Poetry News

A New Anthology of 21st-Century Russian Poetry!

By Harriet Staff


From Russia: Beyond the Headlines, a great review of the new anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry, which is collected on the website Big Bridge and edited by Larissa Shmailo. Contributors include Philip Nikolayev, Vladimir Gandelsman, Katia Kapovich, Polina Barskova, Marina Boroditskaya, Dmitry Kuzmin, Maxim Amelin, Elena Fanailova, Mikhail Aizenberg, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Alexander Ulanov, Ruslan Komadey, Vita Korneva, Alexander Stessin, Andrei Sen-Senkov, Sergey Stratanovsky, Alexei Tsvetkov, Maria Rybakova, Maria Stepanova, Alexandr Skidan, Bakhyt Kenjeev, Nariste Alieva, Felix Chechik, Vadim Mesyats, and many more. Phoebe Taplin writes of the anthology:

New York-based Shmailo first approached the webzine “Big Bridge” in June 2012 “with the idea of an ultra-contemporary anthology of Russian poetry.” The resulting collection is reaching international audiences and there are plans to extend into a more comprehensive, bilingual print edition.

The anthology celebrates the arts of translation as well as poetry. Shmailo told RBTH: “the poem needed to be beautiful in English as well as a good reflection of the original Russian.” She detects a new excitement about Russian writing in the United States and believes “we are all falling in love with literary Russia all over again.”

Shmailo has included “émigré voices with still-strong Russian roots,” among them influential figures like Bakhyt Kenjeev. One of his poems uses the timeless imagery of the wanderer: “argonaut” or “nomad,” sailing to shore, or taking to the road. Another of Kenjeev’s bittersweet elegies looks back at the icons of a Soviet youth (“Sputnik, Laika,/ then Gagarin…”) and forward to an alien future.

Moscow and New York are home to many of the anthology’s poets and translators, but there is a rich geographical diversity too, including writers from Israel, Kyrgyzstan or Colorado. The poems are recent, written since the year 2000, but the range of writers’ ages is remarkable.

Some poets’ lives span the eras, like Arkadii Dragomoschenko who died last year, or 77-year-old Natalya Gorbanevskaya, a veteran Soviet dissident, one of eight courageous protestors in the 1968 “Red Square Demonstration.” Others represent a new generation, like Ruslan Komadey, born in 1990 in Kamchatka, whose thoughtful poetry reflects the slow “cycles of the earth.”

“I wanted to include both established and emerging voices in a wide range of styles,” said Shmailo. There are formal experiments, free or fragmented verse, and poetic prose. But the themes echo through the centuries: Love, death, pain and religion, the inner world of dreams, the external realities of new homes, or native lands, and the tensions of living between the two.

[. . .]

Shmailo writes in her preface: “what Russians from Rurik to post-post perestroika have always done … is wrestle with the prokliatye voprosy, the "accursed questions"…” Big, abstract themes may underlie them, but the subtlest poems focus on barely visible details.

In one of Mikhail Aizenberg’s poems, translated by James Kates, “… a tiny moth has come awake,/ and flies like a negligible feather/ reminding me of something about you.” Alexei Tsetkov’s “ashes” has this shining glimpse of human delusion: “so we keep walking in the tall grass / where cats are chasing butterflies / and leap catching with their paws / only the empty bright air.”

Originally Published: July 25th, 2013