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Chernyi, Sasha

(Pseudonym of Aleksandr Mikhailovich Glikberg; 1880–1932), Russian poet. Born to a pharmacist’s family in Odessa, Sasha Chernyi was baptized at the age of 10 in order to bypass the numerus clausus. In 1895 he ran away from home to Saint Petersburg. In 1904 Chernyi debuted as a feuilletonist in the Zhitomir newspaper Volynskii vestnik (Volhynian Messenger). In 1905, his poem “Chepukha” (Gibberish) appeared in the satirical magazine Zritel’ (The Spectator), signed Sasha Chernyi. Although his first poetry collection, Pestrye motivy (Sundry Themes [or Sundry Tunes]), came out in 1906, Chernyi considered the next collection, Satiry (Satires; 1910), his true entrance into literature.

In 1908, Chernyi joined the staff—and until 1911 remained the leading poet—of the weekly Satirikon magazine. Many writers admired him, including Vladimir Mayakovsky, who readily acknowledged Chernyi’s influence. Chernyi left Satirikon in 1911 to become an “unemployed humorist” and freelance contributor to such periodicals as Sovremennyi mir (Contemporary World), Solntse rossii (Sun of Russia), and others. His long poem Noi (Noah) appeared in 1914.

Chernyi’s collection Zhivaia azbuka (The Living Alphabet) was published in 1914. During World War I, he served in military hospitals, and in 1918 he made his way from Pskov to Vilna, Kovno, and eventually to Berlin. He was active in Russian émigré publishing, heading the literary department of the review Zhar-ptitsa (Firebird) and editing Detskaia biblioteka “Slovo” (Children’s Library “Word”). In 1923, his collection Zhazhda (Thirst) appeared. Chernyi then slightly altered his pen name to A. Chernyi, and his satirical poems became staunchly anti-Bolshevik.

Chernyi moved to Paris in 1924, and in 1927 became a regular contributor to the leading Russian daily Poslednie novosti (The Latest News). In exile, Chernyi’s creative talons did not twitch nearly as much as they had in Russia. Soon after moving to La Favière in Provence, in 1932 Chernyi died of a heart attack while helping extinguish a fire. His Soldatskie skazki (Soldier’s Tales) appeared posthumously in 1933.

Chernyi was a celebrated satirical poet of the prerevolutionary era. His best poems are hilarious, biting, and politically poignant, and his lyrical poetry is suffused with existential pessimism. He seemed embarrassed by “shtetl” Jews and yet was hypersensitive to the smallest hints at antisemitism. His two best-known Jewish poems appeared in 1909 in the special “Jewish” issue of Satirikon; the second, “Judeophobes,” was signed with Chernyi’s alternative pen name Geine iz Zhitomira (Heine from Zhitomir).

Suggested Reading

L[idiia] A. Evstigneeva, “Sasha Chernyi,” in Stikhotvoreniia, by Sasha Chernyi, ed. Kornei Chukovskii (Leningrad, 1960); Anatolii Ivanov, Bibliographie des oeuvres de Sacha Tcherny (Paris, 1994); Anatolii Ivanov, “Oskorblennaia liubov’,” in Sobranie sochinenii v piati tomakh / Sasha Chernyi, vol. 1, pp. 5–30 (Moscow, 1996).