Witness and Transformation: The Poetics of Gennady Aygi

Witness and Transformation: The Poetics of Gennady Aygi


Sarah Valentine

Series: Liber Primus
ISBN: 9781618114433 (hardcover)
Pages: 214 pp.
Publication Date: October 2015

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A first full-length critical study of Chuvash-born poet Gennady Aygi (1934-2006), who is considered the father of late-Soviet avant-garde Russian poetry, this book charts the development of Aygi’s poetics, which draws equally on Russian poetic and religious tradition, European literature and philosophy, and Chuvash literature, folk culture, and cosmology. Moving chronologically through Aygi’s life and work from the 1950s to his final work in the early 2000s, the book concludes with an interview with American poet Fanny Howe about the importance of Aygi’s work in translation. The volume places Aygi in the context of twentieth-century poetry of witness and reveals the global significance of his work.

Sarah Valentine earned a PhD in Russian Literature from Princeton University and has received a research fellowship from the Templeton Foundation from Princeton’s Center for the Study of Religion, a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Writer in Residence Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation. Her peer-reviewed articles have appeared in PMLA, Slavic and East European Journal and Poetics, and her translation from the Russian, Into the Snow: Selected Poems of Gennady Aygi was published by Wave Books in 2011. She teaches English and Comparative Literature at Northwestern University.


Valentine moves easily between the broader context of Aygi’s work and detailed analysis of a small number of poems in the original and in translation. . . . Sarah Valentine has chosen her topics and her poems to good effect and offers a well-informed, clear and attractively written introduction to the work of a difficult but important poet.
— Times Literary Supplement (April 22, 2016)
Of the most important Russian poets of the late Soviet period (Brodsky, Vsevolod Nekrasov, Aygi), only Aygi was not Russian, but Chuvash. However, with his mentor Boris Pasternak’s encouragement, Aygi began to compose primarily in Russian, thereby opening his work to a broad international audience. Sarah Valentine’s astute and rich monograph, the first on Aygi in English, establishes Aygi’s preeminence in contemporary world poetry and reveals the importance of Chuvash language and culture for his Russian works. Aygi’s special background has given him a whole new vision of the world in some of the greatest Russian poetry of the last century.
— Gerald Janecek, Professor Emeritus of Russian and Eastern Studies, University of Kentucky

Table of Contents

A Note on Transliteration

Chapter One: Chuvash Poetics: Forming an Aesthetic
Chapter Two: The Moscow Neo-Avant-Garde
Chapter Three: Three Poems Called “Silence”: The Human-Word as Divine Mystery
Chapter Four: Poem as Reliquary: Violence, Elegy, Witness
Chapter Five: After the Fall: Poetry of the 1990s and 2000s
Final Thoughts: A Conversation with Fanny Howe on Poetry Crossing Borders