February 7, 2011

Russian poetry in the East Village … Tolstoy in Brooklyn


Polina Barskova

As a bitter winter draws to a close, Polina Barskova, “the most important Russian poet of the younger generation,” will give two readings this week to celebrate the launch of her new collection of poetry, The Zoo in Winter. Last year, Barskova was both the youngest and only female poet to be nominated for the prestigious Andrei Bely Prize in Poetry. Alicia Ostriker describes Barskova’s writing as “Lavishly mordant, magically bitter, erotically sardonic,” and The New York Times describes it as “strange, elegant–a Russian evanescence.”

Tomorrow evening at 7:00 PM at St. Marks Bookstore, Barskova will be joined by Irina Mashinski, Genya Turovskaya, Martin Woodside, and her two translators, David Stromberg, and Boris Dralyuk for a night of poetry in Russian and English, a discussion of the translation process, followed by vodka and celebration upstairs at Solas Bar.

Leo Tolstoy

On Thursday, Barskova will join Ilya Kaminsky (the newly appointed director of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute) at the “Chin Music” poetry reading series at Pacific Standard in Brooklyn to celebrate a new translation of Tolstoy‘s “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” by the fledgling press Calypso Editions. Russia may have turned its back on Tolstoy (as reported in The New York Times) but literary expatriates Barskova and Kaminsky will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Tolstoy’s death with a joint reading of this radical new translation by Boris Dralyuk.

And for MobyLives readers on the West Coast, we encourage you to hear Barskova read at the legendary City Lights Bookstore on February 15th.

I leave you with a taste of Barskova’s poem “Happiness” which can be read in full at The Center for Translation or, or course, in her new book:


My soul would like to be a pot,
Or rather, what will soon turn out
To be a pot—a lump, a clot
Of bloody-brownish clay. A rout
Of rabid fingers—nabs!—the clay
And—ho!—onto the wheel, the rack,
And starts to rip and mash away
At the unyielding, stubborn block.
But pitying, or grasping that
The carrot’s better than the stick,
It daubs the proud clay with a sponge.
The turbid water seeps like juice
And the clay yields beneath it: “Yes . . .”