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Vladimir Azarov

"I transformed myself in the zero of form." Kazimir Malevich


Dinner with Catherine the Great

Publisher Exile Editions,
Canada, Toronto

ISBN 878-1-55096-119-9

Author Vladimir Azarov talks about his book Dinner With Catherine The Great

February 19, 2012. Launch at Dora Keogh. Reading by V. Azarov

Dr. Bruce Meyer interviews author Vladimir Azarov about his new book Dinner with Catherine the Great (Exile Editions, 2012)

February 19, 2012

Bruce Meyer: You have a passion for intellectual traditions. You talk about discovering many authors clandestinely as a student. How did it feel to come in contact with Western authors for you? Did you have a sense of breaking either the law or a taboo?

Vladimir Azarov: I am an architect and my institution assumes a knowledge of art and history. So, my acquaintance with any news in art was, for me, just the reinforcement of my knowledge without any shocking reaction. Besides, we always had classical Russian and international literature in our libraries, recorded classical music, classical paintings in museums. But literature with some special political or philosophical aspects, or the latest modern movements in all kinds of art were forbidden. The international news of new literature and art I got from time to time in different ways; for example, from critical articles in the Russian press (oh! but without primary sources), or from the library - with special permission.

BM: What do you find fascinating about Catherine the Great?

VA: Catherine the Great brought European civilization to a backward Russia. Peter the Great cut just a "window" to Europe and reformed some fundamental institutions. Catherine, being a very powerful Empress, a despot, supporting serfdom, extended Russia's territory. At the same time, she was a great reformer of Russian education and a patron of literature and the arts.

BM: As someone who has straddled both the Russian and Canadian experiences, what is your understanding of the nature of "authority" - either political or intellectual? Do Canadians suffer from a lack of authority or an indifference to it?

VA: I think this question is political. I tried to avoid this aspect in my previous life. But I can say, I really like Canada. And I'd like to add that my writing, which has already been published in Canada, is an example of the intellectual freedom here. My life in my new country is an example of the political and social achievement in Canada.

BM: I understand that Catherine the Great would keep all her servants out of the dining room when she had guests over (she had mechanical tables in two of her palaces that made the food appear miraculously from below). Is there an aura of privacy about her that you wanted to examine in her poetry?

VA: Going to enjoy Catherine's dinner, I did not think of her fashionable-of-that-time service-technology with mechanical equipments. An aura of privacy? Yes, there were a lot of rude rumours surrounding her during her life. But Catherine was a very strong severe woman, and her powerful temper provided her home with privacy.

BM: What drew you to Catherine as a figure of attention? You've written about star power in previous books (Mary Pickford).

VA: Yes, Mary Pickford was an outstanding person too. She was one of the founders of world cinema - establishing, with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith, United Artists! But my interest in her was, on the whole, her birth in the same city where I now live, and also because she visited Russia. Catherine? I do not know what culture would be in Russia without her pivotal role in history.

BM: You write about Stalin's daughter. She seems to be someone who is trying to crawl out from under political authority. Was there an empathy you felt for her?

VA: My attitude to her is not an empathy - she was a very strong person. I am fascinated by the phenomenon that she grew up in the nest of such a cruel monster, and that she could find in herself a bravery, courage, energy, mind, fantasy to break up all her life, uncover the gigantic crime and lie of her surroundings. An empathy? Maybe for her lifelong wandering through the world for a soothing of her soul. Maybe she found it in Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture. Nobody knows.

BM: What made you want to come to Canada, and more than that to write and publish your work here in English?

VA: I've liked the English language all my life, but all my attempts to learn it earlier were unsuccessful. Coming to Toronto, I was stunned by the downtown modern architecture of the famous worldknown architects. When I came to Toronto my first time, I quickly made my way to see the famous ensemble of Mies van der Roe (the Toronto-Dominion Centre) - soon after I took a condominium five minutes from there. It is for me a great happiness to still be here. But my architectural career was overcome with the English words, absolutely new for me and sounding like music. My previous second language was German. I became a student at the George Brown College in my neigbourhood, where I found a poetry writing class, led by a poet, Jay MillAr. It decided my destiny.

BM: When you write, do the poems originate in Russian or English? And, when you dream, what language do you dream in?

VA: For my poetry, at first, I need to hear the words and how they sound in English, arriving in my mind, and then I play with some alliteration, rhyme, music, tone, combinations of words. Literary translation is impossible for poetry. Dreams? I think my dreams are without language - a dream's actions signal or go directly into my consciousness or subconscious. Probably, this is a question for Mr. Freud.

BM: You spent many years as an architect in the Soviet Union and Russia. Do you think of poetry as an architectural activity, at least in the sense of design?

VA: Yes. It is a straight analogy for me. The architectural structure participates while I build my writing. While I write, I think of the environment of my poetic event, of the land where it happens, and the foundation of all erecting lines structured. Then I go up through all the layouts adding details, the meaningful stopping sections. I try to feel the common balanced structures in my work.

BM: Can we escape history or is it something we have to learn to live with? How do we escape it or learn to live with it (depending on your answer to the first part)?

VA: This question is personal. But I confess: I am not a fighter. In my childhood, I had the sad reality of my parents, and me, being repressed by Stalin's regime. I avoided active participation in politics and even in social life. My life was with closed eyes and I survived, thanks to my passionate interest in art and an active interest in my creative job. One needs that sense of foundation, and hope, to escape - and I did.

© 2013-2016, Vladimir Azarov. Web design by Andrei Korolev, Andrew Urusov.