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This review is taken from PN Review 91, Volume 19 Number 5, May - June 1993.

EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE Aleksandr Kushner, Apollo In The Snow: selected poems 1960-87, translated by Paul Graves and Carol Ueland (Harvill Press) £8.99 pb
Miroslav Holub, The Jingle-Bell Principle, translated by James Naughton (Bloodaxe) £7.95 pb

Joseph Brodsky considers Aleksandr Kushner 'one of the best Russian lyric poets of the twentieth century' on the basis of eleven books of poetry published over thirty years. Apollo In The Snow selects some sixty poems for English readers to come to terms with, once the accolade has had the desired effect of gaining Kushner a hearing. There are clear indicators thereafter, especially in Kushner's preferred mode of quatrain stanzas a là Akhmatova, that he is exactly the kind of poet we might expect him to be, given his Petersburg origins: civilized, controlled, a barometer of the soul's weather, an exorcist of chimeras. Kushner's inspiration is the interface of form and the capricious forces of nature intent on maintaining their unruly presence at the heart of the most crystalline things, as if to tame the idealizing impulse by the implacable demonstration of incom-mensurables. Brodsky speaks of Kushner's lyricism and brevity in the same breath, as if they were reciprocally related, although without making much attempt to decide which, if either, is the more active partner in the compound that results. Yet, partly perhaps because Kushner must here be heard through the veil of translation, not always as subtle as it might be, the quality which takes precedence over both song and speech is his pictorialism. 'Man with a Rose' opens (with a Frans Hals from the Hermitage a mere foot or so away):

This is the portrait of a man
holding
a rose by its ...


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