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At an early age, Olga Sedakova began writing poetry and, by the 1970s, had joined up with other members of Russia's underground "second culture" to create a vibrant literary movement—one that was at odds with the political powers that be. This conflict prevented Sedakova's books from being published in the U.S.S.R. Instead, they were labeled as being too "esoteric," "relig At an early age, Olga Sedakova began writing poetry and, by the 1970s, had joined up with other members of Russia's underground "second culture" to create a vibrant literary movement—one that was at odds with the political powers that be. This conflict prevented Sedakova's books from being published in the U.S.S.R. Instead, they were labeled as being too "esoteric," "religious," and "bookish." Until 1990, the only way her collections were available in Russian were in samizdat, hand-written copies, which circulated from reader to reader, building her reputation. In the 1990s, the situation changed dramatically, and now Sedakova has published twenty-seven volumes of verse, prose, translations, and scholarly research—although her work is woefully underrepresented in English translation. In Praise of Poetry is a unique introduction to her oeuvre, bringing together a memoir-essay written about her work, and two poetic works: "Tristan and Isolde," which is one of her most mysterious long poems, and "Old Songs," a sequence of deceptively simple poems that mix folk and Biblical wisdom. Olga Sedakova wrote prolifically during the 1970s, one of the "post-Brodsky" poets. Her complex, allusive style of poetry—generally labeled as neo-modernist or meta-realism—didn't fit the prescribed official aesthetics, so it wasn't available until the late 1980s. She currently teaches in the department of world culture at Moscow State University. Caroline Clark is a British poet and essayist. She holds degrees from the Universities of Sussex and Exeter, and her dissertation was on the poetics of Osip Mandelstam and Paul Celan. Ksenia Golubovich is a Russian writer, philologist, editor, and translator living in Moscow. She has held a writer's residency at the Iowa International Writing Program, and writes for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Moscow. Stephanie Sandler teaches Russian literature in the Slavic department at Harvard University. She co-translated Elena Fanailova's The Russian Version, which won the Best Translated Book Award for poetry in 2010.


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At an early age, Olga Sedakova began writing poetry and, by the 1970s, had joined up with other members of Russia's underground "second culture" to create a vibrant literary movement—one that was at odds with the political powers that be. This conflict prevented Sedakova's books from being published in the U.S.S.R. Instead, they were labeled as being too "esoteric," "relig At an early age, Olga Sedakova began writing poetry and, by the 1970s, had joined up with other members of Russia's underground "second culture" to create a vibrant literary movement—one that was at odds with the political powers that be. This conflict prevented Sedakova's books from being published in the U.S.S.R. Instead, they were labeled as being too "esoteric," "religious," and "bookish." Until 1990, the only way her collections were available in Russian were in samizdat, hand-written copies, which circulated from reader to reader, building her reputation. In the 1990s, the situation changed dramatically, and now Sedakova has published twenty-seven volumes of verse, prose, translations, and scholarly research—although her work is woefully underrepresented in English translation. In Praise of Poetry is a unique introduction to her oeuvre, bringing together a memoir-essay written about her work, and two poetic works: "Tristan and Isolde," which is one of her most mysterious long poems, and "Old Songs," a sequence of deceptively simple poems that mix folk and Biblical wisdom. Olga Sedakova wrote prolifically during the 1970s, one of the "post-Brodsky" poets. Her complex, allusive style of poetry—generally labeled as neo-modernist or meta-realism—didn't fit the prescribed official aesthetics, so it wasn't available until the late 1980s. She currently teaches in the department of world culture at Moscow State University. Caroline Clark is a British poet and essayist. She holds degrees from the Universities of Sussex and Exeter, and her dissertation was on the poetics of Osip Mandelstam and Paul Celan. Ksenia Golubovich is a Russian writer, philologist, editor, and translator living in Moscow. She has held a writer's residency at the Iowa International Writing Program, and writes for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper in Moscow. Stephanie Sandler teaches Russian literature in the Slavic department at Harvard University. She co-translated Elena Fanailova's The Russian Version, which won the Best Translated Book Award for poetry in 2010.

41 review for In Praise of Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Peter Crofts

    A well thought out book. In addition to two cycles of poems there is a recollection by the author of what initially drew her to poetry. This essay accounts for half the volume as well as its title. I would suggest reading at least the first cycle, Old Songs, before the essay. Many of Sedakova's thoughts on what makes good poetry are found within these poems, specifically a simplicity of viewpoint musing on a world that is anything but simple. The sincerity of expression reminds me of Rilke, the A well thought out book. In addition to two cycles of poems there is a recollection by the author of what initially drew her to poetry. This essay accounts for half the volume as well as its title. I would suggest reading at least the first cycle, Old Songs, before the essay. Many of Sedakova's thoughts on what makes good poetry are found within these poems, specifically a simplicity of viewpoint musing on a world that is anything but simple. The sincerity of expression reminds me of Rilke, the economy of imagery suggests H.D.. Considering that these poems are based, in part, on Russian folk songs may also explain their earnest quality and starkness. Tristan and Isolde, the second cycle, in much larger in intention but the verse is, again, pared down. The book concludes with an interview with the poet. I'll end with a beautiful passage from the essay: "The spoken and heard word does not exist in order to articulate, repeat or, still less, reveal anything-and this includes the one speaking it. This word-by virtue of its own sound and its unpredictable ability to mean something else, something more than that with which it is to be entrusted-strives to enrobe."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Domhnall

    A collection of poems, a lengthy essay describing the poet’s experience of writing and studying poetry, an interview in which the poet explains and expands on her essay. Since this is a Russian poet, the ease and delight in reading the book surely reflects the excellence of the translation. When the poet makes quite technical remarks about her use of [Russian] words or language, the translators have found perfect ways to express her points in English. It’s actually fascinating to appreciate that A collection of poems, a lengthy essay describing the poet’s experience of writing and studying poetry, an interview in which the poet explains and expands on her essay. Since this is a Russian poet, the ease and delight in reading the book surely reflects the excellence of the translation. When the poet makes quite technical remarks about her use of [Russian] words or language, the translators have found perfect ways to express her points in English. It’s actually fascinating to appreciate that this is even possible. The essay is surely what is most striking in this book. It is sometimes autobiographical, whimsical at times, but at other times fiercely analytical. Sedakova has studied her topic with great intensity and takes her own work no less seriously; noting that at her readings she recites her work largely from memory. She is bluntly dismissive of most attempts to write poetry and sets the most astonishing requirements for anything to meet her approval as true poetry; she just cannot see the point of writing boring poems. The essay is gloriously outspoken and unguarded: it risks everything and achieves a great deal. It’s certainly one of the most invigorating essays I have encountered on poetry and for every dozen readers it intimidates and discourages from ever making the attempt to write, I am sure there will be others who see it as liberating and giving permission. Some Quotes "The spoken and heard word does not exist in order to articulate, repeat or, still less, reveal anything - and this includes the one speaking it. This word - by virtue of its own sound and its unpredictable ability to mean something else, something more than that to which it is to be entrusted - strives to enrobe. ... Let us agree that we know what it is to enrobe." p113 "No person lacking a fast and accurate connection between the hand and eye would set about painting a still life. But in order to write a poem, the question of even a minimum amount of talent never arises. Everyone is talented enough to write, and those who publish their poems not much more so than others. Since the advent of free verse, not even an agility in finding assonances or a grasp of meter is required." p134 “…I fervently believed that I had to plunge my soul into chaos so that a star would shine forth from it. If this is indeed the way to the stars, it is a very indirect one. Once on this path you will be lucky if you don’t lose sight of the goal (You surely will)…” p157 “You see, to speak more modestly, a perfect, flawless thing is impossible, but here’s what is possible: the completion of a task that you personally, based on the sum of your past and present, are incapable of completing. This is possible and has been attested to numerous times.” P167 “Style is not “man” as “he is”, but man as he who limits and discovers himself, going beyond the bounds of his unique reality by means of narrowing and applying it to something taken as an external imperative and internal desire all at once. Style is also fostered by that inner addressee of speech, the Ideal Reader, from whose imagined desires and taste the crystal of style grows.” p167 “…there are very few completely poetic poems in the world, while there is, all in all, a bottomless pit of prosaic and anti-poetic poetry…” p175 “The root of personality (and the style that corresponds to it) lies in a certain sense of being condemned to one’s self: to one’s self and nothing else.” P183 “Generally speaking, there are very few poems to be found in the ocean of poetic production.” P195 The Mirror My dearest one, even I do not know Why such things exist a mirror hovers nearby no bigger than a lentil or a grain of millet But what burns and flickers within it what looks out, flares, and fades – better not to see that at all Life, after all – is not a very large thing: all of it, every bit, can gather itself up on the tip of a finger, the end of an eyelash And death spreads all around it, a vast sea.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cody Stetzel

    This essay was profound and evocative beyond belief.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chad Post

    DISCLAIMER: I am the publisher of the book and thus spent approximately two years reading and editing and working on it. So take my review with a grain of salt, or the understanding that I am deeply invested in this text and know it quite well. Also, I would really appreciate it if you would purchase this book, since it would benefit Open Letter directly.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Anna

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    Dr. Javid Jafarov

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