Five Poems

01 March 2014

ABOUT THE POEMS The Russian writer Lev Ozerov (1914–1996) had a long career as an editor, translator and poet, but his finest poems were published only after his death and little of his work has been translated into English. Ozerov’s poems are of interest both for their thematic and formal concerns, and as a record of the poet’s age, one of the most vibrant in all of Russian literature.

In 1999, his book Portraits Without Frames was published posthumously; it comprises 50 verse accounts of meetings with important cultural and political figures, told with apparent simplicity yet great artfulness. Two of those portraits are published here: long poems about the great Russian prose writers Boris Pasternak and Andrey Platonov, figures of dignity, grace and truth in a landscape besmirched by the depredations of power and the corruption of both politics and language. One beautiful scene shows the victimised Pasternak leaving “for the eleventh century” and for “stone, coolness, calm” as he visits an ancient cathedral; another shows Platonov and the poet discussing whether or not literature should be “relevant/ to the needs of the day”—an endless utilitarian pressure on literature. But Ozerov’s poems shine even without the presence in them of other great writers. Included here, too, are three shorter poems, including one that memorably declares, “A silence we can share is more than silence.”

‘Pasternak’ is translated by Boris Dralyuk; ‘Platonov’ and the other poems by Robert Chandler, who has also translated many books by Platonov into English and is the author of a short biography of Alexander Pushkin. Together with Irina Mashinski, Chandler and Dralyuk are the editors of Russian Poetry from Pushkin to Brodsky, to be published by Penguin Classics this November.

LEV OZEROV was a poet and literary critic of Jewish-Ukrainian origin, and a prominent name in Soviet literature in his day. He was born in Kiev in 1914, and died in Moscow in 1996.

Keywords: poetry Russia Soviet Union state repression Boris Pasternak