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This review is taken from PN Review 224, Volume 41 Number 6, July - August 2015.

Quality and Width The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry, edited by Robert Chandler, Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski (Penguin) £12.99

This extraordinary anthology has no precedent or peer. Previously, when sympathy for Russia was strong enough to provide publishers with an incentive, for instance during World War II, anthologies of Russian poetry in English translation were assembled. But none of them provided much more than a meagre random selection and, with very few exceptions, such as the Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman collection of 1943, were the translations good enough to stand as poems in their own right. It is ironic that, finally, a comprehensive collection of fine, often extraordinarily fine, translations, with accurate and acute background and critical information, should appear when Russia and all it produces probably appeals to the Western public less than at any time over the last two hundred years.

How is the appearance of The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry, covering 250 years of poetry, omitting no major poet and very few of the canonical ‘great’ poems, now possible? It is partly because a new breed of translator has finally matured, and translations that may have germinated decades ago have now achieved their final form. Earlier Russian poetry in translation tended to emerge from three different processes: firstly, a literate native Russian with limited English, or a native English academic with literary Russian, working in tandem with an English-language poet; secondly, a native Russian with fluent English; thirdly, an English poet with self-taught or university-taught Russian and a large dictionary. After the first emigration of 1917–1918 uniquely qualified bilinguals, such as William Gerhardie, arrived in London from St Petersburg, ...


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