Anna Akhmatova, Olga Berggolts, Yelena Shvarts - Three Women Poets from Petersburg/Leningrad

The city of St Petersburg has an extraordinary presence in Russian literature and poetry. Join the poet and translator Sasha Dugdale and the translator Robert Chandler to discuss and enjoy the mythic power of St Petersburg in the work of three very different twentieth century women poets.

Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) began her career as a delicate, lyrical love poet but is now remembered above all for her Requiem, a poem cyclein memory of the hundreds of thousands of women who in 1937, like Akhmatova herself, spent long hours waiting inqueuesoutsideprisons, trying to deliver parcels to loved ones who had been arrested during Stalin's purges.

Olga Berggolts (1910 —1975) became known, during the 900-day Siege of Leningrad, as the ‘Voice of the Blockade’. She spoke almost daily on Leningrad radio, reading both news items and her own poems. According to one witness, it was her straightforwardness, above all, that won people’s hearts: ‘It was as if the woman from next door had happened to get into the Party headquarters, hear the latest news and was now sharing it not with the entire city but with the other people in her own apartment.’The best of her poems from this time are equally straightforward.

Yelena Shvarts (1948-2010) Sasha Dugdale writes ‘In Shvarts’s poetry, the world about her is transformed into a unique and mystical landscape, half real, half Breughelesque fantasy. St Petersburg’s streets and enormous tenement blocks are peopled by the souls of the dead, the River Neva is an often malign force, the street where she once lived becomes “my Paradise, my lost Paradise”.

Robert Chandler is the editor of Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida and Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov (both Penguin Classics). His translations from Russian include Life and Fate and other works by Vasily Grossman. His translation of Hamid Ismailov’s Central-Asian novel The Railway and his co-translations of works by Andrey Platonov have won prizes both in the UK and in the USA. He teaches part-timeat Queen Mary, University of London. He is currently compilingan anthology of Russian poetry in translation, also for Penguin Classics.

Sasha Dugdale is a poet and translator. Her translations of Elena Shvarts, Birdsong on the Seab ed (Bloodaxe Books), wereshortlisted for the Popescu Prize and the Academica Rossica Prize. Her Moscow Tales , a collection of short stories in translation from the Russian, will be published in October 2013by OUP. She is the editor of the journal Modern Poetry in Translation .

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