— It is easy to be Harun al-Rashid it is easy to do good things for people, but we do it so rarely ... M. Svetlov
Mikhail Sheinkman (real name of the author) was born in pre-revolutionary period in Dnepropetrovsk (at that time it was called Yekaterynoslav) in the family of a poor artisan.
Being completely common child, Svetlov didn’t know that he liked literature until one funny moment. It was his father who brought a lot of classical books. He wanted to use these books as paper for seeds. Young talented boy came to agreement with his father, so he could use only those books, which were read by Mikhail.
Melamed, a professor of Jewish religious elementary school, taught young Svetlov. Svetlov liked to remember:
«When I was a child, Melamed taught me. We paid him five rubles. And suddenly, my father found out that in the nearby village someone took three rubles for teaching. So he came to Melamed and said: «Well, let it be five. But for such money teach him to read and write in Russian.»
— So that is how I became Russian writer, — concludes Svetlov.
The first publications of Svetlov appeared when he was 15. At the age of 17 he was appointed as the head of the press department of Provincial Committee of the Komsomol of Yekaterynoslav. A year later he enrolled as a volunteer in the ranks of soldiers of the Soviet army and actively participated in the Civil War.
In 1923 Svetlov moved to Moscow with his comrades Mikhail Golodny and Alexander Yasny from Yekaterinoslav.
Here an active public life of a writer began. He studied at the literary and artistic university, lived in a youth hostel at Pokrovka. Here his first books «Rails» and «Night Meeting» were published under a pseudonym.
«Bourgeoisified revolution» had changed the outlook of the author, who sincerely believed in the Soviet regime.
Under the influence of political disturbances in 1926, Svetlov wrote «Grenada,» because of which he became famous. Vladimir Mayakovsky read this work by heart during his concerts.
December 31, 1926, Marina Tsvetaeva wrote to Boris Pasternak:
«Tell Svetlov that his Grenada is my favourite poem among all others. Yesenin did not have any similar poems. But my words about Yesenin do not tell him. Let Yesenin sleep peacefully.»
Svetlov himself called this poem as «the admiral among his poems» by giving his other well-known works different ranks. For example, he gave the rank of general to his poem «The Italian».
The true story of Svetlov and Borjomi.
The State Political Directorate (GPU — Gosudarstvennoye Politicheskoye Upravlenie) of the The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD — Narodnyy komissariat vnutrennikh del) was the main guiding authority to judge according to the instruction of «witnesses». That is why GPU made all people with weak point their out-of-staff members. Svetlov did not yield. In response to the offer of cooperation, Mikhail, who disliked the role of «informer» even under the pretext of «saving the revolution from its enemies”, referred supposedly to his alcoholism. He said that alcoholics could not keep secrets. In order to prove the legend and for exemplary performance he went to the restaurant “Aragvi” directly from the GPU department. Since this moment his fate was decided – wild drunken feasts with periodic therapeutic recovery with Borjomi.
But GPU reacted — Svetlov was banned from travelling abroad under the same pretext of «alcoholism» plus the lack of international experience. After that case the author joked: “Once I was abroad — together with the Red Army I reached Berlin.”
Svetlov liked «Borjomi» during all his lifetime. Once his close friend, actor Semen Gushansky, went to visit him in a hospital. He took a couple of bottles of Borjomi. Svetlov pointed at the label and said: “It is about me…” Gushansky looked at the bottle where the text was written: «Store in a cool dark place in a reclining position…”
One of the most famous saying of the author was: “There is no bad vodka. Vodka can be good or very good!”
At those times writers drank a lot. During one of the drunken feasts one of the poets responded to the accusations of drinking bouts:
— Dostoevsky drank, Tolstoy drank, Beethoven drank, Mozart drank.
— «I wonder what was the favourite drink of Mozart?»
Mikhail Svetlov, suddenly roused himself and said: “Those drinks, which were given to him by Salieri!”
From soul to soul …
Svetlov was such type of man, who was always happy to be seen. He had always been kind, generous, charming and pleasant guest in any company.
Svetlov lived near the «Airport» subway in the so-called writers’ ghetto. It seems it was comfortable for GPU to keep an eye on all writers when they live in one building.
Mikhail lived in a tiny little room on the 1st floor, which was convenient for the neighbours: “guests used not only the door, but also a window.”
The most favourite Svetlov’s phrase about literary works of his colleagues was: «I want to drink from the pure spring of poetry before the editor takes a bath in it.”
Anna Akhmatova after meeting with Svetlov rapturously cried at parting:
— You know, Svetlov, I was told that people from St. Petersburg like you. I was surprised: how can such different people like one person? But after we met I realized, that it is hard not to like you!
Svetlov’s friend, who was a playwright, once boasted a golden watch with a thick golden bracelet. Comedian Svetlov immediately suggested: “Fellow, maybe we should ruin your second hand through drinking?”
Due to frequent illnesses fans of Svetlov often asked him: “What thing do the doctors find in you?” He replied: «Talent!»
Once during a poetic meeting a fan, after seeing Svetlov, exclaimed: «Oh my God, a living legend!» Svetlov said: «Yeah! Barely alive legend.»
Generosity without borders.
Basic earnings of Svetlov were spent not on personal use (not including drinks). The author didn’t care about his slovenly appearance and the critical state of clothes. But he was generous and spent almost all his money on gifts for family and friends.
«You do not need a penny to be generous. You can have a lot of money and be a niggard – he said and then he added – I have only one ruble. I shall go to a notary’s office and take a copy of it.”
When he was in hospital, he spent his last money on new clothes for children of nurses.
One of his contemporaries wrote:
«I met him in an elevator in one of the Moscow publishing houses. He was standing round-shouldered in his old light o overcoat holding a package in his arm. In a package chicken legs in paper bracelets were helplessly hanging down.
— Hello, — said Svetlov. He added, extending his hand with a smile: Me and my friend chicken …
— Are you going to cook a broth with chicken in a publishing house?
It was actually very simple. Vera Ivanovna had been working for a long time as a secretary in publishing house. Everyone loved her for her quiet and gentle disposition. But she grew old and retired. People began forget her. But Svetlov didn’t forget. When he knew that daughter of Vera Ivanovna were working there, he always grabbed a gift for Vera Ivanovna. That time he took chicken.”
Poet Joseph Utkin once said to him:
— Poet is someone who does not need anything and there is nothing can be taken away from him.
— No, — said Svetlov. — Poet is the one who needs the whole world and who wants to give everything to people …
The golden book of humour includes many sayings of Svetlov: «Friendship is twenty-four-hour matter”, “Genius is our never-ending friendship, » Decent person is a person who does bad things without pleasure”.
When the poet got another illness, he rang Lydia Libedinskaya: «Old woman, bring me some beer!» — «Beer?!» — «Yes, it seems that I have a cancer.”