Presenting: ‘The Changing Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry Canon after 1991’

Presenting together in a panel entitled ‘The Changing Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry Canon after 1991’, Katharine Hodgson, Alexandra Smith, and Joanne Shelton discussed various aspects of the research carried out across the project ‘Reconfiguring the Canon of Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry’ in the course of the last twelve months.

Using the poet and journal editor Aleksandr Tvardovskii as a case-study, Katharine explored whether the poet, who had been accepted into the canon of Soviet poetry, had retained his canonical status in the post-Soviet era. In her discussion, Katharine examined what aspects of Tvardovskii’s work are now seen as most important, and by whom, and whether his apparent appeal to a broad readership has made him a figure capable of uniting opinion rather than dividing it.

Alexandra’s paper addressed the recovery of the legacy of the first wave of Russian émigré poets (1917-1939), whose writings were taboo during the Soviet era. In her discussion of the ways in which these émigré poets are being canonised in the post-Soviet period, Alexandra touched upon recent portrayals of Marina Tsvetaeva, Vladislav Khodasevich, and Vladimir Nabokov, which demonstrate Russia’s attempt to overcome the trauma of the division between the two cultures.

The content of the post-Soviet school curriculum and its interpretation in the approved textbooks for pupils in classes 5-9 was the focus of Joanne’s paper. Aleksandr Blok, Sergei Esenin, Vladimir Maiakovskii, and Aleksandr Tvardovskii emerged as the poets who should be studied by all school children. Others, such as Nikolai Rubtsov and Nikolai Zabolotskii, appeared to become more canonical between the curriculum of the late-1990s and mid-2000s, while Viktor Bokov and Pavel Antokol’skii disappeared from the post-Soviet syllabus entirely.

The panel would like to thank Professor Rosalind Marsh for chairing the panel; the BASEES conference organisers for allowing us the opportunity to present the work of the project at the 2012 conference; and the audience for their helpful comments and questions.

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