After an early dinner I’ll be heading off to South Deerfield for a reading at Schoen Books; as their page about it says, it’s “A series of short readings, featuring Polina Barskova, The Corresponding Society, and the first ever Four Poets in Four Minutes.” Barskova (here‘s her Russian Wikipedia page) “is widely considered one of the best Russian poets under the age of 40”; she came to the US in 1999 and now teaches at Hampshire College, just a spit and a holler from here. I don’t know her work except for this poem I googled up, but I like it a lot and look forward to hearing her read. As for The Corresponding Society, one of its members is Greg Afinogenov, who “will be presenting a selection of translated Russian poems from the early twentieth century, including work never before published in English”; he is the proprietor of the always thought-provoking blog Slawkenbergius’s Tales and posts comments here under the monicker slawkenbergius, and it is he who invited me, so how could I refuse? I will report further when I get back.

Update. I’m glad I went; my wife and I had a great time, and it was fun to finally meet Greg—we yakked about Blok (overrated?), Trotsky (a bad man but a good writer), and all sorts of other things, including the exhausting tour The Corresponding Society has been on (hopefully they’re back home in Brooklyn by now). As for the poetry, it was a mixed bag; some of the readers had a lamentable lack of confidence in their own words, but Greg’s translations were as good as I expected, and the woman who read before him, Adrian Shirk, was very impressive: she knew what a poem was and how to read it, and I kept getting bits of her lines lodged in my memory, always a good sign. I predict we’ll hear more about her.

As for the headliner, Polina Barskova, she lived up to her billing. Not only did she have an effective stage presentation (jokey but earnest) and a strong reading manner, her poems were damn good. I especially liked the first one, which she read in Russian as well as English (she distributed a handout with the texts of four poems in both languages, but read the others only in English); it’s online here for those of you who read Russian (and there are a bunch more of hers at that site). Unfortunately, I didn’t think the translations were very good (standard-issue free verse that conveyed nothing of the formal power of her Russian), and I’m thinking of trying to do better myself.

Oh, and the bookstore (specializing in Judaica) is quirky and charming (as is the owner); if you’re in the area you should visit their site to find out about talks and readings or just drop by and check out the stock.


  1. Buy him a beer or something for the bunch of us.

  2. scarabaeus says


  3. Slawk!!1! Oh, that’s just too cool. Maybe they’ll be drinking Stoli.

  4. A.J.P. Crown says

    The Corresponding Society, which is a good name, is apparently based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

  5. L Hat,
    What if you disagree with his translations? Will you arise and be heard!

  6. i read shir-bul-dir and drug-kalmuk with finn and cautiously read the poem until the end
    was glad to not find any heavy words as for example nelyud’
    i mean i don’t like poetry/art meaning to shock for the pure shocking effect only
    more into things that would affect me like upliftingly, directly or indirectly, perhaps

  7. How upsetting, their spring tour was in my city last weekend. It is in Brooklyn tonight and in New York in April again sometime:

  8. okay, i agree, she’s more awesome than mean

  9. I don’t understand read’s comment. If it’s in another language I can use Google Translate and understand a part, but I think it’s a transliteration and only someone who speaks the language can understand.

  10. A.J.P. Crown says

    Don’t forget read’s going through an SB phase

  11. oho, people were intrigued, well, i didn’t know anything about the poet, read the poem LH linked to, didn’t like it b/c i thought ah, another velikoross, what if that dur-bul-shir (usual Russian transliteration of the ‘inorodnui’ languages) means hello, how are you, no, you have to link it with fignya(f@#% you gesture), and yes, immediately after that my kin is mentioned, wow, how tonko!
    but then i read more of her poems and agree that she’s kinda great
    it has nothing to do with my phases, though SB and MT are the unquestionables
    if i don’t like a word i can just drop reading the book/poem, can’t go past few pages of Proust for example how many times i’ve tried i don’t know, both in Russian and English, perhaps i haven’t grown mature enough to get him yet

  12. It was great meeting you, Hat! It’s likely we’ll have other readings in the area over the next year or so. Troubadour Books, which is nearby, is looking into rearranging its amazing collection to make room for a reading space.
    Kaminsky’s translations of Barskova’s work were truly awful–they weren’t simply bland free verse, they took so many unjustified liberties with the original that any relationship between the two appeared purely coincidental.
    Also, we’re not based in Williamsburg–who do you take us for?! We’re based in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which is very different.

  13. A.J.P. Crown says

    Hmm. Margaret Thatcher? Wow, no kidding, I’ve never read much Margaret Thatcher, how does she compare to Beckett? A little austere, probably.

  14. read: The bit that offended you had nothing to do with “‘inorodnui’ languages,” it’s a reference to the most famous poem by Kruchenykh, the epitome of “zaumny” (trans-sense) poetics; the author said «в этом пятистишии больше русского национального, чем во всей поэзии Пушкина» [‘in these five lines there is more Russian nationality than in all the poetry of Pushkin’]:

    дыр бул щыл
    вы со бу
    р л эз

    To transliterate (since there’s no question of “translating” it):

    dyr bul shchyl
    vy so bu
    r l ez

    She’s opposing the “official” world (Novyi Mir, ancient Rome, the war in Chechnya) to the world that opposes it, the world of Kruchenykh and Poe (“Ulalume“) and fignyá (not ‘fuck you’ but ‘nonsense, bullshit’), which represents unofficial (and inherently oppositional) speech, full of cursing and cynicism.
    (You can read more of Kruchenykh’s poetry here and see it in the original books here.)
    [Ha, hoist by my own petard! I hit “Post” and got “Your comment submission failed for the following reasons:
    Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content: boom.ru.” So I have to go and remove boom.ru from the blacklist.]

  15. okay, they can fight their own fights, why to drag into that ‘us’? i thought she was opposing her own inner noble life, all like for things european and elevated to the crude and cruel reality full of us, neumutux
    mea culpa, i read it wrong
    sorry, of course, i didn’t know the famous verse too

  16. +-the, curses

  17. i forgot to add thanks for your explanation

  18. My pleasure!

  19. What’s SB and MT?

  20. She won’t tell you. SB is Samuel Beckett. I haven’t had any luck with MT, but perhaps you can suggest some suspects.

  21. Mark Twain?

  22. Марина Цветаева?

  23. Of course she is talking to Hat because he knows Russian. But the point of putting it on a blog like this is to make it accessible to people who speak English.
    I thought of Mark Twain right away, but that doesn’t sound like her style. Too practical and too, maybe, about American cultural foibles. She would go for something more poetic.

  24. No, I’d say that’s a bi-product rather than the point. The point is just to communicate, and there are plenty of people here whose first language or even second language isn’t English. There’s nothing that says anyone has to speak English here. Look at Scarabagdeus, I can’t understand half of what he writes, but it’s fun to try.

  25. i’ll start to write in Mongolian then, so that people would look up on-toli what i said
    but, sure, sorry, i try to translate what i said, just sometimes don’t know the words too
    i like Mark Twain’s books, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, the Connecticut Yankee, reminds me of childhood
    was surprised to find that they are considered, like, racist here

  26. MT seems to describe any non-urban childhood where kids aren’t watched closely and don’t have to do much work. I I’m not mistaken an Afghan said the same to me as Read.
    When Jaroslav Hasek was still in HS one of his teachers predicted he’d be the Czech Mark Twain. Twain was also the only American author young Knut Hamsun admired much; he like the American humorists generally. Both Hamsun and Schweik spent time on the open road, essentially as bums.
    Kenneth Rexroth was very Twainish. The key to reading his “Autobiographical Novel” is to know that it’s about half true. He isn’t deliberately trying to fool anyone, he’s story-telling in full awareness that a lot of people don’t know how to listen to stories.

  27. was surprised to find that they are considered, like, racist here
    Only by idiots. Mark Twain was one of the least racist people in America.

  28. The Mark Twain racial controversy is about his use of the “n-word” in Huckleberry Finn. No, Twain was not racist; he was ahead of his time. I have always loved Mark Twain.

  29. Got it (sort of).
    I don’t think Twain was racist, but a good friend and I had an interesting time explaining word choice in HH to her 10-year-old son, who has an autistic-spectrum disability. He is smart but has a very quirky way of processing the world, and it was hard to explain how words change over time and acquire different meanings and connotations….

  30. Totally random, but Twain came up in my reading last night. From Orlando Figes’s “A People’s Tragedy”:
    “In the Spring of 1906 Gorky set sail for America with his common-law wife, the actress Marya Andreeva. At first he was welcomed in the Land of the Free as a champion of the struggle against tyrannical monarchs. To the Americans, as to the French, Gorky appeared as a modern version of their own republican heroes. Cheering crowds greeted his ship as it docked in New York and Mark Twain spoke at a banquet in his honour. But the arms of the Tsarist police were very long indeed, and when the American press was informed by them that the woman travelling with him was not his wife there was public outrage. Newspapers accused Gorky of spreading licentious anarchy in the Land of the Righteous. Twain refused to appear with him again, and angry protesters stopped him from making any more public speeches. Returning to their hotel one evening, Gorky and Andreeva discovered that their luggage had been packed and was waiting for them in the lobby. The manager explained that he could not risk the good reputation of his establishment by giving them a bed for the night. No other hotel in Manhattan would put up the immoral couple and they were forced to find sanctuary in the home of the Martins, a broadminded couple in Staten Island.”
    I want to know more about the Martins.

  31. I had an interesting time explaining word choice in HH
    Don’t you start, mab. Huckleberry Hinn?

  32. A J P Crown says

    JS: I want to know more about the Martins.
    From the NY Times:

    February 7, 1884, Wednesday
    George Martin is the proprietor of the Vanderbilt Hotel at Vanderbilt Landing, Staten Island. Five weeks ago Mr. Martin’s wife left him and came to this city to reside, bring with her the oldest child, a boy, and leaving behind a little girl 2 years old. An elderly woman named Mrs. Ellis acted as housekeeper for the Martins.

  33. A J P Crown says

    And Here’s something about Gorky and Andreeva meeting with Ernest Rutherford, of all people, at John & Prestonia Martin’s house in Staten Island. They were rich, apparently, having an estate in the Adirondacks, where the discussion continued (Andreeva translated Gorky’s Russian).

  34. A J P Crown says

    Prestonia Mann Martin and John Martin wrote a book, “Feminism: Its Fallacies And Follies” (1916).
    Ah, here you go:

    John and Prestonia Mann Martin donated a lot of money to the Hungerford School, a boarding school for African American children in Florida…
    …Sometime between 1900 and 1915, John and Prestonia purchased a house on Staten Island in NYC. The house, built around 1850 and lived in by Samual MacKenzie Elliott, according to one source, harbored Blacks during the 1863 draft riots.
    In 1906, Maxim Gorky fled Russia after a failed attempt at Bolshevik revolution. He planned a speaking tour in America. Mark Twain was the head of the committee to arrange the tour. The press found out that he was traveling with a woman, not his wife. Gorky was vilified and the tour was cancelled. H.G. Wells, who also was visiting America, and staying with John and Prestonia in Staten Island, suggested to Prestonia that she take Gorky and his entourage in. She did and they spent the summer in the Adirondacks at her utopian community. I found a book of translated letters from Gorky to his real wife in Russia while he was in America, and he mentions how Prestonia had some Black servants. He describes how the Russians taught the servants Russian dancing, and the servants taught the Russians, “Negro” dancing. How fascinating is that?!?
    Much later, Prestonia mentions in a letter that she doesn’t like Scandinavian servants; she says they are too “gloomy.”

    That’s from here. I guess those Vanderbilt Hotel Martins were different people.

  35. A J P Crown says

    Isn’t that amazing? The Martins had Ernest Rutherford, H.G. Wells and Maxim Gorki all staying with them at the same time. They must have been pretty cool, I wonder why they aren’t better known? Her uncle was Horace Mann.
    Martin, John, 1864 – 1956; Martin, Prestonia Mann, 1862 – 1945
    Here’s a house they bought in Florida in 1925.

    …the Martins remodeled and restored the property as their home. A native of Lincolnshire, England, Martin was a friend of George Bernard Shaw and, like Shaw, embraced the Socialist tenets of the Fabian Society. He also befriended such men as Ramsay McDonald, H. G. Wells and Maxim Gorky. His wife, the former Prestonia Mann – daughter of a prominent New York physician who associated with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman – was related to Horace Mann, the educator. At Rollins Dr. Martin was a conference leader and a consultant on International Relations. His lectures were so popular in the community and with Rollins students, that they were often transferred to the Congregational Church. Imagine two such power-houses as John Martin and Hamilton Holt in the small Rollins community at one-and – the-same time for a period of twenty years!

  36. A J P Crown says

    Elsewhere, I read that:
    In 1884, John W. Martin and Rev. W. D. P. Bliss moved to Boston (MA), and established a magazine known as The American Fabian. The move was an unsuccessful effort to bring the Fabian’s socialistic movement to New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Chicago.
    But also:
    W. P. D. Bliss founded the American Fabian in 1895. In 1896, he turned it over to the New York Fabian Society, where it survived until 1900.
    And even:
    John W. Martin sat on the Executive Board (of The Fabian Society, in London) from 1894 to 1899, and did a lot of valuable lecturing, both here and in America, where he married the leading exponent of Fabianism and editor of a monthly called “The American Fabian,”
    It’s all a bit confused. There is an interesting book in here to be written (not by me).

  37. Wow, that’s fascinating stuff, and I’d like to read the book if someone would write it.

  38. Yes, Crown, thank you! Really, thank you!
    I’d like to read the book if someone would write it.
    If only the Martins had a goat…

  39. Jeez. That’s HF, not HH.
    I’m really slow tonight. Why, jamessal, do you wish the Martins had had a goat?
    BTW, Byatt has just written a novel loosely based on? inspired by? derived in part from? the Garnett crowd, also Fabians as I recall, who hung out with Russian anarchists. Can’t wait to read it.

  40. Why, jamessal, do you wish the Martins had had a goat?
    Because then AJP might write the book. He’s big on goats.

  41. BTW, Byatt has just written a novel loosely based on? inspired by? derived in part from? the Garnett crowd, also Fabians as I recall, who hung out with Russian anarchists.
    That sounds really interesting.

  42. It’s called The Children’s Book and will be available in the US in October.

  43. I too am intrigued by the sound of that book.

  44. Because then AJP might write the book. He’s big on goats.
    I’m trying to convince him to start a blog about goats for the same reason. I don’t care what he writes, I want to read it.

  45. A J P Crown says

    I’m thinking about it.
    There is a lot of fictional potential with the story of John W. and Prestonia Mann Martin, in my opinion. It would probably be more fun than doing a straight biography. If you were living in, let’s say NJ, you would be ideally placed to do the research.

  46. There is a lot of fictional potential with the story of John W. and Prestonia Mann Martin, in my opinion. It would probably be more fun than doing a straight biography. If you were living in, let’s say NJ, you would be ideally placed to do the research.
    Wow. That’s really interesting. It doesn’t seem possible now; I would have to know so much more than I do. But the reading — and writing — would be so much fun…maybe if I catch a break with my collection (or, who knows, the movie stuff) I’ll hit the books.

  47. I once lived very near Vanderbuilt landing/Vanderbuilt Ave on Staten Island. Does that count?
    Don’t want to take break out of jamessal’s mouth, though.
    Please write a blog about goats, AJPC. I always say that if I quit translation, it would be to start a small goat farm:)

  48. A J P Crown says

    There was the family of Martins, mentioned above, at the Vanderbilt Hotel in S.I., but I don’t think they are related to John W. Martin, who grew up in Lincolnshire, in England. A family of Martins sounds like birds.
    Don’t want to take break out of jamessal’s mouth, though.
    Maybe, if you team up, mab could research the stuff about Gorky and Andreeva.
    I’m under a lot of pressure to do a goat blog. I’m gathering photographs at the moment.
    It is possible to translate AND keep goats, it’s not an either – or thing; the goats don’t really care, (ours understand both English and Norwegian),

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