Posts tagged: Tsvetaeva

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.

Questions of canonicity spark lively debate


The first in a series of three collaborative workshops took place at the beginning of December 2011. The aim of the workshops is to bring together specialists in twentieth-century Russian culture to discuss the process of canon formation. The purpose of the first workshop was to introduce areas of study and raise questions about the way in which canon formation takes place, particularly in the post-Soviet context.

Katharine Hodgson opened proceedings with a discussion of the poet Boris Slutskii, an ‘approved’ Soviet poet and Communist Party member. The question of émigré poetry and its place in the post-Soviet canon was posed by Maria Rubins, and led to an interesting debate on whether poetry written by poets in emigration should be considered part of the wider Russian canon. The ways in which Vladimir Maiakovskii’s poetry is taught in school was the subject of Natalia Karakulina’s paper.

Osip Mandel’shtam’s late poetry formed the basis of Andrew Kahn’s contribution, while the polar opposites, Aleksandr Kushner and Viktor Sosnora were the starting point for Emily Lygo’s consideration of the post-Soviet canon. Robin Aizlewood offered a different method for exploring the process of canon formation, using metrics and the work of Mikhail Gasparov.

The second day of the workshop began with Stephanie Sandler’s consideration of contemporary poetry’s paradoxical work of canon formation, which looked at the impulse to have canon formation versus resistance to such a process. Alexandra Harrington discussed Anna Akhmatova as a canonical author responsible for the creation of her own biography. Joseph Brodsky’s transition from the margins to the mainstream was considered by Aaron Hodgson, who suggested using obituaries to chart this change.

Josephine von Zitzewitz and Alexandra Smith each looked at three poets: Viktor Krivulin, Aleksandr Mironov, and Elena Shvarts were evaluated by Josephine, while Alexandra discussed Maria Tsvetaeva, Vladimir Nabokov, and Vladislav Khodasevich. The workshop was concluded by Joanne Shelton’s paper on Ivan Bunin.

Each of these papers will be developed further for the second workshop in June 2012.

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