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Russian Silver Age Poetry: Texts and Contexts

Eds. Sibelan E.S. Forrester and
Martha M.F. Kelly (Academic
Studies Press, $49)

The early twentieth century was a time of apocalyptic fears, revolutionary stirrings, and excellent poetry. The window this volume opens to the Silver Age captures all that and much more.

Billed as a coursebook, RSAP will have undoubted value in classrooms exploring pre-Soviet cultural movements and fin-de-siècle poetry. Yet through its diverse poems, essays, and the editors’ explanatory notes, it proves its broader appeal as a gateway to great poetry and a panorama of the turbulent years leading to the Bolshevik Revolution.

Fears that the end of the world loomed with the end of the century were spurred by violence, radicalism, industrialization, and war. For some, just as frightening were critiques of old conventions, sometimes by authors who were Jews, women, from lower classes, or otherwise different from former cultural leaders. These poems’ macabre themes, crafty wordplay, and new universe of symbols carry the chaos and thrill of that transformation.

RSAP includes the period’s big names (Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Mayakovsky, Tsvetaeva) as well as artists with shorter bibliographies (Khlebnikov, Severyanin, Teffi, and more); the translations invariably live up to the editors’ promise of fidelity to meaning and poetic value. Most striking is the primacy of art in the poets’ worlds, and their urge to create, evaluate, and enjoy art for its role in history and its inherent value. RSAP encourages readers today to do the same.

— Alice E.M. Underwood

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Mar/Apr 2016