Russian Free Verse.

I just discovered the site Russian Free Verse; from the About page:

This site is based on the book Contemporary Russian Free Verse: The Anthology. Published in Moscow in 2019, the book is a collection of poetry by the authors who participated in the first 25 Free Verse Festivals held from 1990 to 2018 in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, and Tver. That is why it does not include poets who wrote free verse, but never took part in our festivals (for example, G. Aygi or O. Sedakova). The English translations were created by an international team of translators from Australia, Great Britain, Russia, United States and other countries.

Contemporary Russian free verse (vers libre) is defined by the festival organizers as a distinct type of Russian versification that abandons, as a matter of principle, traditional secondary characteristics of poetic speech (rhyme, syllabic meter, stanzaic structure, and line equality or arrangement by syllable and stress counts). The foundation of free verse is the primary poetic rhythm that distinguishes it from prose, the rhythm of lines, the author’s placement of line breaks.

I’m generally suspicious of what’s called “free verse” because the term is so often a license to just write down a bunch of crap with random line breaks, but when done right it can be as good as any other poetry — as Ez said, “To break the pentameter, that was the first heave.” Russian poetry has a great tradition of formal verse, but I’m glad to see this site exploring the free variety, and I was pleased to see my fave Alla Gorbunova there, with four poems translated by Elina Alter (the site admirably provides both originals and translations). Here’s the first:

That way lies
a valley, where the snow
sings, turning to roses.

I brought my hands to my eyes, to see through darkness of palms
behind the foam-white singing
a house where the dead abide, like the living.

The original:

В той стороне
есть долина, где снег
поёт, превращаясь в розы.

Я подносила руки к глазам, чтобы сквозь тьму ладоней
видеть за кипенным пением
дом, где живут мертвые, как живые.

The only quibble I have with the translation is that “palms” is ambiguous; I would change it to “the darkness of my palms.”


  1. PlasticPaddy says

    On the other side
    Lies a valley where snow
    Sings, turning to roses

    I lifted my hands to my eyes
    In order, in the shade of my palms,
    To see, behind the dazzling snowsong,
    The house where the dead live like
    The living.

  2. Excellent!

  3. Did anyone ever translate Archy and Mehitabel into Russian?

  4. I seriously doubt it; there isn’t even a Russian Wikipedia article for Don Marquis.

  5. John Cowan says

    My favorite long-form free-verse poem is Amy Lowell’s “Patterns”, in which form follows function.

  6. Dmitri Manin says

    I’ve translated a couple of Don Marquis pieces into Russian, but from the Hermione cycle, not Archie and Mehitabel: Hermione, the Deathless; Proem (Introducing some of Hermione’s Friends); How Suffering Purifies One!; Ballade of Understanding. (I’ve also translated some of the free verse on that site into English.)

  7. Excellent, thanks for letting us know!

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