Vera Pavlova: a poetess for a new generation

If there is something to desireConfession: Like a black sheep of a Russian from a literary family, I’ve failed when it comes to poetry. My grandfather wrote it; my great-grandparents, between the two of them, seemed to know it all by heart and had me memorize pages of Pushkin’s children’s sagas; my mother has been a life-long lover of Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva.

But perhaps my relationship with poetry is changing. The guilt of not knowing is subsiding, anyway, thanks to a friend’s introduction of Vera Pavlova. Born in Moscow but married to an American who translates her poetry into English (she says it’s the first case she knows of where the woman is the poet and the husband the interpreter), she’s been published in The New Yorker and is one of Russia’s best-selling poets.

No small feat considering that poetry is not exactly mainstream these days.

I read this piece online one evening:

Why is the word yes so brief?

It should be

the longest,

the hardest,

so that you could not decide in an instant to say it,

so that upon reflection you would stop

in the middle of saying it.

Then I put on my coat and ran down to Book Culture to buy the English-language compilation, If There Is Something To Desire. Within a few pages, Pavlova’s words made me laugh and then cry. I promise I’ve never cried at poetry before.

Her reflections made me want to sit down and write my own, only to realize that it’s impossible to replicate Pavlova’s deeply expressive simplicity. With just a few words, she opens windows on surprising parts of her world and psyche and guides your emotions like a master puppeteer, with you remaining the willing and grateful subject throughout the journey.

Even if you’ve never read or enjoyed a poem, I’m willing to bet that Pavlova’s will strike a chord. And, like any other great book, shed fresh new light on daily experiences – love, motherhood, sex, insomnia, and so many more that we often take for granted.

You can read a selection of Pavlova’s poems here.

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