Boris Poplavsky was born in Moscow in 1903. Both his parents were musicians, his father a pianist and conductor and his mother a violinist. His father gave up music professionally after marriage and ran a successful factory. The family was able to afford to travel and young Boris visited Western Europe with his mother. He later studied French at the Lycée of St. Philippe Neri. He did not have a particularly happy childhood and, in later life, he wrote that while he enjoyed the travel, he did not enjoy home life. He started writing poems, when aged thirteen, in imitation of his sister, Natalie, who had published a book of poems under the influence of Alexander Blok. As well as introducing her brother to symbolist poetry, Natalia may also have introduced him to drugs.
After the Revolution, Poplavsky and his father fled to Yalta and then to Constantinople, with the rest of the family staying behind in Moscow. When it looked as though the Whites were doing well, they returned to Russia and Poplavsky gave his first public performance, reading his poetry in Yalta. When the Bolsheviks entered Crimea, the pair fled to Constantinople, where Poplavsky wrote and painted and underwent a spiritual and mystical awakening. Father and son then moved to Paris, where they were joined by his mother and brother. One sister, Evgenia, had already died of tuberculosis. Natalia was to die of it, exacerbated by her use of opium, in Shanghai. The family was hard up in Paris, with Poplavsky’s mother working as a seamstress and his father giving music lessons and wrote for the émigré Russian press. Poplavsky himself did odd jobs and also earned a small amount of money from publication of his prose and poetry.
He had wanted to be a painter and writer but gave up painting when told that he would never make it as a quality artist. He continued to publish poetry and give readings and had a certain reputation. Only one of his books of poetry was published in his lifetime. He also wrote a novel written between 1926 and 1932 and a second one, following on from the first. He met and was briefly engaged to Nataliia Stoliarova, daughter of a Socialist Revolutionary. In 1935, he and a friend, Sergei Yarko, took an overdose of a drug, possibly heroin, and died the next day. Paris police ruled it an accident, though many thought it was suicide.
Books about Boris Poplavsky
Leonid Livak: How It Was Done in Paris: Russian Émigré Literature and French Modernism
Rediscovering Boris Poplavsky: poet, exile and enfant terrible of Russia’s Silver Age
Boris Poplavsky: Breathing the air of exile
A selection of his poems
A selection of his poems