Boris Rizhy was born east of the Urals. Boris Ryzhi means the Red or Red-Haired One. He grew up in Sverdlovsk, Russia’s third-largest European city, after Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Czar Peter the Great founded it in 1723 and named it Ekaterinburg, to honour his wife. This was its name until the rise of the Soviet Union, and again after its collapse, although Ryzhi still prefers to call it Sverdlovsk in his poems. The last Czar and his family were murdered here. Boris Yeltsin rose from Sverdlovsk’s party ranks. Ekaterinburg in the 1990s became a major stronghold of Russia’s new ‘mafia’.
This ‘fairy-tale Sverdlovsk’ is the world of Ryzhi the poet. It is a world of the street, a man’s world of drinkers and smokers, of hitmen and police, of factories and jails. If women are mentioned at all, it is in such phrases as ‘the woman I didn’t live with’, or ‘Elya has died’. Ryzhi sees himself as ‘a poet and a bandit’, and wants to ‘sing like a drunken whore’. He is a child of the 1980s, the years of ‘stagnation’, and ‘a soldier of perestroika’, a child of a lost generation if ever there was one.
Now one’s a dentist, and one’s a shit
and the owner of a sex club.
Idiots. But I don’t care.
I embrace, I kiss you on the lips.
It is to such ‘declarations of love’ for the dregs of society, and for the city of Sverdlovsk, where the poet hopes to be buried, that Ryzhi’s poetry owes much of its power. His strident themes and vocabulary revolve around things like sky and light, the colour blue, snow, pure love, intimate friendship (he often mentions friends by name), and with notions like ‘ours’ and even ‘soul’. In the pain born from the clash between stark reality and serene spirituality, Ryzhi has found his special voice.
[Boris Ryzji took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2000. This text was written on that occasion. Boris Ryzji died in 2001.]