Philip Metres with Polina Barskova

BarskovaMetres
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.

Home Front Practices: E. J. McAdams with Philip Metres

Philip Metres
Philip Metres

This interview took place on a road trip from Woodstock, CT to Hartford, CT to visit activist and Holy Cross graduate, Chris Doucot, at the Catholic Worker house on Clark Street. The night before, Metres had given a poetry reading with poet William Wenthe in honor of poet Robert Cording, who was our mentor when we were students at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. The topic of the conversation was focused on Metres’s 2015 book Sand Opera from Alice James Books.

E. J. McAdams: Last night, you were giving a reading at Holy Cross where you went to college and got started as a poet. When did you feel like you wrote your first poem and that you were a poet?  Can you remember a poem or a verse that you felt like was the beginning?

Philip Metres with Stepan Brand

Stepan Brand
Stepan Brand

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, with new interviews of Russian and Russian-American poets. The complete archive will be published in book-form.

Philip Metres: When did you begin writing, and who were your influences?

Stepan Brand: As soon as I learned how to write, I started to write kinds of fairy-tales: some fantastic characters (knights, queens, fabulous animals) found themselves in Moscow subway, or they went to the zoo, or they faced floods, earthquakes, trials and wars (it was inspired by TV), or they explained and showed to each other how to build a house or what is the Moon and why nobody lives there (such chapters appeared after conversations with my father or grandfather). Sometimes I felt like versifying these things, but I was not able to. Suddenly in 2005, I wrote a short poem about my recent trip to Ukraine: it was about an orchard with pears, walnuts, woodpeckers and people playing harmonica and tambourine. So then or a bit later I made the earliest attempts to make poems I am not ashamed to read aloud today. Around that time I started visiting some poetry-and-prose studios and got to know people who wrote interesting things. From an early age my favorite poets have been Boris Pasternak and Ovsey Driz (a Yiddish poet translated into Russian by Genrikh Sapgir)—my mother read them to me when I was 4 or 5, as well as Pushkin’s tales, Daniil Kharms’ verses for children etc. I wasn’t interested in poetry at school until coming across Baudelaire and Verhaeren (at about 14-15). The first Russian poets whom I read attentively by myself were Alexander Vvedenskiy, Vladislav Khodasevich and Joseph Brodsky. They have faded a little since then, but still they remain near the top. Later came Mandelstam, again Pushkin, again Pasternak, Boris Poplavskiy and many others, including a number of contemporary names. My immediate influences are Dmitry Vedenyapin (b. 1959), Alexei Kubrik (b. 1959), Denis Kryukov (b. 1984), Mikhail Aizenberg (b. 1948), Nikolay Baytov (b. 1951). As for the latter modern poets, it took some time to learn how to read them, but eventually it became easier. At least as important is the influence of music I listen to. In January 2008 I discovered “The Well-Tempered Clavier” by J.S. Bach, and my ear changed forever. His music is extremely poetic.

Philip Metres with Dmitry Kuzmin

Dmitry-Kuzmin
Dmitry Kuzmin

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

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).

Philip Metres with Ivan Zhdanov

Philip Metres and Ivan Zhdanov
Philip Metres and Ivan Zhdanov

This interview series, “Conversations after the Fall: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Poets,” began as part of my Thomas J. Watson Fellowship year (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.

I met with Zhdanov in Moscow in 1996 and interviewed him about his life and poetry. In the text that follows, I have interpolated my translations of selected Zhdanov poems. Special thanks to Anna Kurt for her transcription of the original recording. —Philip Metres

Philip Metres with Alex Cigale

Alexander Cigale
Alex Cigale

This interview series, “Conversations after the Fall: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Poets,” began as part of my Thomas J. Watson Fellowship year (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 in 2016.—Philip Metres

Philip Metres: Can you talk a bit about your poetic education, at home and in school? I’m interested in what you were reading, who you were talking to, etc. (the subtext of this question is that I’m wondering how much poetry was in your academic education, particularly how much recitation, but also how much it was valued in your home).

Philip Metres with Tatyana Rizdvenko

Tatyana Risdvenko
Tatyana Rizdvenko

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 following interview with the poet Tatyana Rizdvenko took place in 1996.

Tatyana Rizdvenko was born in Moscow in 1969 and graduated from the Moscow Pedagogical Institute. She has published two volumes of poetry and works in advertising. 

Philip Metres: Let’s begin with your poetic life. How long have you written poems?

Philip Metres with Stella Morotskaya

Stella Morotskaya
Stella Morotskaya

This interview series, “Conversations after the Fall: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Poets,” began as part of my Thomas J. Watson Fellowship year (1992-1993). Stella Morotskaya was born in 1962 in Nizhny Novgorod, and graduated with a major in Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics. She has worked as a programmer, a tour guide, the director of the theater of fashion, a journalist and a host of leading television programs for women. She lives in Moscow, and is a contributing editor at Vokrug Sveta Press (Around the World Press). Her poetry has been translated into German, Hungarian, Polish, Serbian and Chuvash. This interview was conducted in Moscow in 1996.

Philip Metres: You’ve been writing free verse—what poets have influenced you?

Philip Metres with Vladimir Burich

Vladimir Burich
Vladimir Burich

This interview series, “Conversations after the Fall: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Poets,” began as part of my Thomas J. Watson Fellowship year (1992-1993). Vladimir Petrovich Burich (1932-1994) was a groundbreaking Russian poet known for his experiments in free-verse poetry. Born in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Burich moved to Moscow and worked as an editor. His poetry, which was first published in the 1960s, only received broad readership in the 1980s, with the appearance of the first collections of Russian vers libre: “Beliy Kvadrat” (White Square), “Vremya Iks” (Time X) and, later, the Anthology of Russian Vers Libre

Philip Metres: Tell me something of your biography that might help illuminate your work.

Philip Metres with Anna Kurt

Anna Kurt
Anna Kurt

This interview series, “Conversations after the Fall: Interviews with Contemporary Russian Poets,” began as part of my Thomas J. Watson Fellowship year (1992-1993). Born in 1961, Anna Kurt graduated from the Institute of Foreign Languages in 1983. For a few years she worked in the State Museum of Literature. In addition to writing and publishing her own poetry, Anna Kurt has worked as a translator and editor for numerous publishing houses in Moscow, where she currently resides. She has been a member of the Russian Union of Writers since 2003. This initial interview took place in 1993, but was extended in 2013 with a postscript.

Philip Metres: When did you begin writing, and why?

Anna Kurt: I’ve been writing poetry seriously for four years. I wrote poems in my youth, like everyone, but only a little. And then a kind of change occurred. Since then, my writing became my profession and my vocation, not just a hobby, and also my passion and happiness. I treat it very seriously.

Philip Metres with Alexander Makarov-Krotkov

Alexander Makarov-Krotkov
Alexander Makarov-Krotkov

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 Russian poet, Alexander Makarov-Krotkov, took place in 1993. 

Philip Metres: Why did you begin writing?

Alexander Makarov-Krotkov: I’m not sure. I began to read at a very early age, and took to poetry quite young because my father regularly quoted lines of poetry. And because during childhood I enjoyed [Sergei] Esenin (I can’t get rid of his influence) to the point of revulsion. I loved him so much when I was seven or nine—well, as a child. I think he’s not a poet for adults but for the young. So I really don’t read him anymore. He’s interesting but not enough to keep me reading. I don’t know why I began writing. I just stretched out my hand and began to rhyme some words. Naturally, it was all pretty light stuff, but. . . it’s hard to say exactly why. I’ve been writing poems practically since childhood, since my school days. The poems from childhood were just a form of play. Professionally, I began to write at about the age of 19.