Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bakhyt Kenjeev This Thursday

«We will drown you in a sea of poetry!» Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev is reputed to have exclaimed while banging his shoe rhythmically on a conference table at the United Nations. Those words now seem prophetic, at least when it comes to readings at the Samovar. Next up, this Thursday at 7pm, will be Bakhyt Kenjeev. Let's stop right there: Bakhyt. In Cyrillic letters, even better: Бахыт. These are the letters—the big-bellied Б, the velar fricative X marking the exact center of the name, followed by Russia's impossible vowel Ы (known as «yery» with the accent on the second syllable), which even in Russian is never, never supposed to follow «х» but sometimes does anyway—these are the letters, I say, that inspired children's writer Theodore Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Suess, to write his immortal work On Beyond Zebra. I feel a great kinship with Dr. Suess' unnamed hero in his journey beyond the letters of the English alphabet. He could be speaking for me when he says:

In the places I go there are things that I see

That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.

I'm telling you this 'cause you're one of my friends.

My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!

And look at the realm we've reached: Бахыт Кенжеев. How, with a name like that, could you not become a man of letters? If you understand Russian, or love Russian poetry, or just feel like letting Kenjeev's Mandelstam-edged elegaic sound wash over you before you surface for the third and final time, check out the poems on his website and come to his rare New York City appearance this Thursday.