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This review is taken from PN Review 34, Volume 10 Number 2, November - December 1983.

THE POETRY OF MODERN RUSSIA Alexander Pushkin, Mozart and Salieri: the little tragedies translated by Antony Wood with a foreword by Elaine Feinstein (Angel Books) £5.95 hb, £2.95 pb.
Afanasy Fet, I have come to you to greet you: selected poems, translated by James Greene with an introduction by Henry Gifford (Angel Books) £5.95 hb, £2.95 pb.
Innokenty Annensky, The Cypress Chest, a bilingual edition translated by R. H. Morrison (Ardis Books) £4.50
Yevgeny Yevtushenko, A Dove in Santiago: a novella in verse, translated by D. M. Thomas (Secker and Warburg) £5.50 hb.
A. D. P. Briggs, Alexander Pushkin : a critical study (Croom Helm/ Barnes and Noble) £14.95
Peter France, Poets of modern Russia (Cambridge University Press) £20.00 hb, £7.50 pb.

It was not until the years of 'thaw' after the death of Stalin that the first glimmerings of interest in modern Russian poetry appeared in the West. Pushkin, or a piece of him, had been a primary, not to say solitary, point of reference, but one more honoured in the beach than in the observance. Mayakovsky had been taken largely at face value and, under pressure from the Soviets, as the post-Revolutionary equivalent. Pasternak had remained largely the property of intellectuals and specialists. Akhmatova had been forgotten, and Blok remembered only as a figure one really ought to be familiar with. Mandelstam and Tsvetaeva were unknown. There was always the Russian novel, or the plays of Chekhov, to be going on with. Pushkin had also written prose, and the general view was that the Russian genius lent itself naturally to this medium. Reports from Russia that editions of poetry sold out in a matter of minutes went unheeded. There was almost no-one to redress the balance and reveal the riches in store for us.

The wheel has turned full circle. In little more than a quarter of a century the audience for Russian poetry has increased to the point where it no longer looks puny beside that for the Russian novel. A readership largely unacquainted with the Russian language has been put in possession of serviceable, and sometimes brilliant, versions of almost all its great poets - in anthologies, in selections, even in some cases in toto ...


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