In Praise of Poetry
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At an early age, Olga Sedakova began writing poetry and, by the 1970s, had joined up with other members of Russia's underground "second culture" to create a vibrant literary movement—one that was at odds with the political powers that be. This conflict prevented Sedakova's books from being published in the U.S.S.R. Instead, they were labeled as being too "esoteric," "religious," and "bookish." Until 1990, the only way her collections were available in Russian were in samizdat, hand-written copies, which circulated from reader to reader, building her reputation.
In the 1990s, the situation changed dramatically, and now Sedakova has published twenty-seven volumes of verse, prose, translations, and scholarly research—although her work is woefully underrepresented in English translation.
In Praise of Poetry is a unique introduction to her oeuvre, bringing together a memoir-essay written about her work, and two poetic works: "Tristan and Isolde," which is one of her most mysterious long poems, and "Old Songs," a sequence of deceptively simple poems that mix folk and Biblical wisdom.
Olga Sedakova wrote prolifically during the 1970s, one of the "post-Brodsky" poets. Her complex, allusive style of poetry—generally labeled as neo-modernist or meta-realism—didn't fit the prescribed official aesthetics, so it wasn't available until the late 1980s. She currently teaches in the department of world culture at Moscow State University.
Caroline Clark is a British poet and essayist. She holds degrees from the Universities of Sussex and Exeter, and her dissertation was on the poetics of Osip Mandelstam and Paul Celan.
Ksenia Golubovich is a Russian writer, philologist, editor, and translator living in Moscow. She has held a writer's residency at the Iowa International Writing Program, and writes for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Moscow.
Stephanie Sandler teaches Russian literature in the Slavic department at Harvard University. She co-translated Elena Fanailova's The Russian Version, which won the Best Translated Book Award for poetry in 2010.
approaching an unpleasant moment. In “Safe Conduct,” Pasternak explains wonderfully that we lag behind life when telling the truth: life, at that moment, is already in a different place from the truth we tell about it. He lived in fast-moving times, while ours grow menacingly stagnant. All the same, even in a lull such as this, it is best to tell lies in advance. I am about to touch on the state of being in love, and I have already undertaken to report on the events surrounding my first poems, so
surrounded by the utterly insane: one was prancing like a child shouting “Hurray, the war is over!” Another was walking around naked—in a word, they were lost in their own worlds. “The world works by folly,” said Baudelaire.112 And I will gladly finish my tale about these personal circumstances. The sad end to this one (it could be worse) of course casts an even light of psychopathology over everything that precedes it. What can you do? I would just note that a sick consciousness has its own
ABOUT ALEKSEI How goodly it is to simply return: to a city, where all is changed, to a garden, where some trees are distant stumps, others creak in the wind, as they never did before, or to a house, where they grieve that you’re gone. To return, and not to say one’s name. To be silent, then, unto death. Let them guess for themselves, let them ask passersby, let them understand, and yet understand it not. And the objects of the world shine, like tiny distant stars. 7. DESIRE There’s
of me and was more me than I. SECOND INTRODUCTION Where someone walks, someone looks and thinks about him. This look is open like a hollow where a candle burns and waters flow over a home that stands within. Yet whoever decides that he’s alone in truth knows nothing at all, he’s not his own lord and master, we’ll speak of him no more. But it is strange how a deed sinks into the depths below and there it lives like Lancelot watching time pass overhead— a wave rolling low. I know
leads I know not where, but away. And night draws in behind you a meadow colorful and heavy. And if fate deals out to us its most unlucky star, the wind bloweth wherever it wills, and we live wherever we are. 1. KNIGHTS RIDE TO THE TOURNAMENT And so there can be times, and such a time can be when you sense the earth’s heartbeat and the smoke trailing thin— the greenwood’s earthy heartbeat and glory’s smoke so thin. And the rest will hide away behind a bush and a tree. See the