Poetry for the quiet ones: Reviewing “For the Shrew” by Anna Glazova3 min read
Have you ever met poets so interesting you wish you could teleport into their lives? That’s how I feel about Anna Glazova and Alex Niemi, the poet and translator, respectively, behind the first ever English translation of For the Shrew.
I rarely want to reach into the pages of a book and meet the actual writers, but these two are exceptionally creative individuals. I’d be honoured just to be a fly on the wall during what I imagine are numerous intelligent exchanges in a cosy library. What languages would they be code-switching between? What would they be drinking? I’m desperate to know.
Anna Glazova is a poet and photographer originally from Russia, now living in New Hampshire. She is also a Russian translator, having brought Paul Celan, Unica Zürn, Robert Walser, Franz Kafka, and Walter Benjamin to Russian audiences. Translator Alex Niemi is an artist, book-binder, poet, and French, Russian, and Spanish translator, living in Iowa. Just perusing their respective resumes and the sheer breadth of multidisciplinary work between them is incredible. They are creators in every sense of the word.
The original Russian version of For the Shrew won the Andrei Bely Prize in 2013, Russia’s oldest independent literary prize. Glazova’s work was previously published in English in the anthology Relocations: Three Contemporary Russian Women Poets — Polina Barskova, Anna Glazova, Maria Stepanova, edited by Catherine Ciepiela (Zephyr Press, 2013), which was a finalist for the Best Translated Book Award in 2014.
In this newly translated work, Niemi captures the subtlety of the Russian original, remaining true to the tone and simplicity of the language. This side-by-side bilingual volume is refreshing on every page.
Poetry for Deep Feelers
The foreword from Glazova speaks to introverts everywhere. “Poetry has no direct, practical goal,” she writes. “It doesn’t convey information as much as — in the broadest sense — convey a state of being.” This is like a broadcast for all people who stutter, trip over their words, think in different languages, or ever had a communication barrier. “The basic function of language may be communication, meaning an exchange of information, but the possibilities of language are much broader, and poetry exists in a sphere of language where communication is not indisputably the highest power.”
I feel this sense of empathy and ability to personalise even my own sense of struggle in her poem “The Dead”:
everything has always happened before.
that edenic dust worked into you and the earth.
you’d have felt pain,
cutting your bread,
swallowed if our fresh
grave were crying.
всё всегда уже было.
и в тебе, и в земле размешана райская пыль.
ты бы чувствовал боль,
разрезая свой хлеб,
поглотив если бы плакала
свежая наша могила.
Similarly, a little later in the same poem, I get the sense that the author is keen to “see” the readers that feel ignored, as if her words are a megaphone for society’s most timid. I hear these words loudly:
misery, wander in my head
behind that blind spot, after salvation
or that spirit broken in haze
calls: leave me behind
if you find me beyond the dust, hide
the enormous sky
if you, madman, have overlooked me inside
мыкайся горе в моей голове
за слепым пятном за спасением.
или за мутью распался дух
и зовёт: брось меня
если за пылью найдёшь, спрячь
если уж скорбный мимо ума меня туда проглядел
Every stanza in For the Shrew is a ballad for the quiet. The way the book is organised in themes renders each poem a surprising little digest that could be either read standalone or as part of a multi-page epic. The bilingual version of For the Shrew brings sensibility and deep empathy that only few works are able to.
Book details: Glazova, Anna, For the Shrew, translated from Russian by Alex Niemi, 2022, Zephyr Press. Buy it here.