Who is Daniel Charms?

Daniel Charms - a.k.a. Daniil Kharms, Kaarms, Haarms - achieved fame as an avant-garde eccentric in the late '20s in Leningrad. In 1927, Charms together with a number of experimental writers formed the literary group Oberiu; a "left flank" union between Futurist aesthetics and Formalist approaches. Their publicity stunts (including a rooftop appearance by Charms) caused a minor sensation that helped them present a highly unconventional theatrical evening. Among the Oberiu slogans were the words: 'Art is a cupboard' and 'Poems aren't pies; we aren't herring'.

In the Stalinist years the time for propagating experimental modern art had passed and tolerance for such frivolities was plummeting. Hostile journalistic attention ensured the hurried dispersing of the Oberiu group. Accused of "distracting the people from building socialism by means of trans-sense verses" Charms was arrested and exiled to Kursk. Although the exile was brief and the experience was described as relatively vegetarian, Charms did very little work thereafter.

The outbreak of war brought an end to everything: Charms was arrested in August '41 and is said to have died of starvation in prison in February 1942. His work was 'rehabilitated' during the Khrushchev 'Thaw,' but most of his writings had to await the Gorbachev period for publication in Russia.

Both starvation and arrest were anticipated in a number of Charms' writings. Hunger and poverty were constant companions; indeed, Charms could claim to be the poet of hunger.

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