Russian Haiku

Russian poet Vera Pavlova releases her first collection in English.

Book Cover Not to worry, I am not going to go crazy on this poetry thing (I don’t think). But I couldn’t get past Russian-born Vera Pavlova’s slender volume, If There Is Something to Desire: One Hundred Poems (Knopf; reportedly her first full-length volume in English), translated from the Russian by Stephen Seymour.

Reading some of these poems I am reminded that something about the Russian character or their language seems to have a pipeline to seething feelings and a dark and roiling undercurrent of emotion.

Pavlova offers this about her poetic impulse:
My first poem was a note I had written to send home from the maternity ward. I was twenty at the time, and had just given birth to Natasha, my first daughter. That was the kind of a happy experience I had never known before or after. The happiness was so unbearable that for the first time in my life I wrote a poem. I have been writing since, and I resort to writing whenever I feel unbearably happy or unbearably miserable. And since life provides me with experiences of both kinds, and with plenty of them, I have been writing for the past 26 years practically without a pause. I cannot afford staying away from writing. It could be called an addiction, but I prefer to describe it as my form of metabolism.
From an excerpt of If There Is Something to Desire:

If there is something to desire,
there will be something to regret.
If there is something to regret,
there will be something to recall.
If there is something to recall,
there was nothing to regret.
If there was nothing to regret,
there was nothing to desire.


Let us touch each other
while we still have hands,
palms, forearms, elbows...
Let us love each other for misery,
let us torture each other,
mangle, maim,
to remember better,
to part with less pain.
Pavlova packs a lot of passion in a few spare lines, contemplating a wide stripe of everyday subjects direct and clear, aimed at the reader’s emotional center. As in these eight lines:

The trick is in the suffixes, diminutive and endearing:
to diminish first, then to caress,
and by caressing to reduce to naught,
and then to search in panic, where can you be?
Have I dropped you into the gap
between the body and the soul?
And all the while you are right here,
in my arms. So heavy, so enormous!
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