November 9, 2011
Finalists for premier Russian prize include Melville House poet Polina Barskova
by Valerie Merians
The Andre Bely Prize, the prestigious Russian literary prize, has announced it’s shortlist. For those of us who don’t read Russian, Lizok’s Bookshelf tells us that Melville House‘s own Polina Barskova, author of the magnificent poetry collection Zoo In Winter, was nominated for the second year in a row. A very rare feat! The other nominees in the poetry category are Alla Gorbunova, Vladimir Ermolaev, Vasilii Lomakin, Andrei Poliakov, Aleksei Porvin, and Ilya Rissenber.
A sample poem by Barskova can be read here at Cardinal Points, translated by Boris Dralyuk. Or listen to Polina read in Russian at Open Space Media, here. As Lizok says, “Even if you don’t understand Russian, it’s worth clicking through just to hear Polina’s voice and watch her expressions.” And it is, it is!
The Andre Bely Prize, founded by underground writers during the Soviet years, holds a special place in the heart of the Russian literary world. Nathan Ihara explained it’s colorful beginnings on MobyLives last year:
In 1978, in Soviet-era Russia, the organizers of the underground samizdat literary journal Watches founded the first literary prize free from the control of The Communist Party. The writer Boris Ostanin suggested using a bottle of fine French Cognac as the prize, but his fellow writer, Boris Ivanov, asked “And what happens when we finish this bottle? Where will we get another bottle next year?” So it was decided that the prize would consist of one ruble per prizewinner, one shared apple as an appetizer, and a bottle of vodka-items that would be, hopefully, always be available in Russia.
The prize was named after Andrei Bely due to the universality of his writing and because he wrote in all three forms the prize honored: poetry, philosophy, and prose. Since its humble beginnings, and long after the fall of the Soviet Union and the Watches journal, the Andrei Bely Prize has become one of the greatest honors in Russian literature.
Barskova, hailed by many as the most important Russian poet of the younger generation, has met with high praise here in the US as well as in Russia. Alicia Ostriker called her work, “Lavishly mordant, magically bitter, erotically sardonic.” And Marylin Hacker said, “These poems arise from a confluence of history and lyric: fraught with danger but vibrant with inquiry.”
The winner will be announced December 2nd.
Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.