Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry: Reinventing the Canon

Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry: Reinventing the Canon Katharine Hodgson, Joanne Shelton and Alexandra Smith (eds.)
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The canon of Russian poetry has been reshaped since the fall of the Soviet Union. A multi-authored study of changing cultural memory and identity, this revisionary work charts Russia’s shifting relationship to its own literature in the face of social upheaval.

Literary canon and national identity are inextricably tied together, the composition of a canon being the attempt to single out those literary works that best express a nation’s culture. This process is, of course, fluid and subject to significant shifts, particularly at times of epochal change. This volume explores changes in the canon of twentieth-century Russian poetry from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union to the end of Putin’s second term as Russian President in 2008. In the wake of major institutional changes, such as the abolition of state censorship and the introduction of a market economy, the way was open for wholesale reinterpretation of twentieth-century poets such as Iosif Brodskii, Anna Akhmatova and Osip Mandel′shtam, their works and their lives. In the last twenty years many critics have discussed the possibility of various coexisting canons rooted in official and non-official literature and suggested replacing the term "Soviet literature" with a new definition – "Russian literature of the Soviet period".

Contributions to this volume explore the multiple factors involved in reshaping the canon, understood as a body of literary texts given exemplary or representative status as "classics". Among factors which may influence the composition of the canon are educational institutions, competing views of scholars and critics, including figures outside Russia, and the self-canonising activity of poets themselves. Canon revision further reflects contemporary concerns with the destabilising effects of emigration and the internet, and the desire to reconnect with pre-revolutionary cultural traditions through a narrative of the past which foregrounds continuity. Despite persistent nostalgic yearnings in some quarters for a single canon, the current situation is defiantly diverse, balancing both the Soviet literary tradition and the parallel contemporaneous literary worlds of the emigration and the underground.

Required reading for students, teachers and lovers of Russian literature, Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry brings our understanding of post-Soviet Russia up to date.

The contributions to this volume were developed as part of a project funded by AHRC, ‘Reconfiguring the Canon of Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry, 1991-2008’ (AH/H039619/1).

Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry: Reinventing the Canon
Katharine Hodgson, Joanne Shelton and Alexandra Smith (eds.) | April 2017
512 | colour | 6.14" x 9.21" (234 x 156 mm)
ISBN Paperback: 9781783740871
ISBN Hardback: 9781783740888
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781783740895
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781783740901
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781783740918
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0076
BIC categories: DSC (Literary studies: poetry and poets); BISAC LIT014000 (Literary criticism: Poetry); LIT004240 (Literary criticism: Russian & Former Soviet Union)

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Notes on Contributors

1. Introduction: Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry and the Post-Soviet Reader: Reinventing the Canon
Katharine Hodgson and Alexandra Smith

2. From the Margins to the Mainstream: Iosif Brodskii and the Twentieth-Century Poetic Canon in the Post-Soviet Period
Aaron Hodgson

3. ‘Golden-Mouthed Anna of All The Russias’: Canon, Canonisation, and Cult
Alexandra Harrington

4. Vladimir Maiakovskii and the National School Curriculum
Natalia Karakulina

5. The Symbol of the Symbolists: Aleksandr Blok in the Changing Russian Literary Canon
Olga Sobolev

6. Canonical Mandel′shtam
Andrew Kahn

7. Revising the Twentieth-Century Poetic Canon: Ivan Bunin in Post-Soviet Russia
Joanne Shelton

8. From Underground to Mainstream: The Case of Elena Shvarts
Josephine von Zitzewitz

9. Boris Slutskii: A Poet, his Time, and the Canon
Katharine Hodgson

10. The Diasporic Canon of Russian Poetry: The Case of the Paris Note
Maria Rubins

11. The Thaw Generation Poets in the Post-Soviet Period
Emily Lygo

12. The Post-Soviet Homecoming of First-Wave Russian Émigré Poets and its Impact on the Reinvention of the Past
Alexandra Smith

13. Creating the Canon of the Present
Stephanie Sandler


Alexandra Harrington is Senior Lecturer in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University. Her research focuses primarily on modern Russian poetry and literary culture, in particular the career of Anna Akhmatova, and she is currently writing a monograph on Russian literary fame and the phenomenon of literary celebrity. Alexandra is also working on a longer-term project, The Poem in the Eye: The Visual Dimension of Russian Poetry, which investigates Russian poetry from the seventeenth century to the present, with a focus on the different ways in which poems prompt the reader to visualise, and the varied relationships that exist between Russian poetry and the visual arts. Her publications include The Poetry of Anna Akhmatova: Living in Different Mirrors (2006) and ‘Anna Akhmatova’, in Stephen M. Norris and Willard Sunderland (eds.), Russia’s People of Empire: Life Stories from Eurasia, 1500 to the Present (2012). Email:

Katharine Hodgson’s research focuses on twentieth-century Russian poetry, particularly the complexities faced by writers during the Soviet period, and how attitudes towards the cultural legacy of the USSR have evolved since 1991. Katharine has published extensively on the topic, including with Alexandra Smith, The Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry Canon and Post-Soviet National Identity (2017) and Voicing the Soviet Experience: the Poetry of Ol´ga Berggol´ts (2003). Between 2010 and 2013 Katharine led a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), ‘Reconfiguring the Canon of Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry, 1991–2008’ (, which has enabled her to examine how the twentieth-century poetry canon has been revised in recent years. This book is the fruit of this productive collaboration. Email:

Aaron Tregellis Hodgson is currently writing his doctoral thesis, entitled ‘From the Margins to the Mainstream, or the Mainstream to the Margins? Joseph Brodsky’s Canonical Status in the West and Russia in the post-Soviet Period’. His doctoral research is funded by the AHRC as part of the project ‘Reconfiguring the Canon of Twentieth Century Russian Poetry, 1991–2008.’ Email:

Andrew Kahn is Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Oxford. He has written widely about Russian Enlightenment literature, Pushkin, and modern poetry. He is completing a book about Mandelstam’s late poetry called Mandelstam and Experience: Poetry, Politics, Art. He has edited and introduced new translations of Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time and Leo Tolstoi, The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories, both for Oxford World’s Classics. Email: andrew.

Natalia Karakulina completed her PhD at the University of Exeter. Her thesis ‘Representations of Vladimir Maiakovskii in the Post-Soviet Russian Literary Canon’ assembled evidence from a range of post-1991 publications to show how Maiakovskii’s position has been affected by the wide-ranging rejection of writers strongly associated with the official Soviet culture. The thesis contributes to the body of research analysing the development of Russian literary canon in the post-Soviet period. Email:

Emily Lygo is Senior Lecturer in Russian at the University of Exeter. Her main research interests are Russian poetry especially of the Soviet period, Soviet literary politics and policy, literary translation in Russia and Anglo-Soviet relations. Her translation of Tatiana Voltskaia’s Cicada: Selected Poetry & Prose was published in 2006. She is also the author of Leningrad Poetry 1953–75: The Thaw Generation (2010), and The Art of Accommodation (2011). Email:

Maria Rubins is Senior Lecturer in Russian Literature and Culture at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies of University College London. She works on Russian literature and cultural history of the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries, from a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective. In particular, her research interests include modernism, exile and diaspora, national and postnational cultural identities, the interaction between literature and other arts, canon formation, postcolonial, bilingual and transnational writing, Russian-French cultural relations, and Russian-language literature in Israel. Her most recent book is Russian Montparnasse: TransnationalWriting in Interwar Paris (2015; a revised and expanded Russian translation is forthcoming from the NLO Publishing House, Moscow). Email:

Stephanie Sandler is Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University. Her research centres mainly on poetry and cinema. Stephanie has written about Pushkin and myths of Pushkin in Russian culture, and about the contemporary poetry of Russia and of the United States. She has a long-standing interest in women writers and in feminist theory, and her work also draws on psychoanalysis, philosophy, visual studies, and post-modernist theories. Stephanie is also a translator of Russian poetry. Her publications include Distant Pleasures: Alexander Pushkin and the Writing of Exile (1989); Commemorating Pushkin: Russia’s Myth of a National Poet (2004); and three edited collections: Rereading Russian Poetry (1999); Self and Story in Russian History (2000; with Laura Engelstein); and Sexuality and the Body in Russian Culture (1993; with Jane Costlow and Judith Vowles). Email:

Joanne Shelton has undertaken research into the role of educational institutions and publishers in the canon formation process. She has collated information for entry in the searchable bibliographical database of the ‘Reconfiguring the Canon of Twentieth Century Russian Poetry, 1991–2008’ project, which was designed to show quantitative changes in the prominence of a given poet in post-1991 publications, and the extent of his or her appearances in textbooks and literary histories.

Alexandra Smith is Reader in Russian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests include literary and film theory, critical theory, Russian literature of the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries, and the history of ideas and the interaction between literary and visual modes of artistic expression. Alexandra is the author of The Song of the Mockingbird: Pushkin in the Works of Marina Tsvetaeva (1994) and Montaging Pushkin: Pushkin and Visions of Modernity in Russian Twentieth-Century Poetry (2006). She has also written numerous articles on Russian literature and culture, as well as European and American literature. Currently she is working on several publications related to the AHRC project ‘Reconfiguring the Canon of Russian Twentieth-Century Poetry, 1991–2008’, in which she participated as Co-Investigator. Email:

Olga Sobolev
is a Senior Lecturer in Russian and Comparative Literature at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She researches Russian and European culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Olga’s recent publications include From Orientalism to Cultural Capital: The Myth of Russia in British Literature of the 1920s (with Angus Wrenn, 2017), ‘Reception of Alfred Tennyson in Russia’, in Leonee Ormond (ed.), The Reception of Tennyson in Europe (2016), ‘The Only Hope of the World’: George Bernard Shaw and Russia (with Angus Wrenn, 2012), The Silver Mask: Harlequinade in the Symbolist Poetry of Blok and Belyi (2008) and articles on Leo Tolstoi, Fedor Dostoevskii, Vladimir Nabokov, Anton Chekhov, Boris Akunin and Viktor Pelevin. Email:

Josephine von Zitzewitz is presently Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Department of Slavonic Studies, Cambridge University, having previously held a lectureship at Oxford University. She is working on Leningrad samizdat, with a particular focus on samizdat journals, the networks that formed around them and their function as early social media. Her monograph on samizdat poetry, Poetry and the Leningrad Religious-Philosophical Seminar 1974–1980: Music for a Deaf Age was published in 2016, and she has written several articles on poetry and late Soviet culture. Her second interest is translation, and she envisages a new project bringing together young Russian poets, scholars and translators. Email: