This River: An Epic Love Poem came out from Wild Embers Press in 2014. Still available for $14 ($15 plus tax, $18, plus mailing postage from Hogan, PO Box 253, Moncure, NC 27559.
Yesterday I spoke at the Southwest Regional Library on what it had been like to work with Mikhail Bazankov on literary exchanges betweeen the sister cities of Durham, NC and Kostroma, Russia, 1990-2001.
Here is the substance of my talk with others representing other sister cities: Arusha, Tanzania, Durham, England, Toyama, Japan, and Kavala, Greece.
TALK ON MIKHAIL BAZANKOV. Southwest Regional Library, Durham, Jan 21, 2017
1. Mikhail Bazankov was my friend and partner in arranging exchange visits and other projects between Kostroma region and Durham area writers.
2. I met Mayor Korobov in 1989, when he came to sign the Sister Cities agreement, a 5 minute contact. I gave him a book just pubished, Watering the Roots in a Democracy: A Manual on How to Combine Writing and Literature in the Public Library, and he gave it to Mikhail Bazankov, who wrote to me the next March, and invited me to start writer exchanges “Only with you.”
3. My son and I received invitations for first week of August 1990, went to Europe as planned, then from Finland into Moscow, and they met us at the train, and drove us to Kostroma. He knew no English, and I knew no Russian. We had an interpreter.
4. He wanted me to know about peasant life, and we visited many places that helped me understand it better: the Museum of Wooden Structures in Kostroma, the churches, the estate of the Russian playwright, Ostrovsky. Mikhail's belief was that the village was the best place for the human soul to grow.
5. In 1992 he took me to his wife’s native village, Gorka, in the Mezha District of the Kostroma Region, and I lived that life for 10 days; he also took me into the wild forest, taiga, where he had been born, and the Mezha District administrators got me drunk, though I resisted.
6. We worked well together; he wasn’t used to an equal relationship with a woman, but he adapted; and in U.S. I won the arguments, and in Russia, he did. We communicated and arranged these visits by phone in my baby Russian, and he spoke as if to a child, simple Russian. I studied Russian from 1991 through the 90s.
7. He came to the U.S. in May 1992, and I went there in July 1992, first to two writer houses of creativity (retreats) in Moscow and St. Petersburg through the Virginia Center for the Arts, and then I had a month with Mikhail, his wife Katya, and his family.
8. He won an all-Soviet prize right before we met, with his novel: Memory Has Rights, Too, and then he was appointed the leader (secretary) of the Kostroma Writers Organization, and he wanted to develop local publishing in Kostroma. I had been publishing books here (33 altogether since 1976 as Carolina Wren Press), and that interested him, but we talked about many things. I kept surprising him in our conversations by speaking of things “women didn’t usually talk about.”
9. We had Mayor Korobov’s approval to do four exchanges. In 1993, he brought two other Russian writers from Kostroma: Yuri Lebedev, a professor on 19th Century Russian literature, and the author of many books, and Vyacheslav Shaposhnikov, a priest and writer. I had them here for 5 weeks. We had many programs for them, and we even took them to the beach (Kure, near Wilmington), thanks to Susan Broili. She also was in Kostroma with me in 1992, for a week or so. A the first breakfast right after we go off the all-night trains she had to do a “vodka toast.”
10. When he came in 1992, he won over everybody, and he was publicized as saying: “Listen to your heart.” At the first party, Betty Hodges’ sister, about 60 years old, hit her head on my mantlepiece, and we were comforting her and bringing her ice. Mikhail sat down beside her and said, “It will stop hurting when you get married.” She loved that and became a fan on the spot.
I drove him to Mississippi, as he was a Faulkner fan, and as we drove down the Natchez Trace Parkway, he said, “If the car breaks down, what do we do?” In Russia, drivers have to be mechanics. I said we’d call AAA, trying to explain that. He said, “There’s not any telephones here.” True. But we made there and back.
We visited a family whose son I had published, Amon Liner, and we talked about him with his mother and sister, and afterwards Mikhail asked me,”Where was Amon Liner?” I didn’t know how to say that he was dead, so at the next rest stop, I got out the dictionary.
11. He was very good at reading people. He told me, after he met me, that I had a “kind” aura, and that you could tell mean people even at a distance. He surprised me by his insight and intuitive understanding of some women who tended to be rather quiet. He seemed to see into their souls, one in particular who was living with a very rich man who was demanding and difficult. She had helped us get to Oxford. We had one speaker on one panel whom even I felt was arrogant and not really helping this discussion of Russian and Southern literature. Privately to me, Mikhail called him a “goat.” How we laughed.
12. I did fall in love with him, but he was married and very loyal to Katya, his family, and to Russia. Still that helped us work together, and it had me writing lots of poetry. He published Beaver Soul in Russian, and I later got it published here by Finishing Line Press. We did exchange publishing, too. I helped with some publishing of poetry in anthologies over there, and then we did an anthology of N.C. poetry, called: Earth and Soul, in both Russian and English, and it was distributed all over the Kostroma Region to libraries and schools.
13. I went back in 1995 to teach American poetry at Kostroma University in the English Dept, and at one point his son Aleksei wanted to get a computer, and his parents were resisting giving him money to do this. I explained that Aleksei would be able to typeset the books they were publishing, and they got the computer, and it was used to typeset Earth and Soul. He published 90 other books by Kostroma region writers. For the N.C. poetry anthology, we collected and arranged the poetry here. They translated it and got it produced. I went back in 2001 to celebrate its publication, and again in 2007 to give a paper to a literary conference on spirituality in the work of Anna Akhmatova. I made many dear friends in Russia, most in Kostroma. It was, all in all, the most important experience of my life, and I’ll be getting more writings about those years into print over the next five years. He died last December, 2015, of cancer, and I'll paste his obituary below. I didn’t even know how many books of his own were published, or how many writers there he put into print. This was a passionate and very organized man. The two together were rare among the Russians I met.
The Administration of the City of Kostroma announces, with regret, the passing of Mikhail Fedorovich Bazankov.
December 14, 2015. 12:30 P.M.
Mikhail Fedorovich Bazankov, writer, man of letters, critic, publicist, editor, visual artist, and publisher, has departed from life. He was a member of the board and secretary of the Writers Union of Russia, President of the board of the Kostroma Region Writers Organization of the Writers Union of Russia, recipient of the D.S. Likhachev Prize, winner of the Cultural Worker Award of the Russian Federation.
Mikhail Fedorovich was born October 5, 1937 in the village of Medvedki in the Mezha District of the Kostroma Region. He was the author of several dozens of books, many publications in central and regional periodicals. His novels The Right of Memory and [You Are] Free to Do As You Wish were best-sellers. Some of his publications were translated into twelve international languages and published abroad. Mikhail Fedorovich published more than ninety books, two anthologies, and he conducted the annual almanac Kostroma, thus preserving the very best literary tradition.
In 2007, when he turned seventy, he celebrated his Creativity Jubilee: fifty years of literary work. This writer became the laureate of the all-union literary competition named after Vasili Shukshin with his single books published in one volume Remember The Way and Lofty Interest.
Under the leadership of Mikhail Fedorovich, the Writers Organization doubled the number of its members and fittingly preserved the literary tradition of our region. In recent years eight Kostroma writers were accepted into the Union of Russian Writers He worked actively on programs of cultural exchange of Kostroma with Poland, Finland, and America. In connection with the visits, he published anthologies. Twelve of his published works won literary contests with well-known prizes, including the all-union Gold Laureate Medal, and the annual prize for the best work of art in the Volga periodical. He won first and second prizes in Central Trade Association journals. His creative contributions to culture were noticed with the M.A. Sholokhov and A.N. Ostrovsky memorial medals, many diplomas, and honors. This writer is in the Kostroma encyclopedia, the publication Outstanding Russian People, the journal Bibliographies, the book KSU [Kostroma State University] Historical Pages. He was awarded the regional prize from the administration for the best children’s book The Wonders of A Sieve, the Governor’s prize Recognition; he was the recipient of the Kostroma Regional medal for Work. Valor. Honor. the municipal prize named after D.S. Likhachev.
In 2008 M. F. Bazankov was awarded the right to be called Honorable Citizen of Kostroma.
The administration of Kostroma expresses profound condolences to the relatives and close friends of M. F. Bazankov who are suffering this heavy loss.
The goodbye service for Mikhail Fedorovich Bazankov will be held on Wednesday, December 16, 2015, from 1-2 P.M. in the Ritual Hall Morgue on Nikitska Street (Official address: House 44, Voikov St.)