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Review of An Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women Poets
Kate North, The North, issue 37, 8th December 2005Previous review of 'An Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women Poets'... To the 'An Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women Poets' page...
Polukhina and Weissbort's long overdue collection is 'a comprehensive survey of the wealth of poetry written by Russian women since the 1980s'.
Neglected in terms of translation and publication outside its homeland, Russian women's poetry finally has an international platform. First published in the USA and now in the UK, I found this anthology particularly engrossing. With the backdrop of <i>perestroika</i> we are given the opportunity to read work from before and after the social transformation of Russia, which in turn displays writers' own transitions as a result of such change.
With translation from distinguished writers such as Elaine Feinstein, Maura Dooley and Carol Rumens, there is more than one reason to pick up this book.
One of the most established contributors to the collection, Tatyana Shcerbina, is translated by Derek Walcott among others. Her blunt descriptions come across successfully in translation and the guttural resonance of particular lines are, although hard to digest, worthy of much consideration;
There's a limit to vomiting and diarrhea.
So here they are, have a good look. We've made it, my dear
In these lines I felt an overwhelming simultaneity of grief and celebration. This attitude is echoed throughout the collection, but is by no means an overriding theme.
This project has been painstakingly researched and passionately compiled, with the work of over 800 writers having been considered. The editors give space to a huge arc of work and although concentration is focused on those who are referred to as the 'middle generation', the writers who have lived through social and political change, there is also representation from both the earlier and more recent poets.
The inclusion of dissidents, such as Bella Akhmadulina, is worthy of comment. In the opening poem, 'In the Bodkin Hospital', Akhmadulina describes the hopelessness of contemplating the scientific mysteries of her brain.
this crown of flesh, this mystery of juncture
lives close beside, but sealed off from my life:
like sharing a vestibule, perhaps, with some shy scholar,
who greets you as you pass, but with dropped eyes.
She conjures up a sense of detachment and yet a feeling also of a close relationship to that from which she is detached. This extended contradiction cleverly bears witness to the poet's dilemma while also alluding to her understanding of the nature of Russian citizenship at the time.
Writers in the collection born after 1970 are those who have received least attention outside Russia, yet they are also some of the most vibrant. Olga Zondberg's work is both invigorating and full of hope:
There are people, writers,
who have written everything down,
noughts and crosses
instead of digital facsimiles
As well as exploring the breadth of writing from pre- and post-Soviet Russia, we are also made aware of writers from outside those locales traditionally associated with Russian poetry, namely Moscow and Petersburg. From Siberia to Vladivostok, including writers born in Russia as well as those who have moved to Russia, and also those now living as far away as Israel, America and throughout Western Europe, no area is left unexamined.
As with any collection of such magnitude, it is ridiculous not to note that some possible authors have been left behind. Indeed, in the introduction we are informed of those who rejected their invitations to appear. Others whose work was considered inappropriate for translation were also not included.
In spite of this, the words 'authority' and 'seminal' certainly spring to mind when I regard the collection. The editors even include 'an indispensable biography of primary resources' for those who want to read further in terms of related literary theory and feminist criticism. I would recommend this publication to anyone who is looking for a rich and varied treat, alongside those who want to delve specifically into this previously overlooked area of literature, though I would warn that the scale of the project means that this is not a book for readers who are faint-hearted.
We thank the Arts Council England for their support and assistance in this interactive Project.
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