Monday, May 12, 2008

From a Conversation about Anthologies: Revised

An expert from a conversation about the new Contemporary Russian Poetry (Dalkey Press):

The difference between the blandness of the Dalkey anthology in English and its analogue in Russian is that many more Russians (especially poets) speak English than English speakers speak Russian. Therefore, the blandness of the English anthology in Russia is counteracted by the fact that many Russians have read the books of many American poets, and have also read English anthologies that don’t attempt a general overview of American poetry as a whole. So, the Russian reader (poet) for the most part is fine, but the English reader may actually think that this is all there is to contemporary Russian poetry. As if the work of say Viktor Ivaniv, Andrei Sen-Senkov, and Alexander Skidan didn’t exist, or that the brilliant lyric of Kolya Baytov wasn’t one of the finest in Russia today. The Dalkey anthology, as all anthologies trying to present a general overview, aims too high and falls too short. The English reader has been presented with another “contemporary Russian poetry” anthology, but the operating principle behind this collection has once again rendered such a project rather wanting. The only way to correct such a problem in the future is to do away with the illusion of a “general overview” and put out several anthologies, which will have a modest, but clear principle of operation: to show the best work of a particular camp. For instance, we could easily imagine contemporary poetry anthologies for: 1) postacmeist poetry; 2) postmodern Russian poetry; 3) the young generation: Vavilon and Debut; 4) the St. Petersburg poets; 5) the Moscow poets, etc. All of these anthologies would be lacking something important, but they would not be giving the false impression of representing the whole of Russian poetry. The aim would be not to once again cart out a large volume that is too broad to be interesting, but to give a distinct look through one specific lense. A good example of this is the anthology put out by Iowa, which focused its attetion exclusively on women writers.

No comments: