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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BOOKWORM: Not Pushkin




The Russian national character expresses itself in everything. Excessive and irrepressible, a normal Russian will never stop drinking before the vodka bottle is empty, and is never too lazy to nip down to the kiosk to buy another one. Much the same applies when celebrating the 200th anniversary of Alexander Pushkin.


Long before June's festivities, every bookstore in the country installed a special section devoted to our "Russkoye vsyo" or "Russian everything," as Pushkin became known right after his death in a duel in 1837. Every Russian school, library and other cultural institution followed suit, presenting full programs of exhibitions, special courses, concerts and conferences - and forgetting all about the centenaries of the birth of fellow Russian literary greats Vladimir Nabokov and Andrei Platonov. President Yeltsin and other highly placed political figures all felt a sudden urge to contribute prefaces and afterwords to the latest editions of Pushkinania, while the Soros Foundation liberally distributed grants to any publishing project dedicated to the "Sun of Russian literature." There is hardly a publishing house in the country that has not produced a book or two about Pushkin over the last year, whatever the commercial viability of the project.


It was only later this fall that Russian publishers and readers seemed to realize that Pushkin was not the only poet. The weekly journal Knizhnoye Obozreniye (Book Review) has published a list of the best-selling poetry to be found in the larger Russian bookstores. Included are 15 poets and two anthologies, one of ancient Greek poetry (Ellinskiye Stikhi published by Ladomir), and one huge coffee-table tome of modern Russian verse (Russkaya Poeziya XX Veka by Olma-Press).


Paul Verlaine (in translations published by Tertsiya) is the only foreigner spicing up a list that gives a sweeping, if incomplete, overview of the last two centuries of national verse. Put in chronological order, the Russian bards listed are: Pushkin's two contemporaries, Pyotr Vyazemsky and Mikhail Lermontov; the two most popular female poets of the Silver Age, Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetayeva; Boris Poplavsky, an ?migr? who died prematurely in Paris in the 1930s; Olga Ivinskaya, the last muse of Boris Pasternak (who curiously fails to get onto the list himself); and posthumous collections by Vladimir Sokolov and David Samoilov, considered to be the last classical Russian poets.


The other best sellers are poets still highly active today, including Larisa Miller (HGS publishers), Svetlana Kekova (Pushkinsky Fond) and the evergreen and ever-popular Andrei Voznesensky, whose lyrical and longer poems have just been published by U-Faktoria in Yekaterinburg. All these books cost the ruble equivalent of $1 to $2.50.