A collection of letters that gives a fortunate insight into the life of 16-year-old Alexei Kruchyonykh.
Very little is known about Kruchyonykh’s life prior to his graduation from Odessa Art School in 1906. Probably the first fact of the poet’s biography that is being mentioned is the acquaintance with Burliuk brothers in Odessa in 1905. The first poem by Kruchyonykh was published in 1910.
That’s why these six letters from 1902 are important for understanding the making of Kruchyonykh that we know.
Alexei was born in Kherson area of Ukraine, in Olevka village, in the family of a peasant. In 1892 the family moved to Kherson, the port town on Dnieper river and the Black Sea. That’s where he has attended the primary school and in 1902 has passed the exam to Odessa Art School, and moved there. He was accepted already to the second year and eventually has graduated in 1906 as an art teacher. The school year has started in August, and the first letter is dated 8th of October, 1902 and the last one is dated 12th of December, 1902, which allows us to create the picture of a poet through this 2-months period.
All but two letters are addressed to Alexander Litvinovsky, the schoolmate of Kruchyonykh in Kherson. After primary school, he became a sailor and by 1902 already was working on the ship that sailed the Black Sea. However, in the autumn of 1902, he remained in Kherson, where he was receiving the letters from Kruchyonykh. He was living with his father in the Kherson area Zabalka (literally meaning ‘over the arroyo’), that was regarded as one of the poorer areas of the city, located on the side of the pit. The other two are addressed to the other classmate of the poet, A. Apukhtin.
1. Letter to Litvinovsky dated (and sent) October 8th 1902, Odessa. 2,5 pp. 22x17 cm, envelope 11,5x9,5 cm. With signature on the envelope ‘Leo K-kh’. The letter signed twice at the end: Alek. Kruchinio and Alek. Kruchyonykh. At the beginning after passing regards and hellos to the friends in Kherson, Kruchyonykh instructs his friend to write him a letter as if from his mother ‘in female cursive’ to help him find the excuse to go home on the weekend. In that letter, Litvinovsky had to write that Kruchyonykh’s father is ill.
2. The second letter starts on the same page where the 1st ends with the simple phrase ‘To comrade Apukhtin’ underlined. It starts ‘comrade, you wrote me a letter with your left arm, and I’m replying with my left leg’. After praising him for getting to know a local girl in Kherson, Kruchyonykh tells the story: ‘Two girls in the Art School came up to me and took me by the hands from two sides, asking to remove my cap. So I did and they said ‘you are very pretty, and your forehead is really beautiful’, then they started to read awful poems, including changed ’Tatiana’s letter’ [from Eugene Onegin] and then ‘He was rushing to Paris / for the reason he wanted to compare / his penis to the Eiffel Tower’. And they on and on! I haven’t even dreamt of these things! And it’s a fact! I swear on Art School and on everything that this is pure truth’. The letter ends with the word ‘Amen’.
3. Letter to Litvinovsky sent on the 24th and received in the 25th of October, 1902. 9x14 cm. The letter is written on the back of a postcard in tiny cursive. It starts with ‘It’s jolly in Odessa, I nearly died of boredom in Kherson’ and then continues with several requests for Zhenya V. to urge her to write to Kruchyonykh. Then Kruchyonykh gives Litvinovsky several pieces of advice in life, asking him to read biographies of the famous people (‘that would make you 50% smarter’), classical literature (75% smarter), ‘write the short stories, not the poems’ (sic!), get the black jacket like the one Apukhtin has, walk with the girls (underlined) and you will get 200% better than you were before. Also, Kruchyonykh asks his friend to read the memoirs of Repin, Aivazovsky and other musicians and artists and to send him the anecdotes. The letter ends with the double signature and phrase ‘You would need two pairs of glasses when you read this’.
4. Letter to Litvinovsky dated the 2nd of November, 1902. 9x14 cm. In this letter, Kruchyonykh regrets that he doesn’t have the money to buy stamps to send a letter to his friend Apukhtin. And again asks Litvinovsky to urge Zhenya V. to write to him. ‘When I come back to Kherson for Christmas you have to change for the best so much I wouldn’t recognise you’. Another interesting note: ‘Please, do write some gibberish!’ Signed twice.
5. The postcard to Litvinovsky. 9x14 cm. Sent on the 23rd and received on the 25th of November, 1902. With congratulations to him on his name day. In the end, Kruchyonykh wrote ‘I’m alive and jolly!’. Signed ‘A. Kruchyonykh’.
6. Letter to Litvinovsky dated 9th of December, 1902. 3 pp., 21x13 cm (envelope 14x7,5 cm). In the letter, Kruchyonykh informs his friend that he only has 1 rouble 70 kopeks to live on for 12 days till the 20th of December but seems like he doesn’t lose the good spirit. He tells a story on how Odessa boys have thought of the plan to meet the local girls: one boy pinches the girl on the skating rink and then runs away when the other one comes to the rescue. Then he gives the list of requests for Litvinovsky: 1) Ask again Zhenya V. 2) Read books: ‘There are too many good books to pass on, please read Dostoevsky’s ‘Humiliated and Insulted’, you’ll become 120% smarter. 3) Don’t get cold on the street and in the house. After that he tells the story of his own
struggle with Odessa winter: ‘My landlady (when will she be crushed by cockroaches finally??) has the habit of not putting enough heat, so sometimes when it’s too cold at night I put on the coat and go on the streets, it’s a bit warmer that way’. Another small message on the inside of the envelope in which Kruchyonykh asks his friend to feed him delicacies (‘pork, sausages, chocolate’) when he comes to Kherson in December.
7. One page letter to Apukhtin starts on the back of the previous letter, it’s dated December 12th 1902 in which Kruchyonykh ironically asks ‘So, my friend, what has carried out from your drama ’What Love Carries’ please let me know’ and asks Apukhtin to introduce him to some pretty and smart girls when he’s in town over Christmas. He ends with the phrase ‘I have more ideas now than Rothschild has money!’ Evidently, Alexei Kruchyonykh has lost some interest in studying over the next years in the Art School. In the year 1903/04, he has missed 27 classes without the valid reason. Next year he missed 65 classes and in 1905 during the revolution he has been arrested in February because of his political activity. However, by 1906 he has graduated and soon went on to Saint-Petersburg, to become one of the leaders of the vortex we know as Russian avant-garde.
The letters draw the rare picture of the poet as a young man and are of undoubted research value.
Provenance: private collection of autographs, Kiev.