Russian-English bilingual edition
Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation
Elena Shvarts was the most outstanding Russian poet of her generation. 'Paradise' presents a bilingual selection of her earlier poetry.
Each new generation has to reinterpret St Petersburg, the place, the culture and its significance for Russia. Shvarts's haunted and demonic city is nearer Dostoyevsky's than Akhmatova's or Brodsky's. Her poetry draws backwoods Russian folklore with its cruelty, its religiosity and its quaint humour, into stone, cosmopolitan Petropolis. She brings out both the truth and the irony of Peter the Great's 'Paradise', celebrating and reviling her native city as a crossroads of dimensions, a reality riddled with mythical monuments and religious symbols. Despite the blood beneath its pavements, her St Petersburg also reveals traces of an angelic origin: 'Black rats nest over the shining river, in undergrowth, / They're permitted, welcome, nothing can ruin paradise on earth.'
Elena Shvarts stood outside all schools and movements in contemporary Russian poetry. She once famously described poetry as a 'dance without legs'. Her own poetry fits this description perfectly, a combination of deeply rhythmic and lyrical dance with the eccentric, perpetual movement of flight. The world of her poems is strange and grotesque; often the setting is urban, but unrecognisable - towns emptied of the everyday and peopled only by animals, spirits and strange elemental forces. A peculiar religious fervour illuminates these scenes, but her religion is unorthodox and highly individual. Shvarts’s poetry is visionary. Her vision takes her to the edge of language and rhythm, and she was one of the few contemporary poets brave enough to trust her vision absolutely.
'Elena Shvarts is a miracle, believe me. Her poetry is the purest of creations' – Bella Akhmadulina.
'This is an explosive book by a dark, free, northern spirit, a woman born in Leningrad in 1948 but not openly published there until 1989. Bulgakov and Tsvetayeva (and Angela Carter) would feel at home in her violently imagined townscapes and landscapes. "Paradise" was Peter the Great's word for his newly established city, but in Shvarts' poems the place is everything from a "glorious dump" to a "Rosa mystica", a "gulf of chiming bells" to a sky of crows like "scraps of burnt archives": "A tram swooped up, flushed crimson, / and quietly swallowed me, like a wafer." Jagged feeling irradiates the extraordinary "Elegy on an X-ray Photo of My Skull", but she is capable also of an offbeat narrative pathos, as in "A Parrot at Sea", where the shipwrecked bird talks and squawks on a plank – and we can read as much as we like into that – as long as it can, before the ocean claims it' – Edwin Morgan, PBS Bulletin.