Vasilisk Gnedov

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Gnedov with his wife, c1920.

Vasily Ivanovich Gnedov (Василий Иванович Гнедов), better known by the pen name Vasilisk Gnedov (Василиск Гнедов; 1890—1978), was an ego-futurist poet who took poetry to the extreme of minimal expression; some of his poems being the first examples of minimalism.

Gnedov was the most experimental of the ego-futurists, using zaum words and neologisms extracted from colloquial Ukrainian speech, placing him close to the cubo-futurists, indeed, he was the only ego-futurist poet they respected and he was included in the list of the 317 Presidents of Planet Earth (1917) drawn up by Velimir Khlebnikov, aiming to replace the "States of Space" with the "State of Time".

Gnedov was silenced by the Stalinist repression in the 1930s and not freed from the labour camps until 1956. He continued writing intentionally absurd poems (Second year after my death, A.D. 2549, A.D. 38687 and Today), but wasn't published until after his death in 1978.

Death to Art (1913)[edit]

In his book Death to Art (Смерть Искусству; 1913) there are 15 short poems, which gradually reduce to a line, a word, a letter and finally a blank page.

Poem 14 is composed of a single letter in cyrillic Ю [Yu] which is the penultimate letter of the Russian alphabet - as well as the penultimate poem in his book. It precedes the letter "ya", which is Poem 15 - the last in the book and which, for critics such as Nilsson and Jensen, symbolizes the anteroom of the affirmation of the "I-Ego" of the poet. For Gerald Janacek this poem also reflects the union of contraries "1" and "0" since this letter is a natural diphthong made up from the elision of "y" and the back vowel "u".

Gnedov goes to the extreme of nothing in the poem Poem of the End [Поэма конца], which consists simply of a blank page, the annulment of any poetic expression, the zero degree of literature, the "Death to Art". Perhaps Gnedov's aim with this book was the elimination in the future of "the word", in order that it be replaced by a higher "intuition" (Theosophy), one of the precepts or "tables" of the ego-futurists. This poem of nothing, without sounds, was also "recited" publicly, according to the recollections of some witnesses who heard Gnedov. The "recitation" of the Poem of the End - which had no words and consisted only of a single gesture: the arm being quickly raised in front of the hair, then sharply dropped and moved to the right" (recorded by Vladimir Markov). The preface to the book was written by the ego-futurist Ivan Ignatyev who describes the "recital" of this poem in a different way: "He read [this poem] with a rhythmic movement. The hand was drawing a line: from left to right and vice versa (the second one cancelled the first, as plus and minus result in minus)". This poem has been compared to the painting Black Square (1915) by Kazimir Malevich, the composition 4'33" (1952) by John Cage and minimalism in general.

In the preface Ignatyev said that, with Gnedov, the letter is not only sound and colour, but also "taste", "sense of touch, weight and spatiality". [1]


  1. Miguel Molina Alarcón, Baku: Symphony of Sirens: Sound Experiments in The Russian Avant-Garde. Original Documents and Reconstructions of 72 Key Works of Music, Poetry and Agitprop from the Russian Avantgardes (1908-1942), London: ReR Megacorp, 2008. Altered.



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