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This report is taken from PN Review 177, Volume 34 Number 1, September - October 2007.

Inna Lisnianskaya Daniel Weissbort

How did Russian poets get typecast as the greatest, as for a while they did? Did it have something to do with opposition to the Soviet régime? If this wasn't the whole story, it was a part of it. Eastern Europe, the Sovietised part, was of little interest because it had little political clout. After Hungary in '56 and Czechoslovakia in '68, it was common knowledge that without the Soviet Union itself changing or dissolving, of which there seemed no prospect, nothing could or would change behind the Iron Curtain. Few non-oppositionists, for good reason in most but not all cases, got a look in. My present purpose, however, is not to draw attention to neglected conformists.

Akhmatova was heard of - to the extent that she was even awarded an Oxford University honorary degree, which Isaiah Berlin (in connection with the degree being awarded to the autodidact Joseph Brodsky) maintained was harder to obtain than a Nobel prize. My ear to the ground, with my arse correspondingly high in the air, I had hardly heard of Inna Lisnianskaya, among the most distinguished senior Russian poets. It was only in connection with an exhaustive sweep of the terrain, an anthology of Russian women poets (Carcanet, 2006) which my wife Valentina Polukhina and I undertook, that Lisnianskaya came to my notice. Valentina insisted our survey should be exhaustive rather than follow my favoured course - one Ted Hughes and I chose for Modern Poetry in Translation ...


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