Translated from the Russian by John Elsworth
Gennady Aygi, a potent underground presence for three decades, is now accorded leading status in Russia and many Eastern and Western European countries. Born in the Chuvash Autonomous Republic, he was encouraged by Pasternak to write in Russian in the late 1950s, since when he has lived and worked, often precariously, in Moscow. ‘Like Hopkins with English,’ Edwin Morgan has written, ‘Aygi forces the Russian language to do things it has never done before.’ The language of his free verse is disjunctive, subconscious, anti-rational. His poetry is at the confluence of avant-garde European modernism and the traditional culture of his near-Asiatic homeland. His themes – stillness, communion between human and non-human worlds, memory, birth, sleep – provide room for deeply felt responses to both private and public events.
This first substantial presentation of Aygi’s poetry to the English-speaking world, with original texts and facing translations, and the translator’s critical introduction, end notes and close readings of three poems, draws on each of the mature poem-sequences.
‘The most original voice in contemporary Russian poetry, and one of the most unusual voices in the world.’ – Jacques Roubaud, Times Literary Supplement
‘It is a pleasure to find a book where difficult Russian poems not only have been translated without any errors, but also work as English poems … This is a thought-provoking volume, and Peter France and the publishers have done all lovers of poetry a major service.’ – Andrew Reynolds, Journal of European Studies
‘Aygi’s neologisms pose a challenge for any translator … France translates as literally as possible … This policy of judicious accuracy, honed, no doubt, by his many conversations with the poet, allows France to convey Aygi’s often startlingly beautiful verbal effects … This reasonably priced, impeccably produced book is a model of its type.’ – Michael Pursglove, Translation and Literature
GENNADY AYGI was born in 1934; his father was a village schoolteacher, his maternal grandfather a priest of the ancient Chuvash religion. Expelled from the Gorky Literary Institute and the Komsomol because of his links with Pasternak, Aygi found a society of like-minded artists in the creative Moscow underground. For ten years he organised exhibitions of modern art at the Mayakovsky Museum, but generally he led a life of poverty, constantly harassed by officialdom. His many ‘books’ of poetry remained unpublished in the Soviet Union under Communism, but at the same time he was published and acclaimed outside Russia in some twenty (including most European) languages. He died in 2006.