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This review is taken from PN Review 267, Volume 49 Number 1, September - October 2022.

Cover of Sovetica
James WomackCaroline Clark, Sovetica (CB Editions) £10
One of the things that distinguishes Caroline Clark’s first book, Saying Yes in Russian (Agenda Editions, 2012), is her poems’ scrupulous and personal physicality. Written largely from the perspective of a foreigner living in Russia (Clark spent the frumious early 2000s in Moscow), several of the poems deal with the minute negotiations between languages, how words feel as much as what they mean. ‘Later I mouthed to memory  another [word]: opúshka.’ The book’s title poem records the momentary nasal hum at the beginning of the Russian word da, when you could ever-so-easily slide towards nyet instead. What this says about the immediate post-Soviet character is hinted at but not belaboured: ‘you must surprise [the da], yourself and the one who asked’.

The contrast between Saying Yes in Russian and Sovetica is noticeable. Both are excellent books, but where Saying Yes was internalised and exploratory, the result of years of looking, Sovetica is more concerned with listening. In his Afterword, David Rose describes the book’s technique: ‘Caroline started recording Andrei [Clark’s husband] reminiscing in Russian about his childhood and teenage years. These stories were then translated into English by Caroline and, with the lightest revision, formatted into prosaic blocks of text.’

The result is a series of almost sixty brief texts, which Rose correctly finds it difficult to assign to a specific genre pigeonhole – ‘Poems? Stories?’. More than many other things, they resemble the collections of anekdoty that one used to find all over Russia: microstories, occasionally with a punchline, but equally often simple descriptions of events. ...


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