Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BOOKWORM: Literary Dean Weighs in on Prose, Poetry




In the opinion of Semyon Lipkin, a poet and the doyen of the literary establishment: "Russian poetry has three geniuses: Pushkin, Tyutchev and Lermontov. And there are seven great poets, all from the 20th century: Annensky, Akhmatova, Blok, Bunin, Mandelstam, Khodasevich and Pasternak."


Now in his 87th year, Lipkin has just published two new books. The Staff ("Posokh") is a collection of his poetry -- some of it written during the late 1930s -- while the rest is contemporary work. The book is published by Charo, and is on sale for 15 rubles ($2.50).


The second, 1,000-page volume, Quadriga (the name for a Roman chariot drawn by four horses), is part memoirs, part essays. Published by Agraph, it is on sale for about 30 rubles.


Born before the Revolution into a Jewish family in Odessa, Lipkin moved to Moscow in the late 1920s after already having established a reputation as one of the country's most promising young poets.


A decade later, during Stalin's purges, Lipkin's poetry was banned and he, along with fellow poets Akhmatova and Pasternak, was forced to earn his living as a translator.


He carved a niche for himself as the leading translator of the great medieval Central Asian epic poems. And while this might have protected him from the unwelcome attentions of the Soviet authorities, it also limited his readership to a tiny circle.


Both Lipkin and his wife, the poet Inna Lisnyanskaya, were catapulted to fame in the 1980s, however, because of their involvement in the literary almanac Metropol. When the almanac was forced to close, the couple resigned in protest from the Union of Writers.


His realistic novel Dekada, a story about Stalin's forced exile of Caucasian nationalities to Siberia, also brought him much acclaim in that period. Now Lipkin is widely published and popular.


While readers will no doubt be entranced by Lipkin's recollections of the famous writers of the Soviet era, he is no less incisive about contemporary literature. Ivan Zhdanov, Yelena Shvartz and Ella Krylova are the "brightest and most talented" of the new generation of poets, according to Lipkin.