and the theme of Russianness and Orthodoxy – the tradition of nature poetry. Okhapkin has written a large number of nature poems in the tradition of Tiutchev, Zabolotskii, and Pasternak. As a rule, these poems feature calm and deceptively simple observations that the impression of being solely concerned with the outside world, but in fact offer profound insight into man’s internal world and often the life of the human soul and often describe spiritual turning points.

Okhapkin stood out among his peers for the almost complete absence of city themes – generic or specific to Leningrad – that are so prominent in the work of Krivulin, Stratanovskii and Shvarts. Moreover, the cultural underground is never the main subject; he did not sing the praises of the ‘underground man’, and his underground references are, as a rule, quite subtle. Nevertheless they are transparent to the initiated reader, for example in ‘Mednaia lira’, where the poet describes his surroundings as ‘привычная нищета, озлобленная среда’ [‘the usual poverty, the spiteful milieu’, 1972, p. 122]. But as a rule, Okhapkin’s references to the underground are concealed within nature imagery and often linked to weather phenomena. A good example is ‘Shabash metel’, which finds the blizzard to be a sign of the time of premonition in which he believed he was living: ‘И прочитал метели почерк. / То был межвременья сигнал. Метель теней кружилась в плясе’ [‘And I read the blizzard’s hand./ It was the sign of the time-in-between. The blizzard of shadows whirled in a dance’]. The images of the blizzard that ‘плясала по костям’ [‘danced on bones’], causing ‘хаос холодный’ [‘cold chaos’] and affording the author glimpses of ‘крыл [чертей]’ [‘the wings of devils’] are replete with echoes from Pushkin’s blizzard poem ‘Besy’ (1847). Writers including Dostoevsky and Bulgakov have read the snowstorm as a symbol uniting political and spiritual concerns. Okhapkin has adapted the echoes for his own purpose and a denouement that is very different from that of Pushkin’s poem. Pushkin ‘Besy’ end on a note of foreboding and disquiet, but Okhapkin associates the snowstorm with joyous hope: ‘Но я-то знал, но я-то знал / что мир по-прежнему прекрасен’ [‘But I knew, I just knew/ that the world is beautiful as ever’]. Two poems that similarly centre on a winter landscape, representing the all-encompassing ‘freeze’ of the Soviet 1970s, but end on an image of hope, often hope for change, are ‘Strastnoi nedelei’ and ‘Gliadi v okno’.

In ‘Strastnoi nedelei’ (1972), the nature/season imagery provides the backdrop for a re-telling of the most important story of the New Testament. Christ’s death and resurrection all take place within the heart of the poet. He is internally journeying from ‘Так обезжизнел в нашей широте/ Любой из нас, пока зима стояла’ [‘In our latitude every one of us became lifeless thus/ As long as winter lasted’, p. 134] towards the grand finale of Easter Day: ‘Христос Воскресе! – Возвещаю внов./ … И это – люди, земли, поднебесье/ И все вокруг, и в нас во всех – любовь’ [‘Christ is Risen! – I proclaim again./ … And all this – people, lands and skies/ And all around and within all of us – love’, p. 135]. Gliadi v okno’, where nature is a revelation of Christ himself, demonstrates beyond all doubt that the already observed messianic hope in Okhapkin’s oeuvre is religious in its origin and presents all of creation as imbued with divine salvation:
Но сердцу не забыть одно
Небес нетленное рядно
И солнце – ярый, ясный глаз –
Нерукотворный Спас

But the heart must not forget one thing/ The heavens’ undecayed sackcloth/ And the sun – an ardent, clear eye – / The Saviour made not by human hands.

Most importantly, nature is a place of harmony, and silence is an inalienable constituent of that harmony (cf. ‘Molchanie dreva’, p. 100). Even the raging element ultimately leads to silence: in ‘Peremena’ (1968) a night-time blizzard raging outside the window mirrors the tumult inside the writer’s soul, but when it calms down ‘до самой тишины’ [‘to silence itself’, p. 22] the writer discovers his inalienable freedom.
The elevated rhetoric of the Biblical poems may obscure the fact that Okhapkin’s deepest religious insights are in fact developed in the nature poems. It is here, in a landscape that reveals itself first as God’s own iconostasis (‘И в нижней бездне с позолот/ Небес иконостаса — / Лик непостижный Спаса’ [And in the lower deep below the gilding/ of the iconostasis’s heaven/ The Saviour’s ungraspable face’, ‘Kakoe shchastie slushat’ mir’, 1969, p. 40], that the mystic seeker approaches God, albeit without ever attaining the yearned-for unity.

In the nature poems, the poet is no longer a prophet, apostle or evangelist. Instead, he is a pilgrim or wanderer. At night, when light and the frantic activity of the day are suspended, nature reveals to the poet the essence of things. ‘S vechera do trekh popolunochi’ (1970) illustrates how Okhapkin uses nature image to mirror an internal process, not just on the level of imagery, but of form, too. It begins with a typical evening scene: ‘Вечер я брел путем соснового бора’ [‘In the evening I wandered down the pine forest’]. This line is the first in a series of straightforward descriptive statements; initially each statement corresponds to a line break. But as the evening expands into night, lines grow longer, with enjambment and increasingly complex syntax. Nightfall marks the transition from analysis to silent contemplation and from thought to intuition: ‘мысли мои сошлись на молчаньем в итоге’ [‘my thoughts came together in silence ultimately’]. By the end of the poem, nature observation has been replaced by meditation about human nature. The speaker has attained insight into man’s need for God. Moreover, he is identified as a poet, and now he understands how his poetry serves as a tool for bringing him and others closer to God:

Мерный времени труд, тебя, моя лира
Древний Духа познать образ […]
Я увидел вблизи, настолько природа
Величавее нас, как наша порода
Истерична, когда Творец нас покинет)
(pp. 71-72)

The measure labour of time, my lyre/ Is to know the image of the ancient spirit […]/ I saw from close by just how much/ Greater nature is than us, how our nature/ Turns hysterical once the Creator leaves us.

The twilight hour favoured by Okhapkin is an archetypal Romantic image; the technique of using nature imagery for the depiction of internal states also has is origin in Romanticism. The sleepless twilight hours is invoked as an in-between state that affords insights unattainable to the rational mind. In poems such as ‘Pesnia o poberezh’e’ Okhapkin’s indebtedness to this tradition becomes apparent:

Ночь размоет горизонты, небом оденет мир
[…] где
Земля – голубая чаша, полная тишины
Ночь приблизит мне дорогу – Млечный великий Путь
(1970, p. 69)

Night washes out the horizon, clothes the world with heaven/ […] where/ The earth is a blue chalice full of silence/[…] Night makes my path come near – the great Milky Way

What the poet experiences here is a feeling of all-unity with his surroundings that expands until he perceives his own path as equivalent to that which the earth itself is taking. This is a profound religious experience. And the catalyst is the night which has filled the earth, and then his own being, with silence.


7. Creative Silence

Other poems centre on a different facet to silence, namely that of silence as creative. Silence is fertile soil, or even as the indispensable prerequisite for literary creation:

Что неслышное творится во мне,
Это все творится в природе
И такая стряслась тишина
В этот творческий миг прорастания

The inaudible things that happen inside me/ Are all happening in nature/ […] And such silence quivered/ In this creative moment of growing

Ultimately, silence is the essence of poetry:

Едва ли чем кичась в привычной нищете,
Владею лишь одним – игрой на медной лире
а тишь на высшей ноте
Достроила душе молчания ковчег. (‘Mednaia lira’, 1972, p. 122)

Hardly boasting of anything in my habitual poverty/ I am capable of one thing only – to play the bronze lyre […]/ and the silence on the highest note/ Erected an ark of silence for the soul.

‘Mednaia lira’ presents poetry as ontologically distinct from the ‘ozloblennaia sreda’ that poses a threat to the soul. And the poet’s most burning task is to build out of silence a sanctuary for the soul. The use of the term ‘ковчег’ is significant here. The Biblical ark that withstood the Flood, built by Noah on God’s orders (Genesis 6-9), was the device that sheltered and ultimately saved the man and his family who were exempt from a flood that made life on earth impossible. The clever Biblical allusion thus both invests Okhapkin’s poem with religious significance and invites the reader to draw a parallel between the hostile world, at the margins of which Okhapkin was living a perilous existence, and the Old Testament flood. The religious reference exists alongside a literary one: the distinctive iambic hexameter, as well as some autumnal imagery, recalls Pushkin’s ‘Osen’’, which is written in the same meter and also describes a retreat from the mundane world into poetry.

Allusions to and borrowings from predecessors can be found in many of Okahpkin’s ‘silence’ poems. The last stanza of ‘Legko mne, Gospodi, molchat’’ contains a transparent reference to Mandel’shtam’s ‘Silentium’ when the poet construes silence as primal music and ideal poetry: ‘Лишь эта музыка права/ Она молчанию сродни’ [‘This is the only true music/ It is akin to silence’]. The poem’s preoccupation with speaking as a sinful and truth-obscuring activity harks back to Tiutchev, from whom Mandel’shtam borrowed topic and title of his ‘Silentium’. It also invokes the Biblical Wisdom tradition (Proverbs 17, 17, 21), which sees the tongue as the ultimate tool of sin:
О, если б грешный мой язык
Из подязычной тишины
Извлек бы истину на миг (1968, p. 28)

Oh, if only my sinful tongue/ could elicit a moment of truth/ from the silence underneath the tongue

Okhapkin’s understanding of silence is not limited to a proverbial exhortation to avoid the overuse of hasty words. Silence is the poet’s tool for probing mystical depths and is explicitly linked to prayer – man’s direct communication with God – rather than legal observance. This is nowhere more obvious than in the poem ‘Slovo’, in which Okhapkin literally identifies the literary word with Christ as the ‘Word of God’ through use of a capital letter and the reference to this Word as ‘откровенье явленного Слова’ [‘the revelation of the miraculously revealed Word’]:

Едва ли знал, что в себе таило
Дарованное мне от Бога Слово
И это было – светозарный образ
Молчания, творимая молитва. (1972, pp. 147-48)

I hardly knew what the Word/God had given me concealed inside itself/ […] and this was the bright image/ Of silence, a created prayer.

According to Okhapkin, the secret at the heart of the God-given gift of poetry is silence, and silence is prayer, the deepest form of prayer that man can reach. Silent prayer is one of the cornerstones of Christian mysticism and certain monastic traditions, including Hesychasm, the ascetic practice of the hermit-monk that has a long-standing tradition in the Orthodox Church. It has its canonical foundation in the writings of the desert fathers.



In Okhapkin’s work, silence features as a motif rather than a function. In other words, Okhapkin talks about silence in articulate, melodious poems that aim to make a statement. His silence is not, as in the case of Mironov, an expression of a crisis of meaning, on the contrary: ‘Есть и в молчаньи внятный смысл…/Когда кончаются слова/ в права вступают тишь и мудрость’ [‘There is a clear sense even in silence…/When words come to an end/ silence and wisdom come into force’, ‘Meditatsiia’, 1969, p. 50]. In his understanding of poetry as a vehicle for communicating observations and revelations he is refreshingly traditional, he does not seem beset by logo-scepticism and doubts neither the communicative function of poetry nor the integrity of that which is communicated. This fact sharply distinguishes Okhapkin from neo-avantgarde peers such as Mironov, whose poems enlist silence as something that refuses meaning as a way of highlighting a crisis of referential language. There is no evidence that Okhapkin pursued a similar philosophy or, indeed, perceived a crisis of meaning for the literary word. In this sense, his philosophy of the word is much simpler than that of his peers and still tied up mostly with the referential qualities of the word.

Okhapkin’s poetry, including the poem in which he styles his own persona as a prophet or evangelist, show no evidence of the perennial doubt in the power of the literary word that we have observed in the work of Krivulin, Mironov, and Shvarts. There is no breakdown of referentiality. The poetic word remains a vehicle for communication; in this respect Okhapkin is fairly uncomplicated.The identification of the literary word with the ‘Word’ of God, common among his peers, in his case is a genuine indicator of a devotional understanding of poetry – poetry is Gospel, and it is liturgical prayer that brings people together in worship. But ultimately, Okhapkin’s most ‘religious’ poems – the silence poems – lift the poet beyond space and time into another sphere where poetry and eternity coexist. This is the intimate prayer of the mystic who seeks God in solitude, away from a world that perceives his chosen way of life as alien.


1.The ‘zhitie’ of Oleg Okhapkin, cited countless times, has its origin in David Dar’s article, ‘Leningrad. Sud’ba. Poet’, Grani 110 (1978), 43-51 (p. 44). Also in Blue Lagoon vol 4B, pp. 53-57.

2. A short biography and bibliography can be found in Samizdat Leningrada pp. 297-299. His poetry appeared in all the main Leningrad Samizdat journals, including in Chasy No 8 (1977), 33 (1981), ‘37’ No 2 (1976) and Obvodnyi kanal 1 (1981), 3 (1982), 7 (1985), 8 (1986); also in the only published issue of the journal Obshchina 2 (1978).,His work regularly appeared in the émigré press, such as Grani, Tret’ia volna, Beseda. His first official publication in a Soviet journal was in 1987; his first collection, Stikhi, came out in Paris in 1989. His first Soviet collection, Pylaiushchaia kupina (1990) contains mostly nature poems written in the 1970s. Two more collections were published in his lifetime: Vosvrashchenie Odisseia (1994) and Molenie o chashe (2004), a collection dedicated to Joseph Brodsky and written in 1970. The posthumous Izbrannoe (2009), showcasing work from four decades, never made it into print, but can be accessed online on His poetic diary of the years 1991-1992, Lampada, was published in 2010. In the early 1970s he organised his poetry into several ‘collections’, but these divisions are lost in the volume Stikhi.His opinions on various émigré journals, as well as on projects the underground poets participated in, can be found in volume 2A of The Blue Lagoon Anthology of Modern Russian Poetry, ed. by K. Kuzminskii and G. Kovalev, (Newtonville, MA: Oriental Research Partners, 1980-1986), p. 593 ff.

3. Dar’, ‘Leningrad. Sud’ba. Poet’, p. 45.

4. Viktor Krivulin identified Okhapkin as ‘самый ортодоксальный православный поэт последних десятилетий’ [‘the most orthodox Russian Orthodox poet of the last decades’, in: V. Krivulin, ‘Skromnoe obaianie poezii’, Tsirk Olimp, 8 (1996), 14-15 (p. 15); Vladimir Poresh pointed out that ‘Христианство для Охапкина – не тема творчество […] а источник его’ [‘For Okhapkin Christianity is not a subject of his writing […] but its source’, in: V. Poresh, ‘Ob Olege Okahpkine’, Obshchina 2, p. 24]. Most articles on Okhapkin on the internet and, significantly, the largest collection of poems, is found on religious websites such as

5. Iulia Valieva refers to him as a ‘Saigonaft’, see: Iu. Valieva (ed.), Sumerki ‘Saigona’ (SPB: Samizdat, 2009), p. 7. In an interview about his time at the Saigon Okhapkin refers to this time as ‘наши золотые годы’ [‘our golden years’, in: ‘Klassicheskie gody “Saigona”’, Sumerki Saigona pp. 139-141 (p. 139)].

6. Claimed by Lev Rudkevich in ‘“37” – “Grani”’, Sumerki Saigona, pp. 93-96 (p. 94).

7. Information about this Seminar, including some of the group’s programmatic texts, can be found in Khristianskii Seminar, Vol’noe slovo, 39 (Frankfurt: Posev, 1981); the information on Okhapkin not being a full member is on p. 95.




In the original: Josephine von Zitzewitz. Poetry and the Leningrad Religious-Philosophical Seminar 1974-1980. Music for a Deaf Age. – Legenda: UK, 2016. Chapter 5, pp.137-161.




©Josephine von Zitzewitz, 2016
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