Russian Silver Age Poetry: Texts and Contexts

Russian Silver Age Poetry: Texts and Contexts

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Edited and introduced by Sibelan E.S. Forrester & Martha M.F. Kelly

Series: Cultural Syllabus
ISBN: 9781618113528 (hardcover) / 9781618113702 (paper)
Pages: 618 pp.
Publication Date: June 2015

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Russian Silver Age writers were full participants in European literary debates and movements. Today some of these poets, such as Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Mayakovsky, Pasternak, and Tsvetaeva, are known around the world. This volume introduces Silver Age poetry with its cultural ferment, the manifestos and the philosophical, religious, and aesthetic debates, the occult references and sexual experimentation, and the emergence of women, Jews, gay and lesbian poets, and peasants as part of a brilliant and varied poetic environment. After a thorough introduction, the volume offers brief biographies of the poets and selections of their work in translation—many of them translated especially for this volume—as well as critical and fictional texts (some by the poets themselves) that help establish the context and outline the lively discourse of the era and its indelible moral and artistic aftermath.

Sibelan E.S. Forrester teaches Russian language and literature as well as a regular Translation Workshop at Swarthmore College. She has published numerous articles on Russian poetry (especially Marina Tsvetaeva), and Russian folklore. Her translation of Vladimir Propp’s book The Russian Folktale was published by Wayne State University Press in 2012. She also translates contemporary Russian poetry, most recently that of Maria Stepanova, and her translations of Elena Ignatova’s poetry, Воздушный колокол/The Diving Bell, were published in 2006 by Zephyr Press. She is co-editor of a book of articles on Russian literature, Engendering Slavic Literatures (Indiana UP, 1996, with Pamela Chester) and of a book of articles on East European literature and culture, Over the Wall/After the Fall (Indiana UP, 2004, with Magdalena Zaborowska and Elena Gapova).

Martha M. F. Kelly is Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri. She is the author of Unorthodox Beauty: Russian Modernism and Its New Religious Aesthetic, forthcoming from Northwestern University Press (Fall 2015). In this book she explores unorthodox relationships between poetry and religion in the early twentieth century in Russia. She has published articles on Russian modernist poetry, on Chekhov, and on Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago.


This book represents an exemplary addition to the body of English-language translations of fin-de-siècle Russian literature. Sibelan Forrester and Martha Kelly’s edited volume makes Silver Age literary culture available and intellectually accessible to early twenty-first-century undergraduates and non-specialists, and their compendium is distinguished by its user-friendliness and remarkable comprehensiveness. ... Russian Silver Age Poetry is virtually unrivaled as a resource for presenting Russian Modernism in the Anglo-American classroom.
— Daniel Brooks, Rutgers University, The Russian Review (Vol. 77, No. 1)
Martha Kelly and Sibelan Forrester, have created a weighty anthology that surpasses any other collection of Silver Age poetry in English translation ... Symbolists, Futurists, Acmeists, and non-affiliated poets are all generously represented ... With its impressive breadth of coverage and stellar presentation, Russian Silver Age Poetry deserves to become a standard textbook for Russian poetry courses ... with its lively introduction, accessible selection of poems, and unfussy, clear translations.
— Connor Doak, University of Bristol, Slavic and East European Journal vol 60.2 (Summer 2016)
The early twentieth century was a time of apocalyptic fears, revolutionary stirrings, and excellent poetry. The window this volume opens to the Silver Age captures all that and much more. Billed as a coursebook, RSAP will have undoubted value in classrooms exploring pre-Soviet cultural movements and fin-de-siècle poetry. Yet through its diverse poems, essays, and the editors’ explanatory notes, it proves its broader appeal as a gateway to great poetry and a panorama of the turbulent years leading to the Bolshevik Revolution.
— Russian Life (March/April 2016)
The Russian Silver Age was a time of experimentation and achievement unparalleled in Russian culture. This anthology offers Anglophone readers a unique opportunity to acquaint themselves with the leading poets and movements of that time. In addition to a generous sampling of the verse of the Symbolists, Acmeists, and Futurists, the editors have included essential prose pieces dating from the same period, ranging from contemporary reviews to critical essays to manifestoes. All poets are introduced through concise and accurate biographies, and each selection of poetry concludes by listing bibliographies and scholarship for those who would like to delve deeper. The volume will be indispensable for students as well as general readers with an interest in Russian culture.
— Michael Wachtel, Princeton University
It being dauntingly impossible to do justice in translation to that great world treasure that is the Poetry of the Russian Silver Age, editors and translators Forrester and Kelly have given us something more — selections of best existing translations are here amended by new ones and framed within their wider cultural context — the contribution that poets have always made to their culture and age — as critics, essayist, and yes, historians. A valuable personal discovery for myself was Mayakovsky’s touching tribute on the death of Velimir Khlebnikov (1922). This much needed book promises to become indispensable to students and experts alike.
— Alex Cigale, poet, editor, translator, 2015 NEA Literary Translation Fellow
This is an unprecedented tool for educators to present the Russian Silver Age to students in all its astonishing richness and complexity. In addition to the generous, inventive, and subtle selection of poetry, the reader is introduced to the institutions and critical conversations that nourished that overwhelming creative flow that up to this day continues to nourish and challenge Russian literary thought. Reading this page-turner, one feels like an invisible belated guest in a literary salon of Petersburg at the turn of the 20th century — where Anna Akhmatova reads, Mikhail Kuzmin smirks and hums, and Viacheslav Ivanov nails his critical verdict, while we follow their word-play and intellectual gesticulation in awe.
— Polina Barskova, Hampshire College