Showing posts with label James McGavran. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James McGavran. Show all posts

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Russian (Women) Poets

Detail from cover of An Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women Poets
Image courtesy of Carcanet Press

Recently, I’ve been enjoying reading a collection of Russian poetry whose very existence many of its contributors seem to object to: Daniel Weissbort and Valentina Polukhina’s Anthology of Contemporary Russian Women Poets. Actually, the anthology began its life as an issue of Modern Poetry in Translation (no. 20, 2002) and only later came out as a stand-alone book; the version I have is the journal issue. Reading between the lines as I moved through it, I got the distinct sense that the poets and critics involved on the Russian side were mystified by the Western editors’ desire to segregate the women from the men. (Polukhina, though Russian, lives and works in England. She is married to Weissbort.)

In one of the issue’s several prefatory pieces, Tatyana Voltskaya reminds readers that medieval theologians would often debate whether women even had souls, and she takes the demand for anthologies of women’s writing as evidence that the issue of sexism has not yet been settled, even if the writers themselves find it irrelevant: “I cannot escape the feeling that the shadow of that accursed question, formulated by pedantic theologians, still hangs over us, like the smile of the Cheshire Cat.” The anthologists’ urge to respond (“They do have souls!”) is especially perplexing when you realize, she says, that “if one ignores the very summit (Brodsky, in particular), women-poets in Russia, in recent decades, have been better writers.” There may be no injustice, she implies, that needs to be remedied. Likewise, Aleksei Alekhin, another preface writer, finds the need for such an anthology baffling: “It has always seemed to me that divisions according to gender should apply only to changing-rooms and public toilets—because of natural bashfulness. In poetry, there is nothing to be ashamed of.”