peter washington has put out another little anthology, and i finally bit--because it's an anthology of russian poets (though there's a stitch in my side every time i see the scottish poets--macdiarmid+burns, anyone?). i won't begrudge the everyman's library for its utterly conventional book--how could it have been otherwise?--but just note the few nagging exclusions. for an anthology of a national literature, why organize the poems by theme (and what themes! 'traumerei,' 'black earth,' 'what is the use of time?'), and then, why insist on eschewing indices and dates of composition?
nevermind, i bought it, and am glad to see a reintroduction of afanasy fet and sergei esenin as major poets (this anthology is maybe the only spot they have in print and on the book shelves) and also the braver inclusions of nikolai zabolotsky and plenty of velimir khlebnikov...even if they are implicitly folded into the typical narrative/whitewash of the progression of the russian lyric. this is a real deception, especially because of the decisions of the translators, all of whom adopt traditional lyric then/or romantic masques to dress their poems (plenty of russian poets were influenced by our EAP, but not as many or as strongly as this book might convince you, or as nabokov (whose appearance here is as a translator only) might have liked). this doesn't seem to impotentiate writers like pushkin or lermontov or akhmatova much, and is even appropriate for blok and tyutchev, but it is a serious disservice to tsvetaeva, brodsky (who actually commits this sin against himself, as his own translator+auden-wannabe), mandelstam, khlebnikov, zabolotsky, and sundry cetera. paul schmidt (rest his soul) translates khlebnikov's poems as monologues for the theater. in practical terms, that means simplification. it's disastrous (though not a bad impulse, since they arguably were theatrics originally) in half-measure--even though the product does offer its own very real, if lesser, pleasures--because khlebnikov's (like mandelstam's) themes and sounds present complications in extremis. schmidt's translations can be breezy and eccentric, but fall far short of the genius of khlebnikov.
in the last two or three decades, an alternative to the typical scholarly vision of russian poetry has been born in the criticism and new writing by the poets who claim as their precursors mandelstam, khlebnikov, zabolotsky, aleksandr vvedensky. this new view of the russian progression is driven by a focus on the cerebral, hypertonic convolutions of russian experiments, and on the abusive marriage of these strange poets to the organic syntax and morphology of the russian language. khlebnikov is as definitely canonical as his fellow futurist pasternak.
n.b., future installments will be: some of my favorite translations, and side-by-side comparisons of seven or so my own translations to the ones in the everyman's pocket.