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Kuzmin, Mikhail Alekseyevich (1872-1936)  
 
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The Russian writer and translator Mikhail Kuzmin wrote poems and novels that present sympathetic, often idealistic, portrayals of gay love and desire.

Kuzmin was initially attracted to theater and music. He developed his interest in theater early in life, attending operettas in Saratov, near Yaroslavl, where he was born. Kuzmin became a member of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's music composition class at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1891, completing three years of the seven-year program, while also learning German and Italian.

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During his life, Kuzmin translated writing not only from German and Italian, but also from English, French, Greek, and Latin, including works by Apuleius, Aubrey Beardsley, Lord Byron, and Johann Goethe, as well as 110 of William Shakespeare's sonnets and 9 of his plays.

In 1904, the homosexual Georgy Vasilevich Chicherin (1872-1936) introduced Kuzmin to Mir iskoustva (The World of Art), an artistic circle centered primarily on Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929), best known for making the Ballets Russes a major influence in the European art world, and for his relationship with the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.

The group attracted Kuzmin because of its theatrical concerns, its Art Nouveau aesthetic, and its relation to Symbolism. Mir iskoustva also appealed to Kuzmin because of its large homosexual membership and its penchant for dandyism.

At this time, Kuzmin was often a resident at the "Tower," Vyacheslav Ivanov's apartment, the major literary center of St. Petersburg from approximately 1905 to 1907.

Kuzmin's first publications appeared in 1905 in Zelenyi sbornik (Green Miscellany), including the homosexual and idealist play Istoriia rytsaria d'Alessio (The History of the Knight d'Alessio). His literary career gained noticeable momentum when the Moscow Decadent and Symbolist Valeri Bryusov (1873-1924) published twelve of Kuzmin's "Aleksandriiskie pesni" ("Alexandrian Songs") and his novel Kril'ya (Wings, 1906) in the journal Vesy (The Scales, 1904-1909). Wings was published separately in 1907.

Vladimir Markov claims that the Alexandrian poems constitute the first major corpus of Russian free verse to be published. They contain lush descriptions of male beauty and a steady flow of mystical, orientalist imagery reflecting the author's travels in Egypt and Italy in the mid-1890s.

Dealing with love for young men, as described by various male and female narrators, the Alexandrian songs make up the last section of Kuzmin's first published collection of verse, Seti (Nets, 1908), which was compiled on Bryusov's request and which Alexander Blok (1880-1921) claimed to be in love with.

Wings is Kuzmin's most popular prose work, having been published in numerous editions. A sympathetic depiction of gayness, the novel narrates the relationship between the adolescent Vanya and the older, urbane Larion Dmitrievich Stroop, who helps the younger man acknowledge and accept his homosexuality.

In the ten years following the initial success of Wings, Kuzmin wrote a number of literary and theatrical works, including the plays Opasnaia predostorozhnost' (Dangerous Precaution, 1907), complete with gender transgressions and a concluding affirmation of homosexual love, and Venetsianskie bezumtsy (The Venetian Madcaps, 1915), which, like many of Kuzmin's works, depicts a woman interfering in male-male affections.

The publication of Kuzmin's essay "O prekrasnoi yasnosti" ("On Beautiful Clarity") in 1910 led many of Kuzmin's contemporaries to affiliate the author with the newly formulated poetic movement of Acmeism, which countered Symbolist obscurity with clarity, economy, and precision. Though this connection is reinforced by Kuzmin's support for Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) and by his membership in the short-lived school of Clarism, he states in his personal writings that he saw Acmeism to be an obtuse and passing fad.

In 1910, Kuzmin met his first major love, the poet Vsevolod Knyazev. In the same year, he published Kuranty lyubvi (The Carillon of Love), a collection of poems written in the style of eighteenth-century pastorals and set to music by Kuzmin himself. Two years later, he published Osennie ozera (Lakes in Autumn), possibly the work by him that most idealizes homosexuality.

Knyazev committed suicide in 1913, and Kuzmin met Yury Yurkun, also a poet, soon after. The two men lived together with Yurkun's mother, and they were joined, for a short while, by Yurkun's wife, Olga Arbenina. Kuzmin and Yurkun's relationship lasted until Kuzmin's death.

After the Communist government came to power in 1917, Kuzmin sat on the Praesidium of the Association of Artists in Petrograd, along with such authors as Blok and Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930), and worked as an official translator under Maxim Gorky (1868-1936). He also helped found the daily Zhizn iskuostva (The Life of Art) in 1918 and, along with Viktor Skhlovsky (1893-1984), worked as one of its editors.

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A portrait of Mikhail Kuzmin by Konstantin Somov (1909).
  
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