Such is the elegant simplicity—a whole poem in ten words, vibrating with image and emotion—of the best-selling Russian poet Vera Pavlova. The one hundred poems in this book, her first full-length volume in English, all have the same salty immediacy, as if spoken by a woman who feels that, as the title poem concludes, “If there was nothing to regret, / there was nothing to desire.”
Pavlova’s economy and directness make her delightfully accessible to us in all of the widely ranging topics she covers here: love, both sexual and the love that reaches beyond sex; motherhood; the memories of childhood that continue to feed us; our lives as passionate souls abroad in the world and the fullness of experience that entails. Expertly translated by her husband, Steven Seymour, Pavlova’s poems are highly disciplined miniatures, exhorting us without hesitation: “Enough painkilling, heal. / Enough cajoling, command.”
It is a great pleasure to discover a new Russian poet—one who storms our hearts with pure talent and a seemingly effortless gift for shaping poems.
From the Hardcover edition.
Vera Pavlova's If There Is Something to Desire delighted the poetry world a few years ago. Her poems, rarely longer than a few lines, thrill and puzzle us like Zen koans, considering matters philosophical, romantic, sexual, familial, artistic. Album for the Young (and Old), whose title poem takes its name and inspiration from Tchaikovsky’s music, carries us through a life in miniatures, drawing from a wide-ranging group of poems translated by the poet’s late husband, Steven Seymour. Here Pavlova returns to her childhood to peruse its key ingredients (“a glass jar, a rag, a sponge . . . Mom’s listening to the Beatles, / Dad, to Radio Liberty”), confronts adulthood (“And, please, no forbidden fruits!”), balances her loves and losses (“Without you, my unquenchable . . . woes are bearable, / joys are not”). Once again, this poet’s piquant short poems sum up worlds and take on heavyweight challenges, yet are light enough to carry with us.
Taken together, the articles draw attention to the feeling of an inexpressible gap between the living body (and its everyday life experience of pain and suffering or happiness and pleasure) and the culturally constructed, powerfully imposed code of expression that readily makes use of various masks, guises and acts of pretending, applied especially cleverly in literary works. The concept of masquerade illuminates the complexity of what we call “femininity” by combining two sides of the divide: the real feelings and the constructed expressions.
This volume uses both feminist and non-feminist approaches to women’s writing and sheds new light on the themes of femininity, woman’s identity, experience, masks, body, gender relations, nature, culture and authorship.
Masquerade and Femininity brings together East European literary studies and gender studies, offering a comparative perspective on literature, literary theory and cultural phenomena in Poland and Russia, and featuring a range of both eastern European and western scholars. In its pages, the reader is invited to move beyond Russian literature and language into a dialogic approach between Slavic literatures.
This book will also contribute to filling the comparative gap which is still relatively unexplored not only with regard to the application of western scholarship to East European studies, but also with regard to the dialogue between Russian and Polish scholarship.
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