Writer and the city

In every interview, I get a question about my literary relationship with Odesa. I have a standard answer that my literary career developed outside Odesa and even in spite of Odesa.
However, I’ve never told anybody why and how it happened. Well, I won’t talk about it now. I will only say that culture in general, and literature, especially in Odesa is controlled by a narrow circle of “experts”. I don’t know what kind of benefits they have, in addition to the sense of power. It seems like they don’t. Maybe some sponsor money? I don’t know. Nevertheless, the consequences for literature in the city are almost catastrophic.

The so-called negative selection continues its domination here.

The vast majority of literary events that are held here at the local level are clearly provincial in their nature. More or less talented individuals remain outside the local literary process or obey common rules. Since literature, unlike sports, can’t be massive, and a reader in Odesa, as well as all around the world, to put it mildly, is not massive, only a handful of writers can survive.

I was lucky – I’ve survived. Why? Because I was hardened in the times of stagnation, I did not lose my habit of writing “for the drawer” without hoping for a positive response, and twice, under the threat of KGB searches, I destroyed my archives. So the word “lucky” somehow doesn’t fit this case.

After all, I will name a few reasons that have developed a paradoxical situation in our city. That is when those authors who get published and rewarded outside Odesa appeared to be outside the literary process at the local level. Well, it’s not only my personal matter. A few more talented, in my opinion, writers hardly exist in Odesa. Unfortunately, some of them have already died.

First of all, in order to write here, one needs to adhere to “Odesa traditions” and “Odesa myth”. Traditions are mostly based on the literature of the first quarter of the last century. Unfortunately, the criminal element is an essential part of both traditions and myth. Guides say that “criminal Odesa” tours are the most popular ones.

Secondly, there is a problem with the “Odesa language”. The Odesa language is a crippled Russian, which was used by the first generation of assimilants. They were mostly words borrowed from Yiddish, but even elements of Latin, German, Ukrainian, and others. After this generation had disappeared from the stage, the Odesa language lost its authenticity, it became an imitation. But this very imitation is expected from the “Odesa writer”.

The third is so-called “Odesa humor” without which it is impossible to imagine the Odesa literature.

If someone who lives in Odesa writes differently, he’s not an Odesa writer. Unfortunately, we have a general policy, as once there was a general policy of the party

However, I’ve never praised the party and its leadership, neither Lenin nor Brezhnev. I’ve never flattered local authorities.

Therefore, I am not quite happy when I am called the Odesa poet. Because I do not exist here, well, as some of my “friends” say, I’ve never existed here.

You may ask me why do I write it in Ukrainian? Have I forgotten Russian? Do you want to stir up that hornet’s nest?

Oh yes, I want. What a small linguistic revenge.

Boris Khersonsky

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