Like Dylan Thomas, who presaged that he would never live to be 40, and didn't, died at 39, Aleksey Dayen predicted that he wouldn’t live very long, and didn’t; he died at age 34, even younger than Dylan.
I met Aleksey about eight years ago. He was a young man dedicated to creative work. He impressed me with his fierce devotion to poetry and his love of all kinds of writing, art, photography, especially by his fellow Russians.
We worked together on many Russian, American, and other language/cultural/national projects. First and foremost was his own poetry, which he initially wrote only in Russian. I helped him translate into English and to find publications for his work, like Lips, edited by Laura Boss, PLR edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Long Island Sounds edited by Tammy Nuzzo-Morgan, The Seventh Quarry edited by Peter Thabit Jones, and Shabdaguchha edited by Hassanal Abdullah.
We worked on many literary arts projects together. He translated into Russian works by Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Stanley Kunitz, Gregory Rabassa, and Dylan Thomas. Together we crossed over many linguistic/cultural borders: Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Italian, Korean, Persian, Sicilian, Spanish, and Welsh. He unstintingly helped my small press, Cross-Cultural Communications, by providing Russian friends’ venues, like the Donnell and Mid-Manhattan Libraries, and the Russian Samovar, as well as Russian magazines for CCC poets. As publisher of CCC, I provided editing and publications, including several co-translations of his Russian poet friends, as well as his translations into Russian in bilingual chapbooks: M. L. Liebler’s The Fragmant Benediction of Life and A. D. Winans’ The Wrong Side of Town, and my own Crossings. Also a chapbook of his poems in English, Absinthe Then Love, and a full book influenced by the No!Art movement, No!Love.
All in all, he was a legal interpreter, a translator, a novelist, a journalist, a photographer, a sometime mixed-media artist, but most of all a poet—a poet of the bars and the alleyways and the asphalts of New York City, one who had much in common with the Beats. And he was an organizer of Russian cultural activities, being, in effect, the central clearing place for Russian writers and artists in America, especially in New York. Any Russian writer of recent vintage was welcomed and helped by Aleksey; in a way, he was their nexus on the American literary scene.
This young man, who at age 16 came out of the Ukrainian Steppes making his way to America to learn its ways of the bar and the streets, who fell in love too many times, who looked into the belly of the beast and yet was not damaged in his soul by what he saw and experienced there (though the same can’t be said of how he was affected physically). He remained pure in spirit and intent. His poetry pierced through to the inner heart’s core. Anyone who heard him read in Russian was captivated by him. Anyone who was graced by his friendship—fiercely loyal, capable of going to great extremes of self-sacrifice—was privileged indeed.
Although he wrote in Russian and sometimes, later in English, he ultimately rejected being called “A Russian poet.” He said, “I’m a Jew from Eastern Europe!” He was a young man who came out of the Steppes of Ukraine, as just a boy, a boy from Kiev. He kept searching for love, had numerous girlfriends—but always felt, as he wrote in No!Love, that he didn’t find it, that he was unloved. Yet, as condolences poured in from all over the worlds, at his Coney Island Avenue, Brooklyn, funeral, with very short notice, about 100 friends and family came, half traveled in a long chain of cars to the cemetery in Queens, to his gravesite, and more came to his tribute dinner in Brighton Beach. Three weeks later, Russian friends and family and fiancé Jeanine Allen, his “wife,” who truly loved and cared for him, gathered at a tribute to his poetry in a Russian bookstore in Manhattan, and others plan another bilingual tribute in January. Despite prior No!Love feelings, he was so much loved.
Aleksey Dayen died on November 20, his too big heart finally failing after a short but richly creative life, dying sooner than even he expected.
He was one of a kind, absolutely unique. We will miss him. When comes such another?