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Showing posts from April, 2017

The poet as witness - Anna Akhmatova

TO speak of Anna Aakhmatova (1889-1966) as simply a woman poet is to belittle her achievement. Or to speak of her as a Russian poet of the last century is to confine her artistic range to one country. Akhmatova was neither a woman poet in the narrow militant feminist sense in which the term is understood today, nor just a poet of Russia alone. She inherited the tradition of St Petersburg Classicism which itself derived from the European literary heritage at large. Her poetic involvements went beyond the domesticated lyricism of conventional feminine poetry and embraced larger questions of political and social inequity. Though essentially a poet of ‘the keening muse’, as Joseph Brodsky described her, Akhmatova rose above personal sorrows (too numerous to relate here) to create a disciplined yet many-layered work of haunting reverberation. It is a long-standing belief that out of suffering under totalitarian regimes new forms of literature and art emerge. Nowhere is it truer than in Stali…

The memoirs Brodsky didn’t want you to read

In April, Ellendea Proffer Teasley came to Moscow to present her husband's memoirs about Brodsky, whom the Proffers knew better than anyone else among those closest to the poet. The memoirs also speak about widows of famous writers who preserved their literary legacy in difficult Soviet times. (Corpus publishing house, 2017, translated by Victor Golyshev and Vladimir Babkov)

Together with Ardis, the Michigan-based publishing house they established solely for Russian literature, the young American professor Carl Proffer and his wife Ellendea published literary works in both English and Russian that were banned by Soviet authorities. These included works by Nabokov, Brodsky, Zamyatin and other authors. Starting in 1969, the Proffers, who specialized in Russian literature and had perfect command of the Russian language, traveled to the USSR many times, met legendary people of letters, received "dangerous" manuscripts and sent them to the West. Shortly before his death in 1984,…