In the best of times, translating poetry is difficult; Russian poetry, doubly so. By that logic, it’s frankly miraculous that Written in the Dark made it into English at all. The five men collected in this volume were writing in the midst of World War II’s Siege of Leningrad, which claimed the lives of some million and a half Russians – one of the deadliest blockades in history. The poetry they produced describes the resulting hunger and death in unsparing detail. As this ran contrary to the Soviet policy of depicting only heroism, this work was quite literally hidden away from the censors by the poets and their heirs for decades.
For this project, poet and professor Polina Barskova led a fleet of students in the translation effort, presenting the English directly alongside its Russian original. Literary critic Ilya Kukulin contributed an essay for the back matter. The book provides a brief and brutal window into the past, as recorded by artists who doubted their own survival – and who, even so, continued to innovate the Russian language and poetic form. There’s much to appreciate here, whether you’re new to the Slavic corpus or already a scholar, because the poetry dazzles in its own right.
A note: Ugly Duckling Presse is a micropress based out of Brooklyn, NY. Its catalogue features a number of forgotten, lost, or obscure texts, particularly of Soviet origin. Though their print runs are small many titles are available through UDP’s distributor, Small Press Distribution, or through their website. UDP also has partnerships with a number of bookstores across the US, as well as Canada and Europe.
The five poets in this anthology survived the deadly Leningrad winter of 1942. Their poetry, written in during tremendous horror and now collected and translated into English for the first time, reflects an era of Soviet suffering in the vernacular of the avant-garde.