City of Books

Author: Nanuli Tskhvediani


City of Books

“Kutaisi demonstrated a reading culture. True masters left their imprints on every edition of “Meotsnebe Niamorebi” (Dreamer Wild Goats) and “Kirchkhibi”(Cancer)…” – this was the assessment of the books published in the city located along the banks of the Rioni River made by Shalva Apkhaidze, impartial chronicler of the literary group – Tsisferkantselebi (Blue Horns) a century ago. Kutaisi has never been indifferent neither to the literary processes nor the names of the participants of these processes and also to the books published in this city. It is worth mentioning that according to the facts provided in the governor’s report, in 1905 there were 3 libraries, 3 bookstores, 2 book sheds, and 5 printing houses, and in 1913 – 8 printing houses in Kutaisi. Moreover, these editions, bought by Kutaisians, passed from hand to hand, were high-quality printed books. They have been preserved completely in old book stacks, their pages are not yellowed and torn and not even the backs of the books are torn! The ancestors knew the value of books! They did indeed!


King of Poets Galaktion!
Creative assessment – reevaluation of old literary traditions and the search for new boundaries and new possibilities of literature began in the 900s. Classical verse deeply rooted in Besik’s and Akaki’s great traditions, seemed to be untouchable. However, a new king of Georgian poetry – Galaktion Tabidze, the great Galaktion emerged in 1914! His first collection, printed in Tutku Gvaramia’s printing house, was soon followed by another book and brilliant poetic masterpieces, originally modernized Georgian verse raised to an unprecedented height, versification miracles, unique imaginaries, and euphonic musicality saw the light of the day. We may say that Galaktion set Georgian poetry on completely different tracks and was a century ahead of his time.

Tsisferi Kantsebi (Blue Horns) – way to Europe
Galaktion’s poetry was born in Kutaisi. By the will of God, another important phenomenon of Georgian literature should have also emerged here: in 1916, the literary group of Tsisferi Kantsebi (Blue Horns) appeared on the stage. It was preceded by the publication of the literary magazine “Tsisferi Kantsebi” (two numbers), which included Paolo’s programmatic letter “Pirveltkma” (First Word) and Titsian Tabidze’s article – “Tsisferi Kantsebi“, which determined the main principles of the new literary group under the editorship of Paolo Iashvili. Literary school, in the true sense of the word, did not exist in Georgia before, – noted poet Valerian Gafrindashvili, one of the leaders of this group. Indeed, the way of renewing poetic traditions and bringing Georgian literature closer to European modernism, as Titsian assessed, was to adjust the entire literary space “with a European radius against the background of the impoverished Georgian verse.”

Titsian Tabidze: “For the first time, we introduced words that were banished or were not used at all in the Georgian verse. For the first time, real sonnets, tercini, and triolets were written, and a new range of rhymes was provided. We used alliteration and assonance in a new way. Translations of Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Laforgue, and other French and Russian poets expanded the range of poetic themes and forms. Georgian verse acquired new sonority.”

What was the background of Tsisferkantselebi Poetic School?

From the memories of Kolau Nadiradze:

“…Kutaisi! After all, it was a pure Georgian city during the autocratic rule of Imperial Russia, where the pulse of the nation was felt, where the national cradle was rocking immaculately.

The crownless king – the great writer Akaki, who looked like Zeus who came down from Olympus, was walking here.

Smiling children respectfully greeted him. Adults used to stop to show modesty and reverence for him!

I remember Akaki and Vazha-Pshavela walking together on the street, their performance in Kutaisi theater, how they were reading their poems, their voice!

Our idolized writers: Davit Kldiashvili and Niko Lortkipanidze embellished Kutaisi’s life.

Here you may have noticed Niko Nikoladze, Giorgi Shervashidze, Konstantine Eristavi, Shalva Dadiani – a notyet-famous writer (he worked in the theater as an actor and had just written the play “Yesterday’s People“.

…Galaktion Tabidze, Jaju Jorjikia, Kita Abashidze, Ia Ekaladze, Domenti Tomashvili, Tsakheli, Tsvarnami (Mebuke), I. Gomartheli have already appeared in writers arena

I believe that publishment of the “Okros Verdzi” (Golden Fleece) magazine (1913) was the first portent of the renaissance of Georgian poetry. The Georgian verse seems to start breathing in a new way, spreading its wings in a different way… I believe that the moment is near when a new broad horizon will open in front of the Georgian artistic speech…

Younger writers are appearing on the arena of literature: Paolo Iashvili, Titsian Tabidze, Valerian Gafrindashvili, Sandro Tsirekidze, Sergo Kldiashvili, Rajden Gvetadze, Shalva Apkhaidze, Dia Chianeli (Davit Chkheidze), Ivane Kifiani, Leli Japaridze, Ali Arsenishvili, Giorgi Leonidze, Kolau Nadiradze and Nikolo Mitsishvili (Sirbiladze).

The work of young writers reached its climax in 1916 when the magazine “Tisferi Kantsebi” was published under the editorship of Paolo Iashvili, and a school of symbolism was established under the same name in Georgia.

In 1918, the first annual newspaper “Poeziis Dghe” (Poetry Day) was printed (for the first time in the world), where new works of all Georgian writers were published.

The magazine “Meotsnebe Niamorebi” (Dreamer Wild Goats) (Editor V. Gafrindashvili) and the magazine “Shvildosani” (Sagittarius) (Editor Sandro Tsirekidze) were also established.

In addition, Stephane Mallarmé, New Poetry Anthology was translated and published.

The following books written by Tsisferkantselebi were printed and published: V. Gaprindashvili’s “Daisebi” (Sundowns), S. Tsirekidze’s “Mtvareulebi (Dream Walkers), K. Nadiradze’s “Baldachin“…

… Our goal was to put a new spirit in impaired, template-bound Georgian verse, to rid it of the provincial-sounding form and content.”

To establish new aesthetic principles, in addition to poems and miniatures, Tsisferkantselebi wrote literary letters, organized evenings in different parts of Georgia, and had to fight for self-establishment in rather difficult conditions due to the fact that they had many opponents and detractors, but they never backed down.

“The organic relationship between the ways of development of Georgian literature and European creative trends, the natural intermingling of European literary traditions and European modernism – they believed that this was the way Georgian literature could have overcome provincial isolation” (Prof. Avtandil Nikoleishvili, Researcher of History of Georgian literature).


 Big names

The period of Kutaisi’s literary life referred herein was brightened with the names of two more great writers – David Kldiashvili, known as “Georgian Cervantes” and Niko Lortkifanidze, “Dandy from Kutaisi”. Niko Lortkipanidze is one of the first fiction writers who paved the way for European modernism in Georgian literature at the beginning of the 20th century and enriched our spiritual culture with new vital impulses. He is a truly European writer who emerged from Georgian bosom, who uses completely original forms of artistic expression and meanwhile expands native literary traditions.

Grigol Robakidze, one of the first introducers and founders of modernist avant-garde trends in 20th-century Georgian literature, was also connected with Kutaisi with his early works. He was one of the first to introduce a new stage of Europeanization. The Tsisferkantselebi respected his authority and considered him as their ideological teacher. The works of the Georgian writer, who emigrated in 1931 and lived in Germany and Switzerland, were highly appreciated by prominent foreign writers and literary experts. In fact, Grigol Robakidze, the creator tabooed by the communist regime and ignored in his homeland, is one of the first Georgian writers who was recognized and accepted by Europe.

Kvitsaridze ‘s Office

The “city of books” will never forget Isidore Kvitsaridze (1870-1937), a scribe, publisher, and public figure from Kutaisi who was repressed many times and was a victim of the Bolshevik regime. In the 1900s, he created the publishing and press distribution offices “Kolkhida” in Kutaisi and “Imereti” in 1909, which were visited by famous Georgian writers and public figures. Isidore printed and distributed periodicals, and educational and literary books throughout the Kutaisi Province.

Lado, Isian…

Lado Asatiani (1917-1943), a young poet who suffered a tragic fate, left this world at the age of 26, after a serious illness. Most of his life and creative biography were connected with Kutai – the city where he was born and where he, the son of a repressed family, experienced a lot of pain along with joy. His poetry is based on the traditions of Georgian classical lyrics of the 19th century and sounds with the simplicity and immediacy of oral folklore. The major sonority, patriotic attitude, raciness of imageries, amazing sincerity, and sensitivity of Lado’s poetry are so unique that, in fact, the fervor and beauty of the “verse by Asatiani” have not faded to this day. There was another talented creator from Lado Asatiani’s generation – the poet-soldier Severian Isian (1913-1943), who died in the Second World War, whose first poem was published in the Kutaisi newspaper in 1930. He lived to see his first poetry collection, published in 1940. He used to send poems and optimistic letters from the front line. Severian Isian’s essay “Conversation with a Frontline Friend” and about twenty cards written to D. Kvirkvelia are preserved in the Kutaisi Historical Museum funds.  

Kutaisian Writers

During those 70 years, when Georgian culture and literature were under ideological pressure, literary life was still flourishing at different paces, and valuable works were created. If we look at the names of authors from Kutaisi and the books published by them, it would be easy to distinguish who compromised with the communist regime, or who managed to establish their creative principles, develop their own style, and create interesting works, hidden from the eyes of the censor (censorship). Many bright talents were stifled by the state of affairs but a few of them managed to survive. We cannot discuss them separately. Here we will only list popular or little-known writers of different generations and with different literary “backgrounds”, who worked in Kutaisi or were connected to it for a certain period of their lives:  Dia Chianeli (Davit Chkheidze), Vaso Gvetadze, Domenti Okreshidze, Konstantine Lortkifanidze, Giorgi Giaseli (Samkharadze), Andria Sinauri (Sinauridze), Davit Kvitsaridze, Simon Arveladze, Domenti Akhobadze, Lili Nutsubidze, Ruta Berodze, Mamia Asatiani, Mikheil Kakitelashvili, Zurab Kukhianidze, Davit Khurodze, Shota Nizharadze, Sergo Pkhakadze, Sergo Maglaferidze, Levan Sanikidze, Rezo Mishveladze, Vakhtang Javakhadze, Givi Alkhazishvili, Jansug Gvinjilia, Irakli Bazadze, Sulkhan Abdaladze, Archil Zhorjoliani (Setidani), Tariel Charkseliani, Sergo Cheishvili, Teimuraz Lanchava, Zaal Ebanoidze, Avtandil Kurashvili, Avtandil Nikoleishvili, Tsira Shalashvili, Budu Kupatashvili, Imedo Gabisonia, Janiko Gabunia, Kira and Nestan Kveidzes, Rezo Nachkebia, Rezo Kldiashvili, Leila Meskhi, Dodo Chumburidze, Shalva Stsanava, Giorgi Labadze, Klarens Shampriani, Jano Oniani, ect. In the 80s-90s, new names and new creative biographies appeared in the literary space of Kutaisi: Omar Gvetadze, Temur Amkoladze, Gia Benidze (Marsian), Elguja Tavberidze, Manana Ghurchumalidze, Givi Tkeshelashvili, Tsira Kurashvili, Nana Gasviani, Bela Uchadze, Gia Khoferia, Gizo Tavadze, Sergo Tsurtsumia, Ioseb Yarghanashvili, Tengiz Topuridze, etc..

Since the 1970s, the Kutaisi branch of the Publishing House Soviet Georgia (hereinafter the “Georgia”) has played an important role in the literary life of Kutaisi, whose Chief Editor and Director was Zurab Kukhianidze, the famous poet. A number of important and noteworthy prose, poetic, scientific, and cognitive books were published here. Special mention should be made of the high quality of the graphics of the book – the works created in a scrupulous, unique manner by Otar Kandaria, the graphic artist.

Rezo and Rezo

The esoterics of Kutaisi, its traditional identity and flavor, characters, humor, and great humanism of the city’s inhabitants ingeniously run through the works of two prominent writers from Kutaisi – Rezo Cheishvili and Rezo Gabriadze. If we ask who in Georgian literature and cinema (puppet theater) was able to depict the beauty of Kutaisi in the most special way, we would definitely name these two great creators. Kutaisi’s environment and characters are emphasized and global problems are presented in the native bosom in Rezo Cheishvili’s works – Music in the Wind, Return of the Winds, My Friend Nodar (Dinosaurs Walk in the City), etc., in Rezo Gabriadze’s Sherekils (The Eccentrics), Kutaisi is a City, The Autumn of My Spring, White Bridge, etc.

“Literary” monuments in Kutaisi

In the “city of books”, streets, squares, and institutions have been named after writers as a sign of gratitude. There are monuments in the city distinguished by their artistic value, among them: Ilia (sculptor Sh. Mikatadze), Akaki (two sculptures, authors are: V. Topuridze, R. Ramishvili), Vazha (B. Avalishvili), Davit Kldiashvili (G. Nikoladze), Galaktion and the Muse (G. Shkhvatsabaia), Gymnasium Student Mayakovsky (V. Mizandari and G. Nikoladze), Lado Asatiani (G. Nikoladze), Zurab Kukhianidze (A. Kikvadze), Otar Mamphoria (A. Kikvadze), Boris Gaponov (G. Kikvadze).

There are green alleys named after writers and their busts in the youth park (Director – Gizo Tavadze, poet). Creative meetings – evenings, book presentations are held here, in the literary basement.

Congenial translation

Boris Gaponov, a Jewish poet, translator, true member of the National Academy of Israel, laureate of the awards named after Shota Rustaveli, Chernikhovsky, and President of Israel, lived and spent a significant part of his life in Kutaisi. Gaponov’s translation of The Knight in the Panther’s Skin is recognized as an extremely important event, a very valuable work for the refinement of modern Hebrew poetic and linguistic structure. In Zurab Kiknadze’s assessment, poetic talent, mastery of the language, virtuosic artistic mastery, and mastery of the elements of the language like Rustaveli make this translation congenial to the original. N. Babalikashvili, a Hebrew language researcher notes: that Gaponov’s translation of The Knight in the Panther’s Skin has preserved the content, conceptual, and artistic-expressive greatness of the original text.

Since 1989, Shaumian Street in the oldest district of Kutaisi (Jewish district) has been named after Boris Gaponov. His monument stands near the Great Synagogue.

Today

The 21st century has brought new aesthetics to Kutaisi. Youth literary circles are being created, new names are appearing, and trends close to European and American literature are being established. New publishing houses and printing houses work in the city… A 150-year-old public library with 13 city branches serves readers.

Today, the works of Kutaisian writers (and not only them) are published in the following magazines: “Gantiadi” (Dawn) (since 1974. At different times, editors were: Guram Panjikidze, Konstantine Lortkifanidze, Rezo Cheishvili, Avtandil Kurashvili; Temur Amkoladze is currently the editor), “Mtsvanekvavila” (established by Rezo Cheishvili; Gizo Tavadze is currently the editor), “Afinazh” (Editor-founder  – Levan Gorvaneli), newspaper “Uchimerion” (Teimuraz Lanchava –  Chief Editor, Chairman of the Imereti Organization of Georgian Writers), magazine “Tvalsazarisi” (View) (founded by Lali and Lela Gurgenidzes). The works of many Kutaisian writers have been translated into different languages. In Kutaisi, books are translated from English, French, German, Italian, Russian and other languages. It is noteworthy to mention the enormous work performed by Gia Beradze, the Kutaisian translator. He has translated the works of 60 classical and modern authors, among them, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Virginia Woolf, Jerome Salinger, Salman Rushdie, Herbert Wells, Jane Austen, John Maxwell Coetzee, etc. from English into Georgian.

UNESCO ‘s City of Literature

On October 31, 2023, on World Cities Day, it became known that Kutaisi joined the UNESCO’s network of creative cities in terms of literature.

According to the information disseminated by the Kutaisi City Hall, “due to the new status, the cultural dynamics of the city will be focused on the development of literary processes and various types of creative cooperation for the next 4 years. International exchange and cooperation will play a crucial role. The status received by the city is a great chance to create a completely new cultural identity based on the rich literary tradition.”

… Kutaisi is facing the future with such news, – as Irakli Abashidze once called it, – “Montmartre” of Georgian decadent youth”.