Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Timur Kibirov (b. 1955)

Timur Kibirov (Dmitry Rozhkov, 2011) / Image courtesy of Википедия

[NOTE: For my own purposes, I recently wrote a biographical statement for Timur Kibirov, a Russian poet whose work I have been translating and hope to publish as a book someday. Since no good bio exists for Kibirov in English anywhere online, I am posting what I came up with here.]

Timur Kibirov (born Timur Yur'evich Zapoev), who ranks among the most influential of contemporary Russian poets, was born in 1955 and began publishing his poems in the 1980s. In the late Soviet period, he was closely associated with underground poets like Lev Rubinstein, Dmitri Prigov, and Sergey Gandlevsky, and critics have often identified his work with postmodernism and conceptualism. Mikhail Ardov claims that “Kibirov has been and remains the best, most talented poet of our post-Soviet era,” and Andrei Nemzer and Mark Lipovetsky call him “the voice of an entire generation.” [1]

Kibirov is the author of thirteen poetry collections, including When Lenin Was Young (1995), Amour, exil (2000), and In the Margins of “A Shropshire Lad” (2007), his remarkably free translation of A. E. Housman’s classic work. His poetry blends irony and sincerity in surprising ways, with parody and pastiche among his common modes. Readers are often drawn in by his playful reinterpretations of classic texts, including ancient myths, canonical literary works, Soviet ideology, and—most recently—religious dogma. Nemzer and Lipovetsky claim that Kibirov’s poetic strategies have proven “broader than the conceptualist (or postmodernist) deconstruction of authoritative cultural languages and traditions. … Perhaps the most confessional poet in contemporary Russian literature, he invariably achieves an effect of striking sincerity.”

Recently, Kibirov has applied his trademark mix of irony and earnestness to a new subject: his Christian faith. His newest collection, Greek and Roman Catholic Songs and Nursery Rhymes (2009), contains poems all centered on the theme of religion. Mikhail Ardov believes that “nothing like this new collection has ever existed in Russian poetry,” and Andrei Nemzer calls it Kibirov’s “best (and definitely most focused and harmonious) book.” This collection alone, Nemzer claims, “would be enough to justify the existence of contemporary [Russian] literature.”

Kibirov has won many honors, including the “Anti-Booker” award (1997) and Russia’s prestigious “Poet” prize (2008). In 2010, he published his first novel, Lada, or Bliss: A Chronicle of True and Happy Love, for which he won the Znamia award. English translations of his poems have appeared in The Poetry of Perestroika (Mortimer & Litherland, 1991), Third Wave: The New Russian Poetry (Johnson & Ashby, 1992) and Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology (Kates & Bunimovich, 2008).

In a 2008 interview, Kibirov said, “The only thing that a poet needs to do is write good poems. What this means, I can’t begin to judge; no one can know this, there are no criteria… And whether a poet uses Old Church Slavonic or the current slang is simply a matter of technique.”

[1] Andrei Nemzer and Mark Lipovetsky, “Timur Iur'evich Kibirov,” Russian Writers since 1980, eds. Marina Balina and Mark Lipovetsky (Detroit: Gale, 2004), 137-48, print.


  1. Jamie, thanks for this post; I did some translation of Kibirov back in his conceptualist you have Kibirov's book? What's your own research in?

  2. I must admit: I haven't read any of Kibirov's poems. However, I did read his 'Lada, ili radost', a short novel I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend. Full of sweet thoughtfulness. I wrote about it on my weblog: (in Dutch...).

  3. Philip, I heard you and Sergey Gandlevsky give a reading at Eastern Michigan University a few years back, but I wasn't aware that you had also translated Kibirov. Where were those poems published?

    As for my own academic research, I work mostly on contemporary poetry, especially Derek Walcott and Joseph Brodsky. But of course, translation is more fun...

    Egbert, I wish I knew Dutch so I could read your post, but regardless, I'll trust you and move "Lada" to the top of my reading list. Thanks!

  4. I too strongly recommend Lada. A real poet's novel. Thank you for your interesting posts, Jamie!