Poetry on Tiptoes

Andrey KhadanovichAndrey Khadanovich attracts hundreds of people with his    poems and believes that Lukashenka has saved Belarusian literature

photo by Andrei Liankevich

If you want to come to the poetry reading by Andrey Khadanovich, it’s not a very good idea to arrive on time. Try to be there half an hour in advance, otherwise you may find yourself spacked into the aisle between other fans, who try to get a glimpse of the figure reading poems from the stage, standing on their tiptoes. On February 7, 2008 the main concert hall of the Belarusian Academy of Arts in Minsk was crammed with about half five hundred people. A couple of dozen more waited in the hallway, unable to get inside. All of them wanted to be there when the new book of poems “Berlibry” was presented. Who is Andrey Khadanovich, the poet, who attracts such enormous     audiences in Minsk and elsewhere in Belarus?
Often called the most vivid discovery of Belarusian modern   poetic scene, Andrey Khadanovich was born in 1973. He teaches French literature at the Belarusian State University, as well as in the Belarusian Lyceum, school that was closed down by the authorities several years ago.
Khadanovich’s poetry is clearly post-modernistic. He rhymes his lines in perfect manner, creating some kind of DJ-mix out of his own thoughts and well-known quotations from the classic      Belarusian and Soviet poetry or lyrics of Western rock hits. He skillfully weaves the web of elaborate word games, which will inevitably catch your attention. Unexpected combinations of familiar sayings create numerous new meanings.
This, however, makes it extremely difficult (if not to say - impossible) to translate his poems into other languages. “If you want to define poetry, then this is what goes lost in translation, Khadanovich likes to say. Nevertheless he is fond of   translation himself, and even teaches a translation workshop in the Belarusian Calegium (semi-underground independent education community in Minsk). On February, 7 Andrey Khadanovich has presented a book of his vers libre. He has finally turned to this new genre, not bound by the rhymed form, which gives us hope that some day we may have a decent translation of his works into English.
Andrey Khadanovich is a one-man orchestra. If you want to save the most boring literature presentation from failure, invite Khadanovich as a guest. He reads poems, sings songs and plays his guitar, and chats with the audience in between. Andrey even raps his poem Christmas Rap together with listeners, who eagerly clap their hands in tact. Khadanovich also has a creative partnership with Belarusian rock-band “Indiga” and Belarusian chansonnier Zmitsier Vajtsiushkevich, supplying them with lyrics. He is the first Belarusian poet to have issued his own audio CD. It is titled “Abmennik” (“Currency Exchange Office”), and features jazz-poetic improvisations with Belarusian musician Siarhey Pukst.
Surprisingly, the very first book by Andrey Khadanovich (Letters from under the Blanket) was published in Kyiv – in Ukrainian. His another book From Belarus with love” was a bold experiment – printed in Ukraine in Belarusian (!) language, it was actually sold in Ukrainian book shops. Books printed in Belarus followed, but they are not always easy to find in the country.
Andrey Khadanovich is one of those writers, whose books are allowed to be printed by private publishers, but are often prevented from being     disseminated in Belarus. These authors are allowed to write, but discouraged to meet with their readers. In fact, the reading of Andrey Khadanovich on February 7 should have originally taken place in the House of Writers in Minsk, but Belarusian authorities prohibited it. Andrey Khadanovich was able to find another room in the Belarusian Academy of Arts only with the backing of the Goethe Institut, which, among other cultural activities, also promotes his work.
However, such a grave situation has its advantages. Andery Khadanovich believes that, in fact, these are rather favourable conditions for a writer. At times, when there is little truth to be found elsewhere, people tend to look for it in literature. “Perhaps, that is why poetry readings in Belarus attract much larger audiences than in more stable Western democracies”, Andrey Khadanovich said in his interview to the radio station “Deutsche Welle”.
In another interview to the Ukrainian newspaper “Dzerkalo Tizhdnya” Andrey Khadanovich recalls a conversation with a young western author during a literature conference in Amsterdam. “I spoke mostly about human rights, and he told me about copy rights”, he says. Andrey Khadanovich dreams about times when Belarusian literature market will take a civilized form, but right now everyone who considers himself an artist in Belarus can’t help being preoccupied with more vital problems.
“Coming to events such as a literature reading or artistic performance becomes some kind of protest”, says Andrey Khadanovich. “People use it to demonstrate their critical position, to interact with the like-minded”. The authoritarian regime has   created the new “union of writers”, whose members have a monopoly of visiting schools and universities as guest lecturers. Independent literature is banned from the state-owned literature magazines. Non-state cultural periodicals like “ARCHE” or “Dzeyaslou” find it very difficult to exist in Belarus. They are thrown out of kiosks, you often have no chance to subscribe to them, and it is mostly the untamed energy of their editors, which helps to keep these magazines coming to people. “The sphere of freedom is shrinking in Belarus, but it also fuels optimism. Take a look at a brook. The stronger you wind it up, the more power it will release some day. Here the laws of physics and psychology come together, and I hope it will work in Belarus some day”, believes Andrey Khadanovich.
In fact, Andrey Khadanovich is confident, that in some way Lukashenka has saved Belarusian literature. “He created such harsh conditions for its existence, that only writers who are most talented, energetic and genuinely interested in Belarusian literature remained faithful to it.”
When opposition protest flared up in Minsk in March 2006, the wife of Andrey Khadanovich burst into tears after the conversation with her father, who believed every single word of lies which were broadcast on the state-owned television. “I realized that I simply couldn’t stand such situation and went to October square”, says Andrey Khadanovich. He doesn’t consider himself to be a hero or a revolutionary, but he was indeed one of active participants of the protests. One could often see him in the tent camp, talking to people, reciting poems or even organizing an improvised poetic workshop. Quite a daring thing to do for a professor who teaches at a state university!
According to Andrey Khadanovich, his political point of view and his poetry meet on some kind of neutral territory inside of his soul. “Fortunately, I have enough political views which I try to keep away from my poetry. There are also some poetic things, which I wouldn’t like to mix with my position as a citizen. But there is a narrow stripe of territory in my heart, where poetry and political beliefs come together. It gives me space for maneuvers. I can write rap-like poems, for example. Someone would think they simply echo some political slogans. But for me they are new poetic experiments”.
By Ales Kudrytsky
More information about Andrey Khadanovich:
http://khadanovich.livejournal.com - blog of Andrey Khadanovich
http://www.lyrikline.org/index.php?id=59&L=1&author=ak03&cHash=9379ed5f37 - (Here you can listen to audio recordings of Andrey Khadanovich’s poems as well read their translations into German and Lithuanian.)

Andrey Khadanovich performing in a Minsk Street


Book Cover (translated into Ukrainian)