Philip Metres with Polina Barskova

Philip Metres and Polina Barskova

This interview is part of a series, “Conversations after the Fall: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Poets,” which began as part of Philip Metres’s Thomas J. Watson Fellowship (1992-1993). It has been revived, some 20 years later, with new interviews of Russian and Russian-American poets. The complete archive will be published in book-form.

Philip Metres: If it’s not too boring, let’s begin at the beginning—when did you begin to write poems? Who was influential to you?

Polina Barskova: The question of when and how I started to write poetry still haunts me—like an improper mystery, and it is not clear if it has an answer, or even if it’s necessary. Even now, my publications biography reports that I am a child prodigy; on the eve of my fourth decade, it now sounds like an embarrassing joke. Here the special effect, I believe, is not that I began writing at age eight (since many children write poems, just as many children draw, and often the results of their activities are excellent), but the fact that my poems were published, that they continue to be published, and that I continue to write them.

Philip Metres with Arvo Mets

Arvo Mets
Arvo Mets

This interview series, “Conversations after the Fall: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Poets,” began as part of my Thomas J. Watson Fellowship year (1992-1993). The interview with Arvo Mets, regarded a master of Russian free verse, took place in 1993. Thanks to Danny Caine for his editorial suggests.

Philip Metres: When did you begin writing poems?

Arvo Mets: I wrote poems in childhood, in Estonian. But rhymed poems came out poorly for me; I always felt that something just wasn’t quite right. The real poetic breakthrough happened when I was twenty-three, in the spring of 1961. In March I wrote my first poems, and it kept going from there. In 1961 I wrote and wrote, in 1962 wrote and wrote without rest. Like a racer on a horse.