This interview series, “Conversations after the Fall: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Poets,” began as part of Philip Metres’s Thomas J. Watson Fellowship (1992-1993), and has been revived, 20 years later, compiling new interviews with Russian and Russian-American poets. The complete archive will be published in book-form.
Philip Metres: When did you begin writing poetry, and who were your influences?
Dmitry Kuzmin: This is a complex and somewhat funny story. In theory, I am a third-generation writer. My grandfather, Boris Kuzmin, who died in the Second World War, was a literary critic, a specialist in English literature, particularly Byron and Goldsmith. My grandmother Nora Gal survived him for half a century, in 1941 defended a thesis on Arthur Rimbaud, and after the war became one of the most famous translators in the USSR. Here one should note that after the death of Stalin, the Iron Curtain around the USSR was not so strong as before, and the masterpieces of 20th century world literature (the ones that were allowed by the Soviet regime) were much more important events for the Russian reader than for foreign readers, and translators—the people that make acquaintance with these masterpieces happen—could be quite famous, as perhaps did not happen with translators in any other era in any other country). My grandmother translated many things, from The Little Prince by Saint-Exupery and The Stranger by Camus to three dozen short stories by Ray Bradbury (one of which, “The Best Part of Wisdom,” in which an old man on the verge of death suddenly decides to visit his beloved grandson in the capital—and discovers that his grandson lives with another young man—were not brought into publication in the Soviet Union. One could not publish anything on this subject, and this translation spent fifteen years in the desk [unpublished], and when I got it out after her death, I took it as a blessing of my union with my beloved man).